Scordatura notation — for various stringed instruments

• Sep 8, 2020 - 03:04

I’m starting a new thread on scordatura notation because looks like extant forum posts on the topic (except for one) are rather dated ... while MuseScore itself has developed considerably since.

In a recent forum discussion I read that one could double-click a note and vertically drag it to change its “visual position” while leaving its pitch unchanged. This is the essence of scordatura, and hopefully an aspect of a viable construction method, so I’m wondering if anyone uses this feature for creating scordatura. I was very excited by the prospect as this would allow me to write more music in scordatura form.

Unfortunately I was unable to change the “visual position” via double-click-drag as suggested. (Operating MuseScore 3.5 Alpha under Mac OS 10.13.6)

Alternately I achieved the effect I wanted by changing the value of:


… but sadly, the stems didn’t move with the notes. And if I select the note and stem the Inspector won’t populate. So I need to look into this further.

Now a general discussion for those unfamiliar with scordatura.


In Italian the term scordatura literally means “retuned” or “mistuned/discord”.

Scordatura is also the name for a simple, clever and very useful form of “Guidian” notation.

Composers and scorists often use scordatura to create notatation for a stringed instrument that, for effect †, has been tuned in a manner that differs from its normal tuning.

For instance a violin is normally tune GDAE. And scordatura notation simplifies reading for the violinist when the when a part is written for violin retuned GDGD.

Note pitches for the retuned strings indicate finger positioning ... not the resulting sounding pitch. Thus with Scordatura, on the retuned instrument, the violinist reads as though everything is normal and the pitches play correctly. Of course, this can be a nightmare for musicians with perfect pitch. Likewise for a pianist or harpist trying to read along from the same score.

In a scenario where a violin is tuned GDGD, the strings shown here in bold are a whole step lower than normal. So the “scordaturist” writes the notes a whole step higher than they sound. Thus:

  • The string formerly known as A is written as A, but sounds G because it’s tuned down a while step
  • The first finger on that string is still written as B, but accordingly sounds A.
  • The second finger is written as C# but sounds B.
  • The third finger is written as D but sounds C.
  • The fourth finger is written as E but sounds D (and is a unison with the open 1st string)

† Note / Purpose of scordatura:

An instrument like violin is sometimes retuned for various effects:

  • to enable harmonies, chords and drones otherwise unattainable
  • to produce new harmonics and overtones and sympathetic vibration
  • to be able to play simple melodies an octave higher or lower while using the same fingering
  • to alter the timbre
  • to change the volume of the instrument


If one starts with a score written at actual pitch:

  • a pitch selection feature would be extremely helpful. For instance for the GDGD tuning, if one could select a pitch range and set the y offset to move the note up a whole step. I’m new to MuseScore and don’t see a pitch range option in the Selection Filter. Is there such a feature there or elsewhere in MuseScore?

  • then after the pitch range is selected, ideally one could change the y position of all selected notes, and viola! (I mean Voila!!)

If one is enters scordatura literally (i.e. the finger positions, not the correct pitches:

  • there would need to be a function to set the pitch of selected notes to +/- x half steps to produce the correct sound.
  • notes could be entered via tablature and then pitch corrected.

Any thoughts on the value of scordatura in MuseScore?


There is another tool that was introduced in version 3 - The Staff type change, which is found in the text palette by default. You can apply this to a measure then use whole step offsets in the display. There are limitations to this. If you write a B and have an offset of -1 (positive is down) it will be displayed as a C which would be problematic for scordatura. One step as you know is a C#.

One other option that's sometimes better is to use the capo. You can set the number for "frets" (aka 1/2 steps) the note will sound above the written pitch. This has the disadvantage of working in only one direction since you cannot use negative fret numbers. This is applied by adding any text and using the capo tab in Staff Text Properties (get there the same way as pizz.) You can add this to any instrument and it will work.

Both of these do have the disadvantage of being instrument wide which is not what is always used on the violin family. It won't work on the GDGD tuning you mentioned.

