how do I play chords on playback

• Jun 20, 2016 - 15:29

How do I play chords on playback, along with the parts I have put in? I have added chord names above parts, but only the melodyand harmony lines play.... No sound of chords...

This is critical to what I do.

Cheers, Dave Thomas, ancient composer/harmoniser. Previously using Harmony Assistant - powerful but interface a bit obscure. Like simplicity of Musescore entry, but need chords played...#


MuseScore is intended as a notation program primarily. Playback is secondary, and it does not have any facility currently to intterpret and play back chord symbols. If for some reason you need to hear the chord symbols, you can enter them into a program that specializes in this, then export as a MIDI file, and import that into MuseScore then copy and paste into your score. Or just creating an extra staff and enter the chord accompaniment yourself, then mark the staff invisible.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

That being said and understood, would it be so very difficult to add a capability to add a voice containing the chords from these symbols, without consideration of inversions/voicing etc.? Perhaps we could simply generate a voice that could then be edited; or it could be dynamic.

This could save me some time (a shorthand way of entering chordal material), help in composition (does this section sound better using a minor?), and provide a useful practice tool.

Just wondering what you think. I agree we're not trying to create a playback-oriented tool.

In reply to by Naturegirrrl2

Keep in mind the main purpose of MuseScore is notation. So while eventually we might support chord symbol playback, its a big project outside the scope of what MuseScore is really about, so I wouldn't be expecting it soon. Meanwhile, you can do the lead sheets in MuseScore, then use another program like Impro-Visor, iReal Pro, Band in a Box, etc if you want to practice with a playalong.

In reply to by spinality

I agree. Even though we are frequently reminded that the primary purpose of MuseScore is notation and not playback(!), having a simple playback capability for the chord symbols would facilitate notation by provided an easy means of proofreading the score. In other notation apps that do provide chord playback, such as Finale, my only use for it is proofreading, and for that purpose I find it very effective.

In reply to by jeetee

Thanks for the tip regarding Chords To Notes plugin!

I just tried it. It is not suitable for my purposes because:

  1. It is only adding a single bass note, not a triad.
  2. By adding another voice, the stave direction of the pre-existing notes changes.
  3. There is no way to hide the new voice.
  4. The new voice is not assigned its own instrument. (Is there a way to do this?)

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks for the suggestion.

My main goal is to notate a piece of music that includes some chords, and then play it through to catch errors.

Using a plugin that generates extra stuff is already taking me away from my goal. Adding a copy operation takes me another step away. Another problem with any playback tool that generates extra stuff is that I need to go back and regenerate if I make any changes to the chords.

I agree. I have to write out jazz charts. I can't really test the results without a simple bass line. even just the root would deb okay, although i agree that major/minor/b7/ etc would be better1

I read above that Musescore is only for notation, and thus should not play chords. By that principle, then there is no reason why Musescore even plays the melody.

Only Beethoven, and other similarly gifted composers, can hear what the manuscript will sound like. For us non-geniuses, playing some rudimentary production of the chords is necessary.

We appreciate the suggestion of the series of tedious steps to work around this limitation, but this work-around greatly enlarges the work required for a project.

Please reconsider on this facility. Thank you.

I understand that playback is not musescore's primary focus but as someone has already asked, "if playback isn't a priority, why have the feature at all?" I would like to echo those who have asked for a musescore enhancement to interpret chord symbols and execute them during playback mode.

For starters, it would be a significant boost just to interpret the triad (1,3,5 - no inversion) and leave out the 7th, Dim 5th, etc. That's 24 variations: 12 major chords and 12 minor chords. For those of us who are not such advanced composers, this feature would be MUCH appreciated.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Agreed. It's certainly not much harder to include all the notes for standard chords. We know the beats where they are supposed to appear. Not a complex problem.

If the goal were to provide a "usable" rhythm track, as on iReal Pro, then this would of course be a much larger project. But just to provide an harmonic or practice aid? Block chords on each beat shouldn't be too huge an undertaking, and I agree it would be helpful in many situations.

