A friend of mine dislikes composing music on the commercial software he owns (Si..us). The main reason is that he is into modern, avant-garde music and the notation on his current system is just not there yet or what's offered does not satisfy him. He is a professional music composer.

I have no idea about music composition. I really love LaTeX and would consider no other alternative. I am quite able with it and I am able at programming in general.

He asked me for helping him and I see I have two choices, either I experiment writing some plugin for his current commercial software I mentioned, which is uncharted waters for me plus only available on an OS I don't have, or ...

... using a TeX-based or TeX-like (free) music composition system, if available and doing all programming, templating etc. in this myself. Advantages: platform independent and free.

I can manage any installation challenge and possibly I can persuade him to free himself from the GUI for the sake of programmability and typesetting/engraving quality.

So, my question is:

Has anyone here had any experience with both the free and the commercial music-composition softwares and can give some advice whether it's wise to dump the commercial for the free without compromising typesetting quality which is my primary metric.

And also whether there will be lots and lots of symbol libraries for him to choose from?

Edit: I posted similar question on LilyPond user forum

  • 3
    Lilypond is “TeX like”. But the question is off-topic here: the TeX family has MusixTeX, but that's very far from your friend's need, as far as I can see.
    – egreg
    Jun 12, 2019 at 15:41
  • 2
    the old means of moving between lilypond and musescore went about 5 years ago the current transfer between the two is using MusicXML which needed xml2ly conversion, not sure how to relate to TeX but both are mentioned in the LaTeX guide for musicians ctan.math.washington.edu/tex-archive/info/latex4musicians/…
    – KJO
    Jun 12, 2019 at 16:22
  • 2
    there is also ctan.org/pkg/lyluatex
    – Ulrike Fischer
    Jun 12, 2019 at 16:38
  • 4
    @KJO If Sibelius doesn't meet the guy's needs, Musescore certainly won't.
    – alephzero
    Jun 12, 2019 at 17:25
  • 3
    Most people I know who produce music scores using "avant garde" notation don't use any music notation apps. They do it with graphic design software like Adobe InDesign. The the whole point of music notation apps is that they "understand" conventional music notation, and if you don't want to use conventional notation, that means everything the app was written to do just gets in the way.
    – alephzero
    Jun 12, 2019 at 17:29

2 Answers 2


The main reason to use Open Source software is its longevity, in my opinion. After having to learn new programs when CorelDraw and Aperture were no longer maintained for Mac, I always try to find some Open Source alternative. Maybe it is not so good, but it will probably last much longer since anybody who has the skills and interest can maintain it.

In the case of music, I have been using Lilypond since I started learning to play guitar. Since I already know LaTeX, it has not been to difficult nor frustrating, which is what happens usually with people who has never used such format. So, if you know LaTeX I would recommend you to use Lilypond also.

About the potential longevity of Lilypond in comparison with comercial software, this question is interesting.

In Lylipond you can of course use all kind of commands to get the output you want, but If the notation that is required is not traditional, as @alephzero says in comments, then I still would go for Open Source, chosing Inkscape instead of InDesign.


You certainly won't get any better options with freeware music notation programs as has been pointed out in the comments to the question.

You can actually make a lot of "avant garde" notation in Sibelius, but Finale is especially good on that matter.

If you want to see examples of avant garde types of scores made with Sibelius and Finale google these terms:

graphic notation Sibelius

graphic notation Finale

If you want to expand the possibilities, which can include other types of software, google:

Contemporary Music Notation software

Here is a good result from googling that line:


Find other relevant terms to google and explore the possibilities.

  • 1
    The developers of Sibelius were all canned and they created a new package called Dorico. I've never used it but that might be one for the OP to check out as well. Music notation is so complicated that it is hard to imagine a freeware application at the level of, say, FINALE. Jun 12, 2019 at 22:25
  • 1
    As an answer to the question, Lilypond is probably not the best solution, but those who think that it doesn't meet the standards of commercial offerings like Finale might want to check this link: musicbyandrew.ca/finale-lilypond-1.html which compares the two. Lilypond is a great piece of software.
    – Alan Munn
    Jun 13, 2019 at 1:11
  • 1
    thank you for the links and the terms (unknown to me) to google, especially that Quora post is great. I have installed Abjad (python+LilyPond) and is impressive. I am slowly getting into this...
    – bliako
    Jun 13, 2019 at 21:18

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