Notion Mobile 3.2 Free is Good

George Hess • August 2023Technology • August 20, 2023

For ten years, Notion was the most full-featured notation app for iOS, but recently some competition appeared, notably entries from Dorico, Sibelius, and Flat. It had been some time since Notion had a significant update, but it was starting to feel somewhat dated. So it was with some anticipation that greeted the news of Notion Mobile 3.0 

We all know the perils of version x.0 software, but lately, developers have taken it to a new level, notably Dorico, the first version of which could only be charitably called incomplete. But the Dorico team embarked on a rapid development program, and now the software is top-notch. Presonus appears to have taken note of this new “public beta” model as they released Notion Mobile 3.0

It was an ambitious project. Notion Mobile 3 sports a complete interface redesign, but the most revolutionary aspect is that it is now available in identical versions for all mobile and computer platforms: iOS, Mac, Windows, and Android.  

The initial version was buggy and lacked essential features, and many existing users were not happy, to say the least. But since its release last September, there have been frequent updates, and the current version is now a very functional program.

Oh, and by the way, Notion Mobile is now free. 

The Low Down

As mentioned above, Notion Mobile runs on all platforms, mobile and computer, and files can be shared between all versions, including the desktop version. You can store files on your device or in the cloud. It supports as many instruments as you like, with parts dynamically linked to the score. Standard and handwritten fonts are available. 

What has always set Notion apart is the playback quality. The new version includes a higher-quality sampled sound set from the London Symphony that is programmed to respond to dynamics, articulations, and expressions. The result is a surprisingly musical performance.

A New Look

The spartan interface doesn’t hint at the program’s power, with only a few tools and menus spread around the main window, which provides more working space. Across the top are the playback controls and menus. The Layout Menu controls how the music looks on screen and in print, and the Application Menu contains all the settings for the program. There are also buttons for the on-screen keyboard, guitar, drum machine, and mixer, which open at the bottom of the screen.

The sidebar contains the tools for entry and editing and can be placed on the left or right of the screen. But you only see the Selection tool, the Edit menu, a pencil (for handwriting) and eraser followed by notes and rests, and the Tool Palette. 

The latter is the most controversial change. Depending on the instrument, the palette contains 25 to 35 tools, and most have multiple options. These tools should all be familiar to Notion users, but with that many in one place, it’s difficult to remember exactly where each tool is located. Prioritizing screen real estate over usability is understandable for a device primarily intended for mobile devices. But it does increase the learning curve.

The Long and Short of It

One of the things that dated Notion iOS was the lack of keyboard shortcuts. That has been remedied, and the extensive set of shortcuts will be quite familiar to desktop users. The shortcuts are often intuitive, using the first letter of the command or something visual (e.g., colon for repeats), either by itself or combined with a modifier key. I could guess many of the ones I didn’t know easily. Desktop users will also appreciate being able to choose the QWERTY shortcuts for notes instead of numbers. For the tools with multiple options, such as repeats, articulations, and dynamics, the options can be accessed using the numbers 1-9 after selecting the tool. Some tools also cycle through options by repeatedly typing the shortcut, as in Notion 6.


Lyrics can now be pasted directly into the score, which is a great time saver. Be sure to hyphenate words and use dashes for extensions. Multiple verses were no problem; just tap below the existing verse. 

Write On

You can now use a stylus to write directly into the score instead of in a separate window, as in the previous version. Support for handwriting is an in-app purchase ($14.99) that also includes the six expansion sample sets. 

Get to Work

After opening the program, you’ll see the Home screen listing recent projects. Notion can open files created by any version of the program, as well as MusicXML files. Files can be saved on the local device or in the cloud. To create a new project, choose one of the included templates that range from single staves to full orchestra and big band. You can add more instruments using the Score Setup menu, and there is no limit to the number of staves in the score. 

Take Note

Notion Mobile supports the usual methods of entering notes. You can mouse or tap them one at a time, use the on-screen instruments using step entry, or record in real-time using a wired or Bluetooth MIDI keyboard. In addition, with the handwriting option, you can use a stylus and draw notes directly into the score.  

