MuseScore has "Sound and playback" capabilities built-in. This chapter covers the playback controls and ways to extend the instrument sounds.
When a musician is required to double on a different instrument for a section of a piece, the instruction to switch instruments is generally placed above the staff at the beginning of that section. A return to the primary instrument is handled in the same manner.
MuseScore enables users to insert a special class of text called Change Instrument text for this purpose. This class of text is different from either Staff or System text in that it links the text to the playback and changes the sound to the new instrument.
When an instrument change is made:
Note: Mid-staff instrument changes are limited to the same type of staff. For example, you cannot change between a percussion staff and a pitched instrument staff or vice versa.
The Mixer allows you to change instrument sounds, adjust volume and panning, and make other adjustments to the playback for each staff.
To display/hide the mixer, use one of the following:
The track area is at the bottom and displays the Master Gain as well as a row of tracks. The Track Area displays allows you to adjust the volume of the instruments used by your staves. Clicking on one of the panels selects it, and also allows you to edit other instrument parameters, such as choice of instrument, name, pan, chorus, reverb, etc. in the Details area.
MuseScore creates one "part track" for each staff in your score. These part tracks can be further subdivided into "channel tracks" corresponding to the different sounds used within the staff. While many staves only need a single channel track, others require multiple channels so that the instrument can play more than one sound (e.g. a violin which can play in arco, tremolo or pizzicato voices); or because of a Mid-staff instrument change. These extra channel tracks can be shown or hidden by clicking the arrow button on top of the track control.
Expanded part track, showing the child tracks in pink.
The Master Gain controls the overall output volume. To adjust it, click and drag the slider handle or enter a value in the box underneath.
Every part track has a button on the top with an arrow on it, enabled, when that instrument has multiple channels, like e.g. violin (for arco, pizzicato, tremolo), disabled otherwise. When clicked, this will toggle whether the channel tracks of the staff are displayed next to it. Channel tracks do not have an arrow button. Instead, the name of the track they are a part of is displayed.
At the top of each track is a green solo button and a red mute button: each can be toggled on or off. If any Solo button is checked then only tracks that have solo lit will play. If no solo is lit, all parts can potentially play. Mute does the opposite: any track that has mute lit will not play. By using a combination of mute and solo buttons, you can control which instruments are heard during playback.
The dial below the mute button controls panning left and right. You can click and drag on the dial to change the pan value. Note: MuseScore does not yet support pan values for the part track, so the part track displays the pan value of the first channel instead. Setting the pan value of the part track will automatically set all of its children to the same value as well.
The slider in the middle of the track controls the playback volume. Note: MuseScore does not yet support volume values for the part track, so the part track displays the volume value of the first channel instead. Setting the volume value of the part track will automatically set all of its children to the same value as well.
The text box at the bottom of the track contains the current name of the track's part or channel.
The details area displays and provides finer control of the currently selected track.
The name of the part this track is associated with. Both part tracks and channel tracks display the part name. Note: The part name is editable, but this only have effect for the Mixer. The channel name is not editable.
If a channel track is selected, the channel name is displayed here.
Indicates if this part represents a melodic instrument or a drumkit. For regular melodic instruments, each pitch in the same patch usually has the same timbre, while drumkit patches usually have different timbres for each pitch.
To change the sound in a track:
The "Sound" drop-down menu lists every instrument supported by your current SoundFont. If you have multiple SoundFonts loaded in the Synthesizer, all the patches from all the SoundFonts (and/or SFZ files) will appear in the order set in the Synthesizer.
Tip: To find an instrument, click on the "Sound" list and type the first letter of the instrument name. Repeat as required.
The overall loudness with which the sound is played.
The panning applied to the part.
To change the change the color of the track area:
Setting the color of a part track will automatically change the colors of all its child tracks as well.
The output MIDI port and channel the part is played on.
The reverb/chorus value sent to MIDI out. This is information sent to MIDI devices and will not affect MuseScore's built in audio playback
This allows you to mute individual voices within each staff. Each row represents a different staff within a part. So pressing '2' on the top row will mute the second voice on the first staff of the part.
At the bottom of the detail area is a wide button with a tiny triangle on it. Clicking this button will hide the detail area to give you more room. Clicking on it again will restore the detail area.
