Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Experiences with MuseScore

As related in a couple of previous articles, I have become something of an evangelist for MuseScore, the free and open source music notation software that is positioned to completely replace Finale for me. Version 1.0 had shown tremendous promise, and I described my impressions very favorably in my initial article on MuseScore. Based on this, I was motivated to work with the developers in implementing some significant improvements for the 1.1 release, as described in a followup article and also in a tutorial I put together.

With the 1.1 release, I felt confident enough in MuseScore to undertake the task of going through my existing charts and re-creating them with MuseScore. My "book" consists of more than fifty original compositions that had previously been scored in lead sheet form with Finale. Over the course of the past few months, I have been replacing these with MuseScore versions. I finished just this weekend, and as I have been taking advantage of the score sharing site to post these charts online, I can post a link to the full set for your perusal and enjoyment:

In honor of the occasion, I would like to share a little about my experience with this project.

The compositions involved range from simple blues heads to multi-page scores of some complexity, incorporating both lead sheet and grand staff (piano) notation as well as some non-traditional notation styles, plus the use of background figures, irregular and multiple meters, and other elements that had pushed the capabilities of Finale when I created them originally.

I am pleased to report that MuseScore did not disappoint. The simple scores were simple to create - easier and faster than with Finale - and the complex scores never required me to compromise my musical intent for the sake of notatability on account of any limitations in MuseScore. And the results were always beautiful. Kudos to the developers of MuseScore for creating such a powerful and eminently usable application!

As an example of one of the more complex lead sheets I created, check out the first page of Down (click the image below to see it larger, or click here to view the full chart on

This arrangement demonstrates the basics of melody, chords, and lyrics, but also shows off more advanced features like switching between single and double staves, notation of accompaniment rhythms using slash notation, time signature changes, etc. All of this is easily accomplished in MuseScore. Although it might not be obvious, this score also presented a number of layout challenges in order to fit it on two pages while keeping it at a readable size. This is one of several compositions for which the MuseScore version is actually a significant improvement over the earlier Finale version.

I have worked on and off for a major publisher over the past few years, producing and editing charts for what has become perhaps the most popular legal fakebook series in the jazz world. I have thus become something of an expert on the preparation of lead sheets for professional publication, above and beyond my own personal experiences as a composer and as a gigging musician. I know what is required in order to produce a good lead sheet, and I can honestly say that MuseScore is the ideal tool for creating charts like those in The Real Book - to name a popular fakebook series that may or may not have been the one that I worked on :-).

I teach at two universities where both Finale and Sibelius are in use, and I often work with students struggling to learn these programs and to produce decent jazz charts with them. This year I started having my students use MuseScore, and I am amazed at how quickly they have been able to produce charts that look far better than those their predecessors created in Finale or Sibelius. Note this isn't to say that Finale and Sibelius are not capable of producing results just as good, or that this process cannot be made easier through extensive customization. But many people don't make the effort to improve on the defaults, and the lead sheet defaults in MuseScore are definitely much better.

During the last few months I also produced several arrangements for larger ensembles (eg, octet and big band). Again I found MuseScore to be the equal of Finale or Sibelius for the most part, although I am looking forward to the "linked parts" feature that will be coming in MuseScore 2.0. I hope to write an article on creating larger scale arrangements will MuseScore sometime in the near future.

Speaking of which, I will be giving a couple of hands-on workshops with MuseScore at the upcoming JEN (Jazz Education Network) / TI:ME (Technology Institute for Music Educators) conference in January. The sessions will cover lead sheets and arrangements. I hope to see some of you in Louisville for this event!

Anyhow, for anyone out there are still wondering if MuseScore is suitable for serious use (particularly in jazz): as someone who has been using it seriously for several months now, I can say most emphatically that it is!


Miguel said...

I agree. I use MuseScore to copy music for my choir. I think MuseScore is also very good for choral music. Its way to create parts, is better than Finale. Is not as good as in Sibelius. I think developers had to emphasize more in aspects of formatting scores. This is (I think) the best performance of Finale. Thanks for your blog.

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