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In August 2011 I was telephoned by a rural secondary school asking if I would be available to cover a temporary post for around six months. To be given the opportunity when for the last couple of years I’ve done supply teaching in secondary schools was a blessing to my ears! I was very excited about the prospect and knew what I was taking on, in so far as being able to teach a friendly, smaller community in a location that is hampered by poor weather and not much else to do. Compared to standard schools where jotters are given out, this school had given out PC tablets to every pupil and whilst there were a few downsides primarily, the most exciting application that I found in use is a computer music score program called “Musescore.”
Now, when it comes to music programming software, where you need an automatic manuscript score to lay down notes for composition or arrangement there have been several different PC & Mac programs available for buyers, for many years. Finale, Opera, Music Notator, Logic and Cubase, (the latter two giving you more of a sound-engineering recording approach rather than inputting notes on a music score) have several different pros and cons to each – but the grand daddy of them all – Sibelius, the original notation program was initially developed for professional composers and arrangers. The trouble is, unless you can get yourself an illegal CD-Rom copy of the Sibelius program, now in its seventh/eighth and ninth version year, Sibelius needs constant attention, updates, license pay outs and the initial cost prices can be astronomical! You can’t for example open a score that you saved in Sibelius 3 and hope for it to appear on a score from Sibelius 8. If you have an older version of the program and then decide that you want to update any of the work you have used the program with, you’ll need to export the file to fit newer versions – and if they are not listed in your older program, update patches can only open the scoring so far pushing you the need to purchase an updated version. The Sibelius program is also very expensive ranging from discounted Education prices of £100 up to the retail price of £700 and beyond. Although there’s a handy student version available, like Microsoft Office for Students, the cost prices pushes towards the £80 to £100 mark – and you won’t always get all the features that the “full blown” Sibelius program features.
Musescore is slightly different – for starters it is totally free – and I mean totally free to download, open up and even update your version with handy plug in applications that will allow you to expand the program to your needs. It is also 100% safe! There is no purchase needed, no need to sign up to a company who will take your details and then several moments later be told you have a “trial copy” only and then suddenly you need to make a full purchase. Nada, Niente, Nein and No – nothing has to be purchased with Musescore – and just like Sibelius – you can put a MIDI instrument into your computer via a suitable USB MIDI cable to input notes on the score. Musescore also opens up MIDI files downloaded from the Internet as well as the capability of opening up other files like Music XML files.
Musescore is the brainchild of Werner Schweer, a software developer or a musician – or probably both - very little is known of the guy other than being the saviour of many cash-strapped musicians who have been crying out for a software application like Musescore for years! Starting out in 2005 with a small Linux developed music score program, Schweer originally wanted to create a computer program that could print out high quality sheet music. Evidently with the fact that the program is free to download, Schweer decided via the ease and broader accessibility of the Internet, to develop a free music program that would enable musicians to broaden their own work (Ciao’s latest campaign of “life without the internet” would have pushed me to pay £500 by now for the latest, greatest version of Sibelius 8). The Musescore program is based on “WYSIWYG,” or “What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get,” aspects and the program fits under the “Creative Commons Act,” where information and programming can be accessed by the whole world!
The beauty of Musescore is that it can be used on PC, Mac OS X and Linux. The program can be downloaded in 47 different languages and
Pictures of Musescore
Here's a wee song you might know - if you can play it - you might know it!
documentation surrounding it can be viewed in hard copy wording to video format tutorials to simply signing up to the Musescore.org forums (they’re free too!) and getting tips and advice from fellow musicians. Every day, the program is downloaded 3000 times a day – so the program must be doing something right!