Note: From Preferences > Score it is possible to check the box Show MIDI controls in the Mixer to preset it expanded when opening the Mixer.
Some instruments come with multiple channels in the Mixer that can be used to change sounds midway through a score. For example, a staff for a stringed instrument (violin, viola, cello etc.) is allocated three channels: one for "arco" (or "normal"), another for "pizzicato" and another for "tremolo." A trumpet staff will have one channel for "open" (or "normal") and another reserved for "mute," and so on. These 5 channel values (pizz., arco, tremolo, mute, open) are available in the Text palette as presets:
There's also S/A, T/B, TT/L and B/B texts to separate Soprano, Tenor, Tenor and Bartiton (voice 1 and 3) from Alto, Bass, Lead and Bass (voice 2 and 4), respectively, on closed scores using the Women and Men 'instruments' or the closed score SATB and Barbershop templates, this allows for different settings of those in the Mixer.
The same principle can be applied to any other instrument staff that allows sound changes, but you have to set up the channel manually. The following instructions use pizzicato strings as an example.
From the dropdown menu, select pizzicato;
Click OK or press ↵ (Return) to return to the score.
Every note after the staff text you added now sounds pizzicato. To return to a normal strings sound later in the piece, follow the same guidelines as above except type "arco" in step 3 and select arco in step 6.
Most of the time is it far easier to just apply the corresponding text (pizz., tremolo, arco, mute, open, etc) from the Text Palette.
The Piano Roll Editor allows you edit individual notes and tweak aspects of their playback.
To open the Piano Roll Editor (PRE), right-click on a measure in the score and choose the Piano Roll Editor option from the context menu. The Piano Roll Editor will open showing the staff and measure where you clicked. If the Piano Roll Editor is already open, it will be updated to show the new staff and measure you clicked on.
The Piano Roll Editor is divided into several sections. At the very top is a row of buttons and controls that affect playback and can modify notes. The name of the part being edited is at the top right.
The central portion contains the Note Display Area which allows you to view and edit notes. Each note is displayed as a block, with yellow blocks representing selected notes, and darker green blocks representing unselected notes (these colors can be changes in the Preferences). Given sufficient space, each block will display its pitch on the left and the voice it is assigned to on the right. Changing the size of the note blocks is covered in the navigation section.
To the left of the Note Display Area is the Keyboard. By clicking on a key in the Keyboard, you can hear a sample of that note playing. As you move the mouse in either the Node Display Area or the Keyboard, a key on the keyboard will light, corresponding to the pitch you are over. You can also hover your mouse over a particular key to get more information about that pitch. If you are using a Drumkit, the keys of the keyboard will show the name of the drum assigned to that particular pitch. For instruments that are not concert C, the keyboard will be adjusted so that the C of the keyboard matches the C of the instrument.
Along the top of the Note Display Area is the Measure Ruler which displays the current position of the playback head, as well as the current looping range if it set.
The bottom of the editor contains the Levels Display Area. It is a bar graph showing extra data values assigned to each note, such as its velocity or cutoff time. To the left of the Levels Display Area is a dropdown menu allowing you to select the type of data you wish to see displayed or edited.
There are several ways to move about in the Piano Roll Editor. First of all, you can click and drag on the scroll bars on the edges of the Note Display Area.
The mouse wheel can also be used to pan and zoom as follows:
To jump to a particular measure, switch back to score view and find the measure you wish to see. Then right-click on the measure and select Piano Roll Editor. The Piano Roll Editor will scroll to center on the measure you clicked.
In the Note Display Area, you can click on single notes or click and drag to select a group of notes. Holding down the modifier keys will affect how your selection changes:
To change the pitch of a selection of notes: Drag a selected note up or down to a new pitch; or press the ↑ or ↓ arrows. Note: Dragging the note horizontally to change the start time is not supported at the moment.
To delete a selection of notes: Press the Del key.
To move a note selection to another voice: Click the desired voice number button at the top of the editor.
