Lead Sheets in MuseScore, Part 2: Advanced Topics

• created 6 years ago • last updated 3 years ago
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    In this tutorial, we will tackle a fairly ambitious project, using repeats, slash notation, rhythmic notation, text and other markings, manual positioning, irregular layout, transposition, and more. Here is the lead sheet we will be creating:


    If you have not already read Part 1 of this tutorial, please do so first.

    Note Entry

    The basics of note entry were discussed in the first tutorial - actually, I mostly just referred you to the manual and to other tutorials. But I would now like to point out a couple of non-obvious things that come up often when putting together lead sheets.

    The first is beaming an eighth to a sixteenth triplet, as I would like to see in the pickup measure to our chart. MuseScore has its own rules for beaming and they will not always match how you would like it done. After entering the first few notes of this chart, this is how it looks:


    To beam the Gb to the previous notes, select the Gb, then open the Beam Properties palette and double-click the "Middle of beam" icon:


    The opposite situation happens next: MuseScore wants to beam the last two eighths with the notes previously entered. So after entering the Eb and Db to complete the pickup measure, select the Eb and then double-click the "Start beam" icon:


    Both of these operations, and many others as well, can be assigned custom keyboard shortcuts via Edit->Preferences->Shortcuts. That allows you to join and break beams without ever leaving note entry mode or needing the mouse.

    Ordinary accidentals are entered by using the arrow keys, but a courtesy accidental can be entered by clicking the note and then double clicking the accidental from the Accidentals palette:


    To add background parts above or below the main melody, use multiple voices. See Voices in the Handbook for more information. Voices 1 and 3 default to stems up, 2 and 4 to stems down. You can also flip stems as needed by pressing “X”. In the following passage, the whole note is the melody and is placed in voice 1; the background part is entered in voice 3:


    The rests in the background part can be nudged vertically by double clicking a rest and using the Up or Down arrow as appropriate:


    You may also wish to make the background parts smaller. To do this, select the notes, right click any one of them, select “Note Properties”, and click the Small option:


    You will have to do the same individually for the rests.


    As mentioned in the first tutorial, to place a repeat sign or double bar, drag the desired symbol from the Barlines palette to the appropriate measure:


    Drag and drop (from the Repeats palette) is also used to place segnos and codas. By default, these symbols are rendered in the MScore font. You can change them to MuseJazz if you wish by double clicking the symbol in the score to enter Edit mode, selecting the symbol (Ctrl-A should work), and changing the font using the dropdown at the bottom of the screen. I also like to increase the size while I’m at it, from 20 to 24:


    You can nudge segnos and codas left or right using the cursor keys while still in Edit mode:


    For the jump to coda, MuseScore expects you to use the “To Coda” text symbol rather than the actual coda sign. I prefer seeing the coda sign, however. You can, if you wish, enter the “To Coda” indication, then double click and edit it, using F2 to bring up the text symbol palette to enter the coda sign:


    You can then change the font as described above. However, if you don’t care about playback (and for lead sheets I almost never do), you can use the regular coda sign from the palette for the jump as well as for the coda itself. You will just have to move the symbol from the beginning of the jump measure to the end.

    First and second endings - also known as voltas - are also created by drag and drop, starting from the Lines palette:


    As with segnos and codas, if you wish to use MuseJazz for the numbers in the voltas, you will have to change the font manually, in this case by right click the volta and selecting Line Properties.


    In tunes with eight-bar sections, I normally like to lay them out four bars per line, so each section begins on a new system. But in this particular tune, because the pickup measure makes the first phrase nine bars long, I will instead lay out that phrase three bars per line. The next phrase is four bars long, then there is a three bar phrase, and on the final system I want five bars.

    For the first few systems, because MuseScore was already putting at least that many measures on each of those lines, all you need to do is insert a manual line break by selecting a barline and hitting Enter:


    For the last line of head, I want five measures, but MuseScore is only fitting three by default. So we will need to squeeze these five measures a little closer together. To do that, start by inserting a line break at the end of the fifth measure and then selecting all five measures:


    Then hit the “{“ key (shortcut for Layout->Add Less Stretch) as many times as necessary until the measures fit on a single line:


    In this tune, I actually wish to have the solo changes start on the second page, so I need to force a page break here. This is done by dragging the page break icon from the Breaks and Spacer palette to the appropriate bar (replacing the line break I had temporarily placed there):


    MuseScore tries to stretch the staff spacing out to fill the page, but I don’t like how it looks here. While you can sometimes customize the settings in Style->Edit General Style->Page to get the look you want, those settings are global and thus affect all pages. I often find it easier in cases like this to add a staff spacer below the final system of the page, which causes MuseScore to stretch the staves to fill only up to the spacer. This method allows you to control the spacing of each page separately. Drag the staff spacer icon from the Breaks and Spacer palette on top of the first measure of the last system:


    Then double click the spacer and drag the handle down to create vertical space. I find I usually like the results I get by dragging so far that the last system moves to the next page, then backing off until it returns to the page it was on:


    In other cases, you may wish to fit more systems on a page than the default. It may take some trial and error to get the results you want, but the settings to experiment with include the size of the staves themselves in Layout->Page Settings->Space and the distance between systems in Style->Edit General Style->Page->System distance.

