MuseScore is very easy to use. It has a simple graphical interface which is very easy to understand and get started with. Once you get going though, you can use keyboard shortcuts to do just about everything – then you’re really moving. When you’re done it’s simple to save as PDF or play with volume and instrument sounds for each staff and export as a MIDI.
The beauty of this midi editor really lies in the open source mentality behind it. There’s a great handbook and forum for suggestions, help, tricks and bug notifications. Plus there’s a whole community of geek musicians building and supporting this application.
The app is available for multiple platforms and supports lots of different import and export options, making it easy to use with other programs like Lilypond. This is great news if you want to write out the music easily using MuseScore and print it using the beautiful musical typography of Lilypond.
Create A New Score
When creating a new score, MuseScore’s wizard does all the hard work for you. Fill in the details, pick your instruments, time signature and key and you’re ready to go.
Entering Basic Notes
Click on the measure you want to start writing on, choose a note duration from the toolbar and click the N to the left of the note durations to indicate you want to start entering notes. Then click on the note’s line (or space) to put the note there. Keep going until you’re done, then click ESC to stop entering notes.
This is even quicker with keyboard shortcuts: Click on your measure; type N to enter notes; durations of notes are chosen using numbers (5 = crotchet / quarter note); use a full stop (period) to indicate a dotted note; type the letter of the notes to enter them or SPACE to enter a rest; type N again to stop entering notes. Be aware that the DEL button means UNDO – it’s not like typing text.
If you have one, you can also use a MIDI keyboard to enter the score. I’m sure that makes things even quicker!
Chords are made by either clicking where you want to place the note or using shortcuts. Holding shift will add notes to the chord (some Mac users need to hold the FUNCTION key down too).
Multiple Voices On Same Line
Sometimes you need to add a second voice to a staff or to add a piano part with a different rhythm to other notes already in the measure. To do this, enter your first line as normal. Then click on the first note where the line splits and type N. From the toolbar, choose the second voice from the four coloured numbers. Then enter as normal.
Copy & Paste
Highlight your selection by clicking on the first, pressing SHIFT and then clicking the last note. Use the edit menu or CTRL-C and CTRL-V (CMD for Mac) to do the cutting and pasting. Paste by clicking on a note exactly where the first note of your copied selection should go. This might mean you need to enter a note there just for the pasting point.
Choose a basic tempo for the entire piece by going to Display > Play Panel. Test it out by playing the piece and work out exactly what speed you’d like.
If you prefer, you can mark the tempo for each section differently in the score. Add tempo markings by clicking on the first note and choosing Create > Text > Tempo. Then choose the appropriate tempo from the list and adjust the BPM if required. This will affect playback and can be very useful.
Time/Key Signatures, Dynamics & Embellishments
Dynamics, key changes, tempo changes, bar lines, repeats and other markings can be placed in the score and some will affect the playback. Go to Display > Pallette and you’ll see all the options. Mostly, you need to drag the item into the score and let it hook itself to a note or a bar line already in the score.
Mixing & Making MIDI Files
Before saving your file as a MIDI (which really is as simple as File > Save As), you can do a little mixing to highlight individual parts or change the sound of each instrument. Go to Display > Mixer to get a mixing panel where you can change the volume of individual parts and change sounds.
There are mute/solo checkboxes which are great for playback within MuseScore, but for making MIDI files you’ll need to use volume control to make sure (well, you do on a Mac anyway). To further highlight an individual line, try it with a louder instrument, such as the piano.
Using Alternate Sound Fonts
If you’re a total music geek, then you might like your MIDI to sound a little better. MuseScore lets you use different sound fonts, which can be added easily enough using these instructions (It’s the GM file you want). I can whole-heartedly recommend the Fluid sound font, but there’s plenty of others around to try out.
Get MuseScore Free!
MuseScore is a fantastic, easy-to-use free music notation program with the ability to export as MIDI, PDF or other format. It’s available for multiple operating systems, so go get it! Then come back here and let us know what you think of the program.