MuseScore: First Impressions

Introduction

I present below my initial impressions and observations during my first few days with MuseScore 0.9.2 (Revision 888) for Windows XP. I wrote down any issues I encountered day by day. Hopefully this information will be helpful in understanding and catering for first time users.

Since my computer is not always hooked up to the Internet I did not have access to the MuseScore documentation on my first day. Some of the issues I encountered on the first day had simple solutions after reading the documentation (as I report on my second day). However, I left these issues intact due to their insight into the behavior and possible struggles of a first time user.

I should note that while I am a first timer to MuseScore I have several years of experience using other score editors particularly Finale. I should also note that I did not have a MIDI keyboard hooked up to the computer so all interaction was via the mouse and computer keyboard.

Day 1

Issues

  • Wikipedia needs an article on MuseScore.
  • MuseScore installer asks whether to install to System Path without explaining what this means. It did not explain the benefits or consequences of either choice, but did set "Do not add to system path" as default.
  • During playback the score does not scroll automatically to keep current notes in the current screen view.
  • Mixer dials have confusing interaction with mouse. Sliders would be less confusing. Also it took me a second to work out the abbreviations Rev and Cho. (A tooltip for "Reverb" and "Chorus" might be helpful.)
    Mixer Panel

    Figure 1 Mixer dials are confusing. An upward mouse movement turns the dial clockwise. This means an upward movement of the mouse may correspond to a downward movement of the indicator if the dial is turned past half way.

  • When editing lyrics the arrow keys and backspace do not let you go back to previous syllables. Instead I have to stop and use the mouse.
  • Note beams do not respect beat groupings for triplet time signatures such as 6/8 or 12/8 (see demo Bach "Inventio 10")
  • During note entry automatic rests do not respect beat groupings. The rests almost always appear in the wrong order and sometime become very convoluted.
    4/4 time: eighth note, half rest, quarter rest, eighth rest

    Figure 2 After inserting an eighth note into an empty measure rests automatically fill up the rest of the measure. In the figure above, the rests appear in reverse of the correct order.

  • It is not obvious how to switch in and out of note entry mode via the mouse. Clicking on the note values in the toolbar appears to set up for MIDI entry (even if MIDI input is turned off). I was able to initiate note entry by typing a note name on the keyboard.
  • Likewise leaving note entry proved difficult. First I looked for a select tool or page grabber in the toolbar in an attempt to switch back to that mode. Since the icon did not appear in the toolbar I tried to deselect the current note value by clicking on it in the toolbar. Clicking on the current note value failed to deselect it. Finally I managed to exit note entry by double clicking on the title text. This did move me out of note edit mode but it also inserted a really high note above the first system.
  • I could not work out how to use the palette to insert pedal markings (or any other markings that I tried). I tried clicking, double clicking, selecting a note and clicking/double clicking, to no avail.
  • The description of "Alternate input method" under the Note Entry preferences erroneously uses the word "clef" instead of "key signature" (From the description: "... The created note depends on the current clef [sic.] ... If the alternate input method is enabled the current clef [sic.] is irrelevant.")
  • Playback of the Brandenburg Concerto demo played only the trumpet line
  • MuseScore consistently freezes on playback for demo Mozart Sonata 16 and demo Bach "Inventio 13"
  • On demo "Scales & Chords" time signatures are hidden but the courtesy (29/4) time signature is still visible at the end of the line.
  • Some non-native characteristics for Windows users. For example the Save upon close prompt uses "Abort" instead of the typical "Cancel" and "Nosave" instead of the typical "Don't save". Also the "File Save..." dialog always default to the program folder instead of the "My Documents" home folder or the last used folder. Finally the file open icon on the toolbar differs from the typical file open icon in Windows.

