To arrange music scores and to generate synthesised music when I do not have suitable recorded music nor access to a band, I use MuseScore on a MS Windows 7 PC. This is extremely capable and usable free software. It allows any number of instruments to be included in a score, and, as well as producing a printed score, it can render the music as a midi file or as an audio file, such as ".wav", using SoundFont instruments (see below).
There are a number of ways to enter a score:
The initial illustration on the right shows MuseScore with 'The Butterfly' in the process of being entered from Cecil Sharp's score. At this stage the melody for both the A and B music is in place along with the bass clef for the A music.
The second illustration shows the score with a 2 bar introduction inserted followed by 32 bars, played ABBA. Another instrument has been added (a second flute) for the lower set of notes shown in the treble clef of Sharp's score.
The MuseScore file which saves this score is
A few things about using MuseScore are worth noting:
A number of important controls for the sound of the music played through the computer speaker/head-phones, or output to an audio file, are under the main menu item:
Mixer allows the SoundFont instrument that is to be associated with each instrument in the score to be set up. It also provides controls for:
A peculiarity of these controls is that you have to click in the area of a control then drag the mouse up and down; you do not drag a control with a circular motion!
It should be noted that the relative volume of instruments heard when playing through the computer speaker/head-phones can be different to the volumes that are rendered in audio files that are generated. So it is sometimes necessary to keep a record of what changes have to made to the instrument volume controls before saving as a ".wav" or other type of audio file.
The example used here forms part of the complete music (file size 4.0 MB) for the dance "Butterfingers" which requires 5x32 bars.
The characteristics and quality of the sound produced by MuseScore through the computer speaker/head-phones or as an audio file (such as a ".wav" file) depend crucially on the SoundFont that is used. MuseScore can also produce output as MIDI instructions stored in a file (".mid") in which case the characteritics of the sounds will depend on the device or software that is subsequently used; this approach is not considered further here.
MuseScore is supplied with a relatively light-weight, general-purpose SoundFont
TimGM6mb.sf2. If you do not download any other ".sf2" files nor use Display→Synthesiser to change
the ".sf2" file that MuseScore employs, then you will probably default to using instruments from this file.
The are many sources for SoundFonts. A couple of free ones that have instruments of reasonable quality (for some, if not all, instruments) are:
Once you start paying for SoundFonts, there is a considerable selction available. For example:
I have yet to find a good fiddle instrument that sounds right for folk dancing in any of the SoundFonts that I have tried. If anyone can suggest one, I would be very pleased to hear from you (see Links & contacts page).
A useful utility is a program that allows selection of instruments from several SoundFont files to be copied into a new (personal) SoundFont file, so you can gather together a set of instruments and/or compare using different versions of instruments. Provided such a file is properly structured MuseScore will be able to use it. An example of such software is