Navigate to the handbook page for MuseScore 3: Accessibility
This document is written for blind and visually impaired users of MuseScore 2.x. It is not intended to provide a full description of all of the features of MuseScore; you should read this in conjunction with the regular MuseScore documentation.
MuseScore comes with support for the free and open source NVDA screen reader for Windows. The features in this document have been tested on Windows with NVDA. There is no support at the moment for other screen readers such as Jaws for Windows, or VoiceOver for macOS, which may work differently, or not at all.
At this point in time, MuseScore 2.x is mostly accessible as a score reader, not so much as a score editor. This document will focus on the score reading features, with only a brief description of score editing.
When you run MuseScore for the first time, you may want to permanently disable the Start Center window. To do so, go close the Start Center window first, then the Edit menu (Alt+E), choose Preferences, and in there, uncheck Show Start Center. Save and close the preferences window.
Finding your way around
The user interface in MuseScore works much like other notation programs, or other document-oriented programs in general. It has a single main document window in which you can work with a score. MuseScore supports multiple document tabs within this window. It also supports a split-screen view to let you work with two documents at once, and you can have multiple tabs in each window.
In addition to the score window, MuseScore has a menu bar that you can access via the shortcuts for the individual menus:
- File: Alt+F
- Edit: Alt+E
- View: Alt+V
- Add: Alt+A
- Notes: Alt+N
- Layout: Alt+L
- Style: Alt+S
- Plugins: Alt+P
- Help: Alt+H
Of these, only the File menu is of much interest when using MuseScore as a score reader. Once opening a menu, it may take several presses of the Up or Down keys before everything is read properly.
There are also a number of toolbars, palettes, and subwindows within MuseScore, and you can cycle through the controls in these using Tab (or Shift+Tab to move backwards through this same cycle). When you first start MuseScore, or load a score, focus should be in the main score window. Pressing Tab takes you to a toolbar containing a series of buttons for operations like New, Open, Play, and so forth. Tab will skip any buttons that aren't currently active. The names and shortcuts (where applicable) for these buttons should be read by your screen reader.
Once you have cycled through the buttons on the toolbar, the next window Tab will visit is the Palette. This would be used to add various elements to a score, but it is not currently accessible except for two buttons that are visited by Tab: a drop down to select between different workspaces (a saved arrangement of palettes), and a button to create a new workspace.
If you have opened one of the optional windows, such as the Inspector, or the Selection Filter, the Tab key will also visit these. You can close windows you do not need by going to the View menu and making sure none of the first set of checkboxes are selected (the windows that appear before the Zoom settings). By default, only the Start Center, Palettes and Inspector should be selected. See Initial Setup for instructions for disabling the Start Center. F9 can be used to toggle the Palettes while F8 will toggle the Inspector.
To return focus to the score window after visiting the toolbar, or a subwindow, press Esc. This also clears any selection you may have made in the score window.
The score window
When you first start MuseScore 2.x, an empty example score entitled “My First Score” is loaded by default. If you wish to experiment with editing features, this would be a good place to begin. Otherwise, you will probably want to start by loading a score. MuseScore uses the standard shortcuts to access system commands like Ctrl+O (Mac: Cmd+O) to open a file, Ctrl+S (Mac: Cmd+S) to save, Ctrl+W (Mac: Cmd+W) to close, etc.
If you press Ctrl+O (Mac: Cmd+O) to load a score, you are presented with a fairly standard file dialog. MuseScore can open scores in its own format (MSCZ or MSCX) as well as import scores in the standard MusicXML format, in MIDI format, or from a few other programs such as Guitar Pro, Capella, and Band-in-a-Box. Once you have loaded a score, it is displayed in a new tab within the score window. You can move between the tabs in the score window using Ctrl+Tab (does not apply for Mac).
There are a few interesting things you can do with a loaded score besides reading it note by note. You can press Space to have MuseScore play the score for you. You can use File / Export to convert to another format, including PDF, PNG, WAV, MP3, MIDI, MusicXML, etc. And of course, you can print it via File / Print or Ctrl+P (Mac: Cmd+P).
If a score contains multiple instruments, it may already have linked parts generated. Linked parts are presented as part tabs within score tabs, but currently, there is no way to navigate these part tabs using the keyboard. The parts would not normally contain information different from the score; they would just be displayed differently (each part on its own page). If a score does not already have parts generated, you can do so through File / Parts, and that dialog is accessible. If you wish to print the parts, you can work around the inability of accessing part tabs individually by using the File / Export Parts dialog, which automatically exports PDF’s (or other formats) for all parts in one step.
When you first load a score, the score window has the keyboard focus, but there will be nothing selected. The first step to reading a score is to select something, and the most natural place to begin is with the first element of the score. Ctrl+Home (Mac: Cmd+Home) will do this. You will probably also want to use this, should you ever clear your selection by pressing Esc.
