I am fairly new to the whole computerized world of music - meaning all the different software available for a musician for helping in all sorts of music related tasks.

I am talking about all of the following:

  • Learning to read sheet music
  • Learning music theory in general
  • Tuning an instrument
  • Converting music files to different formats
  • Playing along with a music file, including:
    • Slowing it down
    • Looping
    • Metronome
    • Separate track muting
    • Interactive tablature / sheet music
    • etc...
  • Converting music files to chords / sheet music, and vice versa.
  • Online music news feeds
  • And lots of other stuff I haven't even thought of yet...

So my question is, what does a computer station (preferably a PC, because that's what I'm used to) needs to have in its specifications to be able to support all of these software smoothly? I don't want to spend too much on an overkill computer, but I do want it to be able to handle most software in this category, and last for (as long as possible, but) at least a few years. Also, please address the differences (pros vs cons) between a desktop and a laptop computer meant for this purpose.

Further still, how would you recommend to go about the process of choosing the right software for my workstation? Obviously some of the qualities I look for in any software are

  • An easy to understand UI
  • Integration with other software (mostly the use of industry standards in file formats)
  • And if it's free or very cheap - that's a bonus

Are there any industry standards in this field? Any recommended magazines that cover software reviews and comparisons between competing products?


  • 1
    Malki, I think your question if off-topic here, it's too broad and subject to different opinions. I think any new PC will do what you want, but again its a too broad question, and off-topic I'm afraid. Software for that is also too broad subject to discuss here. Maybe if you have some specific music related software/hardware question it would be more appropriate here.
    – Sergio
    Aug 17, 2013 at 14:32
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    I realize that, this is why I used the phrase "industry standard". If there are any industry standards that most people use, then it would be a good place for me to start
    – Malki
    Aug 17, 2013 at 14:35
  • Aye, This isn't really a practice/perfromance related thing. The best place for computer related questions like that is superuser.com Aug 18, 2013 at 19:19
  • This is one of those questions that really should be answered without the "on a computer" part. Aug 19, 2013 at 11:28
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    I agree - the question isn't asking for specifics that may go out of date, and while you could replace 'for a musician' with others, enough music is produced on computers these days it will be of general interest.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jul 14, 2014 at 11:57

2 Answers 2


This is actually very simple:

  • Get a desktop PC - it will be upgradeable. Laptops aren't (easily)
  • Get a lot of memory and disk. Doesn't matter how much, but the more the better so you can store files at high quality
  • Get an external sound card. This is easily the most important piece of the puzzle. Good quality sound in can make for good quality out. Poor quality in - won't.

That's about it. Upgrade ability is key, most software will work with various configs, but the better the config e better the result.

There aren't really industry standards. You can look at the minimum specs for Cubase, ProTools etc., but they are quite low. Go for whatever you can afford, and be prepared to upgrade/replace parts regularly as you reach limitations or software updates make it harder to work with your existing hardware.

And then, plan on replacing your PC every 3 years or so - but this should be pretty normal anyway, no matter what your usage. (A games machine probably needs replaced every year, or at least the CPU and GPU, so music production is actually relatively cheap in this respect)

  • I'd just like to add that I built my desktop and upgrade / replace individual components as necessary. In the long run it's actually quite a bit more cost-efficient than replacing a rig every few years. Make sure your RAM is setup dual-channel, and AMD cpu's are generally better for price-point. That said gen3 intel cpu's have dramatically lower prices than 1st gen so it's worth a look if you have a preference. Sorry for the tech speak - I occasionally moonlight tech support. Aug 18, 2013 at 8:27
  • 3
    I respectfully disagree with the replacement cycle, especially since we're talking about audio processing, not video. Any PC (Windows, OSX, or Linux) produced in the last 5-10 years has far more processing power than you'll need for any of the tasks listed. Heck, I've got a 2004 (G4) laptop that I installed Ubuntu on, and it easily handles data processing, audio streaming, etc. External USB drives are just short of free these days, so don't worry about internal disk or SSD size. Aug 19, 2013 at 11:33
  • Definitely depends on quality you need and number of parallel streams - I had a top spec gaming machine of a couple of years ago and had to seriously upgrade it to handle the tasks I wanted to do in Cubase. Nice side effect - it also rocks at video editing :-)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Aug 19, 2013 at 20:48

The following tasks work fine on any computer (even a relatively slow one) without a professional sound card.

  • Learning to read sheet music
  • Learning music theory in general
  • Tuning an insturment
  • Converting music and audio files (should work on any computer, the faster the computer the faster it will convert)
  • Playing along with a music file (w/ slowing, transposing, muting tracks...)
  • Converting audio files to notation (same as conversion, the faster the better, it only takes a minute or so for a song on the average computer)
  • Online music feeds

For all of the above, any computer will do. You only need a highly spec-ed computer (mainly the sound card) when you get into some advanced recording, DAW editing, realtime effects and so on.

For software I would recommend Musescore for notation since it is a free open source application. I also like to use the online editor at http://www.noteflight.com (it's free as well). You can use Audacity (also free) for basic editing of audio files (requires lame for mp3 support). VLC player for file conversion (a little tricky to use but supports all the formats you can imagine). For tablature GuitarPro is probably the best choice but it's not free. You can use Power Tab as a free alternative.

For audio to midi conversion you can use WIDI. MIDI is a standard format and can be imported by most Notation/Tab software (including GuitarPro and MuseScore). WIDI is not free, but you can get a limited evaluation version for free. I don't this you'll find it that useful, there's plenty of tabs on the web.

EDIT: MuseScore is not that bad actually with tablature, and can open some (if not all) GuitarPro files; it is free and open-source as a bonus.

  • I recommend buying a laptop because it's portable. Unless you're looking for high performance machine and accessories for serious work (midi keyboard, hi-fi speakers, mics...).
    – Anthony
    Aug 19, 2013 at 14:24
  • Do you prefer Musescore to Lilypond? Aug 19, 2013 at 14:36
  • I haven't tried LilyPond to be honest. I watched some videos and preferred MuseScore. The weird thing is I prefer noteflight over MuseScore and I don't hear people talking about it. It is really cool and easy to use. I'm going to give LilyPond a try, I didn't know it was available for Mac.
    – Anthony
    Aug 19, 2013 at 14:43
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    'Converting audio files to notation' has not yet been achieved at anything but a trivial level by any computer. That still needs the brain and experience of a skilled musician (and if @Anthony can show otherwise, I'll be delighted to see evidence). Buy a laptop if it MUST be portable. But what's not to like about expandability, repairability, bigger screen(s) and considerably more power for the same money?
    – Laurence
    Nov 23, 2017 at 0:39

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