The selection filter is not the place to look for features such as this. The selection filter essentially is used to eliminate items from being copied (this is a simplified explanation). They will mostly be in the inspector or the right click context menu (like staff/system text properties as well as staff/part properties). You can actually change the transposition in staff properties of the entire instrument but cannot transpose only part of the range for the instrument.

EDIT - I do want to point out that I have no more than a rudimentary understanding of scordatura.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Thanks! That resolves the issue of the stems remaining stationary as I offset the notehead element from its sounding pitch position.

Which leads to the next question:

Is it possible to perform a Chord>Offset>y increment with several melodic notes selected?

When I select multiple notes the Inspector collapses to a state that shows only the Element Group panel and its six subordinate properties. That would not be a viable workflow, as it would be far too tedious to individually offset each "scorded" note.


In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I'm selecting with Cmd-click on the Mac, which I understand to be a "list selection" but the Inspector is in the collapsed state I described.

The handbook is says:

To select a list (or discontinuous range) of score elements:
Click on the first element;
Hold down Ctrl (Mac: Cmd) and successively click on the desired additional elements.

Have I misinterpreted this? If so, please let me know how to make a list selection.

Thanks again!


In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Thanks for persisting with me on this Jojo. Now it works.

Perhaps the trigger was that I held Cmd prior to the first click. But I do note, that is not necessary now as I continue; and the Inspector displays as I would expect.

Whatever the case, I want to confirm that in all my previous attempts at list selection noteheads showed highlighted blue ... and there was no "range" rectangle showing. Would that mean that I had a valid list selection?

BTW, I'm more familiar with the term discontiguous selection. Is list selection MuseScore speak for discontiguous selection, or is there some distinction?

You're working on a Mac too?

Much appreciated!


In reply to by scorster

Okay, I'll try to figure out what list selection means.

  • On searching the handbook the closest entry found is Select a list of objects which I cited previously. But the description doesn't disallow discontiguous selections specifically. Nor does it condone them.

  • When I search the handbook on "list selection" (quoted or not) I find no relevant results.

In the meantime I have good news: Via the Inspector I'm able to control properties on the discontiguously selected notes. A discontiguous selection (as you say, "one with holes in it") works as I'd expected. I can select notes—adjacent or not—and the Inspector does not collapse.

So the selection/Inspector issue is resolved ... except perhaps I don't know what list selection means.

In reply to by scorster

To see the inspector options from note heads you must only have note heads selected. Selecting one stem or accidental etc. will give you the limited inspector display you are describing. Besides cmd+click, there are several options in the right click menu to select notes.

If you select nothing and right click (or however you get there on a Mac) you get a speed menu that includes

Select >

If you move your mouse to the Select > you will see

All similar Elements
All similar Elements in same staff
All similar Elements in range selection (which will be grayed out)

More is a very powerful tool. You can select only notes of the same pitch, like F#6 if you want to only do something with all of the notes of only that pitch.

If you select a range of measures and right click the 3rd option is no longer grayed out because you now have a range selection.

One of the option in the More dialog is to limit your preferences to the selection so do keep that in mind.

In reply to by mike320

Thanks mike320

Thanks for the advice: When I plan to use the Inspector to adjust properties of multiple objects I'll be careful not to select a mix of note heads and other conflicting objects.

I hadn’t noticed Right click>Select>More… which opens the Select Notes dialog. Handy features there … but still no option for selecting a pitch-range (throughout the score or within the current selection.)

I’d like to keep this thread focused on scordatura so I’ll start a new How To pitch-range post. I'll post a link here soon for those who care to follow or comment.

In reply to by scorster

My point of mentioning More... et al is that there is no scordatura process built into MuseScore like you want. There are tools that will help make it easier though. There are essentially 7 notes played on a single string (this is simplified for the example) before moving to the next string. Using More... 7 times is easier than trying to make sure you get every C#5 you want to modify by adding them to a list selection (what you get when you cmd+click each note or get with select all similar elements).

