A look into MuseScore: a free music notation program

by David Adam

As music students, enthusiasts, composers, recorders, and players, we are always looking for ways to improve our craft, whether it be with new technology, techniques, or software. One aspect for musicians is writing our own music. Notating it can be as simple as taking a piece of score paper and writing notes on it, much like it has been done millions of times before. But this technique requires someone to have an internal working on how the notes sound and how the intervals sound, and for some people that can be very difficult. This is where music notating software comes into play.

One of the leaders in music notating software is Finale. Most musicians have probably looked at and used Finale at some point in their career. However, Finale is very pricy, with the 2014 version being upwards to $600, and it can have a very steep learning curve (this is coming from personal experience). With this being said though, there are alternatives. And they are free.

Introducing MuseScore; a free, open source music composition and notation software created by Werner Schweer. For musicians (and especially students), purchasing programs such as Finale can seem impossible, due to the high price, but MuseScore provides an excellent alternative.
Upon first opening the program, I was greeted with a prewritten score for piano. This score is a fairly complex piece, showcasing only a small fraction
of what MuseScore is capable of.

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Upon first listening to the sample by pressing the space bar, the score included a blue bar following the where the program was in the score, making following along easier. However, the MIDI sample of the piano was certainly not the best (although after exploring some other instruments, some MIDI samples are better than others). However, keeping in mind that this is a free program, it’s not something to complain about; the program still conveys its message very well.

Starting up a new score is very easy. It’s as simple as clicking on File > New. After this, I was prompted with a window to name the composition and add any amount of information I desired.

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After typing in the information and clicking next, the window brought me to a menu where I could add just about any amount of instruments I wanted, which included everything found in a typical orchestra plus many more.

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After clicking Next, the window brought me to a menu where I could select a key signature for the piece, and then finally to a menu where I could choose the tempo, number of bars, and time signature for the piece. After clicking finish, the score was ready.

Inputting notes is very simple. By simply pressing the N key on the keyboard, you enter a note entry mode. And from there, just select the value of the note you want (whole, half, quarter, etc.) from the menu at the top and click anywhere on the staff you would like the note to go.

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It’s that simple. The only problem I encountered was inputting percussion parts, which are entered in a slightly different way. All it takes is to click the percussion staff, click on drums under palettes on the left side of the screen, click on the note that appears under drums, and start clicking on the percussion staff.

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Using and learning MuseScore was certainly the easiest experience I have had thus far with a music notation program. Although it does not include some features Finale has and some of the MIDI samples are better in Finale, having a free program that does just about everything Finale does is hard to argue with.

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Author: dndrew

Orchestral, chamber and interactive music composer Digital musical instrumentalist Real-time software systems designer Computer music educator

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