Compiler's Note: While this guides does not endorse any of the software or shape-note fonts listed below, the compiler has observed considerable variation in the quality and readability of shaped notes in the tunebooks that have been published with computer-typeset scores during the past 15-20 years. Some singers have remarked that certain otherwise excellent tunebooks are "a little hard to sing from." Common problems are shaped noteheads that are too small and open noteheads that are not "bold" enough. Those planning to publish shape-note music would be wise to examine very recently published shape-note tunebooks or sheet-music, and then note which ones are the most readable/singable, and then seek advice from the compilers or composers about the best shape-note fonts and software. (The compiler of this resource guide has had no experience with any music writing software.)
Finale for Mac and Windows by MakeMusic, Inc. (originally Coda Music Software) This program and Sibelius (see below) are considered to be the gold standards of music-writing software. Although Finale provides a shape-note font, the program allows the user to specify one's own music font, and thus to use a shape-note font such as the more versatile Doremi, font described below. It is sold by designated dealers (see website). Although the retail price is high, very substantial academic and ecclesiastical-theological discounts are available to students with any kind of valid student ID (even high school) and to educators and ministers of music.
Sibelius Ultimate by Avid for Mac and Windows is a British, high-end, feature-rich, desktop music publishing program for professionals. It is another standard-bearer of music writing software and is preferred over Finale by some professional composers of classical music. Recent versions have had a variety of notehead fonts, including shape-note fonts. In fact, versions 1.4 through 7.5 gave visibility to contemporary shaped-note composing through its presentation of a sample score by Bruce Randall and Dan Brittain. However, the current Sibelius website seems not to mention shaped notation as a feature of the current version, so potential buyers needs to inquire further. The regular price is high, but there are educational discounts.
Dorico for Windows and MacOS is a relatively new high-end scorewriter developed by the German company Steinberg Media Technologies. It competes with Finale and Sibelius. Version 2.1 comes in two editions, Elements (basic) and Pro, differing greatly in price. The Pro, but not the Elements, edition, provides simple, one-click support for Sacred Harp-style 4-shape notation and also the Aikin and the Walker 7-shape notation systems. A detailed feature list can be downloaded as a PDF. A 30-day trial version can be downloaded.
Lilypond is a free open-source music notation program which is becoming increasingly versatile and feature-rich. It also attempts, more than other programs, to emulate the appearance and the aesthetics of traditionally engraved music. According to reports from users, Lilypond will do Sacred Harp shapenote heads with a preset command, but seven-shape systems require more customization. Robert Stoddard writes: "Shapenote support was substantially improved with version 2.13.20, so be sure to install that version (or higher)." It works with Unix, MacOS, Linux, and Windows and appears to require a high level of computer literacy. It does not have a graphic user interface, but other developers have created them. Robert Stoddard has a few Sacred Harp templates for free download listed under Lilypond Resources on his BostonSing.org Music page.
Frescobaldi is a free editor of Lilypond music files, available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Several singers have reported (on the Sacred Harp Friends Facebook Group) that it can do notes in 4 or 7 shapes, but a learning curve is required. The instruction manual with the program reportedly is extensive and helpful.
MuseScore is a free open-source music writing program for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. It has a reportedly easy-to-use plugin that does both 4- and Aikin 7-shape notation.
MusicEase Professional, the more feature-rich version of the two versions of MusicEase software, is available for Windows and Mac. Gary Rader, the author of this highly rated program and former Sacred Harp singer, reports that MusicEase Professional ($249.95) provides support for shape notes (the four-shape system of the Sacred Harp as well as seven-shape systems). Any piece of music can be converted to shape-notes, and customizable note fonts are possible. Examples are shown in the Gallery section of the website. (The MusicEase standard version, which can be downloaded from http://www.musicease.com, does not have shape-note support.)
Melody Assistant and Harmony Assistant, by Myriad Software, are available for Macintosh and Windows. Both programs produce notation and MIDI playback, and both now support music in four shapes or seven shapes (Aikin and Swan systems). Melody Assistant also allows MIDI input and has many other features. Both programs are shareware, and may downloaded from the Myriad Software website.
QuickScore Elite Level II 2019 and Copyist 9.0, products of Sion Software of Vancouver, BC, support both the 7- and 4-shape notehead systems. QuickScore Elite is comprehensive, integrated software for music composition, incorporating notation, arranging, MIDI and audio sequencing and recording. Copyist 9.0 is a music notation program without the other features of QuickScore Elite. Both programs are for Windows only. More information and demos are available from the Sion website.
Songworks by Ars Nova Software of Redmond, Washington is a relatively easy to use and inexpensive music notation program for Mac and Windows. It supports shape notes using the 4-note and 7-note (Aikin) systems, as described in a chapter of the manual and tutorial video no. 10 on the company's website.
Doremi for Macintosh and Windows, by Karen Willard. Ms. Willard writes: "Doremi is a shapenote font that has the shapes for the systems used by Aikin, Funk, Walker, The New Harp of Columbia, and The Sacred Harp. Aikin's system is used by almost all of the modern songbooks using a seven-shapenote system. Funk's, Walker's, and that in The New Harp of Columbia are not used by any modern songbooks, but are of interest to those wishing to employ a historic system and for those wanting to print songs for the still-existing singers of The Harmonia Sacra and The New Harp of Columbia. The Sacred Harp system is the only four-shape system in the font. This font cannot be used on its own, but must be combined with a music typesetting application. It works best with Finale by MakeMusic (previously Coda). Customers will receive by email the Postscript and TrueType versions of the font, templates for all four-shape systems set up for not-the-latest Finale version but importable by all recent versions, a printed Font Map showing the keystrokes needed to evoke each element of the font, and tips and hints for using Doremi with Finale to typeset shapenote music. The price for each version is $25.00 or barter, checks or PayPal. Contact Karen to work it out. Orders need to specify Macintosh or Windows. Order from Karen E. Willard, E-mail kayren-dot-willard-at-gmail-dot-com.
Karen Willard (Weelyrd Publishing), Buckley, WA. (e-mail Weelyrd_Publishing@weelyrd.net). Examples of her work are The Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition, 2012 and An American Christmas Harp (see Tunebook section).