I’m Hooked On Music Notation Software – And It’s Free!

I’ve been arranging tunes to play on my harp ever since I figured out that the thing my teacher called a “C major root position triad” was the very same “C” chord that I used to play on my guitar, and that if I followed the C-triad with other triads starting on F and G, I could play all my old folk songs from back in the ’60’s. Yahoo!

The inspiration for doing my own arrangements was to have tunes simple enough for me to play. Other people’s arrangements always had too many of those unruly little black dots to keep track of, and required pretzel fingers to play them. Then I had a workshop with Janet Harbison, who taught that no matter what your harp skills may be, you do not have to play other people’s arrangements of traditional tunes. You learn the melody, and then “dress” the tune according to what you are able to do on the harp.

Gradually my tunes have become more complex, and more than I can successfully keep track of while I’m working on them, or when I’m playing them. So I’ve been writing my arrangements by hand, just like the nuns taught me. And rewriting. And cutting pieces of the various versions apart and taping them together in new sequences. And forgetting which is the latest version. And growing a bit more batty in the process.

Last week I started looking at options for music notation software. I knew that there was an inexpensive version of at least one program, but I heard that it limited what you could do with it. And as one of my aims as a retired person is to never have to work for anyone ever again, the other programs cost way more than I wanted to pay. But my internet search turned up a free music notation program, MuseScore, which runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X platforms.

I prowled around reading software reviews, watching YouTube reviews posted by MuseScore users, and watching a few of the MuseScore video tutorials. The reviews were positive, the instructions understandable, and the tutorials clear and easy to follow. Compared to what I’ve heard from users of other music notation software programs, this one looked like it would be a breeze to figure out how to use and that it would do everything I needed.

I’ve been using it for a week, and I’m hooked. The “getting started” information really did get me started. With computer software, I am very much a learn-it-as-I-go-along person. I want to learn how to use a feature when I need it, not before. Every time I needed to move beyond the basics of entering notes, such as having a tie between notes, or a gliss symbol beside a chord, I found exactly the how-to information I needed in the instruction handbook.  There is an extensive forum of information available for more in-depth problem solving. When I reported a problem that I couldn’t figure out from the posted information, I got an email with the answer from an actual human being. The program’s music synthesizer does a totally passable job of playing what I’ve written. I love being able to immediately listen to a change and decide if I like it, without having to go try it on the harp.

A week later, my arrangement for The Grenadier and the Lady that’s been languishing in my music notebook for months, because I couldn’t face figuring out which of the five pages was the current working copy, is finished. I’ve got the melodies for two more tunes notated and I’m ready to start on the left hand parts. The only downside so far is that I’ve spent so much time at the computer working on these three tunes, I’ve not done any real practice all week!


4 thoughts on “I’m Hooked On Music Notation Software – And It’s Free!

  1. My husband (a software engineer and a fan of everything open-source) found and installed a free notation program called “Rosegarden.” I’ve had trouble getting comfortable with it; he knows more about it than I do. I’ll have to ask him if he saw or considered MuseScore. Maybe it would work better for me. It certainly sounds good from your description. Thanks for the idea!


    1. I’ve worked on two more tunes, and I’m still impressed with how well MuseScore works. The only trick you have to make sure to remember is to click the “N” to tell it to start entering notes, and to click it again when you are finished entering notes – or you’ll get some in places you didn’t intend to. There’s a convenient “undo” button for when that happens. The program enters harp-specific symbols for arpeggiated chords and glisses, as well. Definitely worth giving a try, I think.


  2. Wow. This was interesting. I never thought that with some program can one make notes, if I understand it correct. I am so glad that You found this program.

    Happy Friday!


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