I didn't mention some other tools associated with selecting notes. If you select a group of measures, right click a note head inside of the selection, right click and chose Select >All similar elements in range selection, you will get a list selection of those notes. In the case of notes & rests, there are also "Notes" "Rests" and "Grace notes" buttons in the inspector that do the same thing. This would be useful if several notes in a row are played on the modified A string

Finally, you are correct that there is no way to select all notes in a range of pitches. This is perhaps an improvement that could be made to the current interface.

Creating a How to is an excellent idea. Knowing the tools to make it easier will make you How to better for others.


Here's a score that demonstrate the feasibility of MuseScore scordatura notation:

       Bonaparte Part 3 v03 Scordatura.mscz

I accomplished the end result (line 4) by first writing the melody at normal pitch (i.e. no scordatura) and producing scordatura notation by graphically altering the vertical note position on the staff via:


I hope to outline alternate approaches soon because I think they would would prove simpler for the user, they might be reasonably easy to implement, and they would perfectly work with tablature notation.

These would involve transposing the output of selected notes or specific note ranges, leaving the composer free to write scordatura directly, or enter fingering via tablature and generate scordatura notation "for free." So it would offer a form of input different that what I used for this score, and a different method for accommodating scordatura and performance pitches in a single document.

Thanks everybody!


In reply to by scorster

It seems to me that your current final solution is still missing a ledger line? (which is to be expected when working with y-offsets).

I've added 3 more workarounds, of which I'd personally recommend the retuning one; it's the least effort for the best result imho. (but you do have to remember to retune every entered note on every edit).

In reply to by jeetee

Not quite, huh

> jeetee wrote: It seems to me that your current final solution is still missing a ledger line? (which is to be expected when working with y-offsets).

Yes, there are the "missing ledger lines" in my final trial ( in my experiment where I produced scordatura notation by shifting notes graphically.) It became clear that in addition to being somewhat cumbersome this approach is ultimately defective in many circumstances. Which led me to look for a non-graphical approach where I could transpose output on individual notes.

> jeetee wrote:I've added 3 more workarounds, of which I'd personally recommend the retuning one; it's the least effort for the best result imho. (but you do have to remember to retune every entered note on every edit).

Bingo! Love it!!

YES to your methodology No. 2 ( outlined in your attached score.)
And thanks for explaining how to transpose the pitch on selected notes. Really great that notes possess that property.

Scordatura and tablature

Here's Bonaparte again, this time with tablature for mandolin using methodology No. 2:

      Scordatura -- Mandolin Tablature (Bonaparte).mscz

Further experiments forthcoming!

Next week I plan to create a more challenging project with scordatura with a more complex tuning like AEAC#. This will require additional effort in selecting notes on which I'll want to transpose output. But I think shift-drag will suffice, followed by pressing the inspector's Note filter button to gain a list selection!

I really appreciate your contributions here!


In reply to by wolfgan

Wofgan, that's truly an excellent idea! Making selections via the tablature staff would make "string based" selection tasks far easier!

Using linked tablature as a selection tool hadn't yet occurred to me as I was was first focused on trying to get a workable scordatura system, which I've accomplished thanks to jeetee pointing out that note transposition exists and is easily managed through Inspector>Note>tuning, by entering a value in cents.

Shortly after devising a functional scordatura method I read your suggestion which left me quite excited about selecting via the tablature staff. But as far as I can tell tablature selections don't cause selection of the notes in the Guidian staff. Nor do I see a way of commuting the selection from the tab staff to the Guidian staff.
Do you know if that's possible? Maybe there's a specific type of selection for this, or an additional step required to trigger the selection of Guidian notes. Something like that might be the final piece in the puzzle.

Currently, when I select tablature notes:

  • the Guidian notes don't highlight
  • when I change Inspector>Note>tuning the value applies to the tablature notes only, but not the Guidian notes.
  • a change to Inspector>Note>tuning has no effect on the pitch of the output, which apparently comes from the Guidian staff.

