Move over, Finale and Sibelius! There’s somebody new in town. MuseScore is a music notation software available FREE online for anyone to download. After doing a brief test drive last spring (mentioned here), I decided to take a closer look now that it’s available for Mac users.
I’ve been a faithful Finale user since 2005, mainly because Finale is the software of choice at the colleges I’ve attended. I use Finale to make worksheets for my students and to notate my original compositions and arrangements. Buying Finale 2009 last September cost me an arm and a leg, so I was quite curious to see how MuseScore would compare. Is it worth spending all that money on Finale when you can get MuseScore for free?
And there’s another reason why I was curious about MuseScore. Was anybody else as “bummed” as I was when Finale began charging $9.95 to download their demo version of Finale, “Finale Notepad“? Finale Notepad was perfect to recommend for students who just wanted to enter simple compositions and be able to print them off. And the basics were all there, but you couldn’t do certain things, such as changing the key signature or time signature in the middle of the piece. Now that Finale Notepad is no longer free, MuseScore is looking even more appealing — especially when you take a look at this chart that compares the two side-by-side.
And so, what follows are the results . . .
My test drive of MuseScore 0.9.5 for Mac:
As with any notation software, it takes time to learn the shortcuts and find where everything is located. For the most part, I was able to figure out how to do the things I wanted to do. But I did run into a few difficulties:
- Editing the pickup measure (after already going through the setup wizard). The Help Manual says to right-click on the measure and select “Measure Properties”, but when I right-click on the measure, nothing happens. (On MacBooks, you normally hold “Ctl” and then click in order to right-click, but MuseScore doesn’t seem to be recognizing this. If you have a PC, you are likely to have no issues with this.)
- Was unable to delete extra measures I didn’t need, due to the same issue as above: was unable to get into the “Measure Properties” menu.
- Inserting a tie (supposedly, you are supposed to push the “+” button, but if you take a look at the + key, it’s actually a =/+ key, which means getting the plus sign requires using the shift key. But pressing “shift +” is apparently a different shortcut. So I’m confused.)
- Hiding a rest in Voice 2 (Finale calls them layers) so that it’s not covering the notes in Voice 1. (Refer to m. 13 to see what I’m talking about.) Again, I was supposed to right-click and click “Set Invisible”, but MuseScore is not recognizing my right-click on my MacBook.
- I was unable to find a way to insert a ritardando. Did I miss it somehow? So I just entered “rit.” as text, which means the playback unfortunately will not recognize the ritardando.
- I normally like to hide the measure numbers for most projects. I was unable to figure out how to do this in MuseScore, so I assume it’s not a feature (yet).
But here are the “pros“:
- It’s FREE. What more can I say?
- There is the pdf Help Manual (included in the download, easily located in the “Help” dropdown), an Online Help Manual where you can learn how to enter the items you need in your score. In addition, the website has an online forum where you can ask questions and get answers.
- After entering all your notes, the score still looks fairly neat and clean. MuseScore automatically adjusts the measures so the notes aren’t cramped-looking. Sometimes Finale makes your score look cluttered and messy if you have a lot of items entered.
- It is much easier not to accidently “overfill” a measure, as it is in Finale. MuseScore automatically fixes the measure so it contains the proper amount of beats as it is supposed to have for that particular time signature.
- The piano synthesizer sound for the playback seems decent . . .not great, but decent.
- Once your project is finished, you can save it as a pdf, midi sound file, or wav sound file, among other forms.
And so what are the results of my little evaluation? Here’s what I think:
In short, I would say keep your eye on MuseScore. It seems they have some bugs to work out yet, particularly in the version for Macs. But the basic functions were all there and were fairly straightforward to use. MuseScore looks very promising for the active composer/arranger. It may be more difficult for the teacher to switch over, because I’m not sure how easy making worksheets would be in MuseScore. Am I ready to leave Finale yet? Not yet . . .but maybe when the bugs for Macs are worked out.
However, I would not hesitate to recommend MuseScore to my students. Let’s face it: kids are naturally technology-savvy, and (with the help of the Help Manual) would likely be able to use the basic functions of MuseScore with little difficulty.
With all that in mind, take a look for yourself. The images in this post include a screenshot of the little song I composed on the fly at I tested out MuseScore. You can even listen to a Midi file of the demo song by clicking here: Joy’sDemoSong. What are your overall thoughts?