MusicXML: Music Notation Interchange for the Internet

As a musician and web designer/developer, I’ve been especially interested in the development of universal standards for music notation that can be easily shared or exchanged via the Internet. I’ve watched several approaches come and go, but MusicXML has become the most successful standard for Western music notation interchange since MIDI.[1] Although in development quite some time before releasing, MusicXML’s beta version has only been available for seven short months, since October, 2001, so this is quite an impressive start.

Utilizing XML, MusicXML is a universal translator for music notation. In other words, it provides a means for various computer music programs to share data. MusicXML is being used with increasingly more software, including Coda Music’s popular Finale musical notation software, allowing music to be created in a wide variety of print, audio, and interactive formats via the MusicXML technology.

As MusicXML’s creator Michael Good explains, “Up to this point, musical scores have been distributed online either as PDF files or in a proprietary file format. MusicXML gives you a way to move scores easily between different computer applications.”[2]

Curious about what MusicXML is all about, including what it looks like? Check these out:

  • Using XML for Musical Representation provides a good overview of MusicXML by Michael Good from his lecture outline for Stanford University’s Music Representation class. His outline describes some of how MusicXML works, including its support for performance, notation, and analysis formats. There are also MusicXML XML DTD samples.
  • MusicXML: An Internet-Friendly Format for Sheet Music is the white paper provided by Michael Good at the XML 2001 Conference. The white paper provides a more extensive overview than the outline above, and includes more examples, future directions, and a bibliography and glossary.
  • Notation Basics in MusicXML is one of the MusicXML tutorials by Michael Good. It explains the logic behind MusicXML and provides helpful examples and explanations of the basics for writing MusicXML.

Using MusicXML technology, Good’s Internet music publishing and software company, Recordare, recently announced its plans to sell music editions from Stanford University’s Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities (CCARH).[3]  CCARH built MuseData, one of the world’s largest databases of classical music, so the possibilities here are enormous and exciting.

Along Comes Project XEMO

Project XEMO (eXtensible Electronic Music Object architecture) is an open source modular software environment, written in Java, that develops and provides modular tools for musicians and composers for their creative workflow. These modules can then be integrated into an interactive musical application, called ICE (Integrated Composition Environment).

What do they have to do with MusicXML? Lots. Here’s a nutshell overview.

  1. Project XEMO wants to help accelerate the development of computer music systems that promote open standards and interoperability.
  2. They also wish to complement MusicXML’s development by adding tools for 20th century and contemporary music representation, which often has more diverse notational needs from traditional Western music notation.
  3. Project XEMO can also provide viewers (for software developers to debug and test their MusicXML applications) and interactive tools for both MusicXML and the MuseData file collection at CCARH.

You can read the details of the above and more at Project XEMO’s site.

MusicXML and Project XEMO’s modules can enable a wide range of possibilities. As Good states about MusicXML,

“If all you can do with downloadable music is play it and print it with one program, why would you buy it compared to paper? But if you can edit the music, use it as a smart accompaniment, look at the musical score together with the playback of a CD, move the music to an electronic music stand, and write new musical programs yourself, the value of the downloadable sheet music increases dramatically. Once the music you download can be used on most any music program on your PC, downloadable sheet music will start to have more value - or different but complementary value - than paper music.”[4]

Although still in its infancy, this technology and collaboration opens up unimagined possibilities for usage. We can have far more interactive music courses, teachers can supply music to students for interactive study, composers can collaborate digitally through this technology, and so much more, all with ease and without formatting barriers. As the MusicXML technology and modules are developed, they’ll also be expanded and built upon for even more capabilities.

How can independent musicians benefit from MusicXML?

While MusicXML adds an exciting new dimension for music publishers, composers and musicians can also greatly benefit, including those of us who are independent musicians. MusicXML provides an avenue of far easier sharing of compositions, for example, with much more on the way.

  1. Finale offers the Dolet MusicXML plugin that translates between Finale, MusicXML, and MuseData formats.
  2. XEMO is developing modules for interactive music notation editors, musical education software, games and more.

  3. TaBazar uses MusicXML for importing and exporting formats for its 10-track tabeditor and midiplayer tablature software for guitar and other instruments.

  4. MusicXML is already being used by other companies, too.

I’m highly encouraged about MusicXML’s potential and early support. I especially like the fact that it’s based on XML’s extensible, platform-independent framework, and I’ll be closely watching their progress.

More on Musical Notation Interchange

In my usual style, I can’t sign off without including resources for more information. First I’ve included links to resources about music notation and interchange formats, including MusicXML and others. Then I’ve provided some links to major music notation software companies, reviews about them, and a few less expensive shareware options as well.

