Creating a Lead Sheet

by Keith Hatschek on March 19, 2010 · 39 comments

in Recording & Mastering

There’s some great software on the market that makes it easy to transcribe your music. We compare two programs and give you our take on ease and performance.

For a songwriter getting ready to work with a back up band or go into the studio with session musicians, having an accurate lead sheet of your songs is a great way to save time and money. Rather than asking musicians to follow along by ear as you play your original song while they learn it, having lead sheets to pass out will speed up the process of getting the musicians familiar with your songs and help them to start to add their own enhancements much more quickly than simply working by ear.

With that in mind, I met up with a local songwriter and percussionist, Dan Faughnder, and we tried out two of the most popular software packages for creating lead sheets: Sibelius and Finale Songwriter. For our test, we chose one of Dan’s songs with a simple chord progression. Being as this is my first attempt to use a notation program, I figured Dan and I might be in for an “all nighter.” However, I’m pleased to report that both programs are very user-friendly to the point that in about 1 ½ to 2 hours with each program, we were able to come up with a decent-looking lead sheet for Dan’s song.

At Work with Sibelius
We started by launching Sibelius Pro 5 on an iMac, which had a KORG Kontrol 49 keyboard controller attached. We’d use it to input the chords and melody we wanted on the lead sheet. We selected 4/4 time, 120 beats per minute (BPM) and the key of D-Major. It’s helpful but not absolutely necessary to understand the names of the lines and spaces on the staff, as well as basic rhythmic values for notes, e.g., whole note, half note, quarter note etc.

Next, Dan typed in the information he wanted on the top of his first page of the chart including song name, composer, lyricist, and copyright information. Then we selected “Preferences” under the Sibelius 5 menu and highlighted the Kontrol 49 MIDI keyboard, which the computer recognized when we plugged it in via USB.

Now it was time to start playing the song’s chord progression into the program. Dan wanted a simple piano part that relies mostly on single chords played on the first beat of each bar and sustaining until the next bar. So he chose to input the chords manually, rather than play them in “real-time” which the program is also capable of doing.

Sibelius[Fig 1]
What we saw on the screen as Dan played the chords was that Sibelius was reading the chords accurately. Since we chose the rhythmic value of “Whole Note” in the handy pop-up keypad which Sibelius shows adjacent to your on-screen manuscript page, each new chord was placed on Beat 1 of the next bar. However, we realized that we wanted an additional staff above the piano part on which to notate the song’s melody and lyrics. Dan went to the “File” menu, selected “New” and highlighted “Voice & Keyboard” rather than the original “Lead Sheet” template we had chosen. We had to re input our song title and other information again but once that was done, we were ready to start laying in the chords, on the type of lead sheet we had envisioned.

Sibelius[Fig 2]
Dan selected “Whole Note” on the Keypad and pointed the selection arrow at the first bar, playing a D-major chord. As we heard it, it appeared on beat 1 of the first bar. He then proceeded to play the song’s chord changes and the program placed each subsequent chord on beat 1 of the next bar. While the first 12 bars of the song have only one chord per par, bars 13-20 rely on two chords per bar, hitting on beats 1 and 3. Dan simply went back to the pop up Keypad, changed the rhythmic value from the “Whole Note” icon to the “Half Note” icon, and played this middle 8 section’s chords one after another while the program laid in the chord changes on beats 1 and 3 for the passage.

The song’s chorus returns to one chord per bar, so Dan simply selected the “Whole Note” icon again and proceeded to play the chords for the song’s 8-bar chorus. As he worked, the program automatically added bar numbering into our chart, making referencing any location in the chart a breeze. The Playback Bar at the top right allows you to play, stop, rewind or fast forward through your chart as you put it together. Alternately, you can pause and resume playing by tapping the space bar.

Now it was time to input a bass part on the bass clef staff below the chords Dan had just completed. He played each chord’s root note as a reference, knowing a bass player would embellish the part later. Although he hit a few clams, using the Playback Control Panel, you can simply click back on the measure you wish to replay and start again. After the bass part was perfect, we played the song back and quickly realized we needed to slow it down. By inputting new BPM settings in the pop-up Keypad, we experimented until we dialed in the proper tempo for the song, settling on 84 BPM.

Now for the final steps in creating our lead sheet – inputting the song’s melody and lyrics. The easiest way for us to add the melody was to play it in “real-time” using the program’s “Flexi-Time” option. You’ll want to adjust this feature based on your own keyboard skills as it determines how precisely the program will record the notes you are about to play.