I've always thought that it should be possible, perhaps via an add-in, to use the chord symbols to generate a separate (hidden) system containing block chords on each beat. Once generated, this could be played or modified like any other elements in the score. Another project for my next life.

In reply to by spinality

The voicing would highly depend on the instrument, Guitar would certainly use different voicing from Piano for example. I at first though chord symbols are only for Guitar (because that is where I met them first), but that just isn't true, as I've learned later.
What is supposed to happen to chord symbols on a (singing) voice stave? Which sound, which voicings, which octave?
Even iReal Pro isn't really clear about this: Teach yourself to play the Guitar, the Piano or the Ukulele with help from the Guitar Chords, Piano Chords and Ukulele Chords.
So there is more to it than meets the eye at first.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

What I'm describing would not depend on the instrument. Rather, MS would simply treat the chord symbols as a separate system, and would play all the notes in the specified chord using e.g. a piano sample. They could simply be played in close voicing, or (for 9th/13th/etc.) extended into the second octave. This approach would not be trying to create chords in the specified staff's voice, nor to create realistic accompaniment. It would simply be to reproduce the harmony indicated by the chord symbols, to aid in composition/copyediting/etc. There have been lots of times when I've realized I had the wrong chord symbol in a chart (minor instead of major, #9 instead of b9 etc) where a playback option would have quickly illustrated the problem. I agree that doing what you describe is not a trivial problem at all. On the other hand, I wouldn't be at all interested in a tool that plays chords in e.g. a vocal simulation. If I want that I'll write all the voices out. What I'd really like is a way to hear the chord symbols in some way so that I can use my ears as well as my eyes.

In reply to by spinality

There the disagreements starts already, I'd want it to play guitar chords for example, not piano, if I see a G, I see a fretboard diagram with the 'standard' fingering for a G-Major chord on a Guitar.
But even if Piano, which octave to start in, C3? Why? Shouldn't the octave match the instrument the chord symbols is attached to? Like differ whether attached to Soprano or Tenor, or to double bass?
Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see chord playback as much as you, but for implementing this, it needs to be defined very clearly and also future proof.
But see also for example:

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Rendering chord symbols with piano sound is better than nothing.
I don't see a compelling reason to use the instrument's sound for the chord symbols, unless piano is the instrument. After all, a solo woodwind, solo horn, even a solo double bass is not able to produce complex chords by itself.
Plus, presumably the piano-staff-chord-playback sound could be varied in the mixer, allowing for woodwind, horn, etc. harmonies, if desired.

However... 😂
For the guitar, it seems that the playback engine can already identify fret/string via the TAB feature.
Consequently... I envision the ability to read fret/string info. from a fretboard diagram so that 'standard' fingerings could be expanded to include all chord modalities and inversions - in other words, chordal play back is guided by what the fretboard diagrams show.
If no fretboard diagrams are present... the piano (as a fall back) can be used.


In reply to by Jm6stringer

It's obviously a question of what capability we're trying to provide. At present we have zero chord symbol rendition in playback. It would be a big help to have something. In my view, a minimal capability would probably be better than a sophisticated one. It would let us hear the chords without pretending to deliver high quality accompaniment.

For me, the goal of having a realistic chordal accompaniment based on chord symbols is an impossible dream. No two chordal musicians playing on piano, guitar, mandolin, etc. will make the same voicing and rhythm choices based on a given set of chord symbols. The options are endless, and the skill involved in making those choices is considerable. Moreover chord substitution and revoicing is always part of that accompaniment choice. So I think a goal of having sophisticated chord realization is unreasonable -- unless we go to the extreme of a product like iRealPro, which goes far beyond the intent of MuseScore.

So this is why my original suggestion of simple-minded chord generation seemed desirable to me. If we use the intermediary of a generated chord system (which can be shown or hidden) we could then go in manually and adjust the voicing, ranges, etc. The chord symbols would then be serving as a shorthand entry mechanism to facilitate the arrangement/composition process.

