A scorewriter, or notation software or music notation processor, is software used with a computer for creating, editing and printing sheet music. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to word text, in that they both allow fast corrections (undo), flexible editing, easy sharing of electronic documents (via the Internet or compact storage media), and clean, uniform layout. In addition, most scorewriters, especially those from the 2000s, are able to sound out the notes using synthesizer instrument sounds or virtual instruments and record the notes (sound). This playback and recording feature is especially useful for novice composers or music students or when no musicians (particularly the very costly full orchestra) are readily available or affordable. The playback and recording features, by the same analogy, makes 2000s-era scorewriters equivalent to both word processors and previsualization software.
Scorewriters are based on traditional music notation, using a staff lines and round note heads. This music notation originates from European classical music. Scorewriters use graphical symbols representing durations in sound and silence, along with symbols for dynamics, articulations and tempo. Some even allow the user to import or create their own symbols for use in scoring. Multitrack sequencer software typically uses a multi-track recorder metaphor as the main interface, consisting of multiple tracks and track segments. Individual tracks can be edited using a graphic notation in the form of a piano-roll guided input for the control of MIDI-based hardware or software instruments.
In addition to these two approaches, a third approach has emerged that combines the above two methods of score input into a digital audio workstation. This allows the user to score parts using traditional notation, using the graphic notation of the piano roll and to record acoustic or electronic instruments in real time alongside the existing scores. In all three cases it is possible to use the computer keyboard and mouse for input control or to use a MIDI musical keyboard for data entry that is later edited using traditional notation or piano-roll based notation.
Some scorewriter critics argue that the implementation of traditional notation in multitrack sequencer software and digital audio workstations is limited and inferior in contrast to professional engraving-quality programs such as 2016-era versions of Finale, Sibelius, LilyPond, MuseScore, and Dorico.
The rapid growth of desktop computers in the 1980s caused the creation of dozens of early scorewriters during that decade (see List of scorewriters). These early scorewriter programs were a boon to young composers, music educators and composition students, as they provided a much less expensive way to create scores and parts for orchestral music and other works. However, 1980s scorewriters were hard to use, as entering music could be slow, and the end printed results were amateur-looking. While 1980s scorewriter scores were readable, they did not look like professionally engraved scores or parts. During the 1990s many of these early programs fell into disuse because they were less sophisticated or harder to use than newer programs, principally Finale and Sibelius, which both offered a wide range of sophisticated features, making them suitable for almost all kinds of music applications and for professional publishing.
By 2000 the market was dominated by Finale (particularly in the US) and Sibelius (which had dominated the UK since 1993, and had expanded worldwide since its Windows release in 1998). Inexpensive programs such as capella gained a significant share of the market in some countries, but in later years free and often open-source software such as MuseScore have become popular worldwide. Sibelius and Finale still dominated the market as of 2012.
In February 2013, Steinberg announced that it had hired the former core development team for Sibelius (who had been dismissed by Avid in 2012) to build a new scorewriter from the ground up.Dorico, the resulting program, was released in October 2016.
All scorewriters allow the user to input, edit and print music notation, to varying degrees of sophistication. They range from programs which can write a simple song, piano piece or guitar tab, to those that can handle the complexities of orchestral music, specialist notations (from early music to avant garde), and high-quality music engraving.
Most scorewriters also allow the music to be played back via MIDI or, in some cases, using virtual instruments, e.g. VST instruments or similar. In a virtual piano in the screen, can show the score and the key played in the keyboard (i.e. changing the colour) at the same time. Scorewriters are somewhat similar to sequencers (many of which can also write music notation up to a point), though scorewriters are used primarily for writing notation and sequencers primarily for recording and playing music.
Some scorewriters allow the printed output to be customized and fine-tuned to a considerable degree, as is required by publishers to produce high-quality music engraving and to suit their individual house style.
A few scorewriters allow users to publish scores on the Internet, where they can be (for example) played back, transposed, and printed out, perhaps for a fee.
Most scorewriters provide other musical functions such as transposing, or producing separate instrumental parts from a full score, or applying music transformations such as retrograde. Some can automatically create instrumental exercises and student worksheets. Some support plug-ins, often developed by users or other companies. Various features found in other types of program are also found in some scorewriters; these include version control (similar to a word processor's 'track changes' feature), importing and exporting graphics, Post-It-like sticky notes, etc.
Almost all scorewriters use their own file formats for saving files. Hence, in order to move notation between different scorewriters (or to/from other kinds of music software such as sequencers), most scorewriters can also import or export one or more standard interchange file formats, such as:
There are also human-readable text-based formats such as ABC notation, LilyPond (.ly file extension) and ASCII tab. These are easily rendered as speech by screen reading software. The Score extension to MediaWiki can render, and generate an audio preview of, the first two formats.
Niff has now been superseded by MusicXML.