Notion 4 for PC (Windows or Mac)

My mobile music composition setup: iPad, MacBook (running Notion), and an Akai LPK25

My mobile music composition setup: iPad, MacBook (running Notion), and an Akai LPK25

Notion for iPad has been getting better and better.  As I mentioned after TMEA, Notion’s goal is to make the iPad app equivalent in every way to the PC version.  The most recent version allows iPad users to fit more than two measures per staff, as well as to display a “print” version of a score.

I like what Notion is doing, and this fall they released their 4th version of their PC software.  In talking with Notion’s CEO, he felt that versions of Notion prior to Version 3 were not where he wanted them to be.  When he assumed his role as CEO, his goal was to bring Notion up to speed.  He had to cut expenses and staff–but now has a small team of developers that do a tremendous amount of work in their offices.

Notion 4 is the latest version of the PC software, and Notion did one amazing thing: they made the software $99, versus its prior price point of $299.  I’ve written about this is in the past, but this may be one of the only ways to keep (or earn) customers in the MuseScore era…a lower price point with (expensive) add-ons for those that need them (or in other terms, specialty sounds).  I’ve been putting off the purchase of Notion for PC, but decided to buy it.  There is a competitive upgrade for $69, but truthfully, I was fine with the price of $99.

I’ve been using Notion for iPad in conjunction with Finale (remember: I’m a heavy-duty Finale user).  I started using Notion for PC the same way…importing scores from Finale (via MusicXML) to Notion for PC.  Then I edited a song I had scanned with PhotoScore Ultimate (exported via MusicXML) in Notion for PC.  This afternoon, when I got home from church, I created a file from scratch with Notion for PC.  So…I’ve now used Notion PC in all the various aspects that I use a notation program: a pure import, an import from scanning, and with a file from scratch.

As a warning, if you are a Sibelius user, the next thoughts will be highly “Finale” in nature.  I have never used or purchased Sibelius, so my basis of comparison has to be Finale.

If you have used the iPad version of Notion, you will be more prepared for working with the program than if you come to the program without that background.  The two programs work (and look) very much alike, which is a good strategy.  So, here are some observations:

