Rich: I recently spoke with Thomas Bonte and Nicolas Froment about the MuseScore project.
As the name suggests, MuseScore is musical software for the creation and editing of musical scores. It has a wide variety of tools for creating scores with multiple instruments, multiple voices, inserting lyrics, and all sorts of related functionality.
So here’s my conversation with Thomas and Nicholas.
Rich: I’ve been playing with MuseScore this morning and, I have to say I’m really impressed with it. I remember about 10 years ago looking for some exactly like this. A friend of mine was working with a small choir, and he was looking for a way to do this sort of score creation. We couldn’t find anything all. This would have been perfect at the time and it’s a very impressive piece of software.
Are you two the whole team or is there a larger team of developers working on this?
Thomas: There’s one more person who is missing. His name is Werner Schweer. He comes from Germany. He’s the lead developer of MuseScore, and he started with it in 2002, or something like that. So we are nine years, actually almost 10 years later. And now we have a contributor community of one hundred fifty people, or even more. Those are people contributing code, or translations, or documentation, or graphics, and so on and so on. So it’s quite a lot of people now.
Rich: I saw on the website a map of schools that are using this. What kind of stories do you have about people using this in instruction?
Thomas: Actually we don’t know that much about schools using MuseScore, other than, well, they just installed the software on their PCs or or even 100 PCs, or even more, and then they use it with the students. We do have some feedback sometimes. Some teachers shared a video with us while he was teaching MuseScore, but other that that it’s sometimes a lot of mystery for us how MuseScore is being used within classrooms. So other than the map, we don’t have that much feedback actually.
Rich: I’m always interested to see how open source is used specifically in education directly with the students. Do you have any of those students come back and participate in the community after having experienced the software?
Thomas: Yes. So, obviously, we have quitea vibrant community website on the MuseScore.org. We see lots of people asking questions there. But it’s not so much about the use-case being student or being teachers, just about while asking how the software works for doing this or doing that. So far we have, like, 20,000 people registered on MuseScore.org. The forum is very lively, so people by now know if they have a problem, they can post it, and within one hour they have answers. So that’s really great. The live support is probably one of our strongest points and that’s something that people don’t expect of Open Source software. They expect that they won’t be able to get support, and as soon as they have tasted the support, the live support of the community, it’s like, whoa, it’s super great. That’s one of the points we really excel on.
R I was looking for sheet music that I could download, and I found a lot of classical music that is in the public domain but do you see people using this for original composition as well?
Thomas: Yes, for both actually. Composition as well as for transcribing existing music by ear or copying it from paper, like lots of public domain stuff. It’s hard to say what the distribution is between the three of them, but we almost say it’s kind of equal. Mostly people who have their sheet music on paper, they want to do one thing, and it’s transpose. So they copy it over into MuseScore and transpose. Lots of music composition students who want to share the stuff online and get feedback on how they can improve and so on, and then people just transcribing by ear because they don’t have sheet music, and mostly these are teachers who want to transcribe and pass on the music to students. These are the three big groups that use MuseScore.
Nicholas: Maybe another one is … a lot of people arranging for choir, and glee, and marching bands, and churches. A lot of people use it in churches.
Rich: Are the two of you musicians yourselves?
Nicholas: Sure. I’m a drummer.
Thomas: I’m a piano player, and our lead developer is a piano player as well.
Rich: So you all are developing this for your own personal use, then?
Nicholas: Yes, sure.
Rich: What sort of things are planned for future versions of the software?
Thomas: For MuseScore … what we call 2.0, it’s the next major release, we plan to broaden up our market a bit, in the sense that we don’t have the guitar players right now, because guitar players, a lot of them use tablature. Tablature will be supported in MuseScore 2.0. That’s obviously a large chunk of the market.
And then, on the other side, we also want to get a bit more into the high-end, and those are people composing or transcribing big orchestral scores, and for them we have linked part editing, which means that you can just edit one specific part while the full orchestral score just follows along if you want. So you have it all in and one score you can easily edit your whole orchestral score.
We cover all kinds of instruments and all kinds of instrument players, so MuseScore 2.0 is about targeting everyone. That’s the main goal for MuseScore 2.0.
Nicholas: Something we want to do as well is make it look nicer. Make a better design of the UI. We haven’t gotten complaints, but some people say it doesn’t look good. Or not good enough.
Thomas: We have to compete with commercial software, and of course commercial software like Sibelius and Finale are our biggest competitors, and they are in the market already 20 years now. So we’re still pretty young, and in order to appeal to all people, we have to make the software even more easy to use, and the UI and UX is something that we have to work on. And as often with Open Source, that’s something that doesn’t happen magically, like what is happening with the code itself. So we might have to push a bit on that. That means paying a designer. So if there are designers listening along and wants to help us on this, we might just start a KickStarter project, and raise some money from the community and pay a designer with it, because so far in all these years we haven’t had a professional designer stepping on board and trying to make the software better.
Rich: When someone is entering a piece of music what are the different ways that one can enter that music? Obviously you can edit it on the screen but there is a MIDI interface as well, is that correct?
Nicholas: That’s correct. You can do it with a mouse, you just click on the lines or between the lines, to put your notes. You can do it with the keyboard of the computer as well. You press the notes, C, D, E, F, and so on. And there are some shortcuts to change the octave, and move the notes on different lines. And you can do it with a MIDI keyboard. When you do it with a MIDI keyboard. When you do it with a MIDI keyboard, some people expect that you just play, and the music display on the screen magically. This is not the case. You play the chords, or you play the notes, and you change the rhythm with the computer keyboard.
Thomas: That’s called step entry mode.
To add something to your question of what’s next for the future – a the moment, MuseScore is a desktop app. It’s kind of limited, if you see that the mobile stuff is just taking off rapidly now. And so one of things that we envision as well for the future is that we bring MuseScore not only to mobile, but also to the Web. From the desktop, to the Web, to mobile, and launch some kind of hub. Actually last year we launched MuseScore.com, and it’s a sister website for MuseScore.org, where all MuseScore users can make an account and upload their sheet music to, and then share with the people they want to share with, and of course having all the sheet music in their proper account on MuseScore.com, could also be able then to load it into their mobile devices. Currently we’re making mobile applications for IOS and Android, and more is to come. And software is Open Source as well. So this is in fact a call to developers – if you want to make an app using sheet music, than they could use a library within the MuseScore project, which they can just use inside their own application in order to display the sheet music, to play it back, to transpose it, to play a few parts, and so on and so on. So that’s something for the future as well.