We tested it by recording the melody for the first 8 bars to see how it worked. We quickly discovered that the Flexi-Time note resolution was set too fine. The slightest variation in rhythm or fingering was reflected precisely in what the program recorded and reflected on our chart. So we reset the “Options” on the Flexi-Time to resolve to 1/8th note values and started over from the top. Much better! Like a word processor, now that we had the verse melody the way we wanted it, Dan simply copied it and pasted it into the next verse and then for the rest of the song.

Adding Lyrics
Score With Lyrics[Fig 3]
First, we chose “Create ->Text -> Lyrics -> Chorus” from the drop-down menu at the top of the page. This places the lyrics we would add in the space just under the melody on the uppermost of our three staves. As you type, you use the space bar to move the typing insertion point to align with the next note in the melody. We soon found that there were a few instances in the melody where we needed to slightly alter the rhythmic value of a note to fit the lyrics. In one instance, Dan had played a quarter note, but there were two words, so he used the Keypad to convert that quarter note to two 1/8th notes, hitting the space bar to then insert the next word under its own melody note.

We also found that we had missed a few pickup notes, so we added those notes in and typed the corresponding lyrics under them. The fine-tuning process went on for about 15 minutes as we tweaked a few lyric spacing and capitalization issues, played back the whole song again to double check everything was up to par, then saved the file as a PDF which is a great way to share your chart with friends or other musicians, whether they have a notation program or not. The entire process, including restarting a few minutes into the chart, took us about one hour and forty-five minutes.

Testing Finale Songwriter
Finale Songwriter is a slimmed down version of Finale, an extremely full-featured music notation program that has been used for more than 20 years by many arrangers and composers. We downloaded a free 30-day trial version of the $49.95 Finale Songwriter to my Macbook and were soon digging into the program to create another lead sheet.

We chose “New Document” with the program’s Set Up Wizard, and then clicked on “Create New Ensemble” rather than “Lead Sheet” in order to specify the specific instrumentation you will use for your chart. Finale Songwriter starts out with a default of 31 bars, however you can very easily add or delete bars as you create your lead sheet. We must have missed clicking on a menu box while interfacing the Kontrol 49, but after working through the device set up menu a second time, we had a working keyboard.

Finale[Fig 4]
Dan used the same approach as before, laying down the chords for the song, but now since he had played the song repeatedly, he performed the chords and bass line simultaneously. After a few takes we had a version that worked most of the way through the song, so he went back and made a few corrections. Like Sibelius, Finale Songwriter has two main pop up toolbars, one called the Simple Entry Palette, which includes all of the various rhythm values for notes, the Main Toolbar with a range of tools for functions like clefs, lyrics, zoom, etc.

After checking the piano part to ensure it was correct, we started recording the melody line. Dan simply clicked on the “Voice” staff and then hit the “Record” button, which cued two bars of metronome before he was into the song. As he recorded we noticed that the lower notes of the melody around middle C were appearing on the upper staff of the Piano part rather than staying on the Voice staff. A quick search of the Menus and Dan found the option “Record into One Staff,” selected it, and then picked up playing the melody again. Now our melody was shown only on the “Voice” staff.

Dan commented that the input accuracy of Finale Songwriter seemed superior to that of Sibelius. As we didn’t spend a lot of time tweaking either program’s real-time note sensitivity features, it’s likely that you’ll easily be able to dial in a comfortable level of real-time performing sensitivity in either program that works for your level of keyboard skills.

After confirming we had the melody correct, Dan then went to the Main Toolbar and chose the “Lyrics” tool. He then clicked under the first notes of the melody staff and started inputting the song’s lyrics. This process was very similar to what we had done in Sibelius, with a little tweaking required to nudge in words, revise a few note values to make space for the occasional article, pickup note or extra syllable.

One thing we forgot was to insert chord symbols to our charts so musicians who don’t read piano notation could also play along. Both programs make this simple to add.

After roughly 90 minutes of work, we saved our song as both a Finale Songwriter file and PDF and sat back as our handiwork printed a neat chart of “You’re Not My Dad” for voice and piano accompaniment.

Final Thoughts
Since Dan had access to Sibelius Pro 5 (retail $499) for our evaluation session, the next day I checked online for an entry-level alternative and found Sibelius First, an entry level version of the program that retails for $99.99. Both Sibelius First and Finale Songwriter offer free 30-day downloadable versions that are fully functioning, so you can test out each program to see which best fits your own musical and lead sheet needs.

