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.
Version 2.1 introduces a greatly improved mid-staff instrument change over previous versions. There are still some limitations that need to be considered prior to using it.
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 instrument name is not changed in the mixer. It will still be listed under the instrument in the original definition of the staff.
The key signature is not automatically updated at the instrument change. You must manually change the Key signature if needed.
You can now enter the notes a musician would play once the instrument is changed and the correct key signature is entered if necessary.
Unless you are changing the type of staff, you will always use the Change Instrument text.
There are several limitations to this in version 2.0 which should be understood before attempting to use it.
Automatic transposition from concert pitch to the appropriate key for the transposing brass and woodwind instruments is not currently supported. For changes to instruments notated in a different key (C flute to E♭ flute; Oboe to English Horn, etc.), the use of ordinary Staff Text to indicate the change is preferable, and the transposition must be done after the music is entered (using Notes→Transpose from the main menu). To avoid discord on playback, the instrument assigned to that staff should be muted in the F10 Mixer.
If it is necessary to hear the new instrument sound on playback, the Change Instrument text function must be used. However, after a mid-staff instrument change where the two instruments on the staff are not notated in the same key, no attempt should be made to enter new music directly from the keyboard. Instead, the music must be (a) pasted in, or (b) entered before the instrument change is affected. New input into measures following an instrument change is subject to two known program bugs, which cannot be resolved in the current 2.0.x versions without adversely affecting backwards compatibility. (This has been fixed in version 2.1) In addition, the score must remain notated in concert pitch, or discord will result from the transposition. As a convenience to the players, a copy of the part may be saved as a separate file and the required sections transposed to the appropriate key before the part is printed. (Note that transposing a linked part will affect the score as well.)
When changing from one concert-pitch instrument to another, or from one transposing instrument to another in the same key (Bb trumpet to Bb cornet or Flugelhorn, etc.), the Change Instrument Text may be used to ensure that the playback sound is altered to the new instrument. Input may be done in the usual manner, and is not affected by the bugs mentioned above.
There are some incompatibilities between the two versions.
Instrument changes created with version 2.0 and opened in version 2.1 or above will continue to either display the notes wrong or play the notes wrongs as in version 2.0. Deleting and reentering the instrument change will fix most incompatibility issues with only minor changes being needed.
Instrument changes created with version 2.1 or above and opened in version 2.0 will generally playback correctly but continue to display the wrong notes.
Right-click the text and choose "Change Instrument…"
Choose the instrument, then click OK
The Mixer allows you to change instrument sounds and adjust the volume and panning for each staff.
To display/hide the mixer, use one of the following:
Note: Separate reverb and chorus effects for each channel are not yet implemented; use the synthesizer effects unit instead.
The name of each mixer channel is the same as the Part name in the Staff properties dialog.
To turn a dial clockwise, click and drag upwards. To turn a dial counter-clockwise, click and drag downwards. You can also hover the mouse pointer over the dial and then move the mouse wheel. Double-clicking on any dial restores it to its default position.
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 a single long list—in the order previously 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.
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 "normal" and another reserved for "mute," and so on.
The following instructions use pizzicato strings as an example, but the same principle can be applied to any other instrument staff that allows sound changes.
From the dropdown menu, select pizzicato;
Click OK 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 normal in step 6.
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:
To open the Play Panel use one of the following options:
The Play Panel offers temporary controls over playback, including playback speed (labelled 'tempo'), loop playback (with specified starting and ending positions), and general volume.
Note: Changes to the parameters in the Play Panel are not saved with the score: they only affect playback in the current session. Permanent changes to tempo should be made using tempo text. To change the default playback volume of the score, see Synthesizer.
You can switch on and off a count-in to be played each time the playback starts. The count-in plays beats for a full measure (according to nominal time signature at playback starting point); if the starting point is mid-measure or at a 'short' measure (anacrusis), it also plays enough beats to fill that measure. The conductor icon in the play panel enables, or disables count-in.
You can also switch on/off the accompanying metronome as the score is played (see the metronome icon on the play panel).
You can loop playback of a selected passage in the score using either the Play toolbar (see image above) or the play panel.
