MuseScore 4.1 released with engraving and performance improvements

Reviews

Earlier this month, Muse Group released version 4.1 of MuseScore, the free, open-source, desktop notation software, and today followed up with a maintenance update that has additional fixes, bringing the version number to 4.1.1. MuseScore 4.1 is the first feature-update since the enormous MuseScore 4 release at the end of 2022.

This update includes a number of new features: the ability to customize ornaments, harp pedaling, guitar capo, better dynamics, an upgrade to the playback engine, new auxiliary channel strips in the mixer, and more, as well as what MuseScore is saying is a “major improvement to the app’s performance”. I found MuseScore 4.0 to be quite stable on my computer, but I know from working with many students that this was not a universal experience, so I’m glad to see that this was a focus for the release.

Ornaments

Ornaments are one of several features of MuseScore that received a significant revision. In previous versions of MuseScore, it was a bit tricky (and potentially fragile) to give more detailed information about things like turns and trills.

Short trills and turns now have properties for the intervals above and below of a major or minor second, which can be shown with floating accidentals.

Short trill with options in the properties panel
Short trills like this have options for accidentals above the trill line; turns can have them above or below.

Long trills are even more robust, allowing any arbitrary interval up to an octave. Intervals beyond a second are automatically shown as parenthesized noteheads, which look great. Intervals of a second are shown with the accidental above the trill line only.

I do wish there was an option to show the trilled note in parentheses for seconds as well. A notable omission is the “HT” and “WT” shorthand for half-tone and whole-tone trills, which is somewhat common in specific genres.

Animation showing the results of various trill options
Long trills are more flexible, and can show either accidentals or a notehead for the trilled note.

The new ornament features are welcome, and the properties panel organization feels familiar to me coming from Dorico. Having said that, I am a bit frustrated by the apparent lack of global control for these properties (a frequent complaint of mine with MuseScore); Scoring Notes readers and podcast listeners know that I always advocate for changing the global setting for an element once, instead of adjusting it each time it appears in the score.

Harp pedaling

Harp pedaling is a highlight of the 4.1 release. A new widget, accessible from the Harp palette, shows an abstract representation of the seven harp pedals. I really like the way this looks and works, with the sharp accidentals being at the bottom to represent the lowered pedal position. From there, users can select whether they prefer the text or graphic representation of the pedals to appear in the score.

The harp pedal widget showing the graphic diagram with no sharps and flats
The handy harp widget provides options to set each harp pedal and select either the graphic or text display.

This tool — which is built-in directly to MuseScore 4.1 — is a distant relative of a plug-in that used to be available in MuseScore. Longtime MuseScore users may recognize it:

musescore-harp-1
The Harp Pedal Diagram plug-in in earlier versions of MuseScore; it’s an ancestor of the new built-in tool for MuseScore 4

The new widget is much fancier than its predecessor, though. After placing a harp pedal diagram in the score, any notes after that which are not possible with the current pedaling turn red, just like the out-of-range notes they are. This updates live as the user clicks around the pedal popover, which is just fun to play with. My favorite small detail here is that when I first place a new pedal marking, the widget starts out with the current pedal settings in the score, so I become acutely aware of the pedals that need to be changed. It’s a bit like playing a Trombone Champ-inspired harp video game (Harp Hero anyone?).

Animation of different harp pedal settings changing the note warnings
Updating the note warnings in real-time is its own fun little mini-game in MuseScore 4.1.

The harp pedaling tools represent a huge user interface win for the MuseScore team. It works exactly how you might imagine it to work. I know it’s not something that most users will use regularly, but those who need it will be quite pleased.

Guitar capo

Users who write for guitar will be pleased to see that MuseScore 4.1 brings back the correct playback of capo guitar, which was present in version 3.6 but dropped in 4.0. In addition to correctly transposing playback, there is a new capo popup widget, similar to the new harp pedal interface.

In the capo properties, it is now possible to set the capo at any fret, even including partial capo. The text of the capo instruction (including to remove capo) is generated dynamically, based on the toggles. And it’s possible to override this text if you have another way of describing the capo instruction.

Guitar capo tool showing capo on fret one for strings 1-5
The new capo tool allows the capo to be shown and played back very flexibly, including partial capos.

Notably, the capo feature doesn’t have quite the same guardrails that the harp pedaling feature has. While the harp pedaling steers users away from writing impossible-to-perform chords, the capo tool doesn’t offer any resistance to writing an impossible (or just extremely convoluted) partial capo, like fret 3 on strings 1, 3, and 6 but open on strings 2, 4, and 5.

Dynamics

There are some handy new features for common combinations of dynamics and expressive text. MuseScore 4.1 can treat instructions like “p dolce” or “ff subito” as a single unit.

The properties panel for a "p subito" object in the score.
The properties panel has expanded to offer some useful settings when dynamics combine with expressive text in MuseScore 4.1.

This becomes quite powerful when combined with new dynamics properties for avoiding barlines and centering — quite useful with longer expressive words. Since MuseScore knows which bit of the instruction is a dynamic and which bit is expressive, you can control the alignment to the note either by the dynamic alone or the whole object. MuseScore (correctly) defaults to optically centering the dynamic to the notehead.

The new positioning and alignment features of dynamics, like many other object properties, would be a welcome addition to MuseScore’s global Style menu rather than only being editable one item at a time.

Reverb and mixer

One of the most celebrated features of MuseScore 4.0 was the new instrument samples and playback system. The mixer was updated to look and behave much more like that of other modern audio software, in addition to supporting VST3 instruments as well as the new Muse Sounds.