Attractions

  • Toolbars are generally simple and uncluttered
  • Full feature set and more mature than any other free score editor available for Windows
  • The software generally runs faster and feels much snappier than Finale
  • Exports to an impressive number of file formats (including MusicXML, MIDI, Lilypond, PDF, Postscript, PNG, SVG)
  • Textured background easy on eyes
  • Supports tabs for viewing multiple documents
  • When adding lyrics MuseScore automatically moves the staves to make room for any number of stanzas
  • Great startup wizard for creating new scores
  • Nice implementation of line breaks and page breaks

Day 2

Answers

  • The documentation states that you can go back to previous lyric syllables using Shift+Space. While this is logical it is not as intuitive as using the arrow keys (or backspace if deleting). When I trying using Shift+Space it didn't actually work.
  • It turns out you can switch in and out of note edit mode by pressing N. Again this is logical but not obvious to first time users. It would make more sense if clicking on a note value in the tool bar entered note edit mode. An icon in the toolbar that performed the same function as the ESC key would be nice as well. The icon could be the simple pointer that appears after hitting the ESC key.
  • The palette works via drag and drop. This works well for some markings such as dynamics, but is a little clunky when working with extending markings such as crescendo/decrescendo, etc. Despite a documented description of selecting notes I and double clicking items on the palette, this did not appear to work.

New Issues

  • Dynamic markings do not influence playback. Nor do pedal markings or attributes (other than staccato)

New Attractions

  • The transpose dialog is much simpler and easier to understand than the equivalent in Finale. However I tend to think in intervals (such as perfect fifth) rather than number of semitones so this may be a drawback when transposing by many semitones.

Day 3

Issues

  • The new score wizard doesn't ask you about the key signature or let you create a pickup measure
  • If the last measure of the piece has an "actual duration" other than the "nominal" then an erroneous courtesy time signature appears at the end of the piece
    Courtesy 4/4 time after last measure

    Figure 3 When the actual measure duration of the final measure is changed to 3/4 time a courtesy 4/4 time signature appears after the final measure.

  • Right clicking on a measure gives a context menu which lists two items called "Properties...". This is confusing because they actually do two different things. The first should be renamed "Staff Properties..." and the second should be renamed "Measure Properties..."
    *Properties... *Cut *Copy *Properties... *Object Inspector...

    Figure 4 "Properties..." appears twice in the context menu. Despite sharing the same name they refer to different properties.

  • Lyric hyphens are usually too long
    tow-----'ring

    Figure 5 Large spaces between syllables create long hyphens

  • Lilypond export is buggy and incomplete. All my dotted quarters were converted to regular quarter notes on export. Also lyrics, measure lines, and measure durations were ignored. Compare the PDF created directly from MuseScore with the PDF created via lilypond export
  • In tenor clef the seventh flat in the key signature of C-flat major extends below the staff
    Tenor clef, C-flat major

    Figure 6 Last flat in the key signature lies on an invisible ledger line below the staff

  • No means to edit style of existing system text. The "Edit Text Style..." dialog only applies to new text added to the score. It would be nice to edit individual text styles using the object inspector or similar option in the context menu.
  • MuseScore documentation on Accidentals incorrectly states that "Shift+Up increase[s] the pitch of a note for one octave" and "Shift+Down decrease[s] the pitch of a note for one octave". In actual practice the Ctrl modifier is need instead of Shift.
  • Dragging a clef to replace an existing clef changes the clef for that system but display is not updated for remaining systems.
  • Adding more than one stave at a time (such as two trumpets or a grand staff) via the instrument list takes two undo actions to fully undo.
  • The instrument list has "B Trumpet" and "B Clarinet" instead of "B Trumpet" and "B Clarinet"
  • Cross-staff beaming is not undo-able
  • Measure stretch is not undo-able
  • New files do not appear in the "File > Recent Open" list until they have been closed and reopened.
  • The flat symbol () appears blank on the text palette (F2) although it displays correctly when it's inserted into the document
  • Triplets do not copy and paste correctly
    Original measure of triplets and copied measure

    Figure 7 The original triplets in the first measure do no retain their triplet format after a copy-paste into the second measure.

  • Demo scores should be accessible via the help menu

See Also

David Bolton, April 2008.