YouTube tribute to the MuseScore team.
I've just posted my latest MuseScore project on YouTube.
Dedicated to the developers of MuseScore, it's a short symphonic
first movement in the Classical style. My way of saying thanks for
a piece of software I cannot live without.
Even if you're not classically-oriented, I encourage having a
listen. The piece is short (3:40). What's notable is that the
playback is 99% pure MuseScore, manipulated entirely from within the
program. Other than chorusing for the winds when they're playing in
unison, which MuseScore doesn't do (despite a Mixer knob labelled
Chorus) and shelves applied at both ends of the EQ spectrum, no
external plugins or post-audio processing were used. Levels,
panning and reverb were all done in MS.
The results are very, very good. Enough so that I composed the
entire piece with nothing but MuseScore. I had no piano or other
keyboard to hand, no manuscript or sketches, just MuseScore. Having
spent hundreds of hours, if not more, assembling an orchestra
from free soundfonts on the Web, and a couple of weeks tweaking
levels, etc., I was able to compose confidently. Any ideas I had
with respect to scoring came out as expected. More importantly,
weaknesses in the orchestration were instantly revealed.
Part of my reason for writing the piece was, in fact, to make
a point about playback. Frankly, and with due respect to the
developers, I think the oft-repeated refrain, "MuseScore is a
notation program," is nonsense. MuseScore, regardless of
its original mandate, has become a functioning tool for musical
composition that provides both engraving and playback
facilities. Insisting otherwise is like selling F-150s with a
lightweight Class I hitch and excusing the inadequacy by saying a
pickup is supposed to be a truck, not a tractor.
Put another way, playback from MuseScore is too good to be dismissed
as an extra (I believe my little piece proves that), but not yet
good enough for the purpose it is expected to perform.
The goal of playback from MuseScore isn't symphony hall
realism, but rather a midi mockup that satisfactorily simulates
instrument/pitch/dynamic as well as the basics of articulation and
phrasing. To quote the estimable Mattias Westlund (of the Sonatina
Symphony Orchestra) on the subject of midi orchestration:
If you’ve done your homework you should be able to get a reasonably
convincing orchestral mix from the following ingredients and nothing
Meaning, an arrangement that makes sense, samples that do their job,
panning that places things from left to right, levels that are
balanced, and reverb that adds depth and makes things gel.
The first item relies on the talent of the composer, and the second
is an Everest we all have to scale unless we have the budget for
expensive, proprietary samples and soundfonts. The remainder are
controllable from within MuseScore, and, as my piece shows, if you
take the time to get them right, the result is convincing.
What, then, does MuseScore need to facilitate and improve playback?
The answer is: not very much. Based on what I could not accomplish
with the present release of MuseScore, I came up with this short
list of missing essentials:
- Controllable gate offtimes, which is required for phrasing.
Gate times used to be controllable in 1.x; it shouldn't be too
difficult to re-implement.
- Hairpin volume changes through long notes. You cannot get
a reasonably accurate representation of a four-bar orchestral
crescendo if your double-basses, playing a tied pedal point, stay at
the same volume while everybody else gets louder.
- Controllable staccato lengths on a per-articulation, or at the very
least, per-instrument basis; a staccato blast on a trumpet requires
a very different degree of shortness compared to a spiccato note on
- Chorusing on a per-channel basis. Flutes, for example, playing in
unison have a significantly different sound from flutes playing solo
(have a listen to Tchaikovsky if you don't believe me).
- It must be made possible to set the number of midi channels a
staff requires, and to choose the soundfonts associated with those
As I said, it's a short list, and, other than volume changes through
held notes and chorusing, both of which might be problematic, not a
The last item is the single most important, and shouldn't, IMO,
be brushed aside (as it has been the few times I've suggested
it). If one can write con sord. over a trumpet part, right
click on it and select the "Muted trumpet" channel, one should
be able—sanely, reasonably, and intuitively—to write
a due over the flute part, right click on it, and select
a "Chorused flutes" channel, presupposing one has been added to
the staff. The same for stringed instruments, whose Normal,
Tremolo, and Pizzicato channels are woefully too few to handle the
differing soundfonts required for the changes of string timbre and
articulation that are essential to understanding what's being said
I was able to get MuseScore to behave with respect to multipe
channels per staff by manually editing my .mscx file. It allowed
me to switch between solo and chorused winds (chorusing provided
externally), and to access the soundfonts necessary for the frequent
changes of string articulation and timbre. I think the results
speak for themselves and make a solid case for being able to add
channels to a staff from within the program itself.
I realize the items on my list could be posted in Feature Requests,
but I'm more concerned with getting playback to be treated as an
integral part of the MuseScore picture than specific work that
needs to be done. I'm hoping posting here instead will stimulate
That said, a huge thanks to all the developers and users who've
made MuseScore the truly wonderful tool it is.