Mixer interface showing the new Aux channel and other view options
The new aux channels in the mixer can be quickly toggled in the mixer’s view settings.

MuseScore 4.1 builds on this foundation by adding more control over audio effects and routing. There is a new default reverb module which can be adjusted on a per-track basis or globally. Additionally, a second aux channel can be added and used for any other effect you like, even VST3 effects.

Live braille

With the significant feature and interface overhaul that came in MuseScore 4.0, I suspect many users overlooked the addition of braille music export. Having prepared music for blind students several times over the last few years, I was very excited to see this addition.

MuseScore has had a form of screen-reader support for a long time, even prior to version 4.0. So a user not using a visual display could select a note and be told by a synthesized voice that it’s a “half-note G on beat one of measure eight” or something similar.

MuseScore 4.1 adds the ability for this to be expressed in the much more succinct music braille format. This can be shown on a refreshable braille display. (If you have seen the 2015 Netflix series Daredevil, you may have noticed Charlie Cox’s character using one.) Additionally, sighted users can turn on a live braille panel to see a visual representation of the current measure as braille dots (Preferences > Braille > Show braille panel). This allows screen-reader and braille users to engage with a much larger chunk of music at once compared to the rather verbose screen-reader-only system. And the visual representation of braille music can help sighted musicians learn and communicate more effectively with their blind collaborators.

highlighted measure of a score along with a highlight showing the live braille display (ironic alt text is ironic)
The live braille display shows the whole measure of the current selection in music braille dots.

There simply are not enough robust systems for braille-reading and staff-reading musicians to work together. And with much assistive technology, the target market is so small that the pricing needs to be astronomical to make the products sustainable. I believe the MuseScore team deserves much more credit than they’ve gotten so far for partnering with accessibility researchers and incorporating these tools into their free, open-source software.

Note: Live braille seems to not work currently with some braille displays on macOS, though the team is aware of the issue.

Web integrations

For many years, MuseScore.com has served as a way for users to share scores produced in MuseScore (much to the consternation of many copyright holders whose work was uploaded without permission). Recent versions of MuseScore (the desktop software downloadable from MuseScore.org) included tools for uploading directly to the service.

In 4.1, MuseScore allows MuseScore.com users to open their cloud scores directly from MuseScore. To do this, you’ll need to be on the Home tab and select “My online scores”. After making any changes, saving the file replaces that published score on the web. I found some odd quirks when working with older files that have been on the web for some time, but more recent files behave exactly as expected. Muse Group is aware of these issues with older files, so I imagine they will be worked out in the near future.

the new "My online scores" section of the home tab in MuseScore 4.1
The Home tab has a new section for scores that it can open directly from MuseScore.com.

Additionally, MuseScore 4.1 can connect to Audio.com, Muse Group’s audio sharing platform. You can think of it as MuseScore.com for audio, but it really reminds me more of SoundCloud than anything else (and it has many of the same copyright issues as SoundCloud and MuseScore.com). Audio sharing is a perfect feature to go with the improved audio features that MuseScore users have been enjoying for the last six months. I look forward to seeing how Audio.com grows.

The integration could not be simpler; from any project, going to File > Share on Audio.com will export and upload in one step.

Publish tab showing MuseScore.com and Audio.com options
The updated Publish tab offers Audio.com in addition to MuseScore.com.

This increased integration with web services not only presents Muse Group with a potential revenue source, since it can charge for the services connected to its free software, but it also has the potential to make that software more appealing through these integrations. The ease of sharing on MuseScore.com and Audio.com could be a significant selling point to the right sort of user.

Overall thoughts; availability

Also of note, this is the first MuseScore update under the leadership of new product owner Bradley Kunda, who takes over the role from Martin Keary (Tantacrul). Keary is now vice president of product at Muse Group, overseeing the all software and services from the company. I spoke with Martin and Bradley briefly at MOLA in Berlin this past June, and they told me that as Martin’s responsibilities on other projects grew — including the venerable audio software Audacity and Muse Group’s growing number of web services — it became apparent that someone else needed to take the primary responsibility for MuseScore. Bradley was an obvious choice, having been a MuseScore product designer for several years.

Bradley Kunda with Scoring Notes’ Philip Rothman at the 2023 MOLA Conference Tech Fair

In addition to the headline features discussed above, there are dozens of smaller issues addressed in the 4.1 release, which you can read about in the official forum post. There’s also a video summary of the new features. It’s great to see MuseScore addressing both large notation concerns and fiddly engraving details in this release, as well as leveraging Muse Group’s unique web services.

MuseScore 4.1.1 is free and available now. You can download directly from MuseScore.org (note: not .com!) or through Muse Hub.

Learn more

For the latest information about compatibility for Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, and MuseScore, as well as links to the latest news and reviews about product releases, please see the Scoring Notes Product Guide.

Comments

  1. Rafa Soares

    important update. Promise of improvement in sound banks. I’m still testing.

    1. David MacDonald

      If there were any significant improvements to the Muse Sounds samples, I did not hear them. When they’re good, they’re quite good, but there are some really weirdly balanced things, and some notes that are just plain out-of-tune (D4 in Violin 2 is awful).

  2. Joshua Pettus

    To change an element globally, you can right click on an item, go to the select menu, and choose to select all of that element or all of that element on a staff. Then you can change the properties. Is that a better system then other software? Idk, but I find it usable.

    1. David MacDonald

      I’m aware of this, and while it is useful, it’s still extremely limited compared to what is possible in other scoring applications.

    2. Joshua Pettus

      On the other hand, it doesn’t apply to new items. So that is definitely something that can be improved.

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