Anyway, that's the tool I'd really like to see. I view this as totally unrelated to any use of guitar tablature -- in that case we're actually playing the scored notes, rather than extrapolating from a chord symbol.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

My personal feeling is that getting good / realistic / performance-quality playback (which is not only instrument but style specific) remains way way way outside the score of what MuseScore is likely to be attempting any time soon. Although FWIW, I have given thought to how we could integrate with Impro-Visor and/or iReal Pro, perhaps via a web service something, to somehow automate a process of exporting the chords to MusicXML, using one of those programs to generate accompaniment, exporting that to MusicXML, and re-incorporating that into the score. In theory it's doable although still a significant amount of work.

But more practically, even though it has almost zero use for realistic performance purposes, I do totally get the usefuless of an extremely rudimentary playback that basically consists of sticking in whole notes (or whatever the duration of the chord is) using preset voicings as in the "cheat sheet" I posted a bit ago (see above). I would envision this being just a command you run on a staff that looks at the chord symbols on that staff and generates the notes right there on that same staff. After that, they are just notes you can edit or hide or do whatever with - there would be no special code run on the fly during playback. Just a command to fill a staff with notes based on the chord progression. That much is not particularly difficult at all.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, this is exactly my feeling as well. A simple generator would be a handy hack. Once the chords or arpeggios are generated, you can manipulate or play them like any other score element. The other type of functionality would be a big change in MS direction.

The only issue for me is doing this on the same staff as the chord symbols. The most common use case for me would be working with an existing lead sheet, with a single melody staff and a set of chord symbols. When generating chords for these heuristic reasons, I wouldn't want those generated notes to overlay the existing score. So I'd presumably need to copy the existing system with its melody and chords onto a new system, then delete the melody and generate the chords. It seems like it wouldn't be too hard to provide some semi-automated method to create a new generated system, which could then easily either be deleted or hidden. The original lead sheet would retain its usefulness and appearance.

In reply to by spinality

The advantage of using an existing staff is then there is no question of what sound to use, and also it becomes a very straightforward command that does a single task. Creating a staff (where to add it? what instrument to use) and copying chord symbols to it (from which staff?) and generating notes - that's really a lot of stuff better broken down into tasks to simplify implementation and give the user more control. So you have to take a few seconds to add a staff and copy the chords to it. Then the exact same facility is equally useful for lead sheets as well as arrangements where the staff already exists.

But I'm sure there are other ways this could be implemented, I'm not married to that particular idea.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I forgot that you can use 'select all similar elements' with chord symbols -- I thought you'd need to copy/paste the whole measures, then delete all the notes. So it is indeed easy to create a new staff and paste chord symbols. (It would of course be possible to automate this basic process, so that one might: 1. Select a group of measures; 2. Choose a new "generate chord staff" add-in, which: a) adds a new single piano staff; b) uses the selected measure range to copy and paste the contained chord symbols; c) generates the chord notes. If using this tool frequently as a practice aid, this might be a time saver. But the manual process is not as lengthy as I thought.) Thanks for considering this issue, Marc.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

This is a cool post
What better than this to learn the chords!!!
Yahoo! I hope I can download this from somewhere.
If not, can you get it to me? I'd be grateful for that.
Living is all about finding life's shortcuts. This most certainly qualifies.
Thank YOU!!! (y) <3 <3 <3

This is really interesting; I hadn't seen it before; let me throw some needless covféfé in the water by saying that this ("chord realization"), along with figured-bass realization and "partimento", is a facet of the general problem of harmonic packing (writing such notations) and unpacking ("expanding", "realizing" them) of music. When the "chord symbols" along countless common songs say "C ...... C7 ... F .... Fm6 ....C" --- while that does indeed tell you, if you are playing an accordeon, "chord organ" or other instrument with "chord buttons", that those are the ones you should press, it tells any knowledgeable composer or student , or jazz artist, of a descending line C, Bb, A, Ab, G, and an ascending line at the end going C D E. D7 followed by G means that the F# goes up and the C goes down, etc. Anyone (or code) that properly "realizes" chord symbols understands such gestural semantics as embodied in chord symbol sequences, just as Baroque musicians were able to invent and exploit a key-independent (cf., tensors vs vectors!) way of encoding, cataloguing, teaching, and "realizing" gestures in the (recently rediscovered) art of "partimento", along with countless "figured bass manuals" of the 18th century documenting gesture in precisely that way. Competent jazz pianists know how to do this intuitively -- polyphony, the marriage of lines and harmony, is not the exclusive property of Bach. So that's the idea -- realizing polyphonic gesture and sequence, not individual chords. While incipient folk guitarists, like accordeon-players, operate in the realm of "context free" chords, composers, pianists, and organists (and classical and jazz guitarists) are bound to meaningful "voice leading", i.e., polyphony. A "chord realizer" that could so weave texture and gesture in a meaningful way would be cool and impressive. Just my 1/50 of a semitone, as it were.

