Why I don’t like online music notation apps

As I could see at Musikmesse 2013, the trend in music notation programs goes to online services like Noteflight and mobile apps like Scorio. From a developer’s point of view, especially Noteflight is an fascinating piece of software – a whole notation program written in pure HTML5 and JavaScript. However, as a user, I am not convinced of the idea behind online music notation. Here are my reasons:

  1. I have a fixed work area when writing music. This is not only because I need a large screen, a hardware keyboard, a mouse, a MIDI keyboard and a printer, but also because I need to have my peace at my own desktop. In 99% of the time, I write music on the same computer. Online notation programs allow to write music “everywhere”. I just don’t need that. I find it horrible to write music on a tablet PC or even a smartphone.
  2. I prefer printed sheet music. Online programs can also print your music, but their focus is much more on screen display and the viewer’s perspective. Maybe the musicians I know (including myself) are old-fashioned, but we like to play music from printed paper. We take notes with a pencil (without limitations which notes are possibe), and we need no internet connection (we have none in our rehearsal room) and no electric power. I like the idea of sharing files with others over the internet, but this is also possible with e-mail, dropbox and other services, and for sure also within desktop notation programs in the future. I need no web browser for that.
  3. Pay for the time. The price of the programs is currently at about 80$ per year. Suitable desktop notation programs cost about two or three times as much, but only once (bigger updates not included). Since I am happy with my desktop application, the subscription of the online program would be more expensive already in the third year.
  4. Dependency on the vendor. When the vendor closes its service, I can rescue the files by exporting to MusicXML, but I can not use the same notation program any more. This is different with offline desktop applications: When the vendor stops development, I can still install and use the software on my computer as long as I like it.
  5. A technical reason: Web technologies are limited. Although new standards like the Web MIDI API will follow, I think the web is not suitable for high-end multimedia applications. When running in the web browser, you always have an additional layer (the browser) between your application and the operating system, which makes everything slower, more limited and reduced to a compromise that works for all kinds of devices. When you want to fully exploit the power of your computer, there is no better option than running as low-level as possible (already choosing Java for Zong! was a hard decision).

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t like online music notation apps

  1. Plug

    The interest and energy invested in music is immense. It is only a matter of time until full and open-source musical notation is as ubiquitous in the browser as text. Noteflight, scorio and the likes will quickly be replaced by significantly better products.

    The main objection to current online offerings is that they represent -for the meantime- a dumbing-down music compared to hand-crafted, professionally printed scores.

    The main hurdle to be overcome is the *full* online representation of MusicXML, currently the only exchange format capable of representing every nuance of a full classical score.

    MusicXML is hamstrung only by it’s redundancy – the ill-thought-through incorporation of inline and proprietary (instead of in-browser and algorithmic) placement. Rid of this ballast, it holds great promise.

    The real pyrotechnics, of course, start only once music can be fully and universally represented in the browser. On that level, it’s absurd to say the web is not suitable for high-end multimedia applications (search “interactive infographic” in Google images). If online gamers can cope, so can musicians. It’s just a matter of expectation, imagination – and a little adaptation.

    At the simplest level, that of online notation, we can expect a short renaissance in the use of quality offline score editing programs. They are comfortable, understood, robust, functionally exhaustive – and clearly liked. Just don’t allow yourself to get stuck there.. 🙂

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  2. Andi

    I agree, that the current online music notation programs are made for rather simple scores, not for professional work. However, I think that web technologies are still limited, and Noteflight already exploits much of what is possible. But there are limits. Think about scores with hundreds of pages (good desktop programs like PriMus or Sibelius have no significant performance impacts when working on them) or multimedia connections like VST or the JACK Audio Connection Kit.
    Online games are interesting, because they have a potentially large audience. Everybody wants to play little games whenever possible; in the lunchbreak, in the train, on any device. But when I write music, I have a fixed workspace and I need enough time. I can not see the advantage of online music notation programs in this case.

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