Music Notation and Interchange Resources

  • Music Notation
    Top-notch resource for all things related to music notation, including notation software, notation formats, common music notation, and more.
  • Music Notation Software
    An amazingly extensive resource by Gordon J. Callon, covering musical notation language, notation software, and more.
  • Music Notation Software Buyer’s Guide
    Helpful buying guide with at least 15-20 listings in a wide range of prices, some with reviews, and for beginners through professionals. Via Kelly’s Music and Computers.
  • Music Fonts
    Extensive listing of links by Luc Devroye to music-related fonts sites. Some are for specific music notation software programs, while others are for any computer use.
  • Music Symbols (Unicode)
    The official Unicode chart (PDF). See also Unicode Music Symbols, Proposal for Encoding Western Music Symbols in ISO/IEC 10646 by Perry Roland, University of Virginia. A detailed chart is also available (PDF).
  • SMDL - Standard Music Description Language, ISO/IEC DIS 10743:1995
    Links to information and details. SMDL is on hold for now.
  • Sonic Spot: Notation Software
    Listing and demo downloads available here for over 10 software programs.
  • The Big Site of Music Notation and Engraving
    Terrific resource for information and links about engraving conventions, an extensive bibliography, and related links. Created by Dr. Ofer Ben-Amots and Allyssa Lamb, Colorado College.
  • XML and Music
    Robin Cover’s collection of links related to XML and music.
  • Music-related XML technologies
    Index of articles and information at on music-related XML technologies.

Music Notation Software: Finale and Sibelius

Finale, by Coda Music, and Sibelius compete with each other for the major market share for professional, robust music notation software. Each has held first position and both are highly regarded. They’re comparably priced at about $600 retail, $300 for academic versions. Finale also offers several levels of notation software to meet a variety of needs, including: Finale Notepad, their free basic notation software; a beginning music notation version, Finale PrintMusic! for about $70; and Finale Allegro with working musicians and band members in mind, about $200.

Sibelius and Coda Music (Finale series) offer a variety of teaching packages, free web publishing, scanning from print into MIDI, and more. They are also all available for PC and Mac (Finale is PC only with the Mac version almost ready).

Which is for you? You can download trial versions and check them out to see which works better for your needs.

  • Coda Music (Finale Series)
    Finale has been the world standard for music notation software, used by more educators, composers, students, performers and music ministers than any other notation program. The MusicXML plugin is also available for Finale. Currently available only for PC, but a Mac version of Finale 2003 is on its way.
  • Sibelius
    Sibelius is currently the best-selling music notation software for Mac and PC. The MusicXML plugin doesn’t seem to be available yet for Sibelius, but hopefully that will change soon. Sibelius is available for Mac and PC (including Mac OS X).

Other Music Notation Software

Here are a few alternatives to Finale and Sibelius in a range of prices and features. MIDI playback and printing capabilities are fairly standard and some also allow composing via the computer keyboard and/or a built-in virtual keyboard. Find more via the Music Notation and Interchange Resources list above, too.

  • Harmony Assistant, Melody Assistant
    Computer-assisted tunes writing and composition software. Harmony Assistant ($65 shareware) offers more features than Melody Assistant ($15 shareware). By Myriad Software, France.
  • Igor
    Full-featured music notation software. Around $300 and also offers a 25% off academic discount. Good reviews and comments. Available for PC and Mac. By NoteHeads AB, Sweden.
  • Mozart
    Full-featured music notation program that allows composing and editing up to 64 staves and parts via the computer keyboard, the included virtual keyboard, or via MIDI keyboard. Wide range of instrumentation and notation, tablature, and more. Around $79. By Mozart Music Software, David Webber, England.
  • MusEdit
    Inexpensive but full-featured music notation software, including full orchestration, guitar tablature, MIDI playback, chord designer, transposing, printing, more. Also includes a virtual keyboard and virtual fretboard to allow composing with mouse clicks. For Windows only, around $79. By Yowza Software, USA.
  • MusicWrite
    Full-featured music notation software with MIDI sequencing. For PC only, and comes in three versions depending on your needs, from about $20 to $100. By Voyetra Music Software, USA.
  • Songworks II
    Full-featured, well regarded. Compose anything from a simple leadsheet, a piano work or an orchestra score, and from a computer keyboard or MIDI connection. Has a harmonizer, chord analyzer, idea generators, transforming tools, multimedia capabilities, and much more. For Windows and Mac, around $125, and academic pricing offered. By Ars Nova Software, USA.

Music Notation Software Reviews

Want to know what others think?

For more, see also the above Music Notation and Interchange Resources list that includes links to music notation software and reviews, too.


[1] MusicXML Software, by Recordare LLC, June, 2002.

[2]Web App, by Gino Robair. Reprinted from Electronic Musician, March 2002.

[3] Recordare Editions Available for FreeHand MusicPad Pro. Press release January 17, 2002 by Recordare.

[4] MusicXML: An Internet-Friendly Format for Sheet Music. White paper for the XML 2001 Conference. By Michael Good, 2001.

06:21 pm, pdt23 June, 2002 Comments, Trackbacks ·';}?>

Categories: Music, Reviews, Software, Standards, Technology

*/ ?>