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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Shaw

"Composing with Music Notation Software" (Survey Results)

It has been a little longer than I said I may release the results of this survey (*ahem*, a little longer being 4 months, but ah...). Nevertheless, I've finally had enough time to collate the results and produce some graphs to display them. But first, here were some general facts about the survey:

  • The survey ran for 168 hours (from 30th December 2017 to 6th January 2018)

  • In that time, it received a total of 174 valid respondents (after removing blank entries and duplicates) of which 138 fully completed the survey

  • In the graphs, the number of respondents that answered the question will be written as "N=#"

  • Where respondents could choose more than one answer, these have been tagged with "multi-answer"

  • The survey was distributed to various online forums where composers (particularly, young composers under the age of 30) may be active, including:

  • Reddit (123 respondents)

  • Personal Facebook Profile (5 respondents)

  • (4 respondents)

  • (3 respondents)

  • Personal YouTube channel (1 respondent)

  • Survey discovered elsewhere (2 respondents)

  • The mean age of the respondents was 23.16, with the majority being aged between 21-25

Interesting results already! But without further adieu, here are the more interesting results:


What music notation software have you used?

Avid's "Sibelius" took the lead, with close competition battling it out for the 2nd and 3rd spot with MakeMusic's "Finale" and Werner Schweer's "MuseScore".


​How were you first introduced to music notation software?

Intriguingly, most respondents discovered music notation software themselves as opposed to the hypothesized result of "education" being the primary first exposure to music notation software. Curiously, no respondent was introduced to music notation software while at work.


How did you learn to use the music notation software?

Again supporting the above result that most respondents discovered music notation software themselves.


How proficient do you consider yourself to be at using your most regular music notation software?

Respondents were generally very experienced with music notation software with a mean score of 7.82 (with 10 being "very proficient").


In addition to music notation software, do you use other methods of notation when composing?

The majority of respondents claimed that they only occasionally use other methods of notation outside of music notation software (e.g. physical manuscript).


What is/are the other methods that you use?

And the most common other method for notation outside of music notation software was, of course, physical manuscript. Arguably, the use of digital audio workstations and mobile applications would count as music notation software.


When composing with music notation software, do you compose knowing that your compositions will be performed by live performers? (This can include yourself)

A very balanced spread of results, leaning ever so slightly in favour of compositions being performed by live performers.


​If you do not intend your compositions to be performed by live performers, how do you create a recording of your piece (if, at all)?

Outside of using live performers, the most common method the respondents used to create recordings of their compositions was to use virtual instruments in a digital audio workstation, but with a large majority also using the playback of the music notation software as a recording.


If you have had a composition written on music notation software performed by live musicians, did you or the performers encounter any initial issues with the composition?

"Misprints" proved to be the most common issue, as is a universal case not solely affecting music produced with music notation software, but also with physical manuscripts.


Do you use a sound set or other plugin to adjust the default playback sounds of the music notation software?

While the majority of respondents stated they do not use a sound set or plugin to adjust the default playback sounds of their music notation software, 43% stated that they do, with the most common response being Wallander Instrument's "NotePerformer".


On a scale of 1-5, how important are each of the following when making creative decisions during the compositional process?

The influence of audio playback on creative decisions proved to be evenly spread, only slightly leaning to the side that it is important on decisions, with a mean score of 3.11 and standard deviation of 15.64.

Playing the music through on virtual instruments proved to have far more sporadic results with a mean score of 2.87 and a more extreme standard deviation of 8.29.

The centuries old method of "playing the music through on a keyboard" to make creative decisions still upholds its influence, with a mean score of 3.46 and a standard deviation of 13.95.

And playing the music on the instrument(s) you are writing for was also highly influential on creative decisions, but marginally less so than playing the music through on a keyboard, producing a mean score of 3.4 and a standard deviation of 10.84.

One must never underestimate the importance of "feedback" on creative decisions, and that is very evident here with a mean score of 3.79 and a standard deviation of 21.79.

But the most important influence on creative decisions was undoubtedly "musical intuition" - where the respondents use their knowledge of music to make creative decisions - which had an extreme mean score of 4.72 and a standard deviation of 48.38.

And the most favoured influence - "deadlines" - also showed its importance. Although not as important as "feedback", it still held a mean score of 3.51 with a standard deviation of 12.7.


If you could choose the three most important things that influence your creative decisions when composing with music notation software, what would they be?

When choosing the three most important things that influence creative decisions (including those listed in the prior question), the most important proved unquestionably to be "musical intuition". The results of the previous question do seem to reflect here, with "human feedback" being the 2nd most important, but intriguingly the 3rd most important factor was "notation software playback", followed closely by "playability" (which was not listed in the previous question) and "deadlines".


To what extent do you feel that the functionality of the music notation software influences the music that you are writing?

This question produced another dramatic spread of results, falling slightly towards the side that functionality of music notation software does not influence the music that you are writing, with a mean score of 4.5 and a standard deviation of 4.7.


If the functionality of music notation software does influence you, how does it?

When prompted how the functionality of music notation software influences them, the respondents found that they generally avoided things that were difficult to create in the software, but also avoided using certain notes/techniques and even instruments due to the quality of their playback.


Personally, do you prefer composing with music notation software, with manuscript paper, or through another method?

Overwhelmingly, the respondents preferred composing with music notation software as opposed to manuscript paper, with 76.6% of respondents favouring notation software.


Why is this your preferred method?

When prompted why this was their preferred method, respondents in favour of music notation software noted that it was "faster/more efficient" to use, and that the "instant playback" was extremely beneficial. Respondents also noted that the software was "simpler/easier to use" and that it certainly could produce "more legible scores".

