I’ve been looking for a music notation program forever that’s free, powerful, and isn’t a demo, and I finally found it.

I got the MuseScore application through a newsletter from Mac OS X freeware. It’s quite a big program though, but 100 megabytes later, I finally got to open the application for the first time. At first glance, it was much simpler than other similar programs I had tried previously. There were only a few toolbars for note input, playback, and editing, but that’s all I really needed. I knew this was an app that I would actually keep and use.

Entering notes in MuseScore is a piece of cake, and there are so many ways to do it. Just select a note value in note input mode and move the mouse to where you want the note to be. Or, you can type in notes with the keyboard (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and move them with the Up or Down arrow. Inputting chords was also easy; just press Shift + (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) and it will build a chord. MuseScore will even fill in rests for me so that I didn’t have to! I especially appreciated the many ways that I could enter and edit notes, whether it be with mouse input, keyboard input, MIDI input, or a combination of the three.

Slurring and ties were also easy to accomplish in MuseScore. I just had to press “S” or “+”, respectively, and it would automatically form a slur. Then, to change the start and end positions, I just did Shift+Right or Shift+Left. Ties were done automatically just by pressing the “+” key.

MuseScore is also very intelligent. It follows the standard rules of music notation. It knows when to beam up, beam down, and how to break the beams of notes. 1st-and-2nd endings, dynamics, articulation, fingering, and grace notes are a walk in the park in MuseScore. However, there are still a few difficulties with voicing, where there are two or more voices in a single staff. MuseScore supports up to four voices per staff, but it can take a while to learn to input with voicing, and MuseScore still has a few bugs to address before voicing gets really simple.

One of the most useful features in the program is the playback. Unlike other programs, you can specify how you’d like the music to be played back, be it at a soft or loud, fast or slow, reverberant or not; it’s your choice. The playback tool is great for checking accurate note input, which brings me to one other point: when entering notes, MuseScore cannot tell the difference between E-flat and D-sharp, that is, no matter how you enter E-flat or D-sharp, MuseScore will recognize it as E-flat. However, there is a script pre-installed called Pitch Spell that tries to guess which one of the enharmonic notes it is.

Along with piano music, MuseScore also handles chamber music, violin music, symphony scores, and even kazoo music, although I haven’t tried them yet.

Other features in MuseScore include:

  • Cross-beam notation (see figure at right): Beam through different staves
  • Automatic note head positioning in a staff
  • Highlighting out-of-range tones (which apparently doesn’t work all the time)
  • Plug-ins to create chord charts, color notes, insert note names, etc.
  • Page and text style editing
  • Export as PDF, PNG, SVG, MusicXML and many other formats
  • …and pretty much anything you can write on real music notation paper, including triplets, line breaks, and so much more!

A few things don’t quite work yet:

  • Voicing has a few bugs, including chord note positioning
  • Arpeggiando positioning
  • Slurring across multiple lines
  • Beaming with triplets
  • Mixed meter/key signature

I give MuseScore an 8.5/10 and highly recommend it to anyone who has been looking for a free yet powerful music notation program. Download at http://musescore.org.

Published by Geoffrey Liu

A software engineer by trade and a classical musician at heart. Currently a software engineer at Groupon getting into iOS mobile development. Recently graduated from the University of Washington, with a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Music. Web development has been my passion for many years. I am also greatly interested in UI/UX design, teaching, cooking, biking, and collecting posters.

10 thoughts on “MuseScore: A free music notation program that’s actually good

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  1. I do not know of any issues with slurring across multiple lines or positioning of arpeggiandos in version 0.9.5. If you encounter any please report the details at the MuseScore website.

    Beaming with triplets doesn’t work in 0.9.5 but it does work in the development builds for the next version.