When it comes to notation software, there are 2 major players in the market: Sibelius and Finale. Steinberg is also preparing something new at the moment, but let me introduce you to another great notation software: Notion 5. The software was created by Presonus, the company behind Studio One among countless other software and hardware products. If you have not used notation software before, or are maybe looking for something new, take a look at Notion with me.
Notion is a fully professional notation software. It is compatible with both the Windows and OSX platforms, and Presonus has also created a Notion application for iPad owners (unfortunately, it is not available for iPhones – yet; never say never, given how close the iPhone 6 Plus is to practically being an iPad Mini).
Installation is a very straight forward process. After purchasing Notion, you will receive an email with a link for creating an account at the Presonus website. Through your profile, you will be able to navigate to the download links for software itself, as well as all the bundled sounds, VST presets, and manuals. You will also be able to watch Presonus‘ very informative video tutorials. It is possible to install and activate Notion on 5 different computers (and by installing Notion on your main DAW and your laptop, for instance, your scores can be synchronised between computers through Dropbox or something similar). You can even open your Notion projects on the iPad app (though the latter must be purchased separately from the App Store).
The interface is clean and tidy, with everything you can expect from notation software. I appreciate the possibility of changing the score layout to one of three possibilities – Continuous, Pages across, and Pages down – for displaying your score sheet page, and the ability to change almost everything and customize the score sheet page to your needs.
Notion offers many useful tools to help in creating your music. You may enter notes using Notion’s interactive fretboard (and can even customize the number of guitar strings it supports), or the on-screen keyboard drum pads, and even choose chords from a chord library and create your own chords. There are many well documented keyboard shortcuts for all of Notion‘s basic and advanced actions, so if, like me, you prefer to control software mostly from your computer keyboard, Presonus has you in mind just as much as any other type of user. To create scores for piano or orchestra, you are presented with a choice of 17 score sheets templates, starting from Lead Sheet to Full Orchestra, and the instruments can be customized in the Score Setup section.
There are 8GB of instrument sounds bundled with Presonus Notion:
- Bundled Brass
- Bundled Keyboards, Guitars, Basses and Harp
- Bundled Percussion
- Bundled Strings
- Bundled Woodwinds
All the instruments were recorded at Abbey Road with the London Symphonic Orchestra, and contain many different articulations. Bundles contain all the orchestral instruments used in a full orchestral template, a Steinway piano, and a selection of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. Although Notion comes with a generous sound library, you are by no means limited to its included sounds. There are high-quality, yet inexpensive new Notion add-on instrument packs available from the library at the PreSonus Marketplace.
There is also a “One to rule them all” type of expansion bundle: the Presonus Notion Expansion Bundle Pack All (10.5GB), which contains following instruments:
I particularly like this bundle a lot, as it adds more articulations for the orchestral sections, as well as larger variety of instruments for more colorful instrumentation.
And if this is still not enough, you can always use your favourite VST instruments and libraries, since they work very well with Notion. The folks from Presonus have prepared a few templates for their users (VSL SE, EWQL Symphony Orchestra, Garritan Personal Orchestra, Miroslav Philharmonik, LA Scoring Strings, VET and marching libraries from Sample Logic and System Blue, including Fanfare (marching brass), Rumble (marching percussion), Impakt (orchestral/cinematic percussion), and Virtual Ensemble Trilogy (selection from Fanfare, Rumble and Impakt)), but you can easily create your own templates with whatever VST instruments you own.
What I have found unappealing is that Notion‘s included instruments have no round robin samples, and therefore, repeated staccato passages do not sound great, and suffer from the age-old machine gun effect. On other hand, however, there are many articulations that are not included in external sample libraries, and these can very much enhance your orchestrations.
If you are a film, video or TV composer, Notion 5 provides the ability to attach video and audio tracks and score movie directly within the software. Notion’s video window includes a new timecode view, and you can add hitpoints, as well as select the volume, frame rate, and start time. Notion can handle all of the most important formats, including mp4, WMV (Windows only), H.264, mpeg, mov, avi, m4v, and 3gp on Mac and Windows.
I personally really liked Presonus Notion 5 from the moment I first opened it. It is really easy to use with a multitude of features, sounds great, and it works across all of my computers as well as my iPad. Its biggest advantage is that I can work on my music everywhere I go. So far, I have not used Notion to prepare a score for a real orchestra, so I can not comment on that aspect, but I like the option Presonus provides its users for creating orchestral pieces. As the last thing, here are my Pros and Cons:
- Many different templates
- Great playback
- Presonus Marketplace, lot of bundles
- License for 5 different computers (Win, OSX)
- iPad application
- Performance mode (NTempo)
- Lot of customisations
- Dynamic parts (part for each instrument)
- Usage of 3rd party sample libraries
- Usage of 3rd party VST plugins for mixing
- Attaching external video and audio
- No round robin samples
- Few layout issues
- Can not use “Big Hollywood” time signatures (i.e. time signatures displayed in a larger size, as is the case with many film scores)