Projects in Music Notation

Whether you are an ensemble director, private lesson instructor, or general music teacher, music notation skills can come in handy. Inevitably, you may want or need to create new piece of music, or you may want to transform or adapt some existing piece of music. In addition, you may want to create your own classroom and teaching materials. Having music notation skills, allows you to accomplish these goals. 

Software Choices

There are a number of music notation software programs out there that you can choose from. Some are free, but for more advanced features, you will likely want to upgrade to a paid software program. If you need to create something simple, then some for the free software programs like Musescore, Noteflight, or can be a great start. They do have some limitations, but the good news many of the free notation programs are open sourced and constantly updating with more features. For a little more flexibility, you may want to use one of the paid programs like Finale, Sibelius, or Dorico. Finale is one of the oldest software programs on the market, and consequently one of the most widely used. Sibelius is a well-established program that offers a ton of features. Dorico is newer to the market, developed by the same designers who created Sibelius, and has the potential to become the industry standard. 

For the projects within this OER, we will use Sibelius. They offer a monthly and a yearly subscription for students and teachers that is very affordable. Students can cancel the subscription at the end of the semester, or they can choose to upgrade the full software package if they want to continue using it.

Types of Projects

The projects below will walk through skills that are meant to teach how to use music notation software though Sibelius, focusing at first on its basic features, before moving on to more advanced tools. The first two projects focus on learning the basic features of the program and how to recreate a piece of music. Music examples are selected to develop skills in notation, but also page formatting and text entry. The third project introduces arranging tools, part formatting, and exporting by transforming an SATB score into a choral, instrumental, or general music ensemble setting. The final project turns our attention to creating instructional materials and covers advanced formatting features. By the end of these projects, you should feel comfortable using Sibelius for a variety of creative and classroom needs. Those projects are:

  • Recreate a Score: This project includes recreating a one page score that like, which would requires learners to be able to understand the following concepts and skills:
    • Document set up & manipulation
    • Adding & changing instruments
    • Note entry & articulationsSystem text & expressions
    • Dynamics & special markings
  • Transform a Score: This project includes arranging and adapting an existing piece of music. Through this project, learners will have the opportunity to apply the following concepts of skills through a “real world” setting:
    • Orchestration, arranging, & transposition skills.
    • Entering lyrics & chord symbols.
    • Score & part formatting.
    • Exporting pdf and audio files.
  • Composing and Creating: The projects within this module take on two basic forms, both of which are original pieces of music. In both project options specific constraints are introduced. In the first original composition project calls for specific musical events to take place and constrains the learners to create an engaging piece of music with more more than five notes. The second project allows for some more freedom, but giving learners the autonomy to choose a short video that they will create a soundtrack to accompany it before combining, exporting, and sharing. Introducing constraints provides the necessary box for learners to think outside of.