Mastering MuseScore by Marc Sabatella

Music Notation is a key component of my work flow: not only reading music notation, but creating music notation as well. My reliance on music notation started many years ago, when it became clear that I would never become a concert pianist. What I could do, however, was to enter scores into a music notation program and to have that program act as my rehearsal accompanist.

Over the years, the notation programs have evolved, as have the sounds. As a result, there are times when I prefer to use a digital accompanist rather than a flesh-and-blood accompanist, and in fact, my middle school students perform to accompaniment tracks that are either purchased (e.g. the various pop tunes we sing) or made by me (anything else). As much as some of my choral colleagues can be critical of that approach, the accompaniments I make with Notion typically sound better than any pianist or piano I have ever used (and we had a Yamaha CFIIIS at my last schol), and you can put the resources you would spend on a performance-only pianist into other things.

Over the years, Finale has been my tool of choice. This makes perfect sense, as I went to school in Minnesota (where Finale was created and existed until this past summer), and one of my professors worked for Coda Music Technologies (a predecessor to the current MakeMusic). I never joined the Sibelius bandwagon, but I have grown to include Notion in my work flow, first due to their iPad app, and second to Finale 2012’s inability to function with Mac OS X Yosemite (Finale 2014 works with Yosemite, but I find myself reluctant to upgrade mainly for that reason). Meanwhile, MuseScore has been another tool that I have been using, particularly its latest release (version 2.0). It works very well–and I have really been enjoyiing its screen shot function for use with presentation software (I just wish it would save to a JPG as well, as it saves to a PNG file)

Two years ago, I was asked to speak at a prominent college about music technology and education, and I asked students which notation software package they used. Not a single student was using Finale or Sibelius, and none of them knew about Notion. They were using MuseScore. MuseScore, as a free program, is changing the face of music notation. Do you know which program you use? Probably the tool you were forced to learn in college. If college kids are learning MuseScore, what happens in the future to the paid programs?

You can download Finale Notepad for free (something that wasn’t true for a while), but then again, MuseScore is a fully functional free app, while Notepad has (and has to have) limitations.

To be quite honest, why would you buy a program when you can download a free program that can do nearly everything you need it to do? Why would any high school or college buy a single computer lab full of a paid app when every computer lab in the school could be a music lab with access to MuseScore, and the ubiquitous nature of Google Drive means that you could use a file anywhere or share it with others?

Noteflight is another interesting product as its basic product is also free and the program is growing, but the main educational tools of Noteflight are found in its subscription-level packages, meaning that MuseScore is still the better price value and has more features.

You might also buy Notion for iOS (or Symphony Pro) as a solution for your mobile needs, and then purchase Notion for Win/Mac because of the direct compatibility. But MuseScore very much changes the face of music notation. The essential question becomes: why would any music student, music teacher, or amateur musician purchase another notation product? There are reasons…but you have to have specific needs for those reasons.

Now that I have discussed my background and the state of music notation software, it is time to talk about the matter at hand: Mastering MuseScore. I was given a preview copy of this book, and Philip Rothman at the Sibelius Blog has already posted a review of the book. I would start by sending you to that article, as Philip always has a great “take” on music notation and music technology.

There is a user’s guide for MuseScore that is in continual review and adjustment. For some people a user manual is overwhelming. David Pogue once stated that as geeks, we often forget that the majority of the world are NOT geeks. This is where the role of the technology integration specialist comes in…someone that is a geek that can speak “normal.” That is what Sabatella’s Mastering MuseScore is all about–he takes you through most of the major features of MuseScore in a conversational format. If you hate user manuals, ultimately, this is the “user manual” for MuseScore for you. This is also a way to purchase a printed user’s manual without having to print it yourself.

Additionally, every purchased copy (about $40 US) goes back to support the development of MuseScore. MuseScore is free, but you can always donate to their work on their website by going “Pro” in their community (, of you can buy this book!

I enjoyed learning about the history of MuseScore in the book (which explains why MuseScore is supported on Linux–because it began on Linux!), and I particularly enjoyed the subchapter on “Replace versus Insert” on page 82. As a long time Finale user, MuseScore drove me crazy because I couldn’t insert notes into a measure, and would have to delete an entire measure to edit it. It turns out that MuseScore acts more like another major notation package, and “replace” is a specific feature. I love the fact that Sabatella discussed this, and this subchapter should be mandatory reading for any Finale user migrating to MuseScore.

Another benefit of the book is that you learn all kinds of shortcuts. In truth, you will need to work with a bunch of scores (I have worked with thousands in Finale) before the shortcuts become second-nature. Such an example can be seen on page 209 where MuseScore will add a decrescendo to a selected group of notes, just by hitting the “>” key. There are many keyboard shortcuts for MuseScore, and truthfully, the next thing I’d like to see them sell is a laminated “master shortcut cheat sheet” that users could buy ($10?) and have at hand while using the program (and you cen even customize shortcuts!).

While you read the book, you will want to have a computer at hand with MuseScore installed and running, so you can work through what you are reading about. Afterwards, you will not know everything about MuseScore, but you will have a good background to start with, and you will know where to go for help when you need it. And when you encounter something that isn’t covered in the book, there is still the traditional user’s manual as well as the wonderful support community that has answered every question I have ever posted about MuseScore on Twitter.

Is the book worth buying? Even if the book was empty, it would be worth every penny of the $40 cost to support the ongoing work of MuseScore. But the book isn’t empty, and it will help a lot of users figure out key tips and tricks of the music notation software that is taking over the industry.

One final note: if you are not a person that learns by reading but instead by watching others, check out Dr. George Hess’ series on MuseScore 2.0…his videos are bite-size and outstanding!


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