What Are The Best Programs To Compose Music?

Posted by Mike Schumacher

The programs to compose music are called DAWs. A DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation.

I’m still shocked by how frequently I receive this question from different users—as if one Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) rules them all and is developed for all functions.

There is no best Digital Audio Workstation. There just isn’t. There are also many programs that simply for composing music. Which are best thought of as music composition programs. You can’t actually use them to record your instruments.

Regrettably, this is far from real. Each DAW has an unique purpose, intent, and performance. There is a fantastic amount of overlap across DAWs (they all basically do the very same thing), but the subtleties of each are helpful when writing for particular media and designs.

Music composition programs vs. DAW

recording vocals with a DAW


Every DAW includes default plugins for blending, such as reverb, compressors, and equalizers (EQ).

Some DAWs include default sample instruments, notation software application integration, and film scoring abilities. Each DAW does this in a different way and caters to a particular kind of structure.

Here are the leading DAWs in the market and why you must think about adding them to your arsenal.

  • Pro Tools – An amazing and powerful tool. More for recording then producing. Requires a bit of training to get started, however it is the industry standard. Cons are that it comes with no stock plugins and it is expensive.
  • Ableton – Great tool for beginners to get up and running. Mostly used for playing live, creating beats and loops. Comes with a bunch of stock plugins.
  • Logic – Great alternative to pro-tools. Much more user-friendly with pretty much the same capacities. Comes with a lot of stock plugins and is relatively cheap.
  • GarageBand – Great tool to start making music immediately! You have it for free if you have a mac.

Composition programs

Different composition programs will help you compose music for an orchestral or symphonic context. They deal in real sheet music instead of block-based workflow like most DAWs.

These programs include:

  • Sibelius – Very powerful, from the makers of Pro Tools. Cons are that it is expensive and you need to install other sounds or it sounds very cheesy.
  • MuseScore – A great online music composition program. It is free with certain features you can access behind a paywall.
  • Finale – Another classic and widely used software for composing. Used by professionals.

Mac vs Pc

This debate can destroy relationships and causes wars to erupt all over the world. It will never end!

In the end, it doesn’t matter, since more and more, programs are made to work with both Mac and PC.

Being somebody who has actually personally utilized both the platforms, my experience with Mac is that it provides me a smooth seamless experience, especially for music production.

Nevertheless, the Mac is a more expensive financial investment when compared to buying a PC. You can make beautiful music on both systems and many artists use both operating systems.

Some programs are exclusive to one system or the other. Logic and Garageband are exclusive to Mac—they are great and powerful.

Cubase is exclusive to PC, but is an outstanding program.

However, most of the standard programs (Ableton, Pro Tools, Reason) are available for both Mac and PC.

Things to think about when getting a DAW


I love Pro Tools and I use it frequently. However, Pro Tools comes with a terrible dongle that is the bane of my existence. You need it to access the program.

There were countless of times when I went to a session and nearly died thinking that I left my dongle behind.

It’s likewise simple to forget to load your dongle when you go for a tour, rendering your DAW software on your computer system useless. As such, I would have another DAW just in case that you can access installed on your computer just in case you forgot your dongle.

Get a MIDI keyboard and start to compose!

In order to start your compositions, you’ll need to get a keyboard. It’s not necessary but it is very helpful. You can use this to trigger all sorts of instruments including drums.

Having a DAW to rapidly spit out your MIDI compositions as a score is a very good function and time saver. Many programs also let you use your computer keyboard to start with.

Movie composition

If you’re using the DAW for composition for film or TV you will want to get a DAW that supports video. Logic, Cubase and Pro Tools all support video. Ableton does too, but it is not usually used for scoring.


Now that you have your information, go ahead and get a DAW and start composing! In the end the DAW doesn’t really matter, it is how to use it. Paul Simon once said that if he didn’t play guitar he could use just about any other instrument to make beautiful music—it’s not about what you’re using it’s how you use it!

Which DAW did you choose and why?

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