Comparison of Notation Software

Updated on January 11th, 2024

Throughout courses at Berklee Online, students may need to use notation software. Some courses, such as Music Notation and Score Preparation using Sibelius Ultimate may actually be designed around a specific piece of software, whereas others may allow the use of different pieces of software. This article will aim to explain the differences among seemingly similar applications.

Course Requirements

As mentioned above, certain courses will have requirements on which pieces of software you can use, and the four primary pieces of notation software that a student will encounter are:

  • MuseScore
  • Finale
  • Sibelius
  • Dorico

The majority of courses at Berklee Online that focus on notation will require the use of either Finale or MuseScore. This is because these courses use downloadable files that have been created in Finale or MuseScore. There are a few courses which allow the use of any notation software, and these typically require the student to create notation from scratch, negating the use of downloadable files. Berklee Online currently offers dedicated courses for both Finale and Sibelius focusing exclusively on each respective piece of software. These courses are: 


MuseScore is a very popular notation software, as it offers a very similar range of features and user experience as Finale, but is a completely free option. It offers features such as:

  • Ability to transfer to and from other programs via MusicXML, MIDI, and more formats
  • Note input via MIDI keyboard
  • Templates
  • An active community due to being an open-source program.
  • Availability for macOS, Windows, and Linux operating systems, as well as Android and iOS


Finale was actually the first piece of notation software, originally released back in 1988. As mentioned above, Finale shares a lot in common with MuseScore, and they have a very similar feature set. However, Finale does offer a few more features, such as integration with VST sample libraries for playback, and a more robust integration of plug-ins. Many note that there's very little Finale cannot do, but you may find a steeper learning curve doing the more typical scoring required for a Berklee Online course. A few features that Finale does have as an advantage over MuseScore include the following:

  • Support for microtonal music
  • Legacy support for older documents
  • Better default built-in sounds
  • Real-time transcription tool which can transcribe MIDI input on the fly as you input
  • Ability to copy and paste time signature changes (this is fairly standard, but is a feature notably missing from MuseScore)

For the majority of courses, MuseScore will have most of the features that students will need, making it a very solid choice, especially considering its (lack of a) price point. You may find Finale Notepad online, which is a free, feature-reduced version of Finale. It's worth noting, however, that Finale Notepad has not received any updates for quite some time, and is not a suitable option for Berklee Online courses. 


Sibelius is one of the most widely-known pieces of notation software, and is generally thought of as a very solid choice of notation software. One important aspect is that as an Avid product, Sibelius follows Avid's pricing structure of being subscription-based only; there is no option for a one-time purchase up front. You are able to pay for a one-year subscription up front, but after that year is finished, you must either pay again or stop using the software. 

Sibelius is known for being easy to jump into, especially for those newer to notation software, because of its ribbon user interface. This should look familiar to anyone acquainted with Microsoft Office, where almost everything you may need is visible in front of you. Some, however, criticize that things aren't laid out in a useful manner, and they aren't grouped by functionality or similar themes. The layout at first can also result in a lot of back-and-forth clicking between elements until users get more familiar with using the Keypad.

A Note on the Keypad in Sibelius

One of the most powerful features of Sibelius is the Keypad, which speeds up note entry quite noticeably. However, the Keypad is designed to work with a computer keyboard which features a number pad. If you are using a laptop, or a computer with a numberless keyboard, then you may need to consider an external number pad to take advantage of the Keypad functionality within Sibelius. 



Dorico is made by Steinberg, the developers for the Cubase DAW, and is a relative newcomer on the scoring scene, having been released in 2016. This is something that many are pleased about, given that it's a brand new piece of software designed from the ground up. Given that Finale has a 30+ year legacy, a lot of it's use and feature-set have been iterative over that time. A lot of legacy Finale users feel that Dorico's ground-up design is refreshing and addresses some of the pain-points that they may have developed with Finale and/or Sibelius. 

However, even though it may lack the pedigree of Finale and Sibelius, Dorico is already considered one of "the big three" in the notation software world. In terms of pricing, Dorico comes at a more substantial upfront cost at $579.99 for the full version, or $359.99 for educational pricing. However, this is a one-time price and does not require a subscription. Users can also make use of a 30-day trial or the free SE version to see if Dorico's design language and workflow appeals to them. 

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