Heavy Hitting Cloud Notation Tools

Mike Lawson • Technology • April 4, 2013

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The days of slogging through notation with pencil and paper and keeping track of dozens of composition rules only to hear your creation played on a piano are long gone. A new wave of technology has facilitated a number of powerful online notation tools. This interactive environment that music teachers need to be aware of includes online storage, web-based applications, electronic grade books, sharing data files, lesson plan dissemination, and more.

Notation Heavy Hitters


First launched in 2007, Noteflight is the pioneer online notation tool. This powerful music writing application can be used to edit, display, and play back music notation through a standard web browser. It has an integrated online library of musical scores that anyone can publish, link to, or post online. Users can write music on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and then share compositions with other users or embed them into a website.

Noteflight is available in a free basic version or a K-12 edition designed especially for school music teachers. Noteflight’s classroom edition offers a private web site for group composition activities and informal sharing that can serve up to 250 teachers and students. There is also a wide array of customizable hosting options that ensure that each educator or music administrator can choose a package that is tailored to his or her needs. Noteflight can even handle an entire school system or district.

In the free version, users essentially share Noteflight.com with over 600,000 other users. There is no dedicated “classroom space” for a teacher or students, and usage is limited to 10 scores per user and about 10 instruments. In contrast, Noteflight’s educator versions offer score templates for course assignments along with unlimited scores, 70 playback virtual instruments, MIDI input, guitar tabs, and sharing options. Both versions have full-featured editing capabilities, and teachers can export data files to MIDI, MusicXML, or WAV.

Noteflight is particularly attractive due to the education features beyond just the online notation tools. Its easy-to-use interface enables younger learners to work with notation and musical ideas. Creating music, sharing scores, and giving feedback is both intuitive and fun. Young musicians can finally experience notation and composition as a “learning by doing” activity at school and at home. Scores can be easily synchronized with audio and video for interactive learning. When teachers create a lesson, Noteflight automatically gives each student their own copy to work on. You can review individual student work and provide feedback directly in their scores. You can even see how a piece has evolved by looking at previously saved versions.

Noteflight scores can be used on any mobile device, including smartphones, the iPad, and other tablets. The interaction and collaboration of this powerful tool stimulates students’ creativity, facilitating direct, hands-on experimentation.

Price-wise, Noteflight comes in well below traditional boxed software, as it’s available by subscription that includes ongoing support and feature updates. It is also flexible in terms of working with changing class sizes.


Mastering Music

Mastering Music by Datasonics is a web-based, integrated musical suite. This classroom without walls can be used to teach composition along with sequencing, film scoring, performance, theory, and ear training. Mastering Music’s greatest strength is that it is helpful for both music tech classes and performance ensembles. A simple subscription fee gives access to seven different applications and a school license for unlimited workstations at a price that is hard to beat

Mastering Music offers more than 400 online video tutorials that encourage the student to apply the program skills to create projects rather than just learn program features. It also has the capability for educators to create customized lessons. Initially, you register and download a small, non-configured application to your computer so every time you log on, the program logs in from the browser. Files can be saved in MIDI, WAV, or their own proprietary file format either in the cloud or on the host computer. There’s also an in-depth electronic grading program online that allows teachers to view and edit students’ projects, along with other class management options.


Inside Music

There’s a brand-new comprehensive suite of 12 individual products offered by MusicFirst that are cloud-based tools designed for the classroom. The mission of this company is to offer music teachers and their students easy-to-use, affordable cloud-based solutions that enable music learning, creation, assessment, sharing, and exploration on any device at anytime, anywhere. Whether you are looking for notation, sequencing and music production, music theory, music performance or music appreciation software, MusicFirst’s individual solutions can be tailored to individual teaching needs. MusicFirst also distributes its own customized versions of Noteflight for educators.

MusicFirst offers a one-of-a-kind online curriculum of videos and composition activities called Inside Music, which supports MusicFirst’s Noteflight notation features. Together, they offer composition instruction options designed for teachers of all music classes – general music, theory/composition, history/appreciation, music technology, and performing ensembles. Inside Music has been used successfully by schools in conjunction with other notation tools, as well. The 21 lessons in Inside Music cover three different proficiency levels – beginner, intermediate, advanced – and handle the range of different student entry points. Each of the 21 lessons has an brief instructional video and includes two Get Ready tasks and one open-ended Create task.



Scorio, founded in 2009, allows one to write music composition on the web with their free on-line notation software. Anyone interested in writing music or teaching music, can register for a free account to save scores or produce high quality printouts from a computer or iPad. Scorio isn’t a “classroom” like Noteflight, but you can share your login with your students to spread the scores or “print” them as PDF files and distribute them via e-mail. A basic account has 19 score templates with up to seven voices (one piano and six voices). The product supports most notation elements, like articulation, dynamics, repeats and barlines, triplets, volta brackets, ties and slurs, as well as the key and time signatures. The Scorio Pro subscription gives access to MIDI export, PDF, and graphic conversion into score, chords display, and transposition. For a comparison of what features their free and paid versions offer, go to www.scorio.com/web/scorio/products. It is built on open technologies that function with any web browser, and can import and export in MIDI and MusicXML file formats to other notation software programs.



Chromatik is a web-based program that has four attributes for better practicing, recording, sharing music, and maintaining an online collection of traditional sheet music, lead sheets, and tablature. You can upload, record, annotate, and share music with Chromatik’s web and iPad applications, as well as track progress and give and receive individual feedback. Chromatik also allows options for sharing playlists and recordings.



Musescore is an interesting online notation tool offering the opportunity to store and share sheet music made with Musescore. It only permits viewing of scores created in the Musescore program, which is separate from its website. One must download and install the Musescore program on a Windows, MacOS, or Linux computer in order to create scores for Musescore.com, which means that it is not a true web-based notation program. Musescore.com is more like Sibeliusmusic.com (but lacking the ability to sell scores). It is free and open source for accessing scores everywhere using iPad, iPhone, and Android applications. You can find sheet music and video scores as groups that can require memberships.



ScoreExchange is a discounted and updated successor to SibeliusMusic.com which lets users upload scores directly for web publication, distribution, or sale. Anyone can sign up for a free ScoreExchange account and become a publisher to start distributing scores. What’s unique about ScoreExchange is that not only do scores show up on the ScoreExchange website, but they also show up on the Avid Scorch iOS iPad application, allowing the option for other users to view, purchase, download, and play the scores uploaded to the site. For a limited period ScoreExchange will transfer all Sibelius Music content, so there’s no need to re-upload scores and parts! The library is extensive, covering every genre, and much of the music free. It is a good place to publish worthy student works.


Closing Comments

The future of music technology education is in the cloud. With this well designed software, students can access notation tools from anywhere and share work online with teachers or each other. The “flipped classroom” has finally arrived, letting the teacher be the “guide on the side” rather than remain the “sage on the stage.” With all of these tools at educators’ disposal, the music classroom has no limits.

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