To add notes:
Notes can be inserted by clicking in the Piano Note Area with the modifier keys held. These edit operations will use the beat or subbeat line to the left of the spot where you click as the point where a note is altered:
Ctrl: A note of the current insert note duration will be added at the subbeat and pitch where you clicked. The note insert length is the same as the one you use to add notes in note entry mode in the score. If you wish to change the duration, you will need to select this in the Score View as the Piano Roll Editor does not currently have these buttons. If notes already exist in this location, a chunk will be cut out of them to make room for the note you are inserting, unless they happen to have the same start time and duration of the note you're adding, in which case the new note will simply be appended to the existing chord. Tuplets are currently not supported, and so will be ignored.
Shift: Looks for a chord that already spans this subbeat line. If it finds one, appends a new pitch to the existing chord. Otherwise, this is a rest and the rest will be replaced with a note of equal start time and duration to the existing rest.
Ctrl+Shift: Looks for a chord or rest that spans this subbeat. This chord will be cut in two at this subbeat line. Tuplets are currently not supported, and so will be ignored.
To edit note event data:
Note event data can be changed in the Levels Display Area. To edit event data such as velocity or cutoff time, first select the notes you wish to edit in the note area. Then click in the Levels Display Area on the corresponding bar; the value of the level will changed to correspond to the point where you clicked. You can also click and drag in this area to change the levels of several notes with a single gesture. If you want the levels to all be set to the same value, hold Shift while dragging. Only selected notes will have their value changed - this is to prevent you from accidentally changing the values of other notes.
The Levels area can display the same data in multiple ways. For example, velocity data can be displayed both as absolute (i.e., relative to the output midi volume) and relative (i.e., as an offset to the dynamics value). You can switch between these display modes as you see fit.
From left to right the controls have these functions;
Subdivides the beat by adding extra divisions to the Note Display Area. The value indicated the number of time the beat will be subdivided. So for 4/4 time, a division of 2 will draw grid lines at every eighth note; a division of 3 at every sixteenth note, and so on. Setting the subdivision is necessary for some editing operations if you wish to place notes off the beat.
For larger numbers of subdivisions, you may need to be zoomed in to see the extra grid lines since grid lines are not drawn below a certain density. Combines with the tuplet control which also affects grid line placement.
Adds additional grid lines, subdividing the beat to show the rhythmic placement of tuplets. For example, setting tuplets to 3 will show the beat subdivided into three parts. Combines with the subdiv control to show subdivisions of the tuplet. For example, setting tuplets to 3 and subdiv to 2 will draw grid lines showing the tuplet beats subdivided into two parts - i.e., the beat will be subdivided into 6.
Selecting a tuplet mode other than 1 will disable some of the note insertion tools for the Piano Roll Editor. For larger numbers of subdivisions, you may need to be zoomed in to see the extra grid lines since grid lines are not drawn below a certain density.
Shows the velocity of the currently selected note (only one note may be selected). Indicates the loudness of the note. This can be expressed as 'Offset' or 'User':
When you switch from User to Offset or vice versa, the value will be recalculated to best match the value in the other system. This way you could, for example, switch to User mode to set the value as you would like it to sound in MIDI output and then switch to Offset so that this value respects the dynamic marking instead of overriding it. At the moment you switch back, the offset value will be recalculated to match the User value in loudness but will no longer act as an override so you may later change the dynamic.
Some keys are hooked up to perform special actions:
The Piano Roll Editor will display in both normal mode and dark mode. If you wish to change the colors the Piano Roll Editor uses to display in these modes, they can be adjusted in the Preferences under the Advanced tab. All the Piano Roll Editor related properties begin with ui/pianoroll/light for light mode and ui/pianoroll/dark for dark mode.
Basic playback functions are accessed from the Play toolbar located above the document window:
From left to right, the icons are:
To start playback:
During playback you can jump to a specific note or rest in the score by simply clicking on it.
To stop playback:
Once playback has started, the following commands are available:
Playback will now cycle within the region marked by the blue flags.
See also: Play Panel (below).
To open the Play Panel use one of the following options:
From the menu bar, select View → Play Panel.
The Play Panel allows you to make temporary changes to tempo and volume, to loop playback between specified points etc.
As of MuseScore version 3.5, both chord symbols and Nashville numbers (but not Roman numerals) automatically sound when you play back the score.
As of MuseScore 3.5.1 this only happens with scores initially created with MuseScore 3.5 or later, for older scores you'd need to enable it, using the methods described below.