We barely scratched the top level of what these powerful programs can do, such as playing back your lead sheet with either general MIDI sound banks, or if you have virtual instruments, your whole library of sounds. There are a host of chart, score and lead sheet templates, as well as arranging templates for genres such country, rock, pop, R&B, funk, acoustic, and many other useful and creative options.

While we weren’t quite comparing apples to apples, as Sibelius 5 is a pro-level product and Finale Songwriter is an entry-level product, both offered a good start to learning about creating lead sheets. (After our session, I downloaded the free demo version of Sibelius First and found it fast and easy to start using, just as Finale Songwriter had been.)

Summing up his experience Dan said, “I feel like Sibelius Pro is a bit more intuitive in its design and operation. To me, editing note values in Finale Songwriter was more time consuming than with Sibelius. I also liked how Sibelius allowed me to see the current manuscript page as well as the next one on the screen at once, whereas the options in Finale Songwriter only allowed display the current page or a scrolling view as we worked on the song. (Afterwards, a quick check on the Finale website confirmed that Finale Songwriter’s big brother, Finale, does indeed allow you to view, edit or playback multiple pages at once just like Sibelius Pro.)

Dan concluded, “Both programs have a lot of options, so the more you use either one, the faster you’ll get and the more flexibility I imagine you’d have in customizing individual parts, backup vocals, string lines, or whatever other instruments you could imagine.”

For a modest investment in software and your own time to learn the program of your choice, creating professional-looking lead sheets of your songs will save you time and money. It’s also an investment that will help you to insure your music is played the way your envision the next time you’re ready to collaborate with other musicians. You’ll also have confidence knowing your songs are printed on a lead sheet that clearly establish authorship of your original songs for all to see.

Special thanks to Dan Faughnder for his help in demoing these programs.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry March 24, 2010 at 1:22 pm

can you clarify whether both packages work on Macs or PCs?

also, I’m a guitarist not a keyboardist, so which package, if either, allows you to enter the song by playing it on a guitar rather than on a keyboard?

thanks!

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Michele Ramo March 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Both programs work on PC & MAC.
For Guitar, you’ll need a MIDI capable guitar and a MIDI machine like a Roland GR33 or something similar.

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Mike Moran March 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

A lead sheet is traditionally a melody line, chord symbols and lyrics. I tried an early version of Finale and found it ridiculous to try and move a chord symbol off the beat. It required phantom measures and other machinations. I went back to Music Printer Plus, a DOS program that gives complete control of note spacing, staff spacing and chord placement. It will even allow you to put too many beats in a measure. This program will run fast on a 486 PC that you could buy on Ebay for $60. 300 lead sheets will fit on a floppy disk. I built a 1,350 song fakebook in a laptop, but it’s not jpeg images, it’s based on midi files so it can transpose on the page in seconds. Only trouble is Windows XP is the last version of Windows that will let you run a DOS program.

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Leon Mitchell March 24, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Hey Mike:
I’m an old Music Printer Plus fan who was dragged almost physically into Finale. I still have a lot of MPP files that I would like to run in Finale for Windows XP, or run the MPP program in XP. Could you tell me how to do this? I would really appreciate that information.
Please help!
Leon

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Brett McCoy March 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Sibelius and Finale aren’t the only players in town…

Geniesoft’s Overture is still a great scoring package and has had many features for years that Finale and Sibelius are only now providing (like direct VST hosting), and Overture also has a full-featured MIDI editor.

Lilypond, IMHO, produces probably the best looking output, although it isn’t a GUI application, it’s used with plain text files but is super flexible and the output it creates is *stupendous*. And Lilypond runs on Windows, Mac OS X AND Linux.

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Brian Pylant March 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Sibelius (which is up to version 6 now) is available for both platforms:
http://www.sibelius.com/products/sibelius/features/requirements.html

So is Finale Songwriter:
http://www.finalemusic.com/SongWriter/System-Requirements.aspx

As for entering music with a guitar, I’ve never used either one of these programs (my home studio runs on Logic Pro, which has built-in notation functionality) but typically you need to enter MIDI data, not audio. There are ways to convert audio to MIDI data, but I’m not sure if this functionality is included here.

