What is MusicXML?

by | Dec 14, 2017

“MusicXML was created to be the first universally compatible format for digital sheet music.”
Within this article, we hope you will find some useful and clear answers as to what MusicXML is all about, along with a highly informative explanation given by MusicXML Founder, Michael Good. 

MusicXML: A Brief History

MusicXML was first developed by Michael Good at Recordare in 2000 and has since been fine-tuned by a community of hundreds of musicians and software developers over the past decades.
It was originally developed as an exchange format for sheet music files, allowing them to be read and edited across all software.

Basically, MusicXML was created to be the first universally compatible format for digital sheet music. This was a significant development considering that every notation software used its own native format – such as .sib for Sibelius or .mus for Finale – to maximize user retention. So for the first time musicians were able to share a composition written in one software with friends using different software, without having to compromise on quality or usability (which is the case when exchanging notation files using other formats such as PDF or MIDI).

Here’s a short video explaining the advantages of MusicXML compared with a MIDI export:

With all of its advantages, however, MusicXML was designed to be sufficient, not optimal. The format was clearly aimed towards common western musical notation from the seventeenth century onwards, covering both classical and popular music. The language was designed to be adaptable to future coverage of early music and the less standard notation needs of twentieth and twenty-first century scores.

MusicXML in the Present Day

The MusicXML format is being continuously developed. As of today, the latest version is MusicXML 3.1. It has become the most used music interchange format since MIDI.
Today, more than 230 applications include MusicXML, with both read and write support. That includes notation software, but also production software such as Cubase and Logic Pro.
The development of MusicXML has fuelled dozens of new iOS innovations and products.

Looking to the Future

We could share our thoughts on what the future holds in store for MusicXML, but we believe that Michael Good – MusicXML’s creator – says it all in the excerpt below.

The initial goal for MusicXML was to facilitate Internet music publishing, and some steps have been taken in this direction. To date we have not seen MusicXML put to widespread use as a consumer format for this purpose. New features, including compression and digital rights management, may be needed to make MusicXML as attractive for commercial distribution as it is for interchange. Raw MusicXML files are very large, but simple zip compression can make them even smaller than MIDI files for the corresponding piece. A standard compressed MusicXML format could make people more willing to publish, download, and share public-domain music and their own compositions in MusicXML format. We have seen ever-increasing progress both in software technology and in the business environment for Internet music. MusicXML 1.1 has shown the power of having a standard interchange format for digital sheet-music. We anticipate even greater benefits when MusicXML can also be used as a distribution format.

Read more about MusicXML Here.

Michael Good

Founder, MusicXML

Stay tuned for the new MNX: an improved version of MusicXML which would start to operate in the upcoming years.