  1. Notion changes note durations with keyboard shortcuts (or you can open a menu) where the letter name is the type of note (e.g. Quarter = Q.  Add a dot = D).  As a Finale user, this takes some getting used to (Quarter = 5 in Speedy, OPT & 5 in Simple), but it makes sense. Many new users will adapt quickly to this format, although the keys are not strategically next to each other.
  2. Slurs and Ties are added with their own tool, SHIFT+S for Slur, SHIFT + T for Ties.  This may sound archaic, but it works very well…the challenge is going back to your music and putting ties and slurs where they belong.
  3. Many items are double-clickable to set playback functions.  Swing (SHIFT + G) can be set from the actual word “Swing,” a fermata can be double-clicked to show how long to hold it.  A repeat sign can be double-clicked to set the number of times it will repeat.
  4. I like the sounds in Notion better than Finale.  In truth, the Garritan sounds of Finale are excellent, but they export at a  very soft level.  You can mess around with settings in Finale to solve this issue or export audio to an audio editor (like Audacity) but this adds steps to a process when your time is already limited.  I like things to “just work,” and Notion nails audio the first time.
  5. Notion for the iPad actually does a better job of exporting audio than Notion for PC or Finale.  Seriously.  It can save audio natively (there is a conversion, but it occurs as part of the process with no extra input needed) from the iPad as an Apple audio file.  Every program should be able to export audio so effortlessly in so many formats.
  6. Lyrics are a world of hurt on Notion for PC (and iPad).  A hyphen does not move you to the next word, and if you click on an existing lyric, it disappears…there is no editing.  And if you want to copy lyrics, you have to click one lyric and then shift click the other lyrics, and then copy (COMMAND + C) and then paste to the next line (COMMAND + V).  With Finale, you can simply clone a lyric (although I wish there was a keystroke shortcut to switch from clone back to text entry without using the menu).  I experienced bugs with Notion while I was editing text, as entire lines of text would jump on the page (particularly in multiple verses) until I exited the program and opened the song again…at which point everything would be right.  Similar things happened with ties…exiting and coming back into the program fixed the problem.
  7. As with Notion for the iPad, articulations in Notion for PC are very easy to enter (and you can highlight a group of notes and add an articulation).  Finale has articulations, of course, but you have to enter a secondary menu for each articulation (for clarification…in Simple Note Entry, you can enter a note and an articulation at the same time, but I am a Speedy Note Entry user).  I really like how easy it is to add rolled chords and pedal expressions in Notion.
  8. Finale’s select tool is much better than in Notion.  It seems to me that Notion should have its own “tab” for the selection tool, but it is part of the menu with lyrics and text.  With Finale, you can click on almost anything and start editing, or you can highlight and drag things to another staff.  You cannot do this with Notion.  In Notion, you must double-click to highlight, copy and paste.  Dragging is better.
  9. I’m not a fan of Notion’s menu location (bottom of the screen).  It ends up blocking too much of my music, and as a Finale user, I’m used to putting menus where I want them to go.  Perhaps this can be customized in Notion…I honestly don’t know.
  10. Finale is more customizable than Notion.  But my guess is that Notion would cover the needs of 90% of people that need music notation (as would MuseScore).  That said, I think a score created by Finale is going to look better than a score created with Notion, but as with the audio export, this may be an issue of personal taste.  Is Notion legible?  Absolutely.  Is it useable?  Yes.  Will it met the needs of most users?  Yes.
  11. If you want to create music to transfer to another program with Notion, you can do so with MusicXML export.  But if you want to move music to SmartMusic (creating your own resources), you won’t be able to complete the process without Finale.  The key to Finale’s survival in this era of MuseScore is its gate-keeping to SmartMusic.  Yes, I do believe that SmartMusic is incredibly important to music education.
  12. There is no “explode” staff feature in Notion, which is one of the key tools that I use when converting scanned choral music to Finale files for eventual import into SmartMusic or export to rehearsal tracks.
  13. There is no scanning software included with the program.  You can purchase PhotoScore Ultimate or SmartScore X2 on your own.  However, if you want to scan, you need to factor in the extra funds for a music scanning program.
  14. The other big feature of Notion is the ability to control the tempo in a live setting with a computer keyboard or MIDI keyboard.  I believe the iPad is slated to get this feature…and when it does…it will be amazing.  You can tap a tempo track on Finale, but it is not intended to be used in live performance.  As school budgets continue to be cut, schools are facing the challenge of losing funds for accompanists.  Although a live pianist is always ideal, Notion might serve as a way to perform “live” with a variable tempo, keeping some of the human element of performance with a computerized accompaniment.
  15. I found Notion to be a bit more stable on my 2008 MacBook than Finale 2012.  Occasionally Finale will freak out on me and crash and/or require a restart of my MacBook.  Although there are a few noticeable bugs (e.g. the aforementioned shifting lyrics and ties) the overall program is stable and happily keeps running in the background.

In summary, I found Notion to be a good notation program.  Many Notion for iPad users would be well-served to get the PC version, particularly if they do not already own Finale or Sibelius.  At $99, the program is a bargain for the sounds alone.  I believe that schools can purchase unlimited site licenses for a very low price.  The program is more intuitive than the full version of Finale, and the resources on and the user document and quick help sheets allowed me to find most answers to most of the questions I had.

As a Finale user, I work faster in Finale than on Notion, but with time, I might be able to match the speed with which I use Finale.  I love Finale, and I don’t see flaws in the program because I’ve grown up on the program–so it is nice to use other programs to see other ways of doing things.  Working with Notion allows me to interact a little more smoothly with the iPad app, as well as to see some things that Finale can do to make a better product.

Why would you want to buy Notion in place of MuseScore?  Customer support, high quality sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra, and ability to control your song in live performance.

Why would you want to buy Notion in place of Sibelius and Finale?  The lower price point ($99) and the ability to control your song in live performance.

At $99, Notion is a solid buy, and might be a great program to have on your computer in addition to the notation software you already have.


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