SmartMusic has an Online Notation Editor/Creator!

You know those movies/TV series where all sorts of events build up to a point of confrontation (That’s just about any movie, TV show, book, drama, etc.)?  That is what is happening right now in the space of music notation, practice tools, and student assessment.

About a week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” at the new online notation editor that exists inside of the new SmartMusic.  Yes, let me repeat that: inside.

The “new” SmartMusic is web-based, and works on most devices (iPads still need a proprietary application, as is often the case).  I have stepped away from red note/green note programs for a while (I’ll write an addendum at the bottom of this post if you are curious why), so while I continue to watch what is happening in the space (SmartMusic, MusicProdigy, PracticeFirst) I am not using any of those products with my students.  I still very much see the value of these products, and in a different teaching position, I would insist on (as least the consideration of) the use of those programs in band, choir, orchestra, and general music (recorder, mallats, and ukulele).  “New” SmartMusic allows for Chromebooks to be used, which opens a huge educational market in the United States—and is one of the best ways for a Chromebook school to put those devices to use (along with Noteflight,, and Soundtrap).

I was stunned to learn that the SmartMusic team has added a full notation feature to SmartMusic.  Yes, stunned.  In the dark ages when Finale was created (MakeMusic’s other product), Finale was the product.  SmartMusic came along, and now the mission of MakeMusic is “to develop and market solutions that transform how music is composed, taught, learned, and performed.”  That is far beyond the original focus on music notation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Finale user.  I use other tools, too, but when the going gets tough, I use Finale.  That said, the notation field has simply exploded over the past years, from open source MuseScore to heavy-hitting Dorico…and at least five other significant applications, some on mobile devices.

At the same time, web applications are improving all the time.  I used to be strongly against Chromebooks (particularly when compared to iPads), but web applications have made Chromebooks significantly more useful for music educators.  I still believe that iPads are the better tool for our field—but a day is coming where the Chromebook could be just as good of a choice.

All this makes me wonder how long it will be before all traditional programs move to the cloud.  For example, you can log into and use Pages, Excel, and Keynote on just about any device.  The same is true with Microsoft products, and of course, Google apps continue to improve.

How long will it be before Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, and MuseScore all move to the web?  Probably sooner than we think.  Five years ago, this didn’t seem possible.

Meanwhile, on the web, Noteflight and have been working to create quality products, also sharing an interest education.  I have used with students—it is a bit more accessible than Noteflight, and is a little friendlier as it uses school Google accounts (GAFE).  Noteflight is working on a number of other features, including connecting Hal Leonard catalog content to the service as well as developing other educational features.

Keep in mind that Hal Leonard owns Noteflight, and that SmartMusic’s parent company owns Alfred.

A bit about the notation editor in SmartMusic: it is impressive.  It functions on a level very close to and Noteflight.  The notation editor hides one level deeper in the program than you would think (the editor currently resides inside the “add content” button, whereas I would want just a “notation button”  on the front page).  I messed around a little bit with the program, and was pleased to find out that it recognized “traditional” Finale numbers for note value.  That said, the difference between Finale and Sibelius has always been note entry.  Sibelius (and MuseScore) have always approached a measure as having a measure full of beats, and when you add a note, the program subtracts that from the preexisting rest.  Put in a quarter note in 4/4 and a whole rest turns into a quarter rest with three quarter rests.  Finale (and Notion) have always been ex nihlo programs, where nothing exists in the measure until you put it there.  The SmartMusic notation editor acts like Sibelius in this regard, which was surprising to me.  MakeMusic would also want you to know that the notation program is tapping into the Garritan sound bank.  Sounds have been a weakness for a number of the web based notation programs.

And if you want to see the post by Michael Goode about the new features of SmartMusic, you can read it here.

The “new” SmartMusic allows you to import your own content.  I tried uploading a choral score that had two vocal parts (SA), piano, bass, and drum set.  SmartMusic allows you to map the drum part so it plays correctly…this is amazing and practical.  It allows you to write a drum part as you want to—and then to be able to have it played back correctly.  All the notation programs should follow this lead with a similar interface.

With the “old” SmartMusic, the way to get music into the program was through Finale.  I thought that was the key to Finale’s long term survival—as you had to own the most recent version of Finale to creat SmartMusic files.  The “new” SmartMusic accepts MusicXML files (now an open standard—another business move by MakeMusic that I’ll never understand, but am happy that it happened) eliminating the need for the user to have Finale.

And now, the embedded notation software, combined with a scanning app such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP) or Sheet Music Scanner (iOS), means you don’t need any other software to create SmartMusic scores…everything you need is right on the web.