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Brett McCoy March 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm

@Larry — Both applications are available for Windows & Mac. I don’t know that either can allow you to enter music directly from a guitar unless you have a MIDI interface for your guitar. I think both will allow you to sing music in with a microphone, but who knows how accurate it is.

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Evan March 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm

It works in Finale as long as you play single note lines- no chords. You will likely have to correct the notation in the end as well.

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James Carter March 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Has anybody checked out GVOX Encore 5.0. This is the program I use and I love it. Finale and Sibelius are both good programs with lots of features, but unless your writing scores for big groups, the bottom line is how USER FRIENDLY is the program? For my use, Encore can do just about everything the others could do and it was easier to learn. If you’ve got the time to spend learning new programs then, great, go with Finale and Sibelius, but if you need to start writing now, I’d check out Encore 5.0. Thanks.

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Rob March 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I use Logic to record and mix music,and there is a notation capability there, although I’ve never tried it. How does it compare to Finale and Sibelius?

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Evan March 24, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Logic’s notation is clunky and poorly laid out compared to both Sibelius and Finale. I use logic with finale by creating MIDI files of my compositions in Finale and importing them into Logic where controlling the playback is more intuitive as an audio program. As long as you are creating a MIDI file in Logic you can export in the same way to Finale to modify the MIDI info with a better notation program. Plus, with the full version of Finale you get a basic set of Garritan Orchestral sounds that allow you to have greater control over string sounds, and key switches. The “human playback” in finale can save you a lot of time programming the MIDI in logic by applying aspects of performance techniques that aren’t necessarily easy to modify in Logic. I would assume that Sibelius has a similar functionality, but I recommend using Finale. Finale also allows you to import an audio track, though only one, which is really helpful in writing string parts or other accompaniments to existing audio files.

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Evan March 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm

As a former Customer/Technical Support representative for MakeMusic, Inc. I am biased to using Finale. To me Finale is a program that can do just about anything. Sibelius trades overall functionality for immediate, out of box, intuitive, usability. In this article the writer reviewed Finale Songwriter which is actually it’s second to lowest brand of Finale- meant for music beginners who need limitations. Sibelius is more on par with Finale Allegro or Finale PrintMusic which are meant for semi-professional engravers, non-professional church musicians, and aspiring composers on a budget. The full version of Finale has potentially unlimited capabilities- comparable to a program like Adobe Photoshop, only for music.

Finale does require some real understanding of music notation, but is well worth the work. If you need something that will give you everything Sibelius does you can with fewer “confusing options” you can get PrintMusic for about $99.95.

MakeMusic, Inc. customer support is free, and comprehensive. All they expect is that you have checked out the resources already available (training videos, user manuals, forums) before calling with a silly question.

In my opinion the only compelling factor for purchasing Sibelius is it’s native compatibility with AVID products like ProTools.

Did i mention that the MakeMusic and Garritan for Finale AU/VST sounds can be used in other MIDI playback programs?

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Arvel Bird March 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm

That’s great to create music in midi or some adaptation thereof, but I’d love to know if anyone knows of a really good program that can convert wav files into midi so that a program like Sebelius or others can transpose. I compose music for orchestra and am not really interested in sitting at a midi keyboard inputting all the parts on it.
thanks,
Arvel

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Bill Schwent March 24, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I also an a guitarist and songwriter. There are programs out there which convert wave to midi. Some are freeware. Try using Google. I bought a program called Intelliscore. It allows you to paly wave files and converts them to midi. It also score the notes. Perhaps it is attention-deficit disorder, but the program does not work properly for me. Perhaps it is because I input two tracks using Roland Gr-33. Perhaps computers are not yet fast enough to do real-time note identification. But I play by ear anyway. I think you can download a free trial at intelliscore.com. Perhaps if you are more patient or clver that I you can make it work. It creates scores which are readable but garbled a bit and I think real musicians who can sight-read would laugh. But you might give it a try. I also found a few others on the net but they all suffer from the same difficulty. Perhaps it has to do with the4 speed of your computer. I use a dual-processor PC. A quad might be faster. I jsut like to paly and sing, and I record in real time using a CD recorder. Have 50 or 60 copyrights and all this shit just seems to confuse me.

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Arvel Bird March 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Sorry I meant so that Sebelius or others can transcribe, not transpose.

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Evan March 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Finale can take single lines/instruments and convert them to MIDI info/notation in their mic notator function. It would not be able to take a full orchestra or multiple instruments. I am not sure if there is any program that can do this accurately to the point where you don’t have to do a lot of corrections anyway.

