There are two main software tools musicians use for creating music: music production software, also called sequencers, and music notation software. Most music software titles designed for composition fall under one of these two main categories. There are many music production software titles from which to choose. It is the most common application used by musicians to compose music and score to film. There are titles both for Windows and Macintosh computers. Some publishers produce cross-platform versions and others specialize only in the Windows or Mac world. Titles include Sonar, Live, Logic, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Reason, Acid, Cubase, Nuendo, and more. In the notation world there are far fewer options. There are two most popular titles, Finale and Sibelius, and some others including Notion, Overture, and Encore.
The difference between music production and notation software is often confused. When I describe the two, I use this somewhat simplified definition:
When your primary goal is to produce a sound or performance file, use music production software. It functions as a virtual recording studio.
When your primary goal is to produce printed notation, use Notation Software (sometimes referred to as “scoring software”). It functions as a virtual music typewriter or copyist.
The confusing part is music production software will do some decent printing and music notation software can play back and create sound files. Granted some of the high-end music production software titles do include an impressive list of notation options. However, most composers find it best to use notation software for creating and printing scores and parts, such as Finale or Sibelius. Notation programs have many helpful tools for creating scores and parts such as adjusting the look of the printed page, adding text, lyrics, chord symbols, changing the size and shape of the music, creating guitar tab, scanning in printed music and much, much more.
Do you Need Both Music Production and Notation Software?
Most composers who are responsible for both sound and notation, use a music production and a notation program. Other composers who primarily write for print publication spend most of their time in notation software. It is possible to create your music in a music production program, save it in Standard MIDI format and then import the MIDI file into a notation program and use it to create and generate the score and parts. You can also save notation files in MIDI format and send them to your production software to create a sound version.
If you find yourself spending a lot of time in your music production program dealing with the printing of parts, then you may be better off using a notation program such as Finale or Sibelius. The bottom line: use the program that is best suited for a particular purpose: sound = music production software; notation = notation software.