For many users the mouse is the primary means of interacting with MuseScore. This article focuses on the icons in the Note Input toolbar and the Palettes with the goal of optimizing mouse interaction in MuseScore.
Screen edges are valuable
The edge of the screen is an easy target to reach with the mouse. Once the mouse pointer reaches the screen edge it stops so a user need not slow down as the pointer approaches this target.
Usability consultant Bruce Tognazzini states, “A single-row toolbar with tool icons that ‘bleed’ into the edges of the display will be many times faster than a double row of icons with a carefully-applied one-pixel non-clickable edge between the tools and the side of the display” (Source: First Principles of Interaction Design).
Proposed toolbar layout
MuseScore allows toolbars to be rearranged to match the layout shown above but two issues remain. First, the current Note Input toolbar is too large to fit vertically on the screen. On my monitor four buttons are hidden. Second, the current toolbar suffers from a non-clickable border that separates the icons from the precious screen edge.
Relocating a group of icons from the Note Input toolbar could address the first problem. Additionally there are icons which could be removed entirely (discussed below). Expanding the Note Input icons by a couple pixels to cover the non-clickable border could give the icons full access to the screen edge. If these issues are addressed then the proposed layout offers significant benefits.
Each icon on the screen gives the user quick access to important tools and functions. On the other hand, unnecessary icons distract from the most important icons. Here are some specifics to consider:
The “What’s this?” button only duplicates the tooltip text that appears when you hover over an icon. In its current form it offers little value.
The staccato icon that appears on the Note Input toolbar in recent builds (revision 1081) is confusing because it is identical to the icon for the augmentation dot. The staccato icon is already present on the articulation palette where its meaning is clear from the context. Perhaps a keyboard shortcut would be a better choice for quick access to staccatos.
The articulations palette contains duplicates of four types of articulations. Selecting between the duplicates requires special attention by the user because the correct choice depends on its placement above or below the staff. An algorithm that depends on user placement (above or below the staff) when it is dragged or stem direction when it is double clicked could remove this burden from the user.
Three other icons for consideration are the double sharp, double flat, and double augmentation dot. Their functionality could be combined into the existing sharp, flat, and augmentation dot icons respectively. However the case for removing these is not as strong as the icons listed above since it may be less discoverable for first-time users. It would need careful thought and user testing before adoption.
The simple prototype demonstrates one button interaction for creating both single- and double-dotted notes.
Finding symbols in the palette
The palette contains 142 icons not counting the Symbols category. The Symbols category alone contains 133 icons although most of these are duplicates found in other categories. Using the mouse to navigate to the correct icon can take time.
Part of the problem is the number of categories and lack of apparent order. A proposed order (below) splits the categories into two groups: symbols that apply to selected notes and symbols that apply to selected measures. The categories are sorted alphabetically within each group and the ambiguous “Notes” category is renamed “Grace Notes”.
Another approach to finding symbols could be a search similar to Quick Find in Firefox. If you are not familiar with Quick Find try hitting the slash (/) or apostrophe (') key while browsing in Firefox. Here’s an outline of how it could work in MuseScore for quickly finding a palette symbol.
Activate Quick Find via a one-key shortcut
Begin typing a symbol name such as “3/4 time”. As you type MuseScore highlights a match
Hit Enter to add the symbol to the selected note or measure
A Quick Find style search for symbols is easier to remember than keyboard shortcuts for each symbol because it is language based and has immediate visual feedback. It is also faster than mouse interaction since it automates opening categories, hunting for the symbol, and placing the symbol on the score.
The gallery below presents screen shots relevant to the discussion above.