Respondents who voted in favour of manuscript paper commented that they preferred the greater "flexibility and control" they had over the score, and also that they found it similarly "faster/more efficient".


If you have composed both with music notation software and with manuscript paper, what do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of both methods of notation?

When prompted to share what they felt were the strengths and weaknesses of both primary methods of notation ("music notation software" and "physical manuscript"), the greatest strengths of software were in its ability to "instantly playback" the composition. Respondents again noted that it was "faster/more efficient" and produced "more legible scores".

When regarding the weaknesses of software, comments revealed the darker side of the playback with it being "unrealistic". Respondents also saw that there was a "higher risk of unplayability", and that software was more "restrictive" with what they could create.

When asked what they considered to be the strengths of physical manuscript, the most common highlighted its "more flexible" nature with less restrictions. Many also noted that it was "faster for sketching", and offered greater "portability" as opposed to music notation software.

The primary weakness of physical manuscript was that it is a "time-consuming" method which "cannot be listened to" without training of the inner ear. Similarly, physical manuscript would often produce "less legible scores", dependent on the respondent's own handwriting.


How confident are you with your knowledge of music theory?

When asked how confident they were with their knowledge of music theory, the respondents were very favourable, responding with a mean score of 7.61 and a standard deviation of 11.9. This strengthens the earlier result that "musical intuition" was the most important factor in creative decisions.


When comparing music theory and music technology, which do you feel you have a better understanding of?

When prompted to compare their knowledge of music theory with their knowledge of music technology, the respondents were far more knowledgeable in music theory as opposed to music technology, with 50.3% voting for music theory and only 9% for music technology. However, 40.7% of respondents felt that they had an equal knowledge of both music theory and music technology.


For composers of acoustic instruments, how much do you feel you understand the instrument(s) that you write for?

When asking composers of acoustic instruments how much they felt they understood the instrument(s) they were writing for (e.g. what was idiomatic for that instrument), the respondents showed they were very knowledgeable with their instrument(s), producing a mean score of 7.34 and a standard deviation of 11.9.


Are you currently, or have you ever studied music?

Planting the survey in musical forums certainly brought in musical respondents, with 94.5% of respondents having studied music.


Are you currently, or have you ever worked in the music industry in any way?

But fewer respondents had spent time working in the music industry (47.6%), suggesting that many respondents are still undertaking education, or partake in music as a hobby.


What is your age?

When asked their age, the respondents were younger composers with 78% of respondents being aged 30 or under, with a mean age of 23.16. Considering that music notation software has been available commercially for around 30 years, most of the respondents would have been brought up in a generation of music notation software rather than physical manuscript.


How did you find out about this survey?

And of course, Reddit never disappoints (except for their redesign), which gathered most of the respondents from various subreddits such as "r/composer", "r/WeAreTheMusicMakers", "r/musicians", "r/mediacomposing", and "r/Composition", and I am very thankful to the moderators that allowed me to post the survey.


Aaaand, those were the results!

A lot of interesting statistics to be found, and it would certainly be excellent to create another similar survey in the future and gather far more respondents not solely from online forums, but also in person and from a wider age demographic.

We are in a very intriguing technological revolution which appears to be resulting (or already resulted!) in a major shift from physical manuscript to music notation software for the composition process, and it will undoubtedly prove useful for more surveys of this nature to be undertaken globally over the next few decades to follow this shift.

But, that's it from me. I must confess this was my first survey and so I apologize for the very amateur presentation. Nevertheless, if this was an interesting topic, I'll drop here a few references that I found extremely engaging on this very topic - enjoy!



  • Demeski, J. (2010) 'How Music Teachers Got Their Groove Back: Music Instruction Goes Digital'. TheJournal. Vol.37(9), pp.26-31

  • D'Escriván, J. (2012) Music Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

  • Dorfman, J. (2006) 'Learning Music with Technology: The Influence of Learning Style, Prior Experiences, and Two Learning Conditions on Success with a Music Technology Task'. [Dissertation] Northwestern University

  • Guthmann, S. E. (2013) 'Cycles of Revision: A Study of Music Compositions by Students Involved in the Vermont MIDI Project (Music-COMP)'. [Dissertation] Northwestern University

  • Han, S. (2004) 'Composers' Perspectives Regarding Computer Technology's Impact on the Development of Compositional Craft'. [Dissertation] Columbia University

  • This dissertation in particular is incredibly bountiful on the subject

  • Mills, J. & Murray, A. (2000) 'Music technology inspected: good teaching in Key Stage 3'. Cambridge University Press. Vol.17(2), pp.129-156

  • Reich, S. (1998) 'Steve Reich in conversation with Richard Kessler'. New Music USA. [Internet] Available at: (Accessed: 11th January 2018)

  • Savage, J. (2005) 'Working towards a theory for music technology in the classroom: how pupils engage with and organise sounds with new technologies'. British Journal of Music Education. Vol.22(2), pp.167-180

  • Swain, T. (2017) 'Music Technology in a 21st Century Economy'. National Association for Music Education. [Internet] Available at: (Accessed: 11th January 2018)

  • Villani Jr., A. D. (2014) 'An Appraisal of the use of Computer Music Notation Software among Selected High School Music Teachers.' [Dissertation] Boston University

  • Wise, S.; Greenwood, J. & Davis, N. (2011) 'Teachers' use of digital technology in music education: illustrations of changing classrooms'. British Journal of Music Education. Vol.28(2), pp.117-134



I have attached here images of the survey as it would have appeared to respondents.

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