    On the second page, I can see I need to add more measures. The solo section is fifteen bars, the interlude four, plus one more for the final ending, and then four for the coda. There are eleven bars there right now, so we need to add thirteen more, by clicking Create->Measures->Append Measures (keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift-B) and entering 13 in the dialog:


    Setting up the the solo section and the main part of the interlude is straightforward. But I would like the measure representing the final ending for the interlude to be on a system by itself, indented a bit, and not stretched out to fit the whole page. The way to accomplish this is use Create->Measures->Insert Horizontal Frame to insert space before and after this measure. First create the space before by clicking the measure and inserting a frame:


    Then select the next measure and do the same:


    Now you can drag a line break from the Breaks and Spacer palette to the second horizontal frame:


    Finally, you can double click the second frame and drag the handle further to the right to enlarge it as desired:


    As was the case on the first page, I will add a spacer below the last staff to keep things from stretching out so much vertically. However, in this case, I also want to add one to the staff above the coda system, so that the coda system is separated from the others a bit. It may take a bit of trial and error to get the spacing right, and we may revisit this once we have added the chord symbols, so just get it close for now:


    Slash Notation

    For this chart, I wanted to write out solo changes separately, using staves filled with slash notation. MuseScore provides a plugin to help automate this process. Assuming you installed the files mentioned toward the beginning of this tutorial, you can fill the whole solo section with slashes by simply selecting the bars and running Plugins->Lead Sheet->Slash Notation Styles using the default options:


    After running the plugin, it should look like this:


    We can use this same plugin to create rhythmic notation, where instead of just filling a measure with slashes, we indicate a rhythm to be played. In the head to this piece, there is a four bar improvised break with a specific accompaniment rhythm that serves as the bridge. You can notate this by first entering the rhythm using ordinary notes, and then running the plugin and selecting the Rhythmic option:


    After running the plugin, it should look like this:


    The last option in the slash plugin creates a special type of rhythmic notation, using small notes above the staff with stems up. This can be used to notate accompaniment rhythms along with a melody on the same staff. To create this type of notation, enter notes for the desired rhythms in voice 3, then run the plugin and select the Accent option. Here is what it would look like if we ran that plugin on the first measure of the coda system:


    Text and Other Markings

    Many charts will need some amount of explanatory text in addition to the standard markings found on the MuseScore palettes. In MuseScore, entering text is most often done by selecting a note and then clicking Create->Text->Staff or hitting the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-T. In the “Jazz Lead Sheet” template, this defaults to placing the text below the staff:


    For text you wish to appear above the staff, use Create->Text->System (Ctrl-Shift-T) instead:


    Note the actual distinction between staff and system text has nothing to do with position, but rather, how it affects extracted parts in a multi-part score. My template is just taking advantage of these two different styles of text to get different default positions.

    You can add text in boxes above the staff by creating it as a rehearsal mark (Create->Text->Rehearsal Mark, or Ctrl-M):


    The Lines palette can also be used to add other types of lines, including 8va brackets. We want a line to show the length of the solo fill in the bridge, so drag a plain line onto the score from the palette, then right click it and select Line Properties to add the text “Solo fill” and change the style to dashed, with a hook on the end:


    You can then double click the line and use Shift-Right to extend it as desired:


    After entering all your notes, chords, and other markings, you will want to proof it and perhaps make small corrections or changes to improve readability. Most elements can be repositioned manually by double clicking and either dragging or using the cursor keys to nudge them. I also like to add courtesy accidentals, although this chart does not really need any.

    Here is a link to the completed score on musescore.com:


    Other Topics

    I selected this particular composition for this tutorial because it illustrates most of the techniques one is likely to need when putting together a jazz lead sheet. A few other common issues do come up that we did not see in my example, though.


    Entering lyrics is easy. After entering your melody, just click on a note, hit Ctrl-L, and start typing:


    MuseScore automatically moves to the next note any time you type a space or a hyphen. An underscore can be used on the second and subsequent notes of a tie or melisma to create a horizontal extender. The example above shows these on the word “words.”

    Second Staves

    Although lead sheets normally just contain one staff, sometimes it is necessary to split into two staves temporarily to notate a bass line or other part. A plugin is available to simplify this process. Running Plugins->Lead Sheet->Add Staff will add an empty staff to your score in such a way that it can easily be hidden when not in use. Be sure to enter the correct clef and key signature after adding the staff, then enter notes where you want them:


    Once you have entered all the notes you will need, go to Style->Edit General Style->Score and turn on the “Hide empty staves” option, which produces the following:


    Notice that only the first system has two staves, because I only entered notes onto the second staff on that system.


    If you write music to be played by wind instrument players, or to be sung by singers with different ranges, you will probably need to transpose your chart accordingly. The simplest way to transpose is to hit Ctrl-A to select all, then Notes->Transpose. You can then select the new key or the interval to transpose by in the resulting dialog. Here, I am transposing up a major second, which is the transposition appropriate for Bb instruments like trumpet:


    When creating versions for transposing instruments, I like to indicate that right on the lead sheet. I normally do this by double-clicking the style indication I had previously placed at top left, and inserting a line that reads "Bb version" in front of the style. The flat sign can be inserted within the text by hitting F2 to bring up the text symbol palette and then clicking the appropriate button.


    When the flat sign is added, MuseScore will actually use the MScore1 font, even though the dropdown at the bottom of the screen may say it is using MuseJazz. You can force it to use MuseJazz by changing the font to something else and then back.


    The transposition will have affected the slash notation as well, so will need to fix those passages. The simplest way to do that is select the passages and use the cursor keys to transpose the notes appropriately. For passages involving multiple voices where only one voice uses slash notation (eg, Accent notation), you can re-run the plugin.

    After doing all this, you will probably want to go through the chart looking for notes that should be spelled differently in the new key. The positions of some elements may need manual adjustment as well.

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