Article from Issue 269/2023

Graham has been playing with the source code to the amazing Mutable Instruments Eurorack modules. The company is closing, but every firmware to every product is open source. Merci, Émilie Gillet.

Music notation

MuseScore 4

Since last looking at MuseScore 3, the Muse project has seen a flurry of activity. Most significantly, its parent Muse Group bought the audio editor, Audacity, and created a furor over plans to add telemetry to it. They eventually relented, but the bad taste remained, requiring Muse Group to be careful with major future releases. MuseScore has suffered similar criticisms, especially with its attempts to funnel users into an online service and training portal. Because MuseScore is open source like Audacity, anyone is free to fork the project to remove the parts they don't like. It's also a project with a lot to like. There are very few professional quality music-notation applications, and none of MuseScore's caliber that are open source. Like Audacity, this makes it essential for music students, eager learners, and budget composers. Version 4 strengthens MuseScore both as a notation powerhouse and as an open source ambassador project without giving too much usability away to the money funnel.

You will first notice the music notation rendering. Previous versions were always better than another great open source alternative, LilyPond, but not by much, and it paled in comparison to its expensive proprietary alternatives. Not any more: Both the rendering and the spacing between notes has been overhauled, and musical scores are now beautifully rendered both on screen and in print. MuseScore's notation font has been improved, and the alignment of elements outside the score with the notes themselves is now pixel-perfect. While purely aesthetic improvements, they help push MuseScore into the top tier of music notation software, which is amazing when it's still open source. There are new light and dark color schemes, 400 new icons, a high-contrast mode, and a top bar that includes more configuration options, including the ability to choose what to show and hide. Selections while dragging the mouse are now intelligent and context sensitive and will only show options relevant to the complete set of selected objects. Plus you can now make gradual changes to the tempo.

In the background, a new audio engine includes support for VST3 plugins, letting you send scores directly to industry-standard virtual instruments, orchestral sample libraries, and effects, Linux compatibility permitting. SoundFonts (called MS Basic) remain supported and are the default. A new mixer helps control tracks, volumes, panorama amounts, and which tracks play which instrument. If you're prepared to leave the open source world, Muse Sounds, a new orchestral sound bank, transforms the sound output in MuseScore from pianola to professional. It's a separate 14GB download and offers much higher quality, multilayered and multi-instrument audio samples using Muse Playback Events rather than MIDI over VST. It generates naturally dynamic and fully fledged orchestral music – a brilliant way to compose music directly from the editor.

As with most aspects of MuseScore, the open source improvements and benefits massively outweigh the sometimes clunky account and plugin integration. A professional piece of notation software, you can install it and use it for free on as many devices as desired.

Project Website

1. New icons: The GUI overhaul starts with beautiful icons for the toolbar … 2. Notation: … and continues with the beautiful rendering and spacing of the score. 3. MusicXML: Industry standard MusicXML files and MIDI files can be imported and rendered as a score. 4. Annotations: Guides outside the notes now line up with the notes. 5. New mixer: Besides the new mixer, a new music system (not open source) optionally can be installed for free. 6. VST instruments: Alongside SoundFonts, the output can be sent to VST samplers and synthesizers for a much more professional sound. 7. Tempo: Playback speed can now be much more finely controlled.

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