Maybe there's a way to get output from the tab staff only? I've got just over three weeks of experience with MuseScore, so there's much I don't know yet. Searching for the ideal approach (or a reasonable workaround) that will couple tablature selection with the ability to audibly alter the tuning property of various notes.

I certainly hope selecting by tablature will ultimately prove to be a viable option.

Thanks for your thoughtful input!

MuseScore 3.5 / Mac OS 10.13.6

In reply to by scorster

Rather than adding a linked staff change the staff to a tablature staff, edit the notes tunings then change the staff back to standard and it will keep the tuning. If it makes it easier for you to keep track of, you can add a linked staff that you will keep as standard but alter the staff you are going to keep.

In reply to by wolfgan

What's happening with me is that changing the tuning on the tablature does nothing. Changing the tuning on the note changes the pitch in the tablature also but doesn't change what is being displayed in the tablature inspector. Changing the tuning in the tablature on changes the inspector for the tablature but does nothing at all to playback or the inspector for the note.

In reply to by mike320

what i did:
I took the 1st line of the 1st bonaparte file above and copied it to a new file with mandolin notationn and linked tablature. then I mark 1 note on string 1 select filter all notes on the same string and in the inspector -200 cent.
thats all.

In reply to by mike320


It sounds like you’re saying you can select a fret number in a linked tablature staff and on changing the tuning offset (i.e. Inspector>Note>Tuning) museScore also changes the tuning offset of the related note in the linked standard staff, thus you hear the pitch offset during playback. (This is indeed what I’m after!)


Sounds like you’re saying that you can select a tablature fret number, set its tuning offset in the Inspector, but that does NOT affect the tuning offset of the linked note in the standard staff. Thus playback is unaffected, and the Inspector shows no tuning offset on the note in the standard staff. And you think this is a bug.

I’m encounting the same questionable behavior as mike320 and concur that it must be a bug.

I want what Woflgan has.


Wolfgan and mike320,

Would you please identify your platform and MuseScore versions? I’m wondering if this is a platform issue.

MuseScore 3.5.28145 / MacOS 10.13.6

In reply to by wolfgan

Thanks for following up Wofgan,

I opened both your scores to test the tab-to-standardStaff link issue. In neither can I affect the notes in the standard staff by changing the Tuning offset on frets in the tablature staff. So maybe the linking behavior is a platform issue.

Also, I consistently find a glass ceiling of 300 for the Tuning offset. 301 doesn't work, nor anything higher.
— Usually —
I managed to set a notes Tuningoffset to 600 once on the standard staff ... but can't replicate that.

Do you encounter a Tuning offset limit? If so, what is that value?

There do seem to be numerous bugs in the tablature areas of MuseScore.



In reply to by scorster

"There do seem to be numerous bugs in the tablature areas of MuseScore."
Maybe, maybe not (more likely something you are not aware right now, or some known limitations)
Anyway, open a specific thread to report these "numerous bugs", one by one, with example/sample score, and details.

In reply to by scorster


Working with MuseScore, Rev 43c4533, Windows 7

I confirm that the "tuning" (play pitch offset) settings are independent on a note proper and on its tab symbol. If we change the value for one, the value on the other does not follow.

Of course, the offset setting on a tab symbol seems to have no direct significance; if I click on the tab symbol, the note sounds, its pitch affected by the play pitch offset on the note proper, but not by the setting on the tab symbol.

But indeed it would be handy in the maneuver you discuss if we could make the change in play pitch offset ("tuning") on either the note proper or its alter ego on the tab staff, the other following.


In reply to by scorster

I'm wondering, in MuseScore, if notes possess a Transpose property analogous to their Tuning property? If so, that might be the ideal way to alter pitch output for scores written in scordatura. If notes don't have a Transpose property I'd like those in the open source development community to consider this a request.