As you navigate between elements, your screen reader should give the name of the selected element (most likely the clef at the beginning of the top staff of your score). You will hear it read the name of the element (for example, “Treble clef”) and also give position information (for example, “Measure 1; Beat 1; Staff 1”). The amount of information read is not currently customizable, but we tried to place the most important first so you can quickly move on to the next element before it has finished reading, or just ignore the rest of what is read. Pressing Shift currently interrupts the reading, which might also be useful.
Most navigation in MuseScore is centered around notes and rests only – it will skip clefs, key signatures, time signatures, barlines, and other elements. So if you just use the standard Right and Left keys to move through your score, you will only hear about notes and rests (and the elements attached to them). However, there are two special navigation commands that you will find useful to gain a more complete summarization of the score:
- Next element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right (Mac: Cmd+Option+Shift+Right)
- Previous element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Left (Mac: Cmd+Option+Shift+Left
These commands include clefs and other elements that the other navigation commands skip, and also navigate through all voices within the current staff, whereas other navigation commands such as Right and Left only navigate through the currently selected voice until you explicitly change voices. For instance, if you are on a quarter note on beat 1 of measure 1, and there are two voices in that measure, then pressing Right will move on to the next note of voice 1—which will be on beat 2—whereas pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right (Mac: Cmd+Option+Shift+Right) will stay on beat 1 but move to the note on voice 2. Only once you have moved through all notes on the current beat on the current staff will the shortcut move you on to the next beat. The intent is that this shortcut should be useful for navigating through a score if you don’t already know what the contents are.
When you navigate to an element, your screen reader should read information about it. For notes and rests, it will also read information about elements attached to them, such as lyrics, articulations, chord symbols, etc. For the time being, there is no way to navigate directly to these elements.
One important note: Up and Down by themselves, with Shift, or with Ctrl / Cmd are not useful shortcuts for navigation! Instead, they change the pitch of the currently selected note or notes. Be careful not to inadvertently edit a score you are trying to read. Up and Down should only be used with Alt/Option if your intent is navigation only. See the list of navigation shortcuts below.
Moving forwards or backwards in time
The following shortcuts are useful for moving “horizontally” through a score:
- Next element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right
- Previous element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Left
- Next chord or rest: Right
- Previous chord or rest: Left
- Next measure: Ctrl+Right
- Previous measure: Ctrl+Left
- Go to measure: Ctrl+F
- First element: Ctrl+Home
- Last element: Ctrl+End
Moving between notes at a given point in time
The following shortcuts are useful for moving “vertically” through a score:
Next element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right
- Previous element: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Left
- Next higher note in voice, previous voice, or staff above: Alt+Up
- Next lower note in voice, next voice, or staff below: Alt+Down
- Top note in chord: Ctrl+Alt+Up
- Bottom note in chord: Ctrl+Alt+Down
The Alt+Up and Alt+Down commands are similar to the Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Left commands in that they are designed to help you discover the content of a score. You do not need to know how many notes are in a chord, how many voices are in a staff, or how many staves are in a score in order to move vertically through the score using these commands.
Filtering score reading
Excluding certain elements like lyrics, or chord names while reading the score is possible by using the Selection filter (F6). Uncheck those elements you don't want to read.
The Space bar serves both to start and stop playback. Playback will start with the currently selected note if one is selected; where playback was last stopped if no note is selected; or at the beginning of the score on first playback.
MuseScore supports looped playback so you can repeat a section of a piece for practice purposes. To set the “in” and “out” points for the loop playback via the Play Panel (F11):
- First select the note in the score window where the loop should start
- Go to the Play Panel and press the Set loop In position toggle button
- Back to the score window, navigate to the note where you want the loop to end
- Switch again to Play Panel, and press the Set loop Out position toggle button
- To enable or disable the loop, press the Loop Playback toggle button
You can also control the loop playback and control other playback parameters, such as overriding the basic tempo of a score, using the View / Play Panel (F11).
Score editing is currently not very accessible – too many score elements require intervention of the mouse in order to place objects onto a score. Additionally, visual reference and manual adjustment of the position of various elements is sometimes necessary due to MuseScore's limited support for conflict avoidance of elements.
In contrast, MuseScore does often provide ample default, and a platform to experiment with the basics of note input.
To enter note input mode, first navigate to the measure in which you would like to enter notes, then press “N”. Almost everything about note input is designed to be keyboard accessible, and the standard documentation should be good to help you through the process. Bear in mind that MuseScore can either be in note input or normal mode, and it won’t always be clear which mode of these you are in. When in doubt, press Esc. If you were in note input mode, this will take you out. If you were in normal mode, you will stay there, although you will also lose your selection.
You can customize the keyboard shortcuts using Edit / Preferences / Shortcuts. At some point, we may provide a set of special accessibility-optimized shortcuts and/or a way of saving and loading sets of shortcut definitions.