In reply to by [DELETED] 1831606

I think everyone makes this way too complex, getting into voicings, progressions, bass lines, etc. Look, there are any number of programs out there (Band In A Box, iRealPro, etc.) that take as input a set of chord symbols and produce reasonable harmonies and bass lines. Maybe this is not useful for real compositions and arrangements, or for classical musicians, but as many here have already pointed out, it is extremely useful for jazz and popular musicians. If you want specifics:
- generate the chord notes into a separate staff so it can easily be modified, regenerated, removed, assigned to an instrument, etc. (the existing plugin that creates another voice is only marginally useful).
- use root position for all chords (or if you want to get fancy, if a bass note is indicated use that)
- don't get fancy with the rhythm - just hold each chord until the next chord is indicated
Frankly, I can't see why this wouldn't be a relatively simple thing to do, and many would find it very helpful.

In reply to by rsudama

It's simple indeed if people would agree on specifics such as those. But I also note, what makes BIAB and iReal Pro so "reasonable" is that they are not so naive as to just use root position chords with no rhythms. So it would be disappointing to go to all the trouble of implementing something that in the end no one actually found all that useful. That's why it is important to really get consensus.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, I agree with you Marc. It would be fantastic if MuseScore could actually generate interesting backing tracks. But that's a lot of work, and something is better than nothing. It seems like this feature keeps getting put off because some people want it to be more sophisticated. My reading of the forums is that there are a lot of people who would find a simple implementation to be very useful. I am certainly one of those people. Maybe "consensus" is not possible. For my part, I'm going to try to improve on the previous chord-to-note script and update it for 3.0. Of course, it would be really helpful if I could find some documentation of the 3.0 API.

In reply to by rsudama

If it were me, I'd probably use a voicing algorithm like the following:

  • always put the root on the bottom, in the octave from E2 to D#3
  • above that place the rest of the chord in "close position", inverted to yield exactly one note above middle C

Thus, for example with C7, this yields


The results should be "reasonable" for both piano and guitar in most cases, both individually for each chord but also in terms of voice leading from chord to chord.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I continue to think that even a minimalist implementation would be a huge help. I picture several different types of user who would appreciate chord playback capabilities, with different desires/expectations. Bearing this in mind and separating their needs might help find consensus, perhaps leading to more than one "flavor" of implementation.

  1. Audio verification of chord symbols. This for me is probably the most desirable. Proofreading a lead sheet to be sure I've spelled all the chords correctly is tedious and error prone. A quick listen to the chords against the melody is the fastest way to be sure we haven't said b9 instead of #9 or A instead of Ab. I can't count how many times I've sent out a chart to a band only to find that I got one @#$5 chord wrong.

  2. Composition. For those who compose incrementally, through refinement, blocking out chords and being able to hear them in playback can help in developing melodic ideas. This would be particularly helpful for people like myself who are only part-time composers -- I often make errors in trying to write out the material I have in mind. This could also help create rough scores containing just harmonic/rhythmic material, which could then be edited in place to add melodic and rhythmic refinements. I can picture this speeding transcription and composition times.

  3. Practice exercises. In many practice situations, e.g. playing an exercise or a head through 12 keys, it would be a timesaver to be able to hear simple chords through playback. This could be useful (for me at least) even at far below the level of the more sophisticated accompaniment tools discussed in this thread. I don't need it to sound like a band. I just need to hear the tones in the chords. Being able to work directly from a MuseScore chart would save me a lot of time.

