Talking about music notation software design and development

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Music notation design and development go hand-in-hand with creating quality output. As David MacDonald, my co-host on our Scoring Notes podcast, put it: “It would be possible to make a really beautiful, usable application that produced really terrible scores, and it would also be possible to create a really terrible application that produced really beautiful scores. The goal is to put all those things together into a beautiful application that produces beautiful scores.”

That thesis forms the crux of our fascinating discussion on this week’s podcast episode with Daniel Ray and Martin Keary from Musescore. Martin, who is well-known in the music notation software community by his alter-ego Tantacrul and his substantial following on YouTube and elsewhere, told us about making his popular videos and how those critiques of software programs eventually took him from working at Microsoft to being the head of design at Musescore.

Clockwise, from top right: Philip Rothman, Daniel Ray, Martin Keary, and David MacDonald

“It’s a designer’s dream,” Martin said. “An app, with this size of an audience, that needs quite a bit of improvement — there’s so many obvious ways that it can be improved — not to mention that it’s a composition app, which is literally my favorite thing in the world. It couldn’t be more perfect. And also, I think, any of the other apps that are out there, while I’d be of use as a professional, I wouldn’t be of as much use, because they already have their patterns and audiences. They’re a lot more established and have a stable road map. Musescore is very different — it needs all kinds of improvement and change — it’s a perfect dream job for a designer, I think.”

Daniel talked to us in his capacity as director of product strategy about the open-source community powering the product and the way Musescore aligns with the goals of Ultimate Guitar, which has acquired the software.

“Ultimate Guitar is notation. Tablature is notation. Lead sheets, chord sheets — they’re notation — it’s all the same thing,” Daniel said. “There is a community that is already out there around notation that was really well-aligned with Musescore and Ultimate Guitar. Ultimate Guitar, looking for areas to expand, it was quite obvious to expand in other areas from tablature and chord sheets to standard notation.”

The Musescore team is rewriting much of the app for the eventual Musescore 4 release, which is planned for some time early in 2021.

Together we all have a collective nerd-out about the user experience in not just Musescore, but all music notation software products, and get back to basics:

Whether or not you’re a Musescore user, you’ll find this episode to be chock-full of discussion and opinions about how music notation software is designed, the quality of its output, and the trends in the industry.

If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe to the Scoring Notes podcast on your favorite service and check out the rapidly-growing back catalog.

More episodes are on the way. And please rate us and give us a review. It really helps!

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