Linux Software for Composers

Linux is an excellent choice of operating systems for composers of all types of music. This is because there is a substantial amount of high quality and innovative software available for it for use in composition, notation, sound editing, file format conversion, playback, etc., most of which can be downloaded from the Internet at no cost. Some of the most popular and useful of such software is listed below:

abc - a language designed for notation of tunes in an ASCII format. Numerous programs exist that can read abc notation and that can either process it into conventional notation or play it through the speakers of a computer. Free.

aRts - simulates a complete modular analog synthesizer. Users can create sounds and music using small modules such as oscillators for creating waveforms, various filters, modules for playing data on speakers, mixers and faders. New synthesis modules can easily be written and integrated into the system. aRts is included in many Linux distributions (i.e., versions) as part of KDE (K Desktop Environment). 790KB. Free software (GPL and GLGPL).

Blank Sheet Music - a web site that allows users to print out several types of blank sheet music pages. Flash plug-in required. Free service.

Common Music - an object-oriented composition environment. It produces sound by transforming a high-level representation of musical structure into a variety of control protocols for sound synthesis and display. Common Music defines an extensive library of compositional tools and an API (applications programming interface) through which the composer can easily modify and extend the system. Free software (GPL).

COMMON MUSIC NOTATION - a small and simple program that can create and display traditional western music scores. It is intended as an adjunct to CLM (common Lisp music) and Common Music. It is not intended for producing publishable scores. 530KB. Free.

GUIDO - a plain text formal language that can represent all information contained in conventional musical scores and which can be easily extended and adapted to capture a wide variety of musical features beyond conventional musical notation. It is suitable for representing music ranging all the way from brief melodic ideas to complex symphonies. Free.

LAoE - (Layer-based Audio Editor) a graphical audio sample editor that utilizes multiple layers, floating-point samples, volume masks and variable selection intensity. Many plug-ins are available. 1.3MB. Free software (GPL).

KeyKit - a programming language and graphical user interface (GUI) for MIDI that is useful for both algorithmic and real time musical experimentation. Free for non-commercial use (requires registration).

LilyPond - an automated engraving system that prints music in the best traditions of classical engraving with minimum fuss. It will format music notation beautifully without requiring typographical expertise of its users. Avoids the bland, mechanical appearance of conventional modern computer printouts. 7MB. Free software (GPL).

MiXViews - a graphics interface program that is designed to allow users to edit and process digital sound and other forms of on-disk data for musical or other purposes. 588KB. Freeware.

Mup - a music notation printing program that takes an input file containing ordinary ASCII text describing music and produces PostScript output. Up to 40 parallel staffs can be accommodated, each with a different key signature, clef and transposition value. Guitar grids are also supported. 621KB. Shareware ($30).

MusE - a multi-track audio sequencer with recording and editing capabilities. It has support for sequencing of MIDI and audio as well as for LADSPA (Linux Audio Developers Simple Plugin API), Jack and softsynths (internal and VST-Instruments). Included in some Linux distributions. Free software (GPL).

MuseScore - the MusE music typesetter. Features include WYSIWYG, easy and fast note entry, an integrated fluid sound font player, jack audio server driver, MusicXml import/export and standard midifile (SMF) import/export. 4.4MB. Free software (GPL).

MusicEdit - music notation software with MIDI output. 3.3MB. Free.

MusicScript - a music scripting language that can creating complete songs from a script, using drum machines, synthesizers, samplers and many effects. It was created as an alternative to the limits of real-time music programs; there can be an infinite number of loops, tracks, samples, effects, etc. A song can be created as a script file, which MusicScript will interpret and turn into a wav file. Still in beta. Free software.

MusiXTeX - a set of macros and fonts that enables conversion of TeX to typeset music. 1.7MB. Free.

MuX2d - a macro package for typesetting music with TeX with a current goal of supporting all features of MusiXTeX. The program is still in an early stage of development.

oa - a tool for playing sound wave forms, experimenting with them, and making music. 31.3KB. Public domain.

Philip's Music Writer - a high quality music typesetting program that operates by reading an input file containing an encoded description of the music. Such a file can be constructed using any text editor or word processor. The music encoding is very straightforward, compact and quick to enter. Free software (GPL).

Protux - a digital media production tool with an integrated environment for audio (including MIDI) and video production. 383KB. Free software (GPL).

RaVeR - a sound animation program that renders full screen, seemingly three dimensional animations in synchronization of music or any kind of sound at real time. 1.7MB. Free software.

Rosegarden - a professional audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor and general-purpose music composition and editing environment. It is claimed to be one of the most comprehensive Linux music software projects and the only Linux application to offer full composition and recording capabilities to musicians who prefer to use classical notation. It is also said to be easy to learn. 5.4MB. Free software (GPL).

SoX - (Sound eXchange) a command line sound file format converter that can convert most popular audio files to most other popular audio file formats. It can optionally change the audio sample data type and apply one or more sound effects to the file during this translation. SoX is included in many Linux distributions. Free.

Swami - (Sampled Waveforms And Musical Instruments) an advanced instrument editor for MIDI music composition and a sampler front end. Currently Soundfont files can be browsed, edited and saved, and new instrument formats are being added. Soundfont is a standard for creating patches (i.e., instruments) for use in composing MIDI music. The active development branch might not yet be fully stable. Free.

Sweep - an audio editor and live playback tool that is claimed to offer extreme ease of use and which supports many music and voice formats including WAV, AIFF, Ogg Vorbis, Speex and MP3. There is also support for various LADSPA effects plug-ins. Free software (GPL).

The download file sizes are only approximations. They can vary considerably according to the version and other factors. In some cases it might also be necessary or useful to download additional software and/or documentation.

Free software is software that is free not only with regard to price but also with regard to use (including the facts that there are no patent or royalty issues). Most Linux software of interest to composers is free software, and most free software is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Freeware is software that is available at no cost, but for which modification and redistribution are usually not permitted. Shareware is software for which a free trial is generally permitted before purchasing. Public domain software is software for which the copyright owner has relinquished the copyright, and thus anyone can use it for any purpose without restriction, (i.e., it is in the public domain). For those programs which can be freely downloaded and for which no specific license or restrictions are mentioned in the online documentation, the license type is listed as free.

Created April 13, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.