All this said, the industry is moving towards a giant point of confrontation.  Some “bullet” thoughts at this time:

  • If the notation feature of SmartMusic continues to improve to the point that it can do everything Finale can do, I expect a merger of both products within 5 years.
  • I expect to see Noteflight move into the practice/assessment arena (they already accept recordings) as SmartMusic is moving into the online notation arena.  John Mlynczak was recently named Director of Noteflight (overseeing the service), and he was responsible for many of the previous education initiatives from the company (such as Noteflight Learn).  Look for John to continue to be distruptive (in a good way) in this industry.
  • I don’t know where MusicFirst fits into all of this, as Hal Leonard is connected with (but not owned by) Music Sales Group, the owner of MusicFirst.
  • The next item for all these companies to address is the quagmire of sheet music into digital formats, distribution, and revenue sharing (Creating an Apple Music for sheet music)
  • Look for SmartMusic to move into composition assignments for students.  Why not?  The editor is there, so logically, the program could expand to allow teachers to assign composition through the SmartMusic as well.
  • Look for MuseScore to move into the web space.
  • Can Sibelius survive in a world with MuseScore, web-based notation, mobile-based notation, and Dorico?
  • I’m not sure what to expect from, which has taken a very different approach, focusing on relationships with Google versus working with publishers.  They are very innovative and it is fun to have no idea what they will do next.

So, in summary—I was surprised to learn about the music editor in SmartMusic, and it works great.  If you have SmartMusic, check it out.

Do you find these posts helpful?  If so, consider supporting as a patron at


I just wanted to mention why we have moved away from using red note/green note programs, particularly as I believe in them.  Cost is one issue for our school, but more importantly we are working on changing our school climate through PBIS, respecting self, others, property, and learning.  We use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed sight reading method, and MusicProdigy offered access to Dale’s exercises for unlimited students for $100 per year.  We tried that out, but students would not do the assessments at home (20% would do home—at most).  We don’t have practice rooms, so I moved to having students record themselves in class (we are 1:1 iPad) while completing sight reading or singing assessments (as part of the larger group), and submitting those recordings via our LMS/CMS.  Those recordings are graded on a rubric.  This process it is like using SmartMusic, but there is nothing “smart” about the process.  I know some other teachers use Charms Office Assistant in a similar way.  When we moved to doing the recordings in class, the percentage of completed assessments increased to over 90%. Until PBIS kicks in (it can take five years), I am going to have to do the assessments in class instead of outside of class.


Mastering MuseScore by Marc Sabatella

Music Notation is a key component of my work flow: not only reading music notation, but creating music notation as well. My reliance on music notation started many years ago, when it became clear that I would never become a concert pianist. What I could do, however, was to enter scores into a music notation program and to have that program act as my rehearsal accompanist.

Over the years, the notation programs have evolved, as have the sounds. As a result, there are times when I prefer to use a digital accompanist rather than a flesh-and-blood accompanist, and in fact, my middle school students perform to accompaniment tracks that are either purchased (e.g. the various pop tunes we sing) or made by me (anything else). As much as some of my choral colleagues can be critical of that approach, the accompaniments I make with Notion typically sound better than any pianist or piano I have ever used (and we had a Yamaha CFIIIS at my last schol), and you can put the resources you would spend on a performance-only pianist into other things.

Over the years, Finale has been my tool of choice. This makes perfect sense, as I went to school in Minnesota (where Finale was created and existed until this past summer), and one of my professors worked for Coda Music Technologies (a predecessor to the current MakeMusic). I never joined the Sibelius bandwagon, but I have grown to include Notion in my work flow, first due to their iPad app, and second to Finale 2012’s inability to function with Mac OS X Yosemite (Finale 2014 works with Yosemite, but I find myself reluctant to upgrade mainly for that reason). Meanwhile, MuseScore has been another tool that I have been using, particularly its latest release (version 2.0). It works very well–and I have really been enjoyiing its screen shot function for use with presentation software (I just wish it would save to a JPG as well, as it saves to a PNG file)

Two years ago, I was asked to speak at a prominent college about music technology and education, and I asked students which notation software package they used. Not a single student was using Finale or Sibelius, and none of them knew about Notion. They were using MuseScore. MuseScore, as a free program, is changing the face of music notation. Do you know which program you use? Probably the tool you were forced to learn in college. If college kids are learning MuseScore, what happens in the future to the paid programs?

You can download Finale Notepad for free (something that wasn’t true for a while), but then again, MuseScore is a fully functional free app, while Notepad has (and has to have) limitations.

To be quite honest, why would you buy a program when you can download a free program that can do nearly everything you need it to do? Why would any high school or college buy a single computer lab full of a paid app when every computer lab in the school could be a music lab with access to MuseScore, and the ubiquitous nature of Google Drive means that you could use a file anywhere or share it with others?

