Chord symbol playback: better defaults

• Mar 22, 2020 - 16:20
Reported version
S3 - Major

Chord symbols playing back by default makes existing scores sound different after that feature vs. before it.

Possible workarounds (and solutions):

  • Disable the "Play" property for chord symbols in Inspector (by default, maybe only for old scores, not for ones created with the new MuseScore version)
  • Mute the 'harmony' channel in Mixer (by default)
  • Disable Preferences > Note Input > Play chord symbols (by default)
  • Make the above "Play chord symbols" a per score setting


Actually, they don't play back "by default", you need to turn on a Edit / Preferences / Note Input / Play Harmony. But I'd personally rather that not be needed - I'm not comfortable with a given score playing back differently on different systems for no good obvious reason. On the other hand, I do agree existing scores should not have their playback affected.

So to me, the solution is to eliminate the preference (or at least have it default to true, maybe hide it in Advanced to make people less likely to mess with it), but have the style setting default to false. At least for existing scores. New scores could arguably get it set to true, although there is no "clean" way to make a style default differ for old vs new scores (without a format version change, anyhow). There are, however, some hacky solutions I would not object to.

Muting the harmony channel is an interesting thought. This channel is managed automatically, created on the fly when chord symbols are present. Right now I can't think of a good way to get the effect of muting for existing scores, not for new scores. Unless, hmm, maybe we modify instruments.xml to add some new global tag to control the muting of the harmony channel? So existing scores would lack that tag, new scores would get it. Yes, maybe that's the best solution.

BTW, the style setting for play harmony is currently not exposed in Format / Style / Chord Symbols, but should be. Right now it's only controlled by "Set as style" in the Inspector.

Title Chord symbol playback: chord symbols play back by default Chord symbol playback: better defaults

Title was misleading, they are actually off by default (and I agree they should stay that way at least for existing scores).

Well, the global setting may be off by default, but there is none for the scores themselves, so no way to leave it off for existing scores, but on for new ones.

Exactly. That’s why I like your channel idea. If you could add a line to instruments.xml. If we can add a global tag muting the channel by default, that would solve the implementation issue. Then it would be a matter of how to make it easy to discover how to enable it. Maybe add new “Piano (with chord symbol playback)” instruments that explicitly enable it? Certainly the jazz templates could enable it by default. Not sure, will be good to get user feedback during a beta.

instruments.xml is only ever used for new scores, so won't help changing the default for old ones

Unless we change the default for old ones at the same time that is, make sure that entry in instruments.xml enables it for new ones and change all the templates we want chord symbol playback for by default.

Sound is another issue, for a vocal staff with chord symbols I certainly don't want 'choir aahs' singing the chord, but either piano or guitar or maybe organ, depending on genre. Piano being the save bet I guess.
Yet another is rhythm, would be nice to have the chords play as per 'rhythmic slash notation'

Right, I think misspoke in my previous response. It's actually that instruments.xml should enable the chord symbol channel, but "default" it would be muted. So only scores created with the new instruments.xml would have it enabled by default. That then solves the problem of how to expose this - we don't need to. Not sure what I was thinking this morning, I knew the idea originally made more sense than what was coming out.

And yes, choosing an appropriate playback sound for this channel came up in chat, and this is actually the perfect way to address that too. What if, the chord symbol channel was muted by default as far as the code is concerned, but there were global tags in the instruments.xml that both unmuted it and set the sound for that channel to a reasonable default (eg, piano or guitar)? Like:


or something like that, where mute defaults to 1, and like articulations, you can override this on an instrument basis, so guitar instruments could be set to default the sound to themselves.

The chords generated for playback are not possible on the guitar at all. So, IMV, the Piano is the obvious default instrument.

As far as I can all but C and D chords are playable on Guitar (at least the pitches are available). But yes, having that octave below root an octave higher might be better for Guitar.
Or having the instrument's range being taken into consideration for the realization.
Still wouldn't be the 'standard' guitar chord fingering though.

The playback makes no assumption about what the instrument is, or indeed that it’s only one instrument. You could think of it as bass + guitar if you like. Or a string section. Or piano, or whatever.

To me, defaulting to same instrument is as good as anything given it’s easier enough to override, but if we have to pick a single other instrument to use, piano makes the most sense I think.

Much more important is to figure out how to avoid needing to is a preference.

Ok, seems there is more to it: chord symbol playback is ok if seen as gultar and bass or as piano, but chord realization is not, as it is isn't realizationable given the instrument.

I don't see the distinction. Whether wer'e talking real-time playback or realizing the chord so you can then edit it, the same principle apply: we aren't trying to second guess what instrument or instruments you might want to play for, we are simply creating good voicings you can do as you want with.