To enable or disable chord symbol playback for all scores:
score/harmony/play/disableCompatibility(default is checked—no playback)
score/harmony/play/disableNew(default is unchecked, playback)
To turn playback of ALL chord symbols on/off:
To turn playback of ALL chord symbols on/off:
Alternatively, you can mute the playback track(s) in the mixer—see below. This might be necessary, for example, when you have chord symbols on more than one staff and want to have playback for only one of them. Score parts need to be adjusted separately.
To turn playback of a SELECTION of chord symbols on/off:
Note: This does not affect the parts which need to be adjusted seperately.
The default sound for chord symbols is "Grand Piano". As of version 3.5.1, scores created from Guitar solo templates, use "Nylon String Guitar" instead.
To change the chord symbol playback sound:
This setting is shared between score and parts.
You'd need to do this for the score and/or the parts, separately.
To turn the sound of the symbols on/off when editing:
If desired, you can adjust the playback properties of selected chord symbols as follows:
The following shows how the Interpretation and Voicing options affect the playback of a C major seventh symbol (Cmaj7 or CM7).
Note: The "Close" and "Auto" Voicing options are the same for this particular chord, but this isn't necessarily the case for every chord. So if you specifically want "Close", it is best to make the option explicit.
Audio playback is provided by MuseScore's onboard synthesizer, which houses a large selection of virtual (or software) instruments—including percussion and sound effects.
MuseScore supports virtual instruments in two formats:
MuseScore comes with its own GM (General MIDI) SoundFont, MuseScore_General.sf3, containing over 128 instruments, sound effects and various drum/percussion kits.
GM (General MIDI) is a universal format, so once your score is set up for correct playback using MuseScore's native Soundfont, you should be able to export it in a format of your choice and have it play back on any other user's computer.
Many different Soundfonts are available on the Internet: some free, some commercial. For a list of free soundfonts, see below.
After finding and decompressing a SoundFont (see →below), double-click to open it. In most cases, the SoundFont file type will already be associated with MuseScore, and MuseScore will start and a dialog will appear asking if you want to install the SoundFont. Occasionally an application other than MuseScore will be associated with the SoundFont file type; if this is the case, you will need to right-click or Ctrl-click on the file, so as to display a menu from which you can choose to open the file in MuseScore. In either case, when the dialog appears asking if you want to install the SoundFont, click "Yes" to place a copy of the SoundFont file in MuseScore's SoundFonts directory. This directory can be viewed or changed in MuseScore's Preferences, but the default location is:
macOS and Linux:
In contrast to user-added SoundFonts, the initial default SoundFont installed with MuseScore is located in a system directory, meant only for that purpose, which should not be modified. This directory and its default SoundFont file is:
Windows x64 (64-bit) / MuseScore x86_64:
xxx being the MuseScore version)
To uninstall a SoundFont, simply open the folder where its file is installed and delete it.
An SFZ is a collection of files and directories, an SFZ file and a bunch of actual sound files in WAV or FLAC format, with the SFZ file being a text file that basically describes what sound file is located where and to be used for what instrument and pitch range.
After downloading an SFZ (see →below), you need to manually extract all the files that belong to the SFZ (the SFZ file(s) and all the sub-directories and other files) into the directory listed above. Leave the sub-directories and their contents as they are. Note, however, that on occasion, an SFZ file in its folder may seek the actual WAV sound files inside the SFZ sub-directory itself, usually in a folder labeled "Libs". If the SFZ zip file you download has a Libs folder in it, move it into the main SFZ sub-directory.
To uninstall an SFZ, simply open the folder where its files are installed (see above) and delete them all.
The Mixer allows you to easily change the sounds for each staff (even while the score is playing). For further details, see Mixer.
The following sound libraries conform to the General MIDI (GM2) standard. This specification gives you a sound set of 128 virtual instruments, plus percussion kits.
MuseScore_General.sf3(35.9 MB) (
SF2 version(208 MB)) and are being updated from time to time (see the Changelog).
Since soundfonts are large, they are often zipped (compressed) into a variety of formats, including .zip, .sfArk, and .tar.gz. You need to unzip (decompress) these files before they can be used.
