I don't know if you already got started with something else since I'm a little late, and I can't say anything for the free programs, but I have the Acoustica Musician's Bundle. It comes with Mixcraft and Beatcraft and it's pretty awesome if you are willing to put the time into it to take advantage of all optimization. I picked it up on Amazon for 69 with an Amazon online coupon deal.
Just my experience. I would add, don't expect things to be easy right away, but definitely some great music theory advice given. Good luck!