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Chris Solaas March 24, 2010 at 2:20 pm

A few years back I was in the dilemma of trying to create/print sheet music (vocals, guitar, piano) for my band.

Already owned a package called Midisoft Studio for Win95. It could play MIDI or allow you to create it via a keyboard (came with a MIDI piano keyboard!) but was incompatible with later OS’s like Win2K.

Ended up purchasing its latest version, Midisoft SheetMusic which was extremely buggy and crashed the computer every time I tried to input a note. looked for patches at the time but gave up.

Would have been nice if the software worked well, since I was repurchasing a pkg I already had.

I then tried Finale Notepad, the free version of Finale, hard to input (via computer keyboard if I remember right) and no print or PDF capability. I thought I remembered the Finale printable/playable version that created actual sheet music costing many hundreds of dollars I didn’t have on a Family Dad budget. That may have been Allegro.

Arvel, have you considered Intelliscore?
http://www.intelliscore.net/
Don’t see a free trial though.

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Dan Coleman March 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Just wondering….. we in Nashville use the Nashville number system instead of lead sheets. Does anyone know a software package that can do the conversion to the number system? Just wondering. It would be a goldmine success if ever a software maker would introduce such a beast.

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Charlie Murphey March 24, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Dan, I recently created lead sheets in Finale for a couple days of Nashville sessions. I read “standard notation” better than the Nashville number system, so I created the charts using that. After printing the charts in “standard” I selected the Nashville number system from a drop-down menu. There was NOTHING to edit. I just printed them again with the Nashville numbers. A trip to the copier for the four pickers, and I was done. Couldn’t have been happier. I’ve been using Finale since the late ’80s, so my learning curve is behind me, but the standard to Nashville conversion couldn’t have been easier.

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Jeff March 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

FYI, Keith and Dan didn’t have to start over to add the vocal line in Sibelius. There’s a simple function for adding and subtracting instruments in a score.

I’m a professional composer/arranger and for years I used Nightingale, which has good capabilities and is the only app that I know of that is pretty much like writing on paper. For instance, it doesn’t need you to add complete bars in order to write something, and you add things as you think of them. But it’s really only for people who understand music notation very well; it doesn’t do much of your thinking for you.

I have used Finale in the past, and recently switched to Sibelius because some clients wanted the work in that format. To me there is really no contest. Finale is tear-your-hair-out difficult to use and does some crazy annoying things (like shifting the Viola part by half a measure for some reason I never could divine). Sibelius otoh has been a dream (once you cop to its “British” engineering, i.e. things aren’t always where you expect them to be). It’s fast, clean and comes with an excellent sound library. It has really made my life much easier. (As for Logic, don’t even think about using it for notation; it’s the clumsiest, most useless notation app I’ve ever tried.)

Keep in mind that the pro versions of both Finale and Sibelius are way overkill for most situations. If you’re not doing complex orchestral/big band/concert band (or the like), you should save your money and go with more basic versions.

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Jerry Jones March 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm

From what I have read on both of these programs, Sibelius seems to be the Cadillac of notation software, although it also has a Cadillac price. My budget would only allow me to get the Finale software, although i hear it has some minor issues, as mentioned above already.

** As for making notated music from playing the guitar, I think I read on the Sibelius site that you would record your guitar playing, like a vocal, and it picks up most of the notes and chords….but I haven’t personally tried it out.

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B.Bruce March 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I do not reead music, I play by ear.
So tell me how can one possiably use the type of hardware and software that is mentioned in thease discussions.
Isen’t there a program that can convert your music into sheet music, by just playing it on the Guitar, and singing?

I know nothing about the writing of music, so all this discuissions are not a help to me. I am a song writer, but I have someone write the notes after I have put it down on record.
Thanks

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Rick Stone March 25, 2010 at 10:18 pm

You apparently don’t “reead” or write English either! It’s simple, if you’re going to call yourself a “musician,” learn to read & write music!

And jeez! Don’t you even have spell check?

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Anonymous March 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Rick the Dick, so Paul Mc Cartney isn’t a musician either huh? Dick.

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Anonymous April 2, 2010 at 10:24 am

Rick: I agree that as musicians we should learn the language of music, but shaming someone because they have not yet acquired the skill is snobbish. But I suppose you sprang from the womb completely fluent in the musical arts. Music is about delighting the ear and the mind, not about proving your worth by shaming others.

