Entering and editing percussion notation

Updated 1 week ago
This page shows old instructions for MuseScore 3.
For MuseScore 4 users, see Entering and editing percussion notation.

    This chapter explains music creation on percussion notation staff only, see also the Instruments, staff setup and templates, the standard notation Note input , and the tablature chapters.

    The free MuseScore Drumline (MDL) extension offers even more options to write percussion notation. To download and install it, see the Language, translations, and extensions chapter.

    Overview

    Drum notation example

    Percussion notation (wikipedia) is a type of musical notation indicating notes to be played by percussion instruments.

    Musescore Instruments (see the Instruments chapter) that use percussion notation are under "Percussion - Unpitched", "Percussion - Marching", and "Percussion - Body" groups.

    Some Musescore Instruments under "Percussion - Pitched" contain "Drums" in their name, but do not use percussion notation : "Steel Drums", "Soprano Steel Drums", "Alto Steel Drums", "Guitar Steel Drums", "Tenor Steel Drums", "Cello Steel Drums", "Bass Steel Drums". They use standard notation staff, see Note input chapter.

    Understanding of Musescore Voices is required if the user wants to create percussion score for more than one real world instrument (sound sample), such as a score for "snare drum and ride cymbal".

    Percussion staff templates

    Percussion staff templates (percussion staff types) available (eg. 5-line, 3-line, or 1-line staff) are explained in the Staff / Part properties chapter.

    MuseScore Studio automatically uses a staff template that best suits the Musescore Instrument. To change the staff template of an existing staff, see Staff / Part properties) chapters.

    Real world instruments (sound samples) in a Musescore Instrument

    This chapter uses the wording "real world instrument" and "sound sample" interchangably.

    A percussion Musescore Instrument usually contains several real world instruments (sound samples). Popular Musescore Instruments that use percussion notation include,

    • "Drumset" under "Percussion - Unpitched". This is a single item that contains "Snare", "Bass Drum", "Ride Cymbal" etc sounds. There is no seperate MuseScore Instrument for each of these.
    • "Concert Bass Drum" under "Percussion - Unpitched" contains several sounds, it is not the "Drumset" 's "Bass Drum", and
    • "Bass Drum" under "Percussion - Marching" contains several sounds, it is not the "Drumset"'s "Bass Drum",
    • etc

    Several sound samples are only accessible using the Mixer window:

    • "Drumset" Musescore instrument "Standard 1" and other variations, (same for "Room", "Power", "Jazz" and theirs), use them by changing Mixer: Sound dropbox. They are different in playback only.
    • "Drumset" Musescore instrument "Brush" and variations, use them by changing Mixer: Sound dropbox. The brush snare is the "Electric Snare" item in Drum notation, only creates short brush playback. There is no seperate MuseScore Instrument for brush snare.

    Music entered for a percussion Musescore Instrument is specific to it. "Determine the audio desired before entering notes".

    Musescore Instrument data cannot be edited inside Musescore Studio 3.6.2 - there is no interface to change which sound samples a Musescore Instrument contains, or edit any sound data inside.

    Determine the audio desired before entering notes

    It is advisable to determine the audio (sound samples) desired before entering rhythmic patterns.

    It is a misconception that the data in "Drumset" Musescore Instrument are stored as rhythmic pattern data independent of pitch. Internally, notes written for different sound samples are stored as separate pitches. Musescore Studio 3.6.2 does not have user interface for switching sound within the same Musescore Instrument, such as in the case where the user has already written notes for "Hi-hat" sound on a "Drumset" Musescore Instrument staff and wants to switch to use "Ride Cymbal" sound.

    Alternatively, the Musescore Instrument can be changed as a whole if desired, but doing so may create undesirable result because notes entered for a percussion Musescore Instrument are specific to it.

    Note input

    There are several ways to enter music on a percussion staff.

    • Using a Mouse (and the Drum Input Palette).
    • Via keyboard shortcuts.
    • Using an external MIDI controller.
    • Using the virtual piano.

    There are two kinds of time positions that the user can enter notes and rests on to:

    • the current note input cursor position (see Note input mode: note input cursor position chapter), and
    • the Available time positions, which are slots where a note can be added by left-click. These positions includes
      • places that have existing notes or rests, and
      • the beginning (first beat) of each measure.