ZIP is standard compression format supported by most operating systems.
sfArk is a compression format designed especially for compressing SoundFont files. To decompress it, use Polyphone (cross-platform software); or this online service: https://cloudconvert.com/sfark-to-sf2
.tar.gz is a popular compression format for Linux. Windows users can use 7-Zip; Mac users can use The Unarchiver, or macOS' built-in Archive Utility. Note that if using 7-Zip, you will need to apply decompression twice—once for GZip and once for TAR.
If the toolbar play panel is greyed out, or not visible, follow the instructions below to get your sound working again:
If you are setting up a SoundFont for the first time, please use one of the recommended SoundFonts listed above.
If playback stutters, then your computer may not be able to handle the SoundFont being used. The following advice may help:
MuseScore's swing feature allows you to change the playback of your score from a straight to a swing rhythm. Swing can be applied globally or only to a section of the score, and is fully variable.
To apply swing to all staves in a system:
Click Swing in the Text palette (double-click in versions prior to 3.4);
This inserts a System Text object which affects all staves in the system with a default swing percentage of 60%.
Edit the Swing text as required;
If you need to vary swing from the default setting, right-click the Swing text and select System text properties... Click on the "Swing Settings" tab and adjust note duration and "Swing ratio" as required.
To apply swing only to specific staves in a system:
Often this notation is used to indicate swing:
MuseScore does not have a way to include a triplet in text as a tempo marking, but there is an easy workaround:
If you want playback to return to straight time after a swing section, use one of the following options:
From version 3.4:
Prior to version 3.4:
If you wish to apply swing to the whole score, you can do so from the menu:
In the "Swing Settings" section, set the desired note value and "swing ratio."
To display the Synthesizer: from the menu, select View→Synthesizer.
The Synthesizer controls MuseScore's sound output and allows you to:
The Synthesizer window is divided into the following sections/tabs:
The buttons at the bottom of the Synthesizer window have the following functions:
|Set as Default||Saves all current synthesizer settings as the default settings. These are automatically applied to the Synthesizer when you open MuseScore.|
|Load Default||Loads the last saved default settings to the Synthesizer.|
|Save to Score||Saves all current synthesizer settings to the current score only.|
|Load from Score||Loads the settings from the current score to the synthesizer.|
Notes: (1) "Synthesizer settings" include the order of SoundFonts and SFZ files, effects set-up, master tuning and volume. (2) Only one set of Synthesizer settings can be in effect at a time—i.e. if multiple scores are open at once, it is not possible to make changes to the Synthesizer in one score and leave other scores' settings untouched. (3) Changes to synthesizer settings will not be heard in exported audio files unless saved to the score first (see table, above). See also Tuning (below).
Click on the Fluid tab to access the control panel for SF2/SF3 SoundFont sample libraries. By default, the SoundFont
MuseScore_General.sf3 should already be loaded.
You can load, rearrange and delete soundfonts as required. Playback can be shared between any combination of different soundfonts (and/or SFZ files). The order of soundfonts in Fluid is reflected in the default order of instruments in the mixer.
To be able to load the soundfont, it first needs to be installed in your Soundfonts folder. This will ensure that it appears in the list in step 2 (above).
The order of virtual instrument sets in the Synthesizer is reflected in the order of instruments listed in the Mixer. So, if playback of a score depends on a mix of instrument sets, it is advisable to save the Synthesizer configuration to the score in question by pressing the Save to Score button. When you next wish to play back the score, press the Load from Score to load the same configuration. However, remember this only sets the order of instruments—not the instruments themselves, which should be in place on your computer.
This removes the soundfont from the synthesizer but does not uninstall it from the Soundfonts folder: it will still be available if you wish to reload it later.
Click on the Zerberus tab to access the control panel for SFZ sound sample libraries. You can add, delete or reorder files in a similar way to the Fluid tab. Note that, as with Fluid, the SFZ files must first be installed in your soundfonts folder before they can be loaded into the synthesizer.
The slider on the right of the Synthesizer controls the playback volume: any changes made here last only to the end of the session, unless saved to the score or set as the new default.
Master Effects with Zita1 Reverb and SC4 Compressor.
To turn an effect on or off:
To store and load effects configurations, use the buttons at the bottom of the Synthesizer window. See Synthesizer settings (above) for details.
