WYSIWYG music app makes a score

Musical inspiration may come from heaven, but once it arrives, you’d better record it or it’ll fly back to where it came from. MuseScore software lets you set down your music notation and compose (or at least create sheet music) on your computer.

Unlike some similar applications, MuseScore is true WYSIWYG software, which makes it easy to use. It’s widely available and accessible, running on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, and supports more than 20 languages in its software, documentation (including video tutorials and a Handbook), website, and forum. A growing community of users and contributors on musescore.org helps enhance all those elements and provides support. Those factors, and the fact that it’s free, have led people to download MuseScore more than half a million times to date, according to project leaders.

German developer and musician Werner Schweer started the project more than six years ago to combine his two interests. “At the time there was not much software available for this that ran under Linux,” he says. The first application he wrote that eventually became something useful was the MusE sequencer. He began to implement notation support in MusE, but “soon it became clear that it would be difficult to combine high-quality notation with a MIDI sequencer. As a consequence I remove the notation capabilities from MusE and started MuseScore, aimed solely at producing high-quality sheet music.

“In some sense MuseScore was created out of curiosity to find out how things work,” Schweer says. “It started with a proof of concept of a render engine, and a more sophisticated layout engine followed. Once the first version worked mostly as expected, I lost interest, and MuseScore development paused for some time. Eventually I started development again to make it a ‘real’ application and attract users and not only developers, motivated by positive user feedback and the nice people in Linux audio.”

Over the years the tools Schweer used to build the code changed. “MuseScore always tries to use the best tools available for the job, so the build tools changed one day from automake/autoconf to Cmake. The source repository changed from CVS to Subversion as soon as it was available on SourceForge. MuseScore is a cross-platform application thanks mainly to its use of the great Qt library.

“Since MuseScore was developed on an open source system (Linux) using open source tools and libraries, it was natural to release it also as open source. I benefited a lot from open source, not only for MuseScore but also for my work as a professional programmer, so this is also a way to give something back to the community.”

Though the application is nearing version 1.0, it’s by no means sitting on its laurels. Future versions will include support for guitar tabs and fretboards, which will make MuseScore instrument complete. You’ll also be able to give your scores a social life by saving them to musescore.com. From there, you’ll be able to share and embed your scores or even make mashups with YouTube.

With such ambitions, it’s a good thing that Schweer isn’t going it alone. Project CEO Thomas Bonte says 60 people were involved with the making of MuseScore 0.9.6, which is double the number that worked on 0.9.5. “We’re talking about developers, translators, documentation writers, video tutorial creators, designers, and more. All efforts are coordinated through musescore.org, which is the main reason behind the growth of the MuseScore project in general. Since the launch of that site in September 2008, MuseScore downloads have grown from 20 to 1,200 per day.

Musescore.org is built on Drupal, which gives us all the features we needed to grow: a multilingual forum, modules for crowdsourced translation, faceted search, issue tracking, collaborative handbook writing, fundraising monitor, and more.”

Despite all the hands on board, the project welcomes more help. Bonte says, “If your school uses MuseScore, let us know so we can place it on our map. We would really like to see someone take up the challenge of writing a MuseScore handbook in collaboration with a publishing company to promote it. And we could use more software developers to implement the many feature requests and fix incoming bug reports. We’d also like to set up a test framework to reduce regressions.”

Bonte says MuseScore offers many ways to get in touch. “Engage on the forum and tell the community what’s on your mind. There is also the #musescore channel on freenode.net, as well as Twitter and Facebook.”

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