Make the Switch to Notion

The new version of Notion 6 makes it the obvious choice for almost everyone.

Obviously, I like Notion. After all, I wrote a book, Creating Music with Notion, based on Notion 5. When I agreed to write that book, I wasn’t a Notion user. Yes, I had seen the program and it looked fine. But, over the past 25 years, I’ve used just about every notation program that’s released. And frankly, I’ve been burned. There have been many good ideas, that came and went. And that’s the problem. Most of them simply couldn’t develop a strong enough market to survive. Investing a fair amount of time learning a new program, only to have it disappear from the market shortly thereafter, was to say the least, a frustrating experience.

So it was with a certain amount of skepticism that I embarked on learning Notion well enough to write the book. I knew it would be fairly easy to adapt my lessons to it. But, as I was learning it, what struck me was how easy it was to learn. The shortcuts were intuitive and because most shortcut cycle through a series of related items, there were many fewer to remember.

And then there was the playback. Playback from notation programs is notoriously bad. I remember back in the early days, playing a realization from a program that shall remain nameless, for a band director, who told me in no uncertain terms to “never, ever, play that again for anyone.” I’ll assume he wasn’t talking about my composing.

Notion’s playback is realistic. Everything you enter into the score–articulations, dynamics, crescendo and tempo markings–is interpreted the way a live musician would. And the samples are first class. The result is a realization that, while still not live, is quite close to what I hope to hear when a live ensemble plays it. And it happens automatically, with little extra effort.

So with all that, you have to wonder why more people aren’t using the program. Of course, one reason is that people just don’t know about it. For a long time, Notion was a niche product run by the composer who created the program. He certainly believed in the product, but there wasn’t any marketing department behind it. But now that Notion has joined the PreSonus family, that has begun to change.

Another reason is inertia. Most people who use a notation program have a lot of time and money invested in it. The learning curve for the two most popular programs is huge. I’ve been using them for over 20 years and there are still things to learn. And of course, each new version brings changes, so there’s more to learn.

So the idea of learning a new program tends to be a little daunting for most. It’s not easy to convince someone that the time they spend learning a new program will be worth it in the long run.

The third reason is because it’s not the “best” program. When the discussion turns to which is the best notation program, most people will chime in with Finale or Sibelius. They are both very good at what they do, which is engraving. They’ve been around a long time and the debates about the two remind me a lot of the Mac vs. Windows battles.

But it’s a little misleading, because Notion isn’t an engraving program and if you buy it with that in mind you will be disappointed.  Yes, it’s notation-based, but it’s more of a music creation environment for people who use standard notation. You can enter musical ideas very quickly and intuitively. You can do everything at once, much the way you would with a pencil. It automatically prevents most entries from overlapping and places everything on the page so it’s easy to read. I find for the most part, it helps me do things more efficiently without getting in the way. I almost never have to stop and figure out how to do something. But one reason for that is, if I do, Notion probably can’t do it.

So, I have to admit there are some people for whom Notion is not a good fit. The first most obvious group is engravers/copyists. I know that sounds a little strange. We’ve gotten so used to the idea that notation software means engraving, that when something doesn’t fit that description it’s a little tough to wrap one’s head around. But as I said,  Notion is not an engraving program

The other group that won’t appreciate Notion is composers who use extended techniques and modern notation such as feathered beams, beamed open hole notes and so on. Notion just doesn’t do that at this point. Maybe sometime, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

So engravers and contemporary composers, feel free to ignore Notion. You have quite a few excellent products to choose from already. There’s no need to dis Notion for not being what it doesn’t try to be. But for the rest of you, it’s definitely worth a look.

 

3 thoughts on “Make the Switch to Notion

  1. This is a candid and realistic review. Notion certainly can improve in the contemporary techniques field, but it’s a very good program for most styles and genres. Un saludo, Juan

  2. Hi George, I’m a sound guy roped in to manage sound for a band. I have a home studio. I’m currently going through your excellent Groove3 training on Notion.

    Thing is, I’m not a musician! I’m hoping that with some examples & quite a bit of effort I might be able to use notion for composing songs? Midi & daw integration will also help. If anyone has some pointers or tips please don’t hesitate to send them. Cheers,

    • Hi John;

      I’m glad you like the videos on Groove 3. Notion 6 has great two-way integration with Studio One now including MIDI over Rewire. So you can record in S1 and display notation in Notion. It still takes a little cleanup, but you’ll be surprised at how well it works. If you’re not an S1 user, you can still Rewire audio into any DAW too.

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