Clarity, Design & Features
From the moment you start the program – you’ll wonder how you’d manage without it – if you’re a professional composer, musician who makes their own music, arranger or just someone that needs to put in notes on an open score. Musescore, in so far as its dependability has features that are dependent on version types, very much the same way it is with a lot of programs these days and some versions still need constant updating if you take the latest version. Firstly this isn’t a downside – because if the program you’ve downloaded is the latest, the updates required aren’t a necessity for the program to function. If you have never experienced the plug-in program features of Sibelius, then you won’t require the plug in features that Musescore can offer. Let me give you an example:
Musescore and Sibelius both have simplified, clear and easy to read music scores, very much like a digital manuscript that appears on the screen. But, what if you’re reading skills in music notation is poor? This is where the plug-in features come in and not all Musescore versions have the “note naming” plug-in WHERE the notes appear on the top or at the bottom of the stave. The default 0.9.6 version puts the names of each music note, unhelpfully bang in the middle of the notation symbol, making it very unclear to read and would you incite you to manually go through every note with your mouse to adjust the angle of the capital letter, pulling it away from the notes you want to add onto the score. Although a download plug-in patch is available to improve this problem, it’s a lot easier to get latest version of the complete Musescore notation “engine.” Later versions improve clarity, speeds up time for teachers who want to arrange their own music and even for young people required to compose music and present it in a professional way – the added note names can also be taken off in an instant – an issue I discovered that Sibelius 3 and 4 wasn’t so good at getting rid of – once the note name plug-in had been activated.
There are other worthwhile plug-in programs that are optional to download – and all of them are also free to do.
Standard features of Musescore allow you to write with 10 instrument fields (and 197 individual instruments) comprising of:
In so far as the amount of instruments you can add to an open score, it depends on the actual size or size of the screen involved. I generally only add up to 7 instruments at a time and Musescore allows you to transpose each section simply by highlighting each stave and adding a different key signature. It is in my opinion, a lot easier than activating the same principle and desire with Sibelius. The instruments in terms of how they sound aren't too synthetic, either and if you have a good stereo system or quality headphones, the sounds aren't too mono like!
The navigator window feature from Sibelius is also available with Musescore and is a standard feature. It isn’t a feature that I am particularly fond of since it opens up a mini window allowing you move about the score freely in a condensed picture version. It is only really suitable if you are composing a long score, of say more than 10 A4 pages of music.
Another similarity is that Musescore has a similar scoring procedure with only minimal differences. Whereas a small window of note input entries such as being able to write in quavers, crotchets and other notational forms comes up on the Sibelius software score in a pop up box, Musescore’s notational variety is displayed permanently like a location bar at the top of the score.
When it comes to entering notes on a score, it’s exactly like Sibelius and Finale, although Musescore moves the game on a little bit at the time for instant process and input structure. There are several options such as picking each notational value and manually putting it on the stave you’ve chosen, dependent on the line or spacing you wish the note to appear on, or using the QWERTY keyboard on your PC or MAC to input the notes, only having to manually adjust the increments of the notes on whether they should be high or low values, or using the MIDI instrument of your choice to put the notes in. If you’re used to MIDI already your PC or MAC will detect the instrument through a MIDI USB cable and the latency value of the input device at the time. Using the simplified and much quicker process of cut and paste speeds things along generally and using the arrows of your computer to adjust the way the notes appear or using your computer mouse, is a procedure that I end up doing to get the exact notes, chords and harmonies I want to achieve.
There are of course so many other “standard” features that Musescore sprinkles with, but rather than pad out this review with a lot more info for musicians who will know what I am talking about, please refer to end of this review for more professionally written pieces that give you a lot more information on the structural and intricate features that this program employs.
Unlike Sibelius however, if you are writing a score of notes for many instruments, the compactness of Musescore’s actual score opens up all in one with sub-folder/tab files page options by creating “Part-1” and so on files for selected, highlighting the instrument parts on top of the score, allowing you to glance at the several different parts, other than an open, full score. This allows you to then input the names of the notes if you wish to, change the spacing and size of the part in question and even applying decoration marks like dynamics or articulation singularly for that tabbed page instrument, or applied to the whole score.
Additional Info & System Requirements
Musescore versions vary in their size and the latest 1.2 version that was released on the 13th of March 2012 has a base size of 36.17 MB with a new “Musescore Connect,” patch that basically acts like iTunes store window, but is totally free yet again, allowing you to download royalty-free scores of music ranging from well loved classics to folk songs posted by other members.