We can adjust MuseScore's Tuning offset property in cents. That implies that MuseScore uses pitch bend (or something similar) to manage the pitch adjustment. Anyone know it that's true? If Tuning offsets bend pitch (like Pitch wheel) then this approach is workable but not ideal for scordatura because, as jeetee pointed out, noticeable timbre issues appear around 3 half steps of pitch shift ... not surprisingly, right where MuseScore sets its 300 cent limit.

It certainly makes sense that MuseScore would offer a Tuning property. For instance, the Tuning property:

  • allows us to work with an instrument sample that’s slightly out of tune. And in this situation it would probably make most sense to apply it per staff, channel or score, rather than per note. But per note would work.

  • or we could work with an instrument sample that has a few out of tune pitches because the Tuning offset correction could be applied to fix all notes of that pitch class.)

  • and as discussed in this thread the Tuning property successfully allows scordatural playback transposition between +/- 3 half steps.

  • beyond this I don’t see other purposes for MuseScore's wondrous Tuning property, though there may be many!

However, for the purpose of scordatura, MuseScore's Tuning property is limited in two ways:
1) it leaves us hamstrung by its 300 cent limit.
2) even if we could set the Tuning property to larger intervals, like a 4th (500 cents) a 5th (700 cents) or an octave (1200 cents) doing so would surely lead to timbral ick-itude.

So MuseScore's Tuning property works well for scordatura, but only when an instrument's strings are retuned by a maximum amount of three half steps.

To better support scordatura and string retuning greater than a minor 3rd a **Transpose ** property per note would surely prove superior to the exisiting Tuning property. In scordatura it's not uncommon to have strings tuned a 4th or 5th from normal, sometimes requiring replacement strings for feasibility.

To recap, in MuseScore:

  • Each note has a Tuning property
  • Each staff has Transpose property to handle transposing instruments. (For instance, even when Guitar is written on a regular treble clef rather than an 8vb clef one can apply a -12 transposition on its staff for octave equivalence.)
  • So I'm hoping MuseScore already has a Transpose property per note OR that the development team would consider adding that.

Thanks for pondering all this and inching toward a solution! I think we're pretty close.


I wish I had emphacised the following at the outset of this topic:

Any notation application can write scordatura notation. But I've never seen an app that invokes the necessary pitch adjustments so the app's sound output is equivalent to a musician performing on a retuned instrument while playing from scordatura notation.

If it was lost on anyone, that's the whole point of this discussion. To write in scordatura form AND hear pitch playback in MuseScore as it would sound in performance:

  • Proofreading your scordatura work in a notation app without output transposition is truly taxing, and only feasible if you have the retuned instrument on hand and the facility to play it.

  • Likewise, without sound output adjustments, it's impossible to directly include a scordatura staff as part of larger score.

If a "scordatura playback" option is not available elsewhere MuseScore could be the first app to support the feature.


In reply to by scorster

The desire for native scordatura support was most definitely implied from the beginning especially when some strings are transposing. It's unfortunate that tools such as "fix to line" and "staff type change" have bugs that do not permit their use or it's possible a plugin could be created that would allow you to do what you want. Since plugins can be assigned a shortcut I think this would satisfy your needs.

In reply to by mike320

That outlook surprises me. What is needed here is to be able, for a given note, to offset the sounded pitch by an integral number of semitones from the notated pitch. This is the same thing that is done today, on a staff-wide basis, by the transposition setting.

If the notated pitch is 72, then we may need to send to the synthesizer not "sound 72" but rather "sound 70", or maybe "sound 68".


In reply to by mike320

I don't have a use for pitch change.
But it seems to me that when I add a "C" on a staff, Musescore playback produces that "C" based on.... what?
Wouldn't there be a way to change that "what" to playback some other pitch without a major rewrite? I write a "C", but the plugin makes MuseScore think it'a an "E", or whatever.
Or, like the original suggestion, I write the notes I want playback to produce. But the plugin changes only the notes look like in the score. Like transposing instruments. MuseScore already does this type of thing.

