A scorewriter, or music notation program is software used with a computer for creating, editing and printing sheet music. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to text, in that they both allow fast corrections (undo), flexible editing, easy sharing of electronic documents (via the Internet or compact storage media), and clean, uniform layout. In addition, most scorewriters, especially those from the 2000s, are able to record notes played on a MIDI keyboard (or other instrument), and play music back via MIDI or virtual instruments. Playback is especially useful for novice composers or music students or when no musicians (particularly the very costly full orchestra) are readily available or affordable.
Scorewriters are based on traditional music notation, using a staff lines and round note heads. This music notation originates from European classical music. Scorewriters use graphical symbols representing durations in sound and silence, along with symbols for dynamics, articulations and tempo. Some even allow the user to import or create their own symbols for use in scoring. Multitrack sequencer software typically uses a multi-track recorder metaphor as the main interface, consisting of multiple tracks and track segments. Individual tracks can be edited using a graphic notation in the form of a piano roll guided input for the control of MIDI-based hardware or software instruments.
In addition to these two approaches, a third approach has emerged that combines the above two methods of score input into a digital audio workstation. This allows the user to score parts using traditional notation, using the graphic notation of the piano roll and to record acoustic or electronic instruments in real time alongside the existing scores. In all three cases it is possible to use the computer keyboard and mouse for input control or to use a MIDI musical keyboard for data entry that is later edited using traditional notation or piano roll based notation.
Some scorewriter critics[who?] argue that the implementation of traditional notation in multitrack sequencer software and digital audio workstations is limited and inferior in contrast to professional music engraving-quality programs such as 2016-era versions of Finale, Sibelius, LilyPond, MuseScore, and Dorico.
The rapid growth of desktop computers in the 1980s caused the creation of dozens of early scorewriters during that decade (see list of scorewriters). These early scorewriter programs were a boon to young composers, music educators and composition students, as they provided a much less expensive way to create scores and parts for orchestral music and other works. However, 1980s scorewriters were hard to use, as entering music could be slow, and the end printed results were amateur-looking. While 1980s scorewriter scores were readable, they did not look like professionally engraved scores or parts. During the 1990s many of these early programs fell into disuse because they were less sophisticated or harder to use than newer programs, principally Finale and Sibelius, which both offered a wide range of sophisticated features, making them suitable for almost all kinds of music applications and for professional publishing.
By 2000 the market was dominated by Finale (particularly in the US) and Sibelius (which had dominated the UK since 1993, and had expanded worldwide since its Windows release in 1998). Inexpensive programs such as capella gained a significant share of the market in some countries, but in later years free and often open-source software such as MuseScore have become popular worldwide. Sibelius and Finale still dominated the market as of 2012.
In February 2013, Steinberg announced that it had hired the former core development team for Sibelius (who had been dismissed by Avid in 2012) to build a new scorewriter from the ground up.Dorico, the resulting program, was released in October 2016.
All scorewriters allow the user to input, edit and print music notation, to varying degrees of sophistication. They range from programs which can write a simple song, piano piece or guitar tab, to those that can handle the complexities of orchestral music, specialist notations (from early music to avant-garde), and high-quality music engraving.
Music can usually be input using the mouse, computer keyboard, or a MIDI keyboard. A few allow input by scanning scores using musical OCR; by playing or singing into a microphone; or by using a touch screen.
Most scorewriters also allow users to play the music back, using MIDI or virtual instruments such as VST instruments. The screen can show at one time both the score and, by changing the colour of keys on a virtual piano's keyboard, the notes being played. Although sequencers can also write some musical notation, they are primarily for recording and playing music. Scorewriters can typically write more complex and sophisticated notation than sequencers can.
Some scorewriters allow users to customize and fine-tune the printed output to a considerable degree, as is required by publishers to produce high-quality music engraving and to suit their individual house style.
A few scorewriters allow users to publish scores on the Internet, where they can be (for example) played back, transposed, and printed out, perhaps for a fee.
Most scorewriters provide other musical functions such as transposing; producing separate instrumental parts from a full score; or applying musical transformations such as retrograde. Some can automatically create instrumental exercises and student worksheets. Some support plug-ins, often developed by users or other companies. Other features may include version control, change tracking, graphics import and export, Post-It-like sticky notes, etc.
Almost all scorewriters use their own file formats for saving files. Hence, in order to move notation between different scorewriters (or to/from other kinds of music software such as sequencers), most scorewriters can also import or export one or more standard interchange file formats, such as:
There are also human-readable text-based formats such as ABC notation, LilyPond (.ly file extension), ASCII tab and NoteWorthy Composer text (.nwctext file extension) files. These are easily rendered as speech by screen reading software. The Score extension to MediaWiki can render, and generate an audio preview of, the first two formats.
Niff has now been superseded by MusicXML.