Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!
All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!
So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!
What does Noteflight do?
Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!
Is there a catch?
Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is extremely comprehensive. The only draw back with the free version is that you are limited to creating just 10 scores. This needn’t be a problem. My pupils just print out their oldest project and then delete it to make way for a new one.
What devices can you use it on?
Any device that has a web browser can be used be it a computer, tablet or even a smartphone! The beauty of Noteflight is that a project can be started in the lesson say on a computer, carried on by the pupil at their home using perhaps a tablet, taken into school on a smartphone for feedback from another music teacher and then brought back again the following week for finishing touches in their lesson. No need to email files or mess about with a storage drive.
What ways can it be used?
The obvious way to use Noteflight is to compose. I partner Noteflight with the fantastic sight-reading method called “Joining the Dots” (ABSRM) which includes a weekly composition project in the same key making for a holistic learning experience. Because the writer of “Joining the Dots,” Alan Bullard, includes an evocative title and a seed idea (including key, time signature, tempo and even a suggestion opening), the dark mysteries of composition have opened up to my pupils and their creative juices are now flowing freely! Even my reluctant adult students love it, some now spending many pleasurable hours a week writing advanced pieces! Each lesson they simply log into my studio computer and we press “play” to hear what they’ve been working on at home. After I’ve listened to it with them, we discuss their progress and then suggest ways they can improve, setting new goals for the following week. The secret to their encouraging progress is the regular, weekly composing project. By the time they need to submit composition coursework for any school exams, they have already built up a sizeable body of work and level of proficiency.
Another way I’ve been using Noteflight is for arranging. When a student comes to me wanting to learn a specific song, rather than me arrange it for them in Sibelius as I would have done in the past, I’ve now started to show them how to arrange the piece themselves in Noteflight. That way, we can start the project in the lesson but then they can go away and work on it themselves at home. Their taking ownership is an inspiring confidence builder.
What if a pupil is struggling with how a certain rhythm should sound? Encourage them to copy the song or even just the tricky passage into Noteflight so that they can hear it played back properly. A handy feature is that they can slow down playback so it is easier to imitate. One of my dyslexic piano students decided to notate her challenging new piece into Noteflight, creating a customised left-hand version, right-hand version and the hands together version. She enlarged the score and stripped away any superfluous information so as to present the music in a less intimidating way. She then printed out a few copies so she could highlight with various coloured marker pens any tricky bits at each stage of her learning. It’s been a lot of effort for her but her diligence is paying off and her reading skills have improved massively without her even realising! She’s managing to conquer the seemingly unconquerable!
How does it compare to Sibelius or Finale?
Noteflight is well supported with regular improvements. The latest update has made it much more like Sibelius which is a real bonus for me, making the tranisition from my teaching work to my professional work each week a lot more transparent. Even a lot of the Sibelius shortcuts and features have been “borrowed!” Considering how much the full version of Sibelius or Finale would cost a student or their parent to buy, Noteflight is the perfect solution, giving them training in software notation with the option to follow an upgrade path later in life as their music becomes a more serious vocation to them.
What can be done with a project once it is completed?
There are several options for printing out the final score and it looks really professional. There is nothing quite like seeing a proud pupil holding their first composition and the expression on their parent or grandparents face! Also, there are options to share files with other Noteflight users and even to allow them to comment if the pupil and parent wishes. You can even embed scores into web pages! Sometimes we have exported MusicXML files from Noteflight for importing into Sibelius for finishing touches or for taking to the next level. You can also export MIDI files for importing into a DAW (recording program) like Garageband, Logic, Cubase, ProTools etc., to turn the song into a fully produced audio track.
How easy is it to use?
Like all software that a person is unfamiliar with, there is a learning curve but it is very logical and students quickly pick it up, even the most computer illiterate. Young students have absolutely no problem with it of course.
How do I get it?
Head over to noteflight.com
What ways have you been using notation software with your students? What other alternatives to Noteflight have you discovered? Please leave a comment.