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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Ubuntu music notation software: MuseScore vs Canorus (easier to use than Rosegarden and Denemo+Lilypond)

I first started using Rosegarden so I could create screenshots of notes in a grand staff view, to use in my tutorials, but I just found out that there a several different programs that do this a lot easier and faster, e.g.:


sudo apt-get install musescore

MuseScore, IMO, seems the easiest and fastest way to create music notation, so I'll focus on this one and show you how to create a slash chord with a non-chord bass note, step by step, from scratch.

Start MuseScore.

Initial Configuration (you only do this once)

Edit > Preferences

In the General tab:
Choose "Start with new score"
Uncheck "Show MuseScore Connect"

In the Canvas tab:
Choose "Color" for "Notesheet" (will give you a white background instead of light brown)

In the I/O tab (applies to Ubuntu Linux):
Check "Use internal synthesiser"
Check "Portaudio"
Set "Api" to "ALSA"
Set "Device" to "default"
(Uncheck everything else in this tab)

Note: the I/O configuration is so that MuseScore doesn't "hog/hijack" the soundcard, i.e. so that you can listen to playback in MuseScore, but also listen to a YouTube video or play a video in VLC at the same time (i.e. while MuseScore is running). You might need to restart your computer after changing this setting, but you can try restarting pulseaudio first (after saving and closing MuseScore of course):
sudo killall pulseaudio

OK (Save your changes)

Restart MuseScore.

IMO, the FluidR3_GM.sf2 soundfont sounds better than default soundfont/SF2 file, TimGM6mb.sf2 (no offense to Tim Brechbill), so here's how to change the default soundfont in MuseScore:
* Display > Synthesizer
* click the "open" icon to the right of the "Soundfont" textfield and choose FluidR3_GM.sf2

Create Notes/Chords

After your restart MuseScore you'll be met with a "Create New Score" dialogue.
Choose "Create new score from template"
Click "Next"
Select "Piano.mscx"
Click "Finish"

Change the zoom to 200% so you can see what you're doing.

Click the "X" for the "Palettes" panel (or press F9), to close it.

Press the "n" key to go into insert mode, then create a C4 note by clicking on its position in the treble clef:

To create a C4 chord, you have several options:
* hold in the alt key and press "3" (adds a third above the selected note) twice
* hold in the shift key and press "e", then "g"
* click on the E4 and then the G4 note positions in the treble clef

Now in the bass clef, just click on the D3 note position, then press the "n" key to go out of (toggle) edit mode and now you have a C/D slash chord:

Press the spacebar if you want to hear it played :)

In the above screenshot, there's a quarter rest right next to our chord, so if we're going to use MuseScore to make screenshots of chords, we need to increase the measure spacing. In the main menu, go here:
Style > Edit general style

(a dialogue window pops up)

Click "Measure" >  change "Spacing" from the default 1.30 to something like 5 > click OK (Save)

The score now looks like this:

Lot's of spacing for a good screenshot. Remove that grey box to the left by clicking inside it and pressing the "delete" key.

Now let's label the chord: click the C4 note and do the keyboard shortcut "Ctrl+k".

Type "C/D" and then click anywhere outside the blue box afterwards.

Now it's ready to be taken a screenshot of :)


sudo apt-get install canorus

Canorus actually starts you out with a blank 5-lined staff and you have to set it to a treble clef, then insert a new staff and set that one to a bass clef, which takes more work, but it's still pretty easy to use and looks really bare bones, which is good in one way because it's not filled with a bunch of rests, etc, but MuseScore does the job a lot quicker so I'm going to stick with MuseScore for now.

Denemo + Lilypond

I also reviewed Denemo (Lilypond gui) + Lilypond:
sudo apt-get install denemo lilypond

but denemo seemed buggy (it crashed several times while I was using it) and really difficult to understand and use, since I have no experience with lilypond. Don't get me wrong, Lilypond is probably the most powerful notation software, it just has a steep learning curve for beginners.

UPDATE 20130721

I just wrote a detailed tutorial about how to install LilyPond and create a compact/cropped, png screenshot of a simple musical phrase. It's actually quite easy and fast to do.


  1. Hello Nikleus,
    I found it very actual and specific. I'm always interested in the better known Musescore.
    Best regards
    Roberto Prandin

  2. LilyPond yields the best results for printout readability. You have to learn it, but oh boy is it worth it. You can import data from MusicXML files that programs like Finale and MuseScore can spit out, and tweak some things and clean up the code to avoid some errors. And voila! A score that instantly looks a million times better than these programs that try to tie engraving and playback together. Parts and scores can come from the same source and with tags you can choose what gets shown in parts and what gets shown in scores. You can see some of what can be done with LilyPond on this transcription from How To Train Your Dragon that I typeset, with fancy divisi parts and all:

    And of course, when it comes to synthesize orchestral stuff, none of these programs are sufficient sufficient enough, save for perhaps Notion. DAWs will always be better when it comes to fine-tuned playback.

    1. Yonsung, I don't doubt Lilypond is the most advanced, it just looks like a huge learning curve for absolute beginners. Also, like I wrote in my review, the Denemo gui/frontend for Lilypond seemed very unstable (but that says nothing of Lilypond, just poor programming of the Denemo program itself).

      Thanks for the link you posted--looks fancy :) Thanks also for the tip about Notion--I hadn't heard of it. I went to the site and found that it isn't free software. I use Ubuntu Linux and produce all my music with free software, but I'm sure Notion is a great program for those who are willing to purchase software.

      I use the LMMS DAW:
      and fine-tune things in Audacity if needed:

      Thanks for your comments :)

    2. @Yonsung Lee,

      I just wrote a detailed tutorial about how to install LilyPond and create a compact/cropped, png screenshot of a simple musical phrase. It's actually quite easy and fast to do:

  3. Thanks for your feedback Roberto, I just left you a comment on one of your videos and liked it :)

  4. Is it possible to use rosegarden as a lilypond editor?


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