Sharing Open Music

Music is an integral part of our family life and everyone plays or played at instrument.  My son and I have been enjoying playing low brass instruments – me relearning, him picking up for the first time – together.  We’ve been able to use the open source app MuseScore to convert some of our favorite music into duets.

I’ve tried a couple of other music notation apps, both on Windows and Android.  The free ones have tended to just be paid apps with features disabled.  We licensed Finale’s Notepad after running into the need to pay to print (that appears to have gone away).  It’s a nice app but we’re now up to 3 people in the family starting to play around with music and using an open source product gets us around additional licensing costs.

If MuseScore wasn’t so capable, I might take a second look at a commercial option.  But it meets the needs we have to create music in a variety of keys and time signatures and for different instruments.   In fact, when my youngest came home with a hand-written, oft-photocopied piece of music for the recorder, the first thing I wondered was why it hadn’t been put into MuseScore.

Scores can be shared for free on the MuseScore site

The hardest part is really figuring the music out.  Once you know that, the tool is simple to use.  I used Tunable to figure out the starting note and was off to the races.  The kids can do this stuff much faster than I can, but if I guess wrong on the note, it’s easy to just select it (or an entire measure) and move it up and down with arrow keys until it’s hitting the right ones.

The biggest challenge I’ve had with MuseScore is toggling between the notation mode (where you place notes) and the editing mode (where you can move notes).  This often means I’ll unintentionally change the value of a note, say, from a half note to an eighth note, and MuseScore converts the balance into a bunch of rests.  I’m getting more methodical about it now.

My first attempt was with Jurassic Park, and I found a conductor’s score online.  Once I’d located the melody line, it was relatively easy to copy over the notation and place it for the Horn.  I found another instrument in B flat that was playing a harmony, and gave that to the Baritone my son was going to play.

If you contrast the screenshot below – with its complicated notations – and the simple one above, you can see some of the challenges if you’re trying to arrange a piece without actually seeing it.  I will end up playing the tricky rhythms for one of my musical savants who will explain – slowly – to me what the notes should be.

You can listen to music on MuseScore, with each score playable on the site.

At first, when the bars are empty, it’s a bit daunting.  It can take a while to complete a line – toggling over to the music player and going forward and back over a bit of music – and you start to appreciate the work that’s gone in to score a single instrument by the original composer, let alone an orchestra.

Since I’m often putting down duets, I’ve found it easiest to score the first instrument, then cut and paste (just like in a word processor) from that instrument to the next one, whatever it is.  Then you can edit out measures, move them up or down to keep them in unison or harmony, and so on.  You can display the music in concert pitch but I still haven’t entirely wrapped my head around how that looks, even though I understand what it’s doing.  I get an eye roll from the kids for that!

You can, of course, print off the music, which we’ve done.  MuseScore also enables you to upload to its community site, where you can share your scores with others.  I figure that, if there are any other Two Steps from Hell fans out there, they might like using – or re-using, since you can fork someone else’s score and improve it.  But someone who, like me, was looking for starter pieces that go beyond the typical beginner classical repertoire, can find a wide range of choices on MuseScore’s site.  It’s been a great resource both for scoring our own arrangements but for drawing our musically-inclined children into a new aspect of the art.