A Comparison of MuseScore 2, Notion 6 , Finale v25 and Sibelius 8
I recently had a chance to compare MuseScore to Notion, Finale and Sibelius, and I can offer some comments on all these to anyone curious.
MuseScore 2 vs. Notion 6
MuseScore wins this hands down. While Notion has a better performance engine, with high quality sounds and VST support, it doesn't have the flexibility needed to produce professional scores. For example, cross-beam slurs have major problems. This is a common failing, but in Notion, there is no work-around because slurs can't be modified.
The interface feels clunky to me. Want to move the score? Use the scroll bar. Notion has items grouped in multiple palettes (as does MuseScore), but you can only view one sub-palette at a time. Double-clicking on a palette entry doesn't apply the tool to the current selection. For example, slurs are added one-by-one. And the slur tool will always prefer voice 1 over voice 2, so adding a slur to voice 2 when the two voices share the same starting and ending notes is difficult.
There are no small staffs. There is no way to create parts with multiple instruments.
Maybe I could use it just for performing a piece? The first piece I tried it on had a tremolo on a tied note. The tremolo ended with the starting note. The tied notes were silent.
While looking into tremolos, I noticed that two-note tremolos were improperly notated; the notes were drawn as though the tremolo were half the duration it actually was.
I could go on, but I didn't spend a lot of time exploring Notion. It's just not an option for professional use. Still, I will suggest you buy it. Why? Read on...
MuseScore 2 vs. Finale v25
I'd like to be able to say more about this, but I examined Finale only briefly. I imported an existing score. First, I noticed that I had to use the scroll bars to move the score—this always puts me off as it requires moving the mouse away from the area I'm working and locating the scroll bar and moving it carefully. Too far, and I've lost my context.
The imported score was full of collisions (not any worse than MuseScore). I was unable to find a tool that would automatically fix all the collision problems and that ended my interest in Finale. I just tried looking for this feature again, and it appears that it might be in Document Options -> Music Spacing—not the obvious place to look. And why wasn't collision avoidance turned on by default for an imported score? There may also be some plug-ins that resolve collision problems.
Not finding collision avoidance when I tried the software, my interest in Finale ended. I should have looked harder.
You can check out Finale with a free 30-day trial version. If you decide you like it, you can buy it for $300. This does not require academic/theologian pricing. The trick is to buy Notion 6 for $150 and then buy the Finale cross-grade for $150. I have no idea why they allow this.
MuseScore 2 vs. Sibelius 8
Sibelius feels very familiar, sort of like MuseScore's smarter, older brother. I can summarize the Sibelius review by saying that Sibelius does everything that MuseScore does, it just does more of it and better. MuseScore has slurs, Sibelius has bracketed slurs. MuseScore can select a contiguous region, Sibelius can select dis-contiguous regions. MuseScore can beam notes to notes. Sibelius can beam notes to notes and rests and beam over rests.
What makes Sibelius attractive to me is that they have addressed the tasks that eat up so much of my time in MuseScore. Slurs are drawn correctly (not through the notes!) and most collision avoidance is done live. Collisions for adjacent staves requires a batch command that adjusts the spacing of the staves in the system. Page breaks are automatically chosen and the algorithm is customizable. Cue notes are basically a copy and paste operation. Instruments can be merged with the "a2" notation used in professional scores.
I have a large score with 27 instruments and almost 500 measures. MuseScore does not handle this well—edits can take seconds to make, even with the Navigator turned off. Sibelius handles this score with ease.
Bottom line: Sibelius offers more features, reduces edit time and performs faster. The downside: it's $600. You can reduce this to $350 by purchasing Notion for $150 and then the cross-grade for $200.
Sibelius uses a ribbon interface. I will go through the tabs, describing just a few of the more interesting features of Sibelius.
The Paste function has variants for pasting as cues or as an alternate voice. When pasting a cue, the operation takes care of a number of details: transposing, sizing the notes, marking the notes as cues so they only show in the parts and labeling the source instrument. There is even a dialog you can use to define some options for the cues, in case you want something different. The Paste into Voice also automates what in MuseScore takes multiple steps.
MuseScore has a nice feature in that you can right click on an item and select more of the same in the score, staff or selection. Here, Sibelius is not quite as nice, but their Advanced Selection does offer all the options that MuseScore provides and more. I do wish this were in the right-click menu.
MuseScore 2 has a plug-in system that is fairly useless. I tried to write a plug-in once and gave up—there is no documentation, and things don't work as they are supposed to without elaborate workarounds (and even with them, what most plug-ins do well is crash). Sibelius, on the other hand, has a thriving plug-in community and the plug-ins actually work. Sibelius comes with a ton of plug-ins—each tab has its own set of plug-ins.
Note input is very similar to MuseScore. There are some slight differences (the shortcut for a eighth note is 'e' and not '4'), but that's about it. Entry can be made using MIDI in step time, like MuseScore, but also by recording a performance, definitely not like MuseScore.
Cross-staff beaming works the same, although cross-beam slurs do not. Sibelius offers ways to explode one staff to multiple staves, reduce multiple staves to one (including with a2-style notation!), and even attempts to arrange some number of staves into some other number of staves.
Sibelius offers the double/half options that MuseScore 1 had as plug-ins and which are rather less robust plug-ins in MuseScore 2 (they generally crashed when I tried them). It will also do retrograde, invert and other note manipulations.
