Alternative music notation systems are appealing in theory, but what about the practical need for sheet music?[1] Fortunately, there are now software applications that can display and print music in a variety of chromatic-staff notation systems, easing the burden of transcribing (or “transnotating”) sheet music.

Applications That Support Chromatic Staff Notation Systems

LilyPond Logo


LilyPond is a free, open-source, cross-platform application that is highly customizable and can be used to create sheet music for chromatic-staff notation systems. More info…

Finale Logo


Finale is a commercial software package that has features that can be used to edit and create sheet music for chromatic-staff notation systems. More info…


Both of these applications allow you to customize the position of the notes on the staff, and make other relevant customizations. Using either of them you can:

  • Create musical scores in an alternative notation system “from scratch” by inputting the notes using your mouse, keyboard, or MIDI device.
  • Use music scanning software to scan and convert sheet music into a digital file format and then transnotate it into an alternative notation system.
  • Automatically convert existing digital music notation files into an alternative notation system. Converting files from one type to another is now much easier thanks to MusicXML, an interchange file format for music notation. There is a growing number of sheet music files available for download from online libraries like these:

One of our long-term goals has been to adapt or extend existing software to display and print music in a variety of alternative notation systems. (For an in-depth discussion see Open-Source Strategy.) Thanks to the efforts of a number of people this has now become a reality. It is now much easier to use, evaluate, and compare different alternative music notation systems, and the “lack of sheet music” problem is not nearly as daunting as it was just a few years ago. However, there is still room for improvement, so if you might be interested in helping out with our efforts in this area please contact us.

Could Potentially Support Alternative Notation Systems

MuseScore Logo


MuseScore is a free, open-source, cross-platform music notation editing application with a graphical user interface. It offers import and export to and from MusicXML and it supports plug-ins. Jan Braunstein has used MuseScore to create sheet music for his Chromatic Lyre Notation, but the process is not automated and is more of a workaround than a full solution (since MuseScore does not offer the ability to customize the positions of notes on the staff). More info…


We briefly looked into the possibility of creating a plug-in for Sibelius that would provide support for chromatic staff notation systems. More info…


Canorus is a free, open-source, cross-platform music notation editing application with a graphical user interface. It offers import from and export to the LilyPond file format.

Notation Composer

Notation Composer is a commercial application for Windows. Its author has communicated to us that he would be willing to consider working with a programmer who was interested in adding plug-in support for chromatic staves to it.

Interesting Software Libraries and APIs

Note that these are not stand-alone notation editor applications like the others on this page, but are resources that might interest programmers.


VexFlow is an open-source, web-based, JavaScript library for rendering traditional music notation and guitar tablature. It uses HTML5 Canvas and SVG graphics, and can display music notation in a web browser (ie: on a web page or in a web application).

Belle, Bonne, Sage

Belle, Bonne, Sage is a free, open-source, C++ vector-graphics library for music notation. It makes no assumptions about the graphical layout of music notation. This gives it a built-in flexibility that makes it well-suited for alternative forms of music notation.

Applications other parties have created for alternative notation systems

Our efforts work towards permitting the transnotation of music into a wide variety of chromatic-staff notation systems. The following applications each work with a specific alternative notation system, and were developed independently from the Music Notation Project.

Ambrose Piano Tabs Music Editing Program

This program for Ambrose Piano Tabs notation is free to download and use for noncommercial purposes. It can read MIDI files and supports editing and playback. It is closed-source and presumably runs only on Windows (no system requirements are listed on their website). See the lessons page and installation package page to download it.


KlavarScript is an application for Klavar notation. It runs on Windows and is available as a free download. The December 2005 version imports both MIDI and MusicXML files.

Klavar Music Writer

Klavar Music Writer (originally called KlavarWriterXP) is a more recent application for Klavar notation. Its features include the ability to input music through a MIDI keyboard. It runs on Windows and is available as a free download from the Klavar Music Foundation of Great Britain.


KLAVAR! is an open source graphic music sequencer/notation program for Klavar notation that is now being ported to Windows, Mac, and Linux. Work on it seems to have begun in August 2009. It can be downloaded for free from Sourceforge. It was originally connected to the KlavarScore website, but this seems to have changed as the links to it have been removed.


Pizzicato is music notation software from Arpege Music that supports numeric notation systems that use twelve single characters per octave including Jianpu and Hamburg Music Notation.  It is closed-source commercial software and runs on Windows or Mac OS X. It comes in a wide range of editions (choir, guitar, light, professional, etc.) ranging up to 299 euros in price.

NoteWriter-AB (no longer available)

Albert Brennink created “NoteWriter-AB,” an application for his A-B Chromatic Notation. It was an extended version of the NoteWriter II® software for Apple Macintosh computers, and he sold it for $295. At this point it is “legacy” software, as it only runs in Mac OS 9 or the Classic environment of OS X for PowerPC Macs, and will not run on Intel Macs at all.


[1] Most alternative notation systems do not have large catalogues of sheet music available for them. The biggest exception is Klavar. The Klavar-Foundation in the Netherlands offers over 25,000 scores and music books, totalling an estimated 200,000 musical works. The Klavar Music Foundation of Great Britain also has an extensive catalogue.  The Music Notation Project’s Wiki provides some sheet music in various alternative notation systems and a list of Other Sheet Music Sources for particular alternative notation systems.