In reply to by bobjp

What should be possible is to write the A you want to hear then move the note to the C line or space using either fix to line or staff type change. There are issues with both of these features. For fix to line, if there is an accidental on the note, it is lost and cannot be put back when you check the option in the inspector. For staff type change, it will only work in one direction so you can use it for scorditura in one direction but not the other. I looked at it a couple of days ago but I don't remember which way it works.


We're almost there!


My goal is singular

To get MuseScore to transpose the pitch of particular notes on a staff, without the need of separating those notes into voices or additional staves.

To reach this goal that I only need two things:

1) A means of selecting the desired notes

We already have quick, viable ways of making selections:

  • List selection techniques on the Guidian staff, previously documented in this thread. (Thanks jeetee!)
  • List selections on a linked tablature staff, which makes it easy to select all notes on a particular string. (Thanks Wolfgan!)
  • And I think somebody suggested converting the staff to tablature and back to avoid the need for a linked staff. But I'm pretty sure I'd go with a linked staff, and show/hide it or eventually delete it.

2) We need to set a Transpose property on selected notes

  • As best I can tell, MuseScore doesn't have a Note>Transpose property. So that's the only missing piece.

Proposed solution:

If MuseScore's file format can accommodate an additional Note property the solution is just the addition of a control for that property in Inspector>Note ... and the logical place would be rght near Inspector>Note>Tuning.


To those who've recently suggesting a plug-in

A plug-in would need:

a) a means of determining what objects to target
b) a designated impact to perform on those objects

Given the scenario I've outlined I can't conceive of an algorithm that could effectively achieve "a".

At first blush it would appear that a plug-in could simply accept user input of one (or more) target pitch ranges. But in scordatura a pitch doesn't necessarily indicate a particular string.

For instance, if I have a mandolin (normally GADE) retuned to GDAD, in the Guidian staff the written E above the open A string could be played as:

  • the 7th fret on the A string
  • the open 1st string (the one retuned to D!)

I can't see how such choices could be automated. That said, I don't need them to be, nor was I recommending it. And without an programmatic means of achieving "a" there no reason to think about "b". But perhaps I've overlooked something obvious. I do that all the time!

Scordatura is manual labor—like writing regular notation—and there lots of design decisions made along the way. Naturally I'm comfortable with that because Scordatura itself is easily achieved on the Guidian staff.


If someone can describe a pseudo-code idea for a scordatura plug-in, in particular, a clear concept for targeting note candidates for scordatura transposition, then perhaps we can take a whack at "b". But I see little purpose in speaking of the prospect of a plug-in unless it proceeds in a substantive manner.

Going forward

I'd like to refocus this thread to the discussion of the proposed Note>Transpose property.

Transposition "per note" is the simple and logical solution for rectifying scordatura notation playback. And what a wonderful world that would be!


In reply to by scorster

With regard to a plugin, it would seem most feasible to limit its role to one layer of this matter: providing for per-note transposition setting.

That would leave the scordaturist, as at present, with the task of identifying the target notes which, as scorster has amply illuminated, can be very complicated.


In reply to by scorster

Actually, transposition by voice would probably be the most sensible way to meet this need.
There are a few wrinkles. The existing stem direction algorithm when there are two voices on a staff would need to be overcome.

But I think this is an approach that should be looked into.

Actually, there are many properties that ideally could be conferred by voice ("sound" is one that comes to mind). But perhaps the MuseScore undercarriage would not be able to easily deal with that.


In reply to by Doug Kerr

Forcing users to use voices for scordatura is a bad idea in general. It limits what the user can do with voices in cases where the scordatura is used in violin sections (which often play divisi) and stem management of the notes becomes a nightmare.

As for concerns about the limitations of using plugins is concerned. Even if this were made a native feature there will need to be a way to apply scordatura note by note as well as on selected notes. Plugins can be written to do this. They can even be interactive if you want. Look at the TempoChanges plugin. Concerns about using a plugin are unfounded.

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