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Software for Music Education

© 2003 Anthony Reimer • Presented September 23, 2003

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Buying Software

Software Categories

Notation Software

  Platform Academic Price (est.) Pros Cons
Mac OS 9, X
Windows 98–XP
from Free to $400, depending on features; Lab packs of full version available (5 copies for approx. the price of three); site licences also available. Industry standard. Long history. Excellent manuals (PDF only). All products share same file format (easy to migrate up or down). Can be intimidating for beginning users, but they have worked to change that over the years. File format changes every year just slightly, so newer version can read old files but not vice versa. Mac OS X version not available until late October (version 2003 runs in Classic).
Sibelius Mac OS 8.6+, X
Windows 95+
$400; Lab packs of full version available (5 copies for approx. the price of three); site licences also available. Growing user base. Touted as easier to use than Finale. No cheap or free versions. Doesn't have the history in the market of its main competitor. No competitive upgrades.
NoteAbility Pro
[Opus One Music]
Mac OS X ca. $375 retail; site licences (in groups of 5 users) available, as low as $90 per copy; once you have a site licence, users in the school can buy a personal copy for $100; freeware "Lite" version available for Mac OS 7.5–9.2 and Windows 95–2000. Downloadable. Incredibly powerful in the way you can manipulate graphics. Capable of the most demanding notational tasks. Certain tasks are much simpler than in competing programs (e.g., adding an articulation to a number of notes simultaneously). Canadian. Uses QuickTime for MIDI output. MIDI playback does not respect dynamics and some other elements. Not widely used, although it does have some converts, as it was the first notation program that ran natively in Mac OS X.
Mac OS 8.6+, X US$150 for institutional and faculty purchases; US$100 for student purchases; volume discounts available. "Lite" version available for free. Downloadable. Very easy interface to master (once you have your score set up). Manuscript paper metaphor. Versions available for older (much older) computers. Requires a negligible amount of RAM. When you want to get more sophisticated, it can be a little awkward. Automatic formatting is not as sophisticated as in the above competitors. Mac OS X version promised but not yet shipping (current version runs in Classic).

Sequencing Software (MIDI + Digital Audio)

  Platform Academic Price (est.) Pros Cons
Digital Performer
Ver. 4: Mac OS X 10.2
Ver. 3: Mac OS 8.5.1-9.2.2
$500–600 per copy; 5-packs for education can bring price down to $375 per copy. Highly refined interface (after literally a decade of competition in the marketplace with products like Vision). Learning curve less steep than with some other products. Mac only. Newer version requires a decent computer to run it (it prefers a G4).
Mac OS 9.1+, X Three different levels: "Audio", "Gold", and "Platinum"; Gold ($510) and Platinum ($900) have academic pricing; 5-packs are available Lesser system requirements than some competing products. Very powerful. Popular in many circles. Company was bought by Apple. Windows version discontinued in Fall 2002. Not as popular.
Mac OS X 10.2
Windows 2000, XP
$300 for SL; $500 for SX. 5-pack and 10-pack versions available, which can reduce the price to $200 and $375 per copy respectively. They invented the VST plug-in standard that is supported by most audio programs. Large installed user base. Very powerful. Very high system requirements (Power Mac G4 or Pentium III 500 MHz, plus a large monitor). Professional (SX) version requirements even higher. Some users have trouble with the learning curve.
Pro Tools
Mac OS X
Windows XP
$850 for Mbox hardware and Pro Tools LE software (it goes up —way up — from there). Free version of software (older) available for Mac OS 9 and Windows 98/Me. Incredibly popular in the pro audio arena (used by recording studios). Powerful. Very high system requirements (Power Mac G4 or Pentium III 500 MHz, plus lots of RAM). More expensive systems have even higher requirements. Interface a little complicated. Started out as a digital audio editor, so if you do a lot of MIDI work, you may find it cumbersome.
Cakewalk Windows 98SE+ (no NT) $105 for Home Studio, $150 for Home Studio XL, $300 for Sonar Studio, $450 for Sonar Producer; lab packs and site licences available for as low as $60 per copy Very popular among Windows users, particularly hobbyists. Many price entry levels. Packages comparable to above have high system requirements. Windows only. Sometimes suffers from feature-itis.
Stereo Audio Only
[BIAS Inc.]
Mac OS X
Mac OS 9 (older version included)
$120 for Peak LE (no ed. discount), $375 for Peak; Lab 5-packs available (brings LE price down to $70 per copy). DV version also available (included with Final Cut Pro). Great when all you want to do is deal with stereo (or mono). Very easy to use. Comes with CD burning software (Toast Lite). Need to buy Deck for multichannel audio. Mac only.
Sound Forge
[Sonic Foundry / Sony]
Windows 2000, XP ("Studio" can run under 98SE and Me as well) $300; $150 per copy if you site licence 5 or more copies; limited "studio" version available for $100. Widely used. Can use to sync with video. Can burn CDs (track-at-once only). Windows only.
Rhythm Section Generator
Band in a Box
[PG Music]
Mac OS 8, 9 (Classic in OS X)
Windows 95+
$110 (no discount); lab pack of 5 for $200 You specify the chord symbols and the style and it supplies a very usable accompaniment. Can generate lead sheets as well. One-trick pony. Windows version slightly more current than Mac.
MiBAC Jazz Mac OS 8, 9 (Classic in OS X)
$150–200 (no discount); 5-pack (same price as three regular copies) and site licences available for academic purchase Same as above, but with a particular jazz focus/bias. One-trick pony. Originally for Mac only (Windows version may not have every feature of Mac version).

