Software for folk dance music scores and music synthesis

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MuseScore

Early screen shot of MuseScore
Entering a score into MuseScore
Play

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:

  1. Using the computer keyboard and mouse, which are also employed for subsequent edting.
  2. A midi file can be read.
  3. An add-in allows files in abc notation to be input.
  4. A midi keyboard can be used.
Later screen shot of MuseScore
MuseScore in use
Play

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:

  1. The large N (to the left of the set of notes of different durations) toggles between note entry mode (when depressed) and editing mode (as shown in the illustrations).
  2. There are a set of buttons Play controls to play a score through the computer speaker/head-phones using a SoundFont library of instruments (see below).
  3. 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 Display menu main menu item:

  4. MuseScore has no File→Export facility. Instead use File→Save As and choose one of the audio file types from the bottom of the "Save as type" drop-down list. Note that these types do not include ".mp3", so you have to produce another (uncompressed) type, such as ".wav" and then use other software to convert to ".mp3". Actually, producing this intermediate file may be useful as it can be manipulated using audio editing software such as Audacity to add leading and trailing silence, and other modifications. An example produced from the score for The Butterfly shown above is
  5. MuseScore has no scroll bars around its window. The part of the score in view is changed by placing the mouse on a blank area of the score and dragging. Although this works, moving around a large score can become tedious. The "Home" and "End" keyboard short-cut keys are useful.

The example used here forms part of the complete music (file size 4.0 MB) for the dance "Butterfingers" which requires 5x32 bars.

SoundFont

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 called, 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