  4. Shortcut chord entry for creating conventional scores. Rather than adding all the chordal elements to a score one note at a time, I can see a chord symbol tool saving entry time. Once the chord framework has been generated on the associated beats, editing might be faster than using direct note entry. (There is often a tradeoff between direct entry on a blank score versus pasting material that is then edited. Generating and then editing chordal material would be similar to pasting and editing an existing passage.)

The above use cases would be satisfied with the simple tools Marc describes above. The easier and faster they are to use, the more I would use them.

Other users would be interested in more sophisticated tools, which I regard as entirely different and perhaps best addressed with separate solutions.

  1. Realistic practice accompaniment, as with iReal Pro and BiiB. To create "live backing tracks" we need extensive capabilities covering voicing, rhythm, etc. Working with one of the existing platforms seems more efficient than specifying and building new features.

  2. Realistic performance. Convincing performance-quality chord accompaniment is the most difficult challenge and the furthest away from MuseScore goals. Again, linking to an existing generator seems a better approach.

I hope these comments are useful. I realize I've been beating this drum for quite some time. :)

In reply to by spinality

I second this notion of a very SIMPLE chord playback - I was just looking for this functionality, for the very early stages of getting a melody down and remembering the harmony I want (before I actually arrange the thing) - in order to proofread my notation audibly. I wish I were competent enough of a programmer to help out!

In reply to by suebeehaney1

Just started with Musescore. I have used BIAB for the last 15 years to do my lead sheet printing for giging. BIAB works great for backing tracks but really lacks for a notation printing program. It always seem to goof up repeats and lyrics when edits are made. YUK.. So started using Musescore and does a GREAT job for notation software. But unlike BIAB missing the ability to sound the basic chords in a lead sheet when under construction is really missed from the point of error checking. Seems like every new sheet when done, I find some missed chord or missed placed melody note that is not found till printed and played. I or we don't need backing tracks just need some error checking by ear.

Maybe the following is of no great interest after all this time, but I just solved this problem -- in a very simple case:
I created the lead sheet with chord symbols in MuseScore3 and then exported it as a compressed xml file (suffix .mxl). I imported this into Lilypond via Frescobaldi, 'published' it in Lilypond/Frescobaldi, and opened the midi file in MuseScore3. The resulting 'score' looks a total mess, but the playback seems to add block chords to the tune in the appropriate places.

In reply to by markshepherd

Great Mark! One suggestion: when expanding chord symbols, is it possible to stop expansion when all selected notes have been matched in duration with chord notes? Let's say that I selected notes from 2 measures, what is the point to generate chord expansion on 8 measures, even if there is room for 8 measures?

In reply to by markshepherd

Since you asked, the one thing that would be nice is 16ths and tuplets in the rhythm pattern. It works ok to use 4ths and 8ths when you set a swing rhythm for the piece (since most of my pieces are jazz), but it would be nice to have other options for afro, latin. etc.

In reply to by rsudama

Dang! I was going to do 1/16's but I got lazy. I'll add them in the next version. Until then, you can create a pattern in your score, select it, then launch the plugin and do "Use selection". This should work with any notes, including 1/16's. (In the rhythm pattern display it will show "?" for notes it doesn't recognize, but the generated timing is usually correct).

To the best of my knowledge, there is no way for a plugin to read or write tuplets. Also, plugins can sometimes write tied notes to a score, but not always. Perhaps these limitations will go away in a future version of MuseScore.

In reply to by markshepherd

Hi Mark. I don't want to create more work for you, but I do like what you've done and have tried a few more things. First of all, I'm glad you added the 16ths, but for swing it works better to use 8ths and set the song rhythm for swing. So I tried doing a bossa nova to test out other features and had two problems. The song had a pick-up measure, which seemed to throw the rhythm pattern generator off (that is, a 4/4 measure with only 1 beat). Secondly, since rests aren't supported, I tried to get a clave pattern by using half-notes where I might have had a 1/4 and a 1/4 rest. This spanned measure boundaries, which the pattern generator didn't like. I guess the best thing would be to add rests to the rhythm patterns? Don't kill yourself...