    To create more available time positions, truncate long rests by adding short rests (right click, or use shortcut 0 (zero), see below).

    Mouse entry using the Drum input palette

    To add a new note at the current note input cursor position:

    1. Select a starting note or rest, or a measure.
    2. Enter note input mode (shortcut N). The Drum input palette now appears at the bottom of the screen (see "Drum input palette" section). The Musescore Voices of the note to be added is indicated by note color in Drum input palette : blue for Voice 1, green for Voice 2. Note: The Musescore Voice setting chosen on the top toolbar is not used.
    3. Select the note duration of new note at the top Toolbar.
    4. Double-click an item in the Drum input palette. Notes and rests using the same Musescore Voice at the current note input cursor position are overwritten.
    5. The note input cursor position proceeds forward.

    To add a new note or rest at any available time positions:

    1. Select any note, rest or measure of the staff.
    2. Enter note input mode (shortcut N). The Drum input palette now appears at the bottom of the screen (see "Drum input palette" section). The Musescore Voices of the note to be added is indicated by note color in Drum input palette : blue for Voice 1, green for Voice 2. Note: The Musescore Voice setting chosen on the top toolbar is not used.
    3. Depending on the result desired, select an appropiate note duration of new note at the top Toolbar and item in the Drum input palette, according to the existing note or rest using the same Musescore Voice at the available time positions:
      • an existing rest is always overwritten by the new note.
      • when the chosen note duration is equal to that of the existing note, the new note is added, the existing note retains. A notation similar to a chord is created.
      • otherwise the new note overwrites (or truncates) the existing note.
    4. Left click on a desired available time position on the score to add a note. Right click to add a rest.

    Using keyboard shortcuts

    Keyboard shortcuts assignment is explained under "Drum input palette" section. To add a note at the current note input cursor position:

    1. Select a starting note or rest.
    2. Enter note input mode (shortcut N). The Drum Input palette now appears at the bottom of the screen.
    3. Select the note duration of new note at the top Toolbar.
    4. To enter a new note, press the shortcut key (A–G) displayed in the Drum Input palette. The new note uses the Musescore Voices indicated by note color in Drum input palette : blue for Voice 1, green for Voice 2. The Musescore Voice setting chosen on the top toolbar is not used. Notes and rests using the same Musescore Voice at the current note input cursor position are overwritten.
    5. To enter another note using the same Musescore Voice at the same time position, hold Shift (press Shift+[AG]). This note uses the Musescore Voices the last note is using, but not the setting indicated in Drum input palette.
    6. To enter a rest of the selected duration, press 0 (zero).
    7. The note input cursor position proceeds forward.

    MIDI controller

    To add a new note at the current note input cursor position:

    1. Ensure that the MIDI controller is connected and functioning correctly.
    2. Select a starting note or rest.
    3. Enter note input mode (shortcut N).
    4. Select the Musescore Voice and the note duration of new note at the top Toolbar. The new note does not use the Musescore Voices indicated on Drum input palette.
    5. To enter a new note, press a MIDI controller key.
    6. To add another note at the same position, keep the first key held down while pressing the second key.

    Virtual piano keyboard

    To add a new note at the current note input cursor position:

    1. Ensure that the Piano keyboard is displayed. Press P (or select it from the menu, ViewPiano Keyboard).
    2. Select a starting note or rest.
    3. Enter note input mode (shortcut N).
    4. Select the Musescore Voice and the note duration of new note at the top Toolbar. The new note does not use the Musescore Voices indicated on Drum input palette.
    5. To enter a new note, click a virtual piano key.
    6. To add another note to the same time position, press Shift and hold it while pressing the new note (in versions before 2.1, use Ctrl (Mac: Cmd)).

    Docking and undocking the virtual piano keyboard

    By default, the piano keyboard is docked at the bottom of the screen—to the left of the Drum input palette.

    To undock the panel, drag the title bar.

    To dock the panel:

    • Drag the panel downwards to the center and it will overlay the Drum input palette, full length. Both panels can then be accessed by Tabs.
    • Drag the panel downwards to the right/left and it will dock to the right/left of the Drum input palette.

    Drum input palette

    Drum input palette

    Drum input palette is displayed at the bottom of the screen when,

    • a percussion staff is selected, and
    • it is currently in note input mode (shortcut N).