I however do recommend having a 1GB of memory space free for Musescore – around the same space as most Sibelius programs need. This is because of the amount of standard features you get, plug-ins and the quality of the voices and instruments that you get to hear and select. There are also several font styles available, new chord charts and additional stylistic features that are embedded into the program, allowing you to custom build your own music scores rather than continually displaying everything in an “Arial” font, that can often give music manuscript a rather clinical look. Don’t give Musescore a larger amount of memory and you may find you’ll be saving a lot of your work on external memory drivers.
The latest 1.2 version of Musescore can be used on both Mac OS X 10.6 +, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows Vista. There is even an iPad version too. Previous versions of the program can be used on older Mac systems, but it is always best to check and if you have previous versions of Musescore already, the files saved on previous versions can automatically be opened with 1.2!
One of the issues that I don’t particularly enjoy about Sibelius music program is that whatever version you have, the actual program is liable to crash. This is more of an issue on PC computers compared to Macs, even though the issue can affect all on older Mac systems. Musescore is slightly more stable, even going as far as auto-saving the work you have already created, but can be hard to find if you don’t save the file from the moment you create a score. This is exactly like Sibelius, but the difference here is that Musescore doesn’t normally crash and logic would teach you to save the file straight away to avoid crashing.
The more advanced features of Musescore is becoming like Sibelius software all the time – this is because it is being promoted and worked on by likewise musicians, music teachers and music software engineers. The eventual release of Musescore 2.0 for example will allow you to add guitar tablature – but for the moment it is a feature that isn’t available on the base versions of the existing programs and 2.0 is said to be able to work in tandem with Sibelius so that schools and teachers can access it as an alternative program - clearly Musescore has made an almighty explosion and impression!
The forum online plays a huge part in developing the next versions of Musescore and thus, newer upgraded versions are always being developed and the forum online at Musescore.org is more or less a much needed service if you want help. You can read loads of suggestions and watch help videos online at other sources, but the Musescore forum is well worth joining . Now, this is a Catch 22 situation. If like me, you just want the basic program, try and seek out the previous versions, like 1.0 or 1.1. This is because the latest version will not yet have been superseded and is totally dependent on “nightfly,” builds. I never knew what “nightfly” meant until I downloaded a patch for a specific feature that my 1.0 version lacked and as the name suggests, it is a download that is being tested as a prototype patch before it can be fully functioned.
Usually, “nightfly” build versions occur in the middle of the night, or early mornings and have been posted by Musescore engineers or affiliated company people who are developing new or existing plug-in additional software to broaden Musescore’s basic software. Members are also invited to post their own solutions, tips and patches to get the versions working; it’s all about sharing information here, and one that can work in your favour.
Another downside is to avoid obtaining Musescore from any other site but the home site. The customer service team are very helpful and quite quick to respond if you have any problems downloading the software. When for example, the 1.1 versions were nearly completed, I had a few issues with some of the scoring and Musescore duly sent me a completed version of their previous Musescore 1.0 by email. I have not since felt the need to upgrade – but I am glad that I have been given the opportunity to.
Lastly, if like me your MAC needed a hard drive replacement and you were given a new upgrade from Tiger to Snow Leopard, then you will probably know that Sibelius 4 fails to mount and download. This is a great pity for me since I have owned Sibelius 4 since it was first launched and through the several licenses I additionally paid for, I was very disappointed to find that the Snow Leopard operating system will not accept Sibelius 4. Upon emailing the company I have been informed that Sibelius 6 will work with Mac Snow Leopard – but since discovering Musescore, my interest has shifted from Sibelius’ costly software. Why should I shell out £500 for a software program when my previous version should work on a Mac and Musescore is totally free? No brainer there – especially when schools are also in a recession and funding for music in general has been cut!
If there’s a young adult in your family who is studying music at school and wishes to pursue music in later life, composition and arranging for the mean time is still an aspect that is concurrent in both the Scottish and English education system in the music curriculum. Up until now, many parents have been pushed to buy Sibelius software or other affiliated programs. Musescore is the free alternative that will allow your child to do work at home, as well as using skills they have learnt with Sibelius in school and applying the same knowledge – for the majority - when it comes to actual use with few differences.