What's the score? Notation programs for ukulele teachers

pedagogy corner Jun 16, 2021

Notation software can be an incredibly useful tool. Creating arrangements, multiple parts, printing, sharing, transposing... these are all things that can be made more efficient and professional-looking with the right notation program. So which one is right for you?

There are many software programs that can accommodate creating ukulele scores and more are adding this capability all the time, including: Sibelius, Finale, MuseScore, Dorico, LilyPond, Notion, Guitar Pro, Noteflight, and more. And while we can be thankful we’re not stuck writing our pieces out by hand in this day and age—though some of us still like to do that, too—wading through the options of notation programs can be daunting.  

How to decide which is best? Or rather, what program can give you the things you need for your own composing and arranging? 

Let’s first touch on some features that most of us look for in our notation programs. Note that this will vary by user but these are some more commonly referenced considerations:

  • User interface/experience: How easy is it to figure out? To navigate around? To access the most common components?
  • Output/publishing: What does the exported final product look like, whether digital or printed?
  • Playback: Can I easily hear a playback of what I’ve written out?
  • Tuning: Does it offer ukulele tunings?
  • Notation options: Standard notation? Tablature?
  • Price: This might be a deciding factor for many!   

Let’s take a quick scan of a few that are used by ukulele teachers and arrangers, including within our own team here at Uketropolis. It’s worth noting that these programs are continually improving/updating their features and interface so they are always getting better and better!

 

Sibelius 

Sibelius is a powerful program and has been the standard for years, but it’s not always ideal when it comes to including tablature or unusual tunings, though this continues to improve in updated iterations. Price point can make this out of reach for some. You can test it out with a free basic version, or upgrade to different price points with more robust options. There are also discounts for eligible educators and students.  

UI/UE: WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get)

Output: MusicXML, MIDI, MP3, PDF, SVG, EPS, PNG

Playback: MIDI, VST, AU, Avid Library

Ukulele Tuning:  Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: $$$ 

 

Notion  

Notion by PreSonus has been gaining in popularity. It has moved itself into the market as a strong competitor with many of the features of other longer-running programs. It can move easily between devices, e.g. iPhone/iPad/laptop, and though has some limitations, can facilitate most of what we would expect from a notation program.

UI/UE: WYSIWYG

Output: MusicXML, MIDI, WAV, AAC, MP3, PDF, SMP

Playback: MIDI, VST

Ukulele Tuning: Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: $$ 

 

GuitarPro 

An old standard amongst guitar players but has expanded into the ukulele world. It’s flexible in formatting and playback, even at different speeds. It has been a go-to for many for their ukulele composing and arranging.

UI/UE: WYSIWYG

Output: MusicXML, MIDI, ASCII TAB, PNG, PDF, WAV

Playback: MIDI, RSE

Ukulele Tuning: Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: $

 

LilyPond

Created to produce sheet music and is free. Software engineers tend to rank this one pretty high as it has a lot of capability but with its text-based inputting format, offers a different kind of user experience than many are used to. This, however, also makes it more accessible for people with disabilities and can even use speech-recognition software to work with. It can be included in Visual Studio Code. An interesting aside, Wikipedia uses LilyPond output for its musical score references.   

UI/UE: Text-based inputting

Output: Vector PDF, PNG, PS, SVG

Playback: MIDI

Ukulele Tuning: Yes  

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: Free

 

Noteflight 

One of the unique features of Noteflight is the social aspect to the platform where you can share and collaborate. You can sell your arrangements and original works on the Noteflight Marketplace. It’s also cloud-based so you can access it from anywhere. Students in the JHUI Teacher Certification Program use Noteflight to create, share and collaborate on assignments.

UI/UE: WYSIWYG

Output: MusicXML, MIDI, WAV, MP3, PDF

Playback: MIDI

Ukulele Tuning: Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: $$ but has free basic account

 

MuseScore

This program has a lot of the standard features we want, and is free and open source. It's been around for some time and continues to update its offerings. 

UI/UE: WYSIWYG

Output: MusicXML, MIDI, WAV, MP3, PDF, PNG, FLAC, Ogg

Playback: MIDI, Soundfonts, SFZ

Ukulele Tuning: Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: Free

 

Soundslice

Soundslice is used here in Uketropolis courses, as you may have seen. It's an interactive composition option that has options to upload videos and MP3s, share, print and export your scores. It has unique teaching options that permit student submissions and the ability to build "courses" within the program (under the Teacher Plan). The thing that sets Soundslice apart is its ability to synchronize score playback with an audio or video recording. Plus, the student is able to control the speed of the playback; a very powerful learning tool!

UI/UE: WYSIWYG

Output: MusicXML, .gp, .ptb, .tg (and can print directly from "slice")

Playback: MIDI, actual imported recording 

Ukulele Tuning: Yes

Notation: Standard notation, TAB

Price: Free for basic access, or upgrade for additional features

 

What notation software do you use? Share your thoughts in the Uketropolis community!

Cynthia Kinnunen is a music educator from Guelph, Ontario, and is part of Team Uketropolis. www.cynthiakmusic.com

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