Again, Sibelius provides everything that MuseScore does and more. The MuseScore selections are pretty good, but Sibelius covers a more complete set. The list of symbols is huge!
Text styles are similar to MuseScore. One thing that confused me for a bit is that the style determines whether text is staff text or system text. The "Tempo" style is system text, the "Technique" style is staff text. I still haven't figured out how to tell which is which, but perhaps the point is that I don't need to.
Rehearsal marks have a lot more options and automatically get a letter or number when added. The sequences are automatically adjusted if a rehearsal mark is added or deleted. In MuseScore, you have to enter the letter or number and, if you add or delete one, there is a batch operation for re-sequencing them. Sibelius also supports using the measure number in the rehearsal mark; in MuseScore, you would enter the numbers manually and would also have to correct them manually if a measure is added or deleted.
I have been able to get by using SoundFonts in MuseScore. And the MuseScore folks are always saying that they view playback as a nice-to-have, used mostly as a way to aurally proof the music being created. Still, I have a set of higher quality sounds and I want to use them without a lot of work. Sibelius comes with gigabytes of sounds, but you can also use VSTs to access other sound packages. Using the sForzando VST, you can also use SoundFonts.
I'm still learning how to associate an instrument with a specific instrument and technique (e.g. violin pizzicato), but trust me that the interface is quite sophisticated with many options. Instrument sounds are arranged in a hierarchy, so that if you don't have a pizzicato sound for a cello, for example, you can fall back to the arco sound. The MuseScore method of creating some staff text and associating it with a style is clunky. In Sibelius, just mark a passage as "pizz." and it knows to associate it with the pizzicato sound for the instrument (or default to the base sound, if a pizzicato sample is not available).
Sibelius includes tools to work with video. I think Notion and Finale also support video. MuseScore has no support.
Sibelius and MuseScore both include variable page sizes, margins and page orientation. You can set the staff size in both, although in MuseScore you do this by specifying the staff space size, which needs to be multiplied by 4 to get the staff size.
Here's the best part of Sibelius for me: Magnetic Layout. When enabled, most collisions disappear and objects are intelligently adjusted (and you can adjust the rules that govern the adjustments). Collisions between staves may still occur. There is a batch mode operation that you can use to adjust the staff spacing in each system to avoid collisions. MuseScore aims to add something like this in version 3. If you don't want to use magnetic layout (why?), Sibelius will step you through the collisions so you can fix them manually.
Like MuseScore, you can add system and page breaks. Sibelius, as usual, contains more options than MuseScore. The most important option is automatic page breaks. In this mode, Sibelius will try to find the best place for a page break using a set of rules which you can modify.
Sibelius has its own version of MuseScore's general and text styles. The styles cover a wider range of customization and these can be exported and imported. I have yet to make much inroads into this section as the default settings work pretty well.
Sibelius and MuseScore handle parts very similarly—the differences are cosmetic. Some useful features that Sibelius adds are the ability to apply a setting to the "open" parts (parts placed on tabs in the main display area) and the ability to copy the part layout from one part to another. MuseScore is limited to changing one part or all parts.
Sibelius can create versions of a score and then show you a side-by-side comparison of two versions. The score can also be annotated and highlighted, and you can add comments. With MuseScore, versions can be manually created and annotations can be added as text, but Sibelius just makes it easier. In MuseScore, there is no way to compare two scores.
This section also contains a bunch of plug-ins to check to proof various elements in the score.
Like MuseScore, the score can be displayed as pages (in various ways) or as a continuous strip. As usual, Sibelius has a large set of options for which things get displayed and which are not. It even provides various rulers.
The View tab can be used to display various panes. One of these is the "Ideas" pane, where you can store snippets of music. I had proposed something like this for MuseScore, at one point. The way I store theme ideas now is by just pasting them at the end of the score I'm working on (with some empty measures before and in between ideas). As it clutters up the score, I tend to discard ideas that, with Sibelius, I would keep.
In MuseScore, I was spending a lot of time fixing slurs and resolving collisions. And by a lot I mean hours and days focused on editing. The editing process reached maximal pain as I tried to edit the large score I mentioned earlier. I imported this score into Sibelius and, in a short time, I was practically done. And that was with being a new Sibelius user. Since I am still learning, my time now is spent on deciding how I want the score to look and how best to do that with Sibelius.
After I had done a lot of the work, it occurred to me that the conductor might want me to include cues. Cues are very time consuming in MuseScore. Adding them after a part has been edited will require the part to be re-edited. In Sibelius, a cue is done with a copy/paste as cue operation. There's even a plug-in that will suggest places which need a cue. Once added, magnetic layout will prevent most new collisions, automatic page breaks will re-paginate appropriately and, any inter-staff collisions can be fixed with a single click.
I already had rehearsal marks in the score. With a few clicks, I changed them to use use bar numbers.
I would rather spend my time composing than editing. Needless to say, I purchased Sibelius. If you don't have the $350 for Sibelius (or $300 for Finale), go with MuseScore. Notion is only good for getting a discount on Sibelius and Finale. MuseScore has taken me a long ways and it's unlikely that I would be composing music today if MuseScore 2 hadn't come out. Thanks to MuseScore, I had my first professional performance of my music last Saturday and I will have a symphonic suite performed by a local orchestra in May.
If you're starting to compose music, you can't go wrong with MuseScore. If and when you get to the point that you find yourself editing scores a lot, then consider Sibelius or Finale.