Working with MuseScore

MuseScore 1.3 has been out for 30 days, and has been downloaded 150,000 times in nearly 200 countries.  The other day, I saw a tweet (retweeted by MuseScore) which stated:

I’m fine with Mr. Taylor loving MuseScore, and it it certainly free.  And I’m interested to see what MuseScore 2.0 brings.

Another user stated (also retweeted by MuseScore):

But is MuseScore better than Finale?

To add fuel to the fire, PC World recently ran an article about MuseScore 1.3.

To be honest, I haven’t used MuseScore very much.  It has been installed (in a number of versions) on my computer, and I’ve opened it and looked at it…and even tried to use it a bit.  But I’ve never *really* used it.  Considering that I recently took Notion 4 for a trial run in my real-life use of notation software, I did my three basic tests with MuseScore: I imported a “clean” Music XML file, I imported a “messed up” Music XML scan from PhotoScore Ultimate, and I created a score from scratch.

MuseScore imported a MusicXML from Finale and a MusicXML from Notion without any problems.  I’ve also exported from MuseScore to MusicXML to Finale and Notion, and that seems to work well, too.  You could export a MusicXML to your students, and they could all use MuseScore on their home computers to open the files…for rehearsal or for theory assignments.  Truthfully, this is more to the credit of MusicXML than it is to any notation program–MusicXML just makes sense, and you want your music notation program to support it (both ways!).

When I imported a “messy” MusicXML file, I struggled trying to edit the score with MuseScore.  It might be my own limited familiarity with the program, but as mentioned by PC World, the left click button doesn’t do much other than move the score, and the delete key doesn’t delete anything (to delete you have to use COMMAND+X).  I couldn’t figure out how to delete a note inside a measure without deleting the entire measure and starting over.  I also had some difficulty trying to use multiple voices, as the cursor has to be at the beginning of the measure to get the second voice to work.  I would think that clicking in any measure in the second voice would automatically take you to the beginning of that measure.  So..if I have to “clean up” scores, I’ll be defaulting to Finale (or Notion).

I also created a new score, which had five staves (Soprano, Alto, Baritone, and Piano).  MuseScore uses the same rhythm keys as Finale (e.g. 5 = Quarter Note), so entering notes was pretty straight forward.  I couldn’t use the shortcut for adding a tie (+) without the program automatically inserting another note of the same value after the tie, so like Notion, I found myself putting ties into the score after entering notes.  This is a bit easier in Notion, because it is one master key stroke (Shift+T) and then clicking of the mouse/trackpad, where every tie on MuseScore is a click to select the note followed by the + sign (Shift+=).  Slurs are also a bit more involved to enter (and stretch out) in MuseScore.  Some aspects of lyrics were better in MuseScore than in Notion, as the space bar AND the hyphen move the cursor to the next syllable, and you can edit a lyric after typing…but each time you click back on a lyric, MuseScore begins in the next lyric other than the original lyric, which requires additional key strokes to get back to the lyric you want to edit.  MuseScore has no way to copy lyrics from one verse to another, and I did not see any “explode” feature (putting combined Soprano & Alto parts from one staff into two staves automatically).   There was also no way to automatically change a note to an enharmonic equivalent.  I kept wishing for a way to work in a continuous view rather than the “screen occupied” full page view that MuseScore seems to feature.

I put about six pages of music into MuseScore, and then chose to export the file to MusicXML and then to move to Notion, as a point of comparison.  By the end of my time in MuseScore, each press on my Akai LPK25 resulted in very slow notation and an audible echo.  I’m not sure what was happening with that, but it was not occurring with Notion.  I found that I could work much more efficiently in Notion than MuseScore.

So…is MuseScore better than Finale?  No.  It isn’t.  Anyone that says that MuseScore is better than Finale is probably (silently) adding the words, “for a free program.”  That said, it works.  You CAN use it to create serious music and to export it to another program.  Put another way, it is amazing what you can do for free.  I didn’t experience any app crashes with MuseScore.  Knowing that this is version 1.3 and that 2.0 is in the works, as of today, you can probably work more efficiently in “paid” music notation apps such as Finale, Sibelius, and Notion.  If composing on software was your source of income, and time is money, the “paid” programs would pay themselves off in time saved.  I know a number of schools that are installing MuseScore in place of Finale, Sibelius, or anything else.  I can see the rationale for doing so, but be forewarned that there is a learning curve with MuseScore.  Again, without any experience with Sibelius, I would say that Notion is probably the most intuitive notation software program I have seen, and that Finale is the most powerful.

The other thing to keep in mind is sound.  There was a time, not too long ago, that Finale sounded like MuseScore does today.  Finale, of course, has moved to Garritan sounds, and Notion has the London Symphony Orchestra.  I think that it is important to hear instrumentation that truly represents the timbres of the instruments–even in “school settings.”  Obviously, if you are looking to export audio for rehearsal tracks, you will want one of the paid software programs.  Perhaps MuseScore will find a way to provide high quality open-source audio samples in the future.

Keep your eye on MuseScore.  If you haven’t downloaded it, you should (it’s free), and there are a number of plugins for the app as well.  And if you like the word they are doing, consider making a donation towards their effort.



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