Open Source Musical Notation Software

Close-up shot of sheet music
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There seems to be a sizable overlap between open source hardware and software enthusiasts and amateur musicians. While some musicians are making music using the tried-and-true "let's see what that button does" method, a few of you might be interested in composing music the old-fashioned way—by digitally producing paper-based music sheets.

Whether you're writing music for the guitar, learning how to improvise jazz solos or writing entire music scores, chances are one of the pieces of open source software listed here can make the process a little easier.

Generalized Music Notation Software

If you're interested in arranging, composing or transcribing music, these are good resources to keep handy.

Denemo is a music notation program that lets you input music using your keyboard or a MIDI controller or by plugging a microphone into your computer's soundboard. Then, you can edit it using your mouse. You can take advantage of the audible feedback to hear what you've entered, and when you're done tweaking, Denemo creates printable and shareable music sheets. In addition to supporting MIDI instruments, Denomo imports PDF files for transcribing, creates musical tests and games for educators, uses LilyPond for its output files, and lets you create functions using Scheme. Denemo is released under a General Public License and is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and macOS.

LilyPond is a music engraving program that generates high-quality sheet music. It lets you input music and text through ASCII input, integrates music into LaTeX or HTML, works with OpenOffice, and can be integrated into several wiki and blog platforms. It can be used for all sorts of musical styles, including classical music, complex notation, early music, modern music, tablature, Schenker graphs and vocal music. LilyPond is released under a General Public License and is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and macOS.

MuseScore is another generalized piece of music notation software, but this one provides customization options that could be of interest. For example, you can set up your score using common templates, such as chamber orchestra, choir, concert band, jazz or piano, or you can start from scratch. You have access to an unlimited number of staves, and you can set the "initial key signature, time signature, pickup measure (anacrusis) and number of measures in your score." You can also import your music or enter it directly into MuseScore, and you can control the end look of the notation. MuseScore is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License and is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and macOS.

Guitar-Specific Notation Software

If you're focused on writing music for the guitar, the following software programs were created just for you.

Chordii is a re-release of software originally published in the early 1990s. This software creates a music sheet with chords and lyrics from a text file—title, words, and music. It uses the ChordPro format for the import, and it supports, among other things, multiple columns, a songbook index, configurable fonts, and chorus marking. Chordii is released under a General Public License and is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and macOS.

Impro-Visor: Originally created to help budding musicians learn how to improvise solos in jazz music, Impro-Visor has been extended to include more than 50 music styles. According to the website, "The objective is to improve understanding of solo construction and tune chord changes," and the features list includes optional automatic note coloration, a chord "roadmap" editor, harmonic note entry option guides, audible playback, and MIDI and MusicXML exports. Impro-Visor is released under a General Public License and is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows, and macOS.

Music Theory Software

If you're still learning about music theory, there's a piece of open source software that can help with that.

Phonascus was designed to help music students practice reading music, improve aural recognition, and learn music theory and language fundamentals. For example, the software includes customizable aural training exercises that cover the identification of intervals, notes, chords, scales, cadence, and tonality along with music theory exercises that cover building key signatures, reading clefs, and building and spelling intervals. Phonascus is released under a General Public License and is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.

So, next time you're picking a new hobby or you decide to focus on writing music, the open source community is ready to help with some free software ... just don't forget to contribute Bach (you know that it had to be done).

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