For the record, the preference is gone now, we realized it led to inconsistent results between one user and another for the same score, or between your local system and So it needs to be controlled by score properties only - the style setting and/or harmony channel.

Regarding compatibility, after much discussion, we have tentatively decided to simply use piano as the default playback sound, but keep it enabled for older scores. Too much hackery involved in trying to have different behavior for 3.0-3.4.2 scores versus 3.5 scores, and too much missed opportunity by not allow lead sheets created within the past year and a half to play chords automatically.

Having playback sound as piano should lessen concerns about it being too surprising to suddenly hear chord symbols playback, and in any case, turning off playback is now a matter of unchecking Play in the Inspector and hitting set as style. Or muting the harmony channel if you prefer. But the Inspector is the same as you'd use for ornaments etc, so it feels consistent.

So, here's the PR to set the default sound to piano :

With the previous change to remove the preference (see #307005: Chord symbol playback enabled for one user not enabled by another) and this, I would like to consider this particular closed. It was probably too general to begin with, If there are further changes people would like to request - like making guitar instruments & templates default to guitar for chord symbol playback, which is reasonable if not exactly a no-brainer (I can see arguments against this too) - let's do that in separate issues.

Status PR created fixed

Fixed in branch 3.x, commit 22a4d68bee

_fix #302710: change default for harmony channel to piano


Chord symbols current play back using the sound of the staff
to which they are attached.
This makes perfect sense for instruments that normally play chords,
but is not expected when chords are attached to vocal or other staves.
Unfortunately it's not really possible for MuseScore
to know what sounds are actually being used,
and it would be difficult to decide on which instruments
should use their own sound versus a default.
So this change just arbitrarily sets the default harmony channel
to MIDI program 0, which is piano in general midi soundfonts.

It's still possible for individual socres or templates to override this,
and overrides can also be programmers into instruments.xml.
A potential downside of doing so is that the harony channel
would then be created even before chord symbols are present.
That's not necessarily a problem, but to me it's something
to worry about later._

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Your first sentence does not match my experience. I did the most recent upgrade, chose nothing and I've got the chord playback. Can you please, in plain English from the beginning - not starting at some midpoint that I can't find - give me a way to turn off playback of chord symbols. Preferably at system level and not for each score. THANKS

1) click any chord symbol
2) uncheck Play in the Inspector
3) click “Set as style” button (“S” icon

That sets it for that score. If you want to reuse those settings for other scores, easiest is to save you score to your Templates folder and then select it when creating new scores.

After several weeks of study of this problem, including making tools that tabulated all my scores that had chord symbols, in MS2 and MS3, and evaluating which I even cared about, it took me maybe a couple of hours to simply load the ones that did into MS3.5, click a chord and style-set, and save back to disk and online. A handful had to be MS2->MS3 upgraded. Before Marc invented Campania, I often used chord symbols for ad-hoc roman analysis, and that made the problem easier (as the chord player-backer doesn't recognize them, and I could put them into Campania trivially once there). Again, what was interesting is the couple of cases where it was a hard decision to disable the piano playing the analysis, because it actually sounded good. I did not have to built tools to effect the changes, or run a .mss.

For the record, I just discovered all my scores on-line have been playing back chords as per my chord symbols. Another user pointed this out. Of course, all my arrangements sounded distorted (one could argue that my notation should have been more precise). I have been using an old version of MuseScore without this function so I was unaware that I was posting a score that would have this chord symbol playback function enabled when the score was played on-line. I'm totally ticked off that people would have played this distorted version. Surely there is some procedure in Musescore release control that can warn people that you are introducing a software change that will affect all scores. Maybe that warning existed and I missed it. I apologize if this is not the proper place to vent.

There are release notes included with each update. If you use the update software option from inside the program you have the opportunity to read them, but finding them in the forum is probably a better place to be able to read them carefully and test the results while using the program. For example, the 3.5 release announcement is found at and includes links to more detailed release notes.

In reply to by mike320

I don't think it described that well-functioning scores just sitting there on the site would get wrecked, and what you had to do to fix it. And if the user didn't necessarily upgrade or want to upgrade, why should he or she suspect that that would happen, or that he or she had better read the release notes of a version he or she isnt upgrading to?

Reading the announcement closely I see the wrong info about chord playback. The forums are full of helpful and knowledgeable people willing to help with problems or questions you have.

In reply to by mike320

As I look at the release notes, the default status of chord playback function is suppose to be disabled. I didn't find this to be the case and I had to correct all scores and update on-line versions. I don't recall seeing any notifications for new releases since I joined. What is the mechanism for new release notification? Is there some preference I need to set to get these alerts?

The program will tell you that there is an update if you open the Menu Edit->Preferences under the Update tab there is a checkbox that says Check for new version of MuseScore. In the next release there will be a global preference for playing back chord symbols as explained earlier in this issue.

