What Software for writing music lets you catch that light breeze of inspiration?

Software for writing music has to be fast, intuitive to work with and should keep you focused on your work

There are as many different ways to write music as there are composers out there. Some write their ideas with musical notes on paper, some prefer to record them on tape (or HD these days...) while others use Software to get them down in reality.

In the Computer world it mainly depends on what kind of producer you are. If you are already working with a fully fledged recording package like Logic Pro or Cubase with built in notation, you might not need an extra Notation Software for writing music.

If you want to write a musical score for an orchestra as a movie score maker. you may need an extra software that is easier to write scores with. Let's start with...

Notation Software

There are basically two different types of Notation Software:

  1. MIDI Sequencer like Logic Pro, Cubase, etc...with built in notation, that has the ability to show MIDI information in a score format. Here the MIDI information is dominant, notation is second.

  2. Dedicated Notation Software. This kind of software for writing music is optimized to print a perfect score that is easy to read. While most of it can also give out MIDI information or play it's own sounds, it is definitely second here. The most popular program at the moment is probably "Sibelius", because it's rated a bit easier and less complicated than the well known "Finale".

There are a lot of famous songwriters that don't have the faintest idea of notation or simply don't bother to use it.

They often record their ideas directly, without writing them down first.

Audio Recording Software

Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar. While some folks write down their creative outflow, some prefer to play and record, play and record, play and record,...until they are buried with tons of material.

I used to put it on cassettes until I had a bunch of unordered material, all in a total mess.

On a computer it's all a bit easier to handle. Every sound file has it's timestamp and name. You at least know when you have recorded something and the name gives you a clue what it was about.

Today you have the following options:

  1. Simple mono or stereo Audio recording software. You can use the simple recorders bundled with any operation systems. If you have a notebook you can use the built-in microphone. For a Desktop PC you need an additional, cheap mike.

  2. Your music editing program. Instead of your Windows or Mac audio recorder, you can use a good sound editor like Wavelab, Adobe Audition or Sound Forge. They have some features that make recording or storing your files easier.

  3. Your multitrack recording program. Some people prefer to record directly into their main programs like Pro-Tools, Apple Logic Pro, Cubase, Cakewalk Sonar, Digital Performer, etc... Either just to catch the idea with no attention to intonation or tempo, as a pilot track for overdubbing with correct timing. Others even use all or parts of the recording for their final tracks, because of it's fresh and original spirit.

  4. Use your MP3 player. Some mp3 player have a built-in recording function these  days. This way you are totally independent from your computer and can record anytime, anywhere. After recording you can transfer your files to your computer, name and organize them. For organizing you can use either the file system of your OS, your mp3 organizing software or a special sound file browser.

But even people that are not educated musicians can compose music these days. With a good ear and a feeling for the musical form you can make music from building blocks and loops.

Composing with Building Blocks and Loops

The first software for writing music with loops and samples that became famous for this kind of music production was the widely acclaimed "Acid Pro" from Sonic Foundry, now owned by Sony.

You could "paint" your music by choosing some prerecorded loops of different instruments. Because you could change them in tuning and tempo, adaptation to the song structure was no big deal.

The only problem with this kind of music creation is, that you very much rely on pre-recorded material. You need huge sound libraries with a good administration to get the results you imagine in reasonable time.

After Acid, also other software for writing music implemented this functionality one after the other. Cakewalk Sonar, Cubase, Apple Logic Pro, Fruity loops, Digital Performer, Reason, and even Pro-Tools implemented at least parts of this functionality.

But the most popular software of this kind was the "Johnny comes lately" of the scene, "Garage Band" from Apple. This software could even add some nice features to the functionality of Acid.

But depending of the style of music you want to create, there is even a simpler way to create songs. It builds on programmed "musical intelligence".

Good musicians as well as good songwriters follow certain rules of melody, harmony, rhythm and style when the perform their art. Imagine a software for writing music, that takes account of all this rules while it plays by itself.

Such programs have got a bad name because in the beginning they sounded like the self accompaniment of cheap solo entertainer keyboards. But like anything in the computer scene it develops very fast and the results are quite impressive.

Composition with Virtual Bands

Probably the fastest way to compose music in professional quality, is to check a real good software sampler or wavetable synth and drive it with a good composing and arranging software.

The best known software for writing music and practicing in this area  is called "Band in a Box" by PG Music. It has been used since many years by jazz musicians for jamming with a virtual band.

Over time it has evolved from a better auto accompaniment into a feature loaded solution which includes things like Notation, Lyrics, Melody Tracks, Harmonization, and a programmable StyleMaker. You can also record your voice and even make harmonies for backing vocals.

It also has an vivid community on the net with lots of active user.

For composing and arranging "MIDI only", in case you don't need to record any vocal or instrumental tracks, you can also try "Jammer" from SoundTrek.

Summary: Don't get yourself a software for writing music and adapt your writing style to it. I have very seldom seen that working.

Instead find out how you want to write songs and then get all the tools necessary to make it happen. I hope the guide above helps a bit while doing that.