B.Bruce: Don’t let people like pRick Stone put you down.

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Alice Stuart March 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

As long as you’re dealing with MIDI, Notion’s Progression Software has been highly recommended to me. Haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I know with an audio to MIDI converter, you have to enter one note at a time, but it it’s truly MIDI, you should be able to play the piece and have the software write it out. I’m sure you’d have to make some corrections afterward

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Mike Crutcher March 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I use the Pro version of Finale, have been doing so for years. There’s no comparison. Finale is the industry standard. If you’re working with professional musicians, you can e-mail Finale files to them and they’re likely to be using it. It’s *not* crazy difficult to use, there are good templates that you can update and create yourself, there’s an “easy” notation option where you click on the note value and click on the staff where you want the note to go, and there it is. Or, the speedy option is move the cursor up and down with arrow keys (or a MIDI keyboard) and type the corresponding number on your computer keyboard. Chords are entered after the fact fairly easily. If you’re a keyboard player, you can have the program transcribe your performance in real-time, or use a guitar controller. It doesn’t read minds, however. You’d need to tell it what chord you want over what note. I write for all different ensemble situations, and Finale has been invaluable in getting me from the “leadsheet only” stage to writing specific parts for horns and/or other instruments.

There is no program that converts guitar and singing into sheet music. You’ve got to know at least a little bit about the notes you’re working with in order to write them down for others. In other words, if you don’t know what notes you’re playing/singing, then Finale is not going to be able to learn them for you and put them on paper for you. It’s not a teaching program, it’s a notation program.

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Ken March 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Actually, as was mentioned elsewhere in this discussion, some software *does* indeed convert audio to midi, and from there into notation. I have not run into any which can reliably do polyphonic audio streams, but with the right package, monophonic instruments and single vocals work OK.

I use Digital Performer in my studio, which allows any audio track to be viewed as “pitch data”, which can be copied and pasted to a MIDI track. At this point I refer again to the MONOPHONIC AUDIO note above – if you do this to a polyphonic track, you’ll get a monophonic stream of pitch data which bears little resemblence to what you expect. From there the MIDI tracks can be viewed and edited as notation on a staff or staves. I’m not saying that DP has a knock-em-dead notational device (it’s not intended for notation, it’s a pro-grade multitrack audio/midi recording/editing/mixing/mastering package), but if you happen to use DP anyway, it’s a great hit-the-road-running way to get basic notation onto the paper, including larger arrangements; as well as printing out whole scores, any combination of instrument parts, or individual parts.

For my primary notation program, I use a little shareware package called MUP. It’s text based, probably similar to Lilypad (which I recall downloading way back when, can’t recall why I chose to not use it), and it allows quite a bit of flexibility in positioning, sizing, grouping, etc of just about anything. It won’t allow “incorrect” measures (I recall an earlier reference to wanting to be able to do this), but you *can* change the meter without actually displaying/printing the new meter, so it can easily be made to *look* like a measure has an incorrect count if you want to do that.

Anyway, my $0.02. :-)

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Randy Schmuki March 24, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I now use Chord Mate Pro for Mac and it works well. I write in guitar chord forms and I find this to be a nice and fairly
simple program that I can use. I tried Finale before and it was way over my head. I write the songs in Pages and then save them in a music folder. I have also used some other IBM program in the past, and have scanned and saved these songs. Chord mate is worth a look. The new Logic Studio 9 supports guitar chords as well. Lead sheets can also be done through midi in Logic and a complete score can be printed out.

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Barbara Goodrich March 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I started off on Finale (whatever was the “pro” edition a few years back) and never got it to work properly. There were problems after problems, with converting from SmartScore, with wrestling with complicated notation that wouldn’t go into standard patterns, with getting it to keep the proper number of beats in a bar, you name it. I’m a harpist and bought it originally so that I could add harp pedal change symbols in a harp solo arrangement of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” which has some complicated rhythms. Finale lost track of these at the drop of a hat, and then _wouldn’t let me correct its bad arithmetic_, no matter how carefully I followed its immensely time-consuming and arbitrary rules. On the conversions from SmartScore, it would get quite a few measures correctly, and then move _just a few_ notes within one measure up or down several notes (the exact number varied, as well as whether it was up or down) — just the sort of thing that a quick proofing would miss. Overall, it was so counter-intuitive that it was conceptually offensive (sort of like the digital camera that has an “OK” button that you push in order to _delete_ the photo you’ve just taken), and couldn’t be relied upon to do anything correctly even after one had gone to the trouble to learn its foreign language. The poor Finale Help staff certainly earned their money trying to get it to work, though they took longer and longer to reply. I got the impression that they thought I was an idiot for expecting it to work for Debussy-type music, but that the company wouldn’t allow them to admit to its abysmal limits publicly, and that they were pretty overworked by other thwarted customers, too. Finale program CDs are good for one thing and one thing only — to hang by strings from one’s fruit trees to frighten away birds from eating one’s ripening apples and pears.

