Software Spotlight: MuseScore

By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO

For many of my years in IT, I supported software users.  I think I know great software when I see it.  More recently, I have been increasingly drawn to open source software, especially software that works on many platforms, like Windows, Linux, Macs and others.

Most of my volunteer time is spent in musical endeavors.  More specifically, I sing tenor in two choirs at church and with the Appleton MacDowell Male Chorus.  I also perform with Christmas Stars and Arise (formerly known as the NE Wisconsin Passion Play).  As you can imagine, I have a lot of music to learn during the year.

This is where Musescore has helped me learn my part in so many songs.  Musescore can be downloaded here for most operating systems.  It is completely free to use and the score files created are quite small and easily sent via email.

Now I don’t often have time to create my scores from scratch.  To create scores I first scan the score into a 300 dpi PDF file.  Then I edit the PDF using PDFEdit which allows me to blank out unwanted sections of the score.  Then I run the altered PDF through ScanScore Ensemble (a Music OCR program) and save it as a MusicXML file.

From there, I open the MusicXML file in MuseScore. Is it perfect?  Absolutely not, but it is much easier for me to create scores by copying and pasting measures than by typing in notes for each part from scratch.

I do have a small 32 key midi USB keyboard that I picked up on Amazon for about $30.  It works very well with MuseScore for entering missing notes.  No midi keyboard means that I could type the letter of the note (A, B, C, D, E, F or G) on my computer keyboard after typing the duration of the note (5 equals a quarter note and 6 a half note).  Begin editing a measure by clicking on a rest and then type ‘n’ to create new notes.

To illustrate the use of MuseScore, I choose something simple and time honored like Row, Row, Row Your Boat:

Ctrl+N starts a new score which begins a wizard asking information about the score. We fill in the title and other information:

Just a little history of the song: Eliphalet Oram Lyte (June 29, 1842 – January 3, 1913) was an American teacher and author of grammar and composition textbooks. He is credited as the composer of the tune to the popular song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in the publication The Franklin Square Song Collection (1881, New York).  Some say it is a metaphor for life: Keep on rowing or you may sink into despair.

In the next page of the wizard we pick a template (there are many choices), but we pick a simple Treble Clef:

Next we choose a key signature for the song.  In this case the song was written in C major, no sharps or flats:

Finally we add the Time Signature, any Pickup notes, number of measures and tempo.  The song is written 6/8 time, no pickups and 8 measures.  We’ll choose a nice steady 60 for the tempo:

After we click on finish our empty score looks like this:

Now we begin our entry of notes by clicking on the first rest and typing ‘n.’  The duration is a dotted quarter note.  We type a 5 followed by period.  At this point I could use the mouse to move to the pitch of the note or I could type a C on the keyboard.  MuseScore remembers the last duration so I can type C again.  This completes the first measure.

The next measure begins with the same note, but the duration changes to a quarter note.  We type 5 followed by a C.  Then the duration changes to an eighth note (4) followed by a pitch raise to D.  The last note in the measure is another dotted quarter (5, period) and E.

The following measure starts with a quarter note (5) on the same note E. Change to eighth note (4), type D. Quarter note (5) back up to E. Lastly an eighth note (4) and F.

The next note in the next measure is long: a dotted half note.  That would be a 6, period and the G.

For the merrily section, we get to type a bunch of eighth notes (4), this is truly a great example of the 6/8 time signature.  6 eighth notes per measure starting an octave up from the beginning of the song; C three times and G three times. The next measure: E three times and C three times.  MuseScore does a good job with grouping the eighth notes, but may get confused when typing on the computer keyboard for the pitch of the notes, especially when hopping between octaves.

The last two measures are a similar experience to the “gently down the stream” section.  I can ‘cheat’ by copying and pasting.  I press Esc to exit editing mode.  Then I click on the first note I wish to copy, hold down the shift key and click on the last note to copy: then Ctrl+C.  Now click on the rest of the 7th measure and paste: Ctrl+V.  Then I click on each note to correct the pitch by dragging or typing the correct note: G, F, E, D, and finally the last measure back to C.  Right down the scale.

Yeah! That completes our score.  Playback is easy, just click on the first note and click on the Play button on the menu.  Sound good?  Then it is done perfectly.  If, however, it sounds weird, double check your notes and placement.  Save the score by typing Ctrl + S.  Musescore automatically substitutes underscores for spaces in the Title of the song.

What about the words?  Click on the first note again.  Type Ctrl + L.  This allows for typing in the words to the song. Spaces and dashes skip to the next note.  Save the score with words again. Here’s the completed score:

Looks good and sounds good.  With MuseScore creating and recreating music is quite possible and even a little fun.