To loop from the Play toolbar:
Playback will now cycle within the region marked by the blue flags.
To loop from the Play Panel:
Playback will now cycle within the region marked by the blue flags.
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:
A Soundfont (.sf2/.sf3) is a single file containing one or more virtual instruments. As of version 2.2, MuseScore is installed with a SoundFont called MuseScore_General.sf3. This is a GM (General MIDI) set containing over 128 instruments, sound effects and various drum/percussion kits.
Note: Older versions of MuseScore are installed with a different Soundfont: MuseScore 2.0–2.1 with FluidR3Mono_GM.sf3; MuseScore 1 with TimGM6mb.sf2.
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 control-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:
xxx being the MuseScore version)
To uninstall a SoundFont, simply open the folder where its file is installed and delete it.
An SFZ consists of a bunch 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.
Note: For full support of SFZ, MuseScore 2.1 or later is need, prior versions had only limited support, namely for Salamander Grand Piano
After downloading an SFZ (see →below), you need to manually extract all the files that belong to the SFZ (the SFZ file itself and all the subdirectories) into the directory listed above. Leave the subdirectories and their contents as they are.
To uninstall an SFZ, simply open the folder where its files are installed (see above) and delete them all.
The Synthesizer is MuseScore's central control panel for sound output. Once a SoundFont has been installed, it needs to be loaded into the Synthesizer in order for MuseScore to use it for playback. To make a different SoundFont the default, load it in the Synthesizer and click Set as Default.
To display the Synthesizer, go to View → Synthesizer. For more details, see Synthesizer.
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)).
Since soundfiles 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 not 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.
Double-click Swing in the Text palette (shown below);
Edit the Swing text as required;
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:
If you wish to apply swing to the whole score, you can do so from the menu:
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 four 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 SFX files, the effects configuration, 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
FluidR3Mono_GM.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).
If you have not changed any sounds in the Mixer, then the SoundFont at the top of the list is the one that will be used for playback. However, if you are using the Mixer to play different instruments with sounds from different SoundFonts, playback will only work correctly if you have the same SoundFonts loaded in the same order in the Synthesizer. Therefore, if you are using multiple SoundFonts, it is advised to click the Save to Score button in the Synthesizer, so that the next time you open that score you can recall the list of SoundFonts loaded (and other Synthesizer settings) with the Load from Score button.
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 or delete files in a similar way to the Fluid tab. Note that, as with Fluid, the the SFZ files must first be installed in your soundfonts folder before they can be loaded into the synthesizer.
At the right in the Synthesizer are two sliders. One controls the playback volume, the other controls the volume of the optional built-in metronome. You can turn the metronome on or off by clicking the button underneath its volume slider. As with all the rest of the Synthesizer controls, any changes made here are temporary unless saved to the score or set as the new default.
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 (available as of version 2.0.3) 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.
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 chose 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:
Untick "Follow text" in the "Tempo Marking" section of the Inspector;
Set the desired playback tempo in the "Tempo" field underneath.
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.
To apply a dynamic to the score, use one of the following methods:
For additional dynamics use the Master Palette (Shift+F9). You can also create a custom palette for future use.
To create a crescendo or decrescendo sign, see Hairpin.
Click on the dynamic to select it, and adjust its Velocity in the Inspector—higher for louder, lower for softer.
Via the Inspector you can set the staves affected by a dynamic. The "Dynamic range" is by default set to "part," which means all staves for an instrument will be affected. Changing this to "staff" will limit the dynamic to the staff it is entered on only. Changing this to "System" will cause all instruments to play this dynamic.
In the Basic workspace, there are 8 options in the Dynamics palette: ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff.
In the Advanced workspace, there are all of the above plus 15 additional options in the Dynamics palette: fp, sf, sfz, sff, sffz, sfp, sfpp, rfz, rf, fz, m, r, s, z, n.
In the Dynamics section of the Master Palette, there are all of the above plus 6 additional options: pppppp, ppppp, pppp, ffff, fffff, ffffff.
Any dynamic can be edited after being added to the score, just like standard text. See Text editing.