After having other musicians tell me that Sibelius was the one to get, I jumped on a sale directed at disgruntled Finale users such as me, and was very pleasantly surprised. Beautiful, just beautiful, conceptually elegant, reliable, and if there are any errors in math in any of the imports, they are few, and easy to fix. Further, Sibelius has all the harp symbols, even, and that’s pretty obscure stuff.

Learn from my many hours of Finale purgatory and avoid those horrors — don’t waste a cent on Finale’s products. Go straight to Sibelius.

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bonnie April 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Barbara, you are a godsend! You mentioned your purgatory, but I’ll be sure to have you depicted with a halo on your head! I enjoyed your comments and had some great laughs, and you saved me many hours of agony! I didn’t finish my degree, but I had some university level classical training (mainly clarinet, band, and composition, a little vocal and jazz but not much.) I used to write lead sheets for pop and gospel musicians but I didn’t know where to find a program that makes my time worth the money, and affordable enough for impoverished musicians. After many years of being out of the business to raise my kids, I started to look for a program to restart my lead sheet writing as a hopefully viable business, and I have a feeling you have pointed me in the right direction. God bless you, and excuse my twisted jokes, but thank you for sharing for free the fruit of your redempive suffering! – Bonnie

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Scott Jacob Loehr March 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I compose 3 or 4 pieces every week directly into Finale. I have used the full version since 1994, and have stayed current with every upgrade. Here are my Top Ten Thoughts And Observations.

1) Finale can be quite intuitive if you have a background in theory.
2) There have been many features added to Finale that I don’t need, many of which are geared towards making the program more user-friendly for people without a background in theory.
3) Finale seems to be the ONLY notation program that gives the user 100% control of every element on the page.
4) I’ve never encountered a situation that didn’t have a workaround… sometimes it takes a little extra time, creativity, trial/error, or a phone call to Tech Support, but it’s worth it.
5) You can create your own “look” to your compositions, which is invaluable for publishing (to not look like the default templates of most programs).
6) Using Finale on a Mac is faster and less frustrating than using it on a PC.
7) I have never regretted sticking with Finale, as each time I learned other programs (due to working with other clients) I encountered limitations. On several occasions, I found it quicker to re-enter charts into Finale than to go through the phone Tech Support route with the other programs. Beats the eventual “you can’t do that” answer that I’ve received a few times.
8) Saving/sending/printing from PDF files has been a constant no-brainer for me and other musicians.
9) Finale’s Customer Support has always been helpful and patient.
10) I second an earlier post, using the analogy of Photoshop – it’s become a verb for a reason. Initially and eventually, it’s at the top of my list when it comes to choosing the right software for the job.

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Margaret Pangle March 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

I have not tried any of the programs being discussed here so I have no comments on them, however, I have used Myriad Music Notation Software trial versions of Melody Assistant and Harmony Assistant recently and am very happy with them and all the things they offer.

I believe they have all the capabilities of the of the other programs (maybe more), are less expensive, and quite user friendly. I am very happy with the trial versions of both programs and plan on purchasing Melody Assistant first, and then Harmony Assistant.

I am using Windows XP and found installation and use to be really easy AND even though I have limited capabilities until I get the full versions, both programs are great for scoring or writing music.

I would like to ask both Keith and Dan do a review of them as I have read reviews of this kind before and wondered why Myriad never gets mentioned! It is excellent software! Check it out! Site Link below. :)

http://www.myriad-online.com/en/index.htm

Have fun!
Margaret

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Stephanie Ferguson March 29, 2010 at 10:44 am

I agree that both Sibelius and Finale are wonderful products and worth the investment for a person who writes a lot of lead sheets and is familiar with music theory. An alternative for someone who needs to create sheet music but doesn’t want to spend the time doing it themselves is a music transcription service like Lead Sheet Station.

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