Noteflight is another interesting product as its basic product is also free and the program is growing, but the main educational tools of Noteflight are found in its subscription-level packages, meaning that MuseScore is still the better price value and has more features.

You might also buy Notion for iOS (or Symphony Pro) as a solution for your mobile needs, and then purchase Notion for Win/Mac because of the direct compatibility. But MuseScore very much changes the face of music notation. The essential question becomes: why would any music student, music teacher, or amateur musician purchase another notation product? There are reasons…but you have to have specific needs for those reasons.

Now that I have discussed my background and the state of music notation software, it is time to talk about the matter at hand: Mastering MuseScore. I was given a preview copy of this book, and Philip Rothman at the Sibelius Blog has already posted a review of the book. I would start by sending you to that article, as Philip always has a great “take” on music notation and music technology.

There is a user’s guide for MuseScore that is in continual review and adjustment. For some people a user manual is overwhelming. David Pogue once stated that as geeks, we often forget that the majority of the world are NOT geeks. This is where the role of the technology integration specialist comes in…someone that is a geek that can speak “normal.” That is what Sabatella’s Mastering MuseScore is all about–he takes you through most of the major features of MuseScore in a conversational format. If you hate user manuals, ultimately, this is the “user manual” for MuseScore for you. This is also a way to purchase a printed user’s manual without having to print it yourself.

Additionally, every purchased copy (about $40 US) goes back to support the development of MuseScore. MuseScore is free, but you can always donate to their work on their website by going “Pro” in their community (, of you can buy this book!

I enjoyed learning about the history of MuseScore in the book (which explains why MuseScore is supported on Linux–because it began on Linux!), and I particularly enjoyed the subchapter on “Replace versus Insert” on page 82. As a long time Finale user, MuseScore drove me crazy because I couldn’t insert notes into a measure, and would have to delete an entire measure to edit it. It turns out that MuseScore acts more like another major notation package, and “replace” is a specific feature. I love the fact that Sabatella discussed this, and this subchapter should be mandatory reading for any Finale user migrating to MuseScore.

Another benefit of the book is that you learn all kinds of shortcuts. In truth, you will need to work with a bunch of scores (I have worked with thousands in Finale) before the shortcuts become second-nature. Such an example can be seen on page 209 where MuseScore will add a decrescendo to a selected group of notes, just by hitting the “>” key. There are many keyboard shortcuts for MuseScore, and truthfully, the next thing I’d like to see them sell is a laminated “master shortcut cheat sheet” that users could buy ($10?) and have at hand while using the program (and you cen even customize shortcuts!).

While you read the book, you will want to have a computer at hand with MuseScore installed and running, so you can work through what you are reading about. Afterwards, you will not know everything about MuseScore, but you will have a good background to start with, and you will know where to go for help when you need it. And when you encounter something that isn’t covered in the book, there is still the traditional user’s manual as well as the wonderful support community that has answered every question I have ever posted about MuseScore on Twitter.

Is the book worth buying? Even if the book was empty, it would be worth every penny of the $40 cost to support the ongoing work of MuseScore. But the book isn’t empty, and it will help a lot of users figure out key tips and tricks of the music notation software that is taking over the industry.

One final note: if you are not a person that learns by reading but instead by watching others, check out Dr. George Hess’ series on MuseScore 2.0…his videos are bite-size and outstanding!

Presentations from the 2015 Ohio MEA/Central TI:ME Conference

This past weekend I had the pleasure to present three sessions at the 2015 Ohio Music Educators Association and Central TI:ME conference.  The conference has a unique focus on technology in music education, as the state conference turns several rooms over to the Ohio TI:ME organization, which then schedules technology sessions for those rooms.

My first presentation was on scanning music…the first time I have presented this as a session.  Ins and Outs of Scanning Presentation (PDF) Ins and Outs of Scanning (Handwritten PDF Notes)

My second session was on iPads in Secondary Music Education.  iPads and Secondary Music Education 2015 Presentation (PDF) iPads in Secondary Music Education 2015 (PDF Notes)

And my final session was on Chromebooks in Music Education.  Chromebooks and Music Education 2015 Presentation (PDF) Chromebooks and Music Education 2015 (PDF Notes)

**In the Chromebook session, someone asked if the Adobe Creative Suite could be used to edit video on Chromebooks; I replied that some parts of the Adobe suite worked, and others didn’t.  From my research this morning, it appears that (as of 2/2015), only PhotoShop is working as a web app on Chromebooks via the Adobe Creative Suite.

Thank you again to the Ohio TI:ME committee for approving my sessions, and to everyone that attended those sessions this past weekend!

Notion and Noteflight (a few thoughts)

My colleague Brandt Schneider (Things to Come Blog) asked me about the differences between Noteflight and Notion (for iPad). Both work on the iPad; Noteflight can work on any Windows or Mac computer (I'm not sure about Android right now), while Notion is a $99 (a bargain) on Windows/Mac.

