I just came across this terrific video of sample notation (of ABBA, no less!; here's the original) done with Bank Street Music Writer, a program released back in 1985 (!).

This is the earliest notation program I've been able to find. Was there an earlier program?

As a side question, is there a source anywhere discussing a history of music notation programs?

Edit: I know this question could also belong on a computing site, but I figured some of the older folks on here would have a more immediate answer.

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    The first music composed by a computer is generally agreed to be the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illiac_Suite from 1957. I don't know if there were any experiments with computer notation before that date. – user19146 Jul 28 '16 at 17:48

There was a presentation at the 2016 MOLA (Major Orchestra Librarian's Association) conference: From http://mola-inc.org/article/2016-Conference-Agenda.pdf:


Daniel Spreadbury, Product Marketing Manager, Steinberg Media Technologies

Philip Rothman, Owner – NYC Music Services

Come and hear about the various technological breakthroughs that have enabled the performance of ever more sophisticated music since the 1960s, from the earliest computerized notation to digital scores performed from iPads, and everything in between. How has the development of new technologies changed the way music is performed, or indeed composed – for better or worse – and where could things go from here?

I don't know if this is publicly available anywhere (a video of at another presentation from the conference is on YouTube with the permission of the presenter), but both presenters have well-known blogs and I would expect they would give you a good response to a "serious" email inquiry.



The earliest musical composition by computer is generally agreed to be the Illiac Suite by Hillier and Isaacson in 1957, who published a book on their work in 1959, available here: https://archive.org/details/experimentalmusi00hill. Apparently (see page 77) the problem of producing human-readable staff notation was outside the scope of their project, but they considered converting a commercially available manually operated music typewriter to automatic control, using punched paper tape as in similar machines of the time like the Teletype.

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I spent some time with Music Construction Set on the Commodore 64, although it came out first in 1984 for the Apple II, according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Construction_Set

The computer geek in me loved it, the musician not so much. The GUI was ahead of its time (on the C64 at least), but dragging and dropping notes with a joystick was slow work, and three voice polyphony was something of a limitation of course.

I guess there's bound to have been older, command based notation software, but I don't of any.

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The Fairlight CMI is older, and had the "Page R - Realtime Composer" feature, but this was composing more in terms of patterns than actually creating notation electronically and hearing the results.

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  • "older" than what, the software in the question or in one of the other answers? This answer would be more useful if you could provide some dates, even an approximate year. – shoover Jul 28 '16 at 20:26
  • You can tell from the timestamp (though perhaps not always) that this answer was the first given, so "older" is in reference to the software in the question. A quick Internet search also shows that Fairlight CMI first appeared in 1979, 6 years before Bank Street Music Writer. – Richard Jul 29 '16 at 0:16
  • It was probably New England Digital who came up with the first commercial notation programme for their Synclavier, ca. 1984-1985. By that point they were evolving their synth (which also came onto the scene in the late '70s) into a full-fledged DAW. – user16935 Jul 29 '16 at 13:12

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