There are three views available: screen, print, and continuous. Using continuous mode and hiding instruments using the Score Setup menu on smaller devices makes navigating easier. On the iPad, I found step entry with the on-screen piano keyboard to be the most efficient entry method; on the computer, my MIDI keyboard was the better option. Working on a phone is a bit challenging. In portrait mode, you can only see one measure; in landscape, only one staff is visible when using the on-screen keyboard. Hiding all but one staff was one option, but zooming in and tapping notes into the score was best. It will do in a pinch, but I wouldn’t want to try to do an entire project that way.

Real-time recording of simple parts with a MIDI keyboard or MIDI guitar works well. You can set the minimum duration precisely in milliseconds to avoid short notes and a split point for piano. You can also set it to automatically transpose if you enter music from a transposed part. 

Drum notation is easy as the palette lists the names of the instruments rather than notes and places them correctly. You must choose the correct voice to get the stem direction right. Notion supports up to four voices per staff.

Other Entries 

As mentioned, all the other tools are found in the palette. Tools have anywhere from one to twelve options. Select a tool, and its first option is displayed below the palette, then select the option by tapping or with the shortcuts.

For items like slurs and hairpins, you can either select the notes first and then choose the tool or choose the tool first and tap-drag to create the item. 

Chord symbols are attached to the score, not notes, so you need not jump through hoops when there are more chords than melody notes. The symbols are created using a dialog box. Select the root, quality, and extensions, and then tap in the score.


Guitar notation is one of Notion’s strong suits, rivaling dedicated guitar notation programs. There is an extensive collection of articulations and techniques, many of which are supported in playback and are pretty realistic. You can set different tunings and capo positions, including seven-string guitar and five-string bass.

There are new guitar chord diagrams, and unlike many programs, they are primarily practical voicings, something I appreciate as a guitarist. It’s not possible to create your own diagrams, though, so what you see is what you get. 

Also new is the Fill with Slashes function that places stemless slashes according to the time signature. Previously, it took four steps to create slashes, so this is a welcome addition.


Editing is handled with the Contextual menu. Select any item or section on the screen, then tap the three dots (right-click on the computer), and the menu appears. Desktop users will find this very familiar, but as with the palette, combining many commands into one menu increases the learning curve.

You’ve Got the Look

Layout tools are like the desktop version. It’s important to understand Notion is not a true engraving tool. You can create very readable scores and parts but don’t have the precision control publishers require. Fortunately, you can export to MusicXML when the need arises. You can also export MIDI files, PDFs, WAV, and MP3 files.  

More to Come

While there have been significant improvements from version 3.0, there are still bugs to be ironed out, some missing features, and some questionable choices made in the interface. 

While working with the beta version, I experienced a few crashes and lost my work as there is no autosave. When using a keyboard, you can save using cmd/ctrl-S; otherwise, it only saves when you return to the Home screen, which closes the score. 


Notion Mobile is powerful enough for much of my everyday work, and once I got the hang of it, it was surprisingly fast. Overall, it’s one of the more productive apps I have on my iPad.

For schools, this program should be a no-brainer. Teachers are always looking for free tech resources, and Notion Mobile is, hands down, the most full-featured free notation program available. Even with the in-app purchase, which is by no means necessary, at $15, it’s still a great bargain. Students can download it on any device, and the files are compatible across all platforms. The program will only get better.

Notion Mobile is available on the iOS and Mac app stores, the Microsoft App Store, and Google Play. Handwriting entry and the expanded sound set are available as an in-app purchase through each store for $14.99. Those who have purchased upgrades in the previous version can restore the purchase. In addition, Notion Mobile and Notion 6 with handwriting and all expansion sound sets, along with Studio One, are included in Studio One Plus (formerly Sphere) for $14.99/month.

Dr. George Hess, the author of Create Music with Notion, is a retired professor of music. He now offers online instruction and professional development in jazz guitar, improvisation, music production, and notation software. 

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!