    Each item (note) in the palette represents a percussion sound sample: hovering the mouse pointer over the note displays its name. The letters A–G shown on items are keyboard shortcuts. They do not refer to note pitches. Keyboard shortcuts can be changed using the Edit Drumset window.

    The Edit Drumset window

    Edit Drumset dialog

    To open the "Edit Drumset" window, use one of the following options:

    • Click on the Edit Drumset button at the left of the Drum input palette.
    • Right-click on a percussion staff and select "Edit Drumset...".

    This window offers editing of items inside the "Drum input palette" to facilitate entering music, which in turn affects note stem direction, notehead (shape), exisiting note replacement decision upon entry etc.

    Do not be confused by the wording "Edit Drumset". It is not possible to edit data inside Musescore Instrument (such as changing the sound samples inside a "Drumset" Musescore Instrument) inside Musescore Studio 3.6.2 (see "sound samples in a Musescore Instrument" section).

    The left pane lists the percussion sound samples available in the current Musescore Instrument (see "Overview").

    • No.: the MIDI pitch data utilized internally, reference of sound sample used to create audio.
    • Note: the MIDI pitch data utilized internally, reference of sound sample used to create audio.
    • Shortcut: see below.
    • Name: see below.

    The right pane displays details of the sound sample selected on the left pane, these settings are used to display notes on the score. Any changes made here are automatically saved in the parent MuseScore file.

    • Name: for display on Drum input palette only. Leave empty to remove this note from the Drum input palette.
    • Notehead group: the staff wide notehead type factor. See the Noteheads chapter.
    • Edit Noteheads and sub-settings inside the box: the details of a custom Notehead type. When the checkbox is checked, the Notehead group option automatically changes to "Custom". See the Noteheads chapter.
    • Default voice: see Voices. This does not affect input from a MIDI controller or the virtual piano keyboard.
    • Staff line: This number indicates the staff line/space on which the note is displayed. "0" means that the note is displayed on the top line of the 5-line staff. Negative numbers move the note upwards step by step, while positive numbers move it downwards in the same way.
    • Shortcut: the computer keyboard shortcuts for entry, see "Using keyboard shortcuts" section.
    • Stem Direction: See "Note stem direction" section

    The settings in this window can be saved as an independent .drm file by pressing Save As.... To import a settings use the Load... button.

    Drum map and Test out sound samples

    Refer to a General MIDI Level 2 (GM2) percussion key map (drum map) for each sound sample's corresponding key (pitch). Some keyboards (e.g., Casio) display percussion symbols next to the keys as an aid to the user.

    Outside the note input mode (press ESC), pressing an external MIDI controller key, or a vitual piano keyboard key demo the sound only, it does not create any note on a staff.

    General MIDI percussion key map

    Note stem direction

    Stem direction in percussion notation has been used by musicians to convey several distinct meanings. For example, the "hands up, feet down" and other rules explained in Better drumset notation (with focus on stem direction) forum discussion, the "pulse and rhythm" rule explained in https://www.onlinedrummer.com/blogs/drum-lessons/introduction-to-voicin….

    In Musescore Studio, note stem direction in percussion notation is determined by,

    • Musescore Voice
    • note property that can be changed using the Inspector, see the Inspector chapter.

    Users should be aware Musescore Voice feature (see the Musescore Voices chapter) dictates that notes in the same Musescore Voice (layer) share the same note duration and therefore should not assign Musescore Voice to notes and Drum input palette items solely based on the stem direction desired.

    Note vertical position

    In percussion notation, a note's vertical position usually denotes the instrument used. To override the default setting, use the Staff line explained in "Edit Drumset" section. The related programming logic is explained in "sound samples in a Musescore Instrument" section

    Notehead shape

    For info related to notehead shapes such as diamond, brackets, parentheses, dead note and ghost note, see the Noteheads: Adding pitch information to notes chapter.

    Other notations

    Sticking

    To enter sticking symbols (R, L):

    1. Select a start note;
    2. From the menu, select AddTextSticking. Alternatively, set up a keyboard shortcut to do the same thing in Preferences;
    3. Input the symbol just as you would normal text. To move forward or backwards to the next note, use the same keyboard shortcuts as for chord symbols.
    4. To exit, press Esc, or click on a blank section of the score.

    Add drum roll

    To create a drum roll, use a Tremolo.

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