In a nutshell, Noteflight is a cloud-based HTML program that can be used for basic composition and playback, and on a computer, can be connected to a MIDI piano for keyboard entry. Noteflight also allows for sharing and teacher feedback. Notion is an app that runs on the iPad and advanced notation features (more arriving on a regular basis). Notion has professional sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra, and using the iPad USB Camera Connection Kit, can be attached to a piano. When using an external MIDI instrument, Notion can record in real-time (this does not work with the onscreen keyboard).

Both products can import and export files as MusicXML files, so they can be brought into any modern music notation program.

I would compare Noteflight to Finale Notepad, MakeMusic's free music composition product. It has enough power for most core K-12 (probably 6-12) educational composition needs. Finale Notepad, of course, does not run on the iPad, so this would be an ideal place for MakeMusic to enter the iPad or HTML 5 notation market.

I would compare Notion for the iPad to Notion 4 for Windows/Mac (the goal of the company is to have both products with all of the same core features, and then to upgrade the products together), or MuseScore (the free composition app for Windows, Mac, or Linux). Finale and Sibelius are also comparable, but are the pro-level apps that offer nearly unlimited customization of scores (and of course, are in a completely different price category). For the record, MuseScore has a lot of customization available to the user as well.

I come from a Finale background, so Noteflight (just as with MuseScore and Sibelius) treats deleting notes in a way that I'm not accustomed to (you can't delete a note mid-measure, you have to go and change the value to what is correct), whereas Notion acts a bit more like Finale in this regard.

Noteflight offers educational packages (see Music First), Notion for iPad is available under educational pricing, and the Windows/Mac version is available as an affordable lab pack. Noteflight does offer free subscriptions for a limited amount of use, and personal subscriptions for more intensive use.

My general inclination is to recommend Notion, as the app continues to improve, there are still big plans for the app, and quality sound playback is important to me. Then again, it is hard to dismiss the savings of Noteflight, particularly if hundreds of students and multiple teachers need access to the program in your school. The sharing/social qualities of Noteflight may be more important to you, or the quality sounds and rich features of Notion may be the deal breaker. 100 copies of Notion would currently be $799; yearly access to Noteflight for a classroom is $200 per year. So you would potentially pay the same cost after four years of use (It sounds like iOS 7 will allow schools to reclaim apps that have been distributed for reuse)–only if 100 students used the program. There may be a point where Notion could be the cheaper option if a smaller number of students needed the program (such as for a music theory course).

Don't forget to look at some of the free options for Windows/Mac already mentioned, such as Finale Notepad or MuseScore. And although I don't know anything, I wouldn't be surprised to see MakeMusic (Finale) and MuseScore enter the iPad marketplace with a notation product (both have had a viewer available). The Steinberg team may also enter the mobile apps marketplace.


MuseScore records its 5,000,000 download

MuseScore announced their 5 millionth download today on Twitter:

MuseScore is a fully-featured, free, open source music notation product for Windows, Mac and Linux. The program works well, and is rapidly becoming a substitute for Sibelius and Finale for many users, not to mention institutions like schools, colleges, and universities. Development for the 1.x version of Musescore is over, and version 2.0 is well on its way.

Musescore used a graph in their tweet to show the number of downloads over time:

5 million downloads is an astounding number, but even more telling is the number of downloads of the most recent version, MuseScore 1.3 (thank you to MuseScore for sharing these images on Twitter):

Nearly 600,000 downloads of MuseScore 1.3 since January 2013.

Let's put this into perspective. Let's say that 4 out of 5 people that downloaded MuseScore already use Sibelius, Finale, or some other software package. That would leave 60,000 people that downloaded MuseScore in place of a paid music software package. Let's say that all of those users would qualify for academic pricing, which is $240 (not counting shipping) for Sibelius or Finale (contact my friends at, a Minnesota company dealing with technology for music education if you need these programs). That is over 14 million dollars in sales not going to traditional music software packages.

I call that major disruption in an industry. The MuseScore team isn't out to ruin MakeMusic or Avid–they simply want to offer a great open source product. Disruption is occurring nonetheless.

I don't think for a moment that Sibelius, Finale, or any other paid notation program are going away, but those companies will need other focuses to survive in the future. MakeMusic has SmartMusic and other goals (see I cannot speak to the future of Sibelius/Avid, and even the future Steinberg notation product is surrounded by Steinberg's other products.

So, congratulations, MuseScore, on five million downloads, best wishes on the continuing work on version 2.0, and I expect for you to see ten million downloads in short order!

(p.s. An open-source, free, iPad music notation app would be wonderful, too!)