In reply to by rsudama

I'm sorry - there is a limitation in MuseScore3 that prevents my plugin from correctly handling pickup
measures. I hope that this will be fixed in a future release of MuseScore.

You're in luck - the plugin already supports rests! See the attached screenshot. You can click on any note in the rhythm pattern to select one of these 4 variations:
- generate all notes of the chord
- generate only the bass note
- generate all notes except the bass note
- generate a rest
Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 09.17.15.png

In reply to by rsudama

Yes, unfortunately there are limitations in MuseScore 3 that prevent the plugin from generating notes that cross a measure boundary. However I just learned a great workaround - set your time signature to 8/2, run the plugin, then set the time signature back.

This is an interesting idea. I'm doing transcriptions for use in analysis. It would be great if Musescore could give tips on how to annotate the score with chord symbols and inversions. There's a lot that goes on in a piece by Bach.

Hey Guys.
I found that in Version 3.5.2 it is possible to make the chord symbol sound, by just clicking it...that's already really cool, even though I can't chose an instrument - it seems to be just simple piano chords (not guitar - which would be even greater for me), but anyway - very usefull to check melodies to the chords...
but still, by playing the lead sheat from start by hitting the spacebar, doesn't play any of the chord symbols. Is there a way to do so, because it seems to be possible???

In reply to by 1LouLou

Possibly more relevant: in 3.5.2, look under Style / Chord Symbols. There is a Play button in the middle of the dialog with a few options under it. Make sure this is checked for the chart you're working on. This is a very useful feature that was discussed for a long time, thanks to those who added it - very helpful.

In reply to by 1LouLou

I'm not sure what you mean by "jumps and breaks". I've discovered myself that playback is interrupted by section or page breaks, if that's what you mean. I would regard this as a bug, but I've gotten it to work by just removing the breaks.

In reply to by rsudama

Hey Rsudama.
Sorry, didn't get a notifacation email this time, and didn't know, that you answered so fast again!
Thanx therefore anyway!
No, I am not refering to a bug or anything like that.
It's just, the regular section of putting repetition brackets or since like voltas in my scores called "repeats & jumps" in the side bar .
I find them, I think i place them correctly, but if I play the "playback funktion" - thanx to you (and of course the great programmers of musescore), the playhead just walks through this signs and does not "respect" them.
Starting from easy repetion brackets, or I tried to build a work around with voltas as well - but couldn't even enter the volta-properties via right click mentioned in the online manual...
And further the "da capo al coda" or d.s. to coda won't work too :(
Probably again just a simple user fault, but can anybody help me out here? I add a testfile, where all thes "problems" appear.
Soin short:
1. How to set repetition brackets correctly, so that even the playback function "plays" them - is there even a way, to say "repeat x times"?
2. same way with voltas - for simplicity I prefer the brackets, but sometimes correct would be voltas...I cannot even enter the "volta properties" page via right-click that should allow this on my mac (refering to )
3. how to set signs like D.C. al Coda or "D.S. al fine" correctly, also that the playhead from the playback plays them

In reply to by 1LouLou

You're using voltas but without repeat barlines between them
You want it to repeat 3 times, but only have voltas for the 1st and the 2nd round
You're using a D.C. al Coda, but no To coda
You're using a Fine where a Coda seems appropiate
You're using MuseScore 3, but are looking at a MuseScore 2 handbook page. Volta properties are in Inspector nowadays.

Your "bei zweitem Mal D.S. al Fine" is not supported by MuseScore

Most of this had been asked and answered already in, none is relevenant in this thread really, which is about chord symbols playback

In reply to by 1LouLou

I assume you are also aware that there's a button on the toolbar in the Play controls labelled "Play repeats" (right next to the Loop playback button). If this isn't "pressed" it will play through the repeats and not take them. It's useful if you just want to verify the correctness of a score rather than hear it played through fully.

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