Ear Training and Theory Software

  Platform Academic Price (est.) Pros Cons
Ear Training Only
Practica Musica
[Ars Nova]
Mac OS 9.1+, X
Windows 95+ (no NT)
$150 per copy (no discount); site licence $810 (includes 30 reusable Student Files); additional Student Files may be purchased ($60 per 10); theory book available to compliment software. Provides individual progress reports (with student files). Can be run from a server. You can customize activities (but not so simply that everyone will want to do it). Generous upgrade policy. Mac and Windows version on same CD. Downloadable. Very thorough (and you can create almost anything you think is missing). Entry-level pricing fairly steep.
[Rising Software]
Mac OS 7.6+, X
Windows 95+
$150; lab pack of 5 $480; site licence also available Covers a wide range of topics. Can track student progress (results can be stored in a central database if machines networked). Includes exercises where students match pitch through singing (mic required). Fairly popular. Testing available. They also make Musition, a theory product. Some of the feedback screens are aimed at a relatively juvenile audience. Interface could use some work (based on earlier versions).
MacGamut Mac OS 7–9 (X in Classic mode only)
Windows 95+
US$35 (ca. $50) direct; 20% discount on quantities of 5 or more Written by a University theory prof. Mac and Windows version on same CD. Archaic interface. Cumbersome copy protection scheme (must have original CD in drive in order to run the program).
Theory (may have some Ear Training)
MiBAC Music Lessons Mac OS 7–9
Windows 95–2000
Two volumes; $170 each (no discount); lab pack of 5 for $600; site licence also available Provides all the basics for beginners, plus additional jazz stuff not found in other packages. A small amount of ear training (more in Vol. II) Program has been around for a while; does not run on most recent version of Mac & PC operating systems.
[Rising Software]
Windows 95+ $150; lab pack of 5 for $480; site licence also available From the authors of Auralia. Covers the basics. Many of the same benefits as Auralia (e.g., networking, tests). Windows only. Fairly basic.
Essentials of Music Theory
Mac OS 8, 9, X
Windows 95B+
Student package $45 for Vol. 1, $60 for Vol. 2+3, or $90 for complete; educator package available separately or included in lab packs; network version and ear training CDs also available Can be used in conjunction with 3-volume series of workbooks ($10 each) of the same name. Can generate printed tests as well as test by computer. Can import class lists. Created with the school band teacher in mind. Have been doing computer software for educators since the mid-1980s. Pricing options a bit confusing (go for the Complete version if your budget allows).

Hardware Considerations