In reply to by mike320

I have always had the box checked(Check for new version of MuseScore). I don't recall seeing any notifications. Even though I am usually religious about staying on current releases, I guess i missed them. Anyway, I love the software and the support I get from you. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Can you clarify the approximate date that the playback software for my scores saved on-line changed to play back chords? I'm thinking of contacting the users that have tagged my arrangements as a favourite and alerting them to the issue. It may be that the conflict between chord symbols and actual chord voicing in the arrangement is not detectable to the average listener.

When I updated to MuseScore 3.5, I was startled to hear chords during playback for all my scores. (Based on previous notes on this topic, in the future I'll make it a point to READ the release notes before installing a new version.)

For the way I use MuseScore (treble-clef "fake book" type scores for singing) it's a terrific feature. However, it's a significant annoyance that the chords/no-cords option is associated with the SCORE instead of with the PLAY panel. For any score, I typically want to play it BOTH ways: with chords when entering a new score or when trying to practice singing as in performance and without chords to practice some tricky passage a cappella. And I do NOT want to inadvertently "update" a score every time I change the playback option. (I have a separate folder of score .pdfs and the Windows last-modified date is what I use to make sure that has all the latest corrected versions.)

Is there a lot of demand for having chord playback turned on and off in different parts of the same score? (It's hard for me to imagine situations where someone would want to do that.) If not, could a future version have the chord playback option in the Play Panel.)

That said, it's still a very useful feature: helps my ear catch typos when entering chords in a new score and offers a practice sound similar to iRealPro without having to enter the same song twice. Thanks for a terrific software product.

The main issue with making this a temporary toggle like other play panel settings is the same one discussed at the beginning of this thread: it means the score will sound very different when shared on or elsewhere than on own computer. This would really shock people and be problematic. It’s important people not be fooled into thinking chord symbol playback is off for the score when it is really on, or vice versa. So that is is the setting is tied to the score.

And yes, it is common to want some chords playback and others not. Consider for a example a band arrangement as opposed to a lead sheet. Or an educational worksheet where different parts of the worksheet are set up differently than others.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Marc you are always coming with the same answer without ever listening to our demand.
And yes you're right in what you say: it is important to be able to save in the score if chords must be played or not, making sure it is heard the same way on all computers.
We get that, it makes perfect sense, and the chord playing setting in MuseScore have been implemented like that and we are happy with that.
What we say is that, ON TOP OF that setting, we need an easy, quick, temporary way to switch chord playing on/off. The most logical place to add it is the play panel, exactly as there you can temporarily change the tempo without altering the "true" tempo saved in the score.

I hear that some people want that. And I am simply explaining why it is as it is, because people keep questioning it. If someone else wants to volunteer to implement such an additional override, they have my blessing, so long as they do it in a way that doesn’t violate the basic principle I have been carefully explaining. I have said this many times, it hasn’t changed.

But calling it a “demand” doesn’t really
help the cause of finding a volunteer to implement it.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Sorry if this repeats a follow-up comment I thought I had posted earlier, but can't find now. I understand that as MuseScore becomes more popular, it's more challenging to try to accommodate all the conflicting ways users would like it to behave. That said, I can't understand why somebody who wanted to share a score to SOUND just one way, wouldn't export an .mp3 file rather than providing it in a format that invites manipulation. I regularly export .mp3 files to my Android phone so that I can listen for practice while running, and often export two versions of the same score: the entire score complete with chords and a no-chord version for tricky passages I want to practice a cappella.

I'm certainly not trying to DEMAND anything. (I've been programming computers since 1965, and I certainly recognize the humongous amount of high-quality work needed to maintain MuseScore -- and accordingly I donate what I can for its maintenance.) I was just hoping that if the request were ruminating in the back of the brains of the techies who maintain MuseScore, maybe at some future time some clever person might figure out a way to implement a play-panel override without mucking up other features.

And while they're at, maybe they could find a way to show somewhere on the score whether chord-playback was on or/off. I know that space is at a premium for chords, but maybe played chords could be underscored and/or unplayed chords could be in brackets.

In reply to by MandyWh

People like sharing actual scores (mscz files) for lots of reasons. They allow onscreen viewing and printing and playback and transposition and changing size and you can do all this from a website (

The idea of a toolbar or play panel button is not out of the question, but the Inspector the normal place where all settings are display. It’s what shows you if a fermata will play, or a trill, what the playback parameters for dynamics are, etc. currently chord symbols are treated no differently. If enough people request it and someone volunteers to implement it, perhaps at some point chord symbols will receive more special treatment, like how repeats or the metronome can be toggled in the toolbar.

Fix version