The Zita 1 stereo reverb module allows you to simulate the ambience of anything from a small room to a large hall. The pre-delay, reverb time and tone of the reverb can be finely tuned using the controls provided:
Note: EQ1 and EQ2 affect the tone of the reverb only, not the dry (unprocessed) signal.
To quickly set up an effects patch, set "Output" to "Mix" and adjust the "Mid RT60" control to the desired reverb time. Then fine tune the effect as explained above.
The SC4 stereo compressor gives you fine control over the playback's dynamic range, reducing the volume variation between loud and soft sounds. It offers the following controls:
To quickly set-up, try setting RMS = 1, Threshold = -20 db, Ratio = 6. Increase Gain to restore the lost volume. Then fine-tune as explained above.
The Tuning tab is where you can adjust the program's master tuning. For Concert Pitch instruments, A4 = 440 Hz by default.
To change the Master tuning:
Notes: (1) This tuning applies to all scores in the current session only. To make this the program default or to store it to a particular score, see Save/Load Synthesizer settings. (2) To apply the new tuning to exported audio files (WAV, MP3, OGG), press Save to Score before exporting.
Click on the Dynamics tab to access the control panel for Single Note Dynamics:
In the Advanced Settings box, you can choose to enable or disable the Expression Controller for Instruments Sound:
Tempo markings can be found in the Tempo palette of the Basic and Advanced workspaces. They are supplied as metronome marks, but can be subsequently edited to display any tempo or expression you want. Playback tempo can be varied throughout the score by using multiple tempo markings, visible or invisible.
Use any of the following methods:
Note: If a tempo marking is applied from the menu or using a keyboard shortcut, the beat note automatically follows the time signature. The advantage of applying from a palette is that you can choose which beat note to use.
To change the tempo of an existing metronome mark in the score:
You can also override the tempo of an existing metronome mark from the Inspector:
Note: Playback may be faster or slower if the tempo setting in the play panel is at a percentage other than 100%.
The tempo indicated by a metronome mark usually persists even if overwritten by an expression—such as Andante, Moderato etc. You can also add further text to a plain metronome mark. e.g.
Display the play panel: View→Play Panel or F11 (Mac: Fn+F11):
Move the tempo slider up or down as required. The tempo is shown both as an absolute value and as a percentage of the currently indicated tempo mark. Double-click the tempo slider to reset it.
Note: BPM is always measured and displayed in quarter note beats per minute, regardless of the (denominator of the) time signature in effect.
You can simulate ritardando ("rit.") and accelerando ("accel.") playback by adding hidden tempo markings to the score. The printed indication to the musician should be added as staff/system text in addition.
In the example illustrated below, the tempo was originally 110 BPM (beats per minute). At the ritardando, the tempo decreases by 10 BPM on the first note of each measure. Each tempo change is made invisible by unchecking the Visible checkbox in the Inspector, so that only the ritardando shows on the printed score:
Fermatas, available in the Articulations and Ornaments palette, have a Time stretch property that can be set via the Inspector. By default, this property is set to 1.00. To have MuseScore play back a fermata for twice its normal duration, click on the fermata and set "Time stretch" to 2.00. This of course does not work for fermatas applied to barlines, as barlines don't have a duration to stretch.
Additional dynamics are available in the Master Palette (Shift+F9).
To apply a dynamic to the score, use one of the following methods:
To create a crescendo or decrescendo, see Hairpin.
The default dynamic of the score is mf (mezzoforte)—set at MIDI velocity 80 (out of 127). Depending on the dynamic governing a particular section of the score, velocity (and the resulting loudness) may be less than or greater than this.
Note: Range = the staves in the system affected by the dynamic.
As of version 3.1, MuseScore supports single note dynamics. In addition to editing the velocity, you can also edit the velocity change in the inspector. Entering a number into this field will change the velocity of the note by approximately that amount after the initial velocity is played. A negative number can be used to lower the volume after the initial note and a positive number will make the note play louder after the initial volume. See links (below) for further details.
MuseScore allows you to transpose the playback of a staff, without affecting the music notation. This simulates the effect of a capo (Wikipedia) on the instrument.
Note: Capo playback will apply from the note that the staff text is attached to, until either the next staff text with "Capo Settings" enabled, or until the end of the score.
To remove capo playback from a staff, returning the instrument to its normal tuning: