MuseScore Studio 4.3 adds new playback and engraving options

Reviews

Muse Group has released MuseScore Studio 4.3, their first update to the desktop notation software since it was formally announced that the product name would include “Studio” in it going forward.  This name change to MuseScore Studio not only clears up product confusion amongst the web and mobile based products bearing the same MuseScore name, but also helps users better see the role the desktop software has in this ecosystem as a supplier of user-generated content.

All sizzling branding aside, MuseScore Studio 4.3’s release is centered around enhancing playback and setting the table for future updates.

Playback

When MuseScore 4 was first launched alongside Muse Sounds (Muse Group’s in-house created instrument libraries) it was clear that creating high-quality playback of scores was a top priority. MuseScore Studio 4.3 is the most substantial update to this playback engine since, offering the ability to change options for a specific instrument’s playback at any time.  While some form of triggering certain techniques in playback have been available for quite some time (staccato, pizzicato, etc), this update brings a larger offering of new playback options especially for strings, harp, voice and percussion instruments.

Changing playback

Making a change to the default playback is remarkably easy and intuitive. Staff text is the vehicle to make any changes to playback. Simply add Staff text as you normally would by selecting a note and choosing “Staff text” in the Text palette, or dragging in Staff text from the Text palette to anywhere you’d like in the score. You’ll see a sound icon show up if an option to further change the playback exists.

The text palette in MuseScore Studio 4.3

Two other things to note about the Staff text playback feature:

  • For this release, only instruments in your score using Muse Sounds have the potential for an additional playback option to appear when adding Staff text.
  • The icon displayed prompting users that additional playback options exist does not print, export to PDF or show up when displayed on musescore.com

Strings

String instruments provide lots of unique playing techniques that have been captured in Muse Sounds.

Although pizzicato is also offered in Staff text, the current method using pizz. and arco options in the text palette to turn pizzicato on or off still work as they did before.  Using the arco text from the text palette will actually clear out any selections made via Staff text.

One small observation is that the snap pizzicato articulation does not yet automatically trigger the Bartok playback option, so you would need to add and hide Staff text in addition to the articulation symbol to make this playback as desired.

Harp

It’s worth mentioning the using Muse Sounds for harp playback now offers two options: Ord. (default) and pres de la table.  You may want to update the default text of pres de la table to “Près de la table” for a more formally correct look.

You have full flexibility to change how the text reads without affecting your selected playback. In this example below, an abbreviated option is shown. Like any other Staff text or element, you can toggle visibility on or off by typing v when the item is selected, so you can resume ordinary playback after the end of the line that has been added.

Voice

The Muse Sounds Choir library sounds even better with with the update in MuseScore Studio 4.3. It now allows you choose from three different phonemes in playback, as well as controls over vibrato.

Once added, it likely makes sense to toggle visibility off for any option selected here, so as to not compete with the lyrics. Adding lyrics alone will not automatically update the playback to the desired sound.

Percussion

In the video accompanying the release of MuseScore Studio 4.3, Bradley Kunda (the product owner for MuseScore Studio) teases us by remarking that significant percussion changes are coming soon in a future release. For any MuseScore Studio user that needs to work with percussion, this will come as a big relief! The MuseScore Studio 4.3 update most certainly sets high expectations for that eventual update.

There are a significant amount of playback options around implements and techniques commonly used with specific percussion instruments now available, and the playback quality from the Muse Sounds samples are outstanding.

A sample of percussion options in MuseScore Studio 4.3

Other instruments

While the bulk of the changes apply to instruments shown above, there are some notable new options provided elsewhere, too:

  • Flute – Overblown and non-vibrato
  • Oboe – non-vibrato
  • Bassoon – non-vibrato
  • Trumpet – shake

Engraving

The star of MuseScore Studio 4.3 is obviously the addition of playback options, but there are some new and useful engraving options included too.

Hiding clefs and key signatures

Perhaps the acquisition of Hal Leonard (who publishes the jazz staple Real Book series) fast-tracked this feature development; but regardless of why, hiding clefs and key signatures to create a Real Book-styled lead sheet has never been easier in MuseScore Studio. The promotional video accompanying this release also points out how this feature is helpful when creating contemporary guitar scores as well, which certainly benefits the flagship Muse Group product Ultimate Guitar.

The settings to hide clefs and key signatures after they are first seen are easily found in the Style area. (Format > Style… > Clefs, key and time signatures)

This new hiding feature helps you to quickly create this look on a lead sheet that was previously quite time consuming to recreate in the same way.

Before (left) and after applying settings to hide clefs and key signatures after first seen

Guitar TAB

MuseScore Studio 4.3 brings new guitar tablature settings for ties and continues the significant upgrades in guitar notation that began in the version 4.2 release.

Here is a selection with guitar TAB using the default setting of showing both ties and repeat fret markings.

By updating the newly offered tie settings in the style area within MuseScore Studio (Format > Style… > Tablature), you have several different options you can use with the different combination of displays and parenthesis options.

In this example, the beams and stems have been removed as well separately in the tablature. To be clear, this is not a new feature, but if you’d like to do this:

  1. On the TAB staff, right click for Staff/Part properties
  2. In Staff/Part properties select Advanced style properties…
  3. In the Advanced style properties select the Note Values tab
  4. Switch the Shown as: setting from “Stems and beams” to None

The result of these updated tie settings now appears this way.

This update now makes it easy to implement changes to tie settings in tablature depending on the situation and your personal display preferences.

MuseScore.com

While this release aims to distinguish the desktop software as MuseScore Studio, it also includes attention to new features available on content sharing site MuseScore.com. Since the release of MuseScore 4, you can save scores locally on your machine or in the cloud, and sharing scores to MuseScore.com has been around much longer than that.

Muse Group has always encouraged users to share their work with the community. By mentioning these new web features as part of a MuseScore Studio release, it appears that Muse Group wants to further incentivize MuseScore Studio users to bring the content they create into MuseScore.com.

Versioning

MuseScore Studio does not offer versioning within the desktop application without exporting a separate .mscz file each time to accomplish this. However, if you elect to save your scores to the cloud, or publish your score to MuseScore.com for public consumption, you can now see any past versions that you have previously saved on MuseScore.com.

Sharing

When sharing to MuseScore.com, you can designate the score as public, private or unlisted. Previously, unless a score was public, it was not something you could share with others using MuseScore.com, but a recent update to MuseScore.com allows you to invite others to view private and unlisted scores.

This feature has similar feel to it as Sibelius’s Cloud Sharing service where you want to give access to a score to someone who may not be a MuseScore Studio user, or someone who wants to do a quick review without involving a deep dive and needing to edit the file.

The Invite to view option on MuseScore.com

Other updates

Reset to default layout

After importing a MusicXML file or perhaps opening an older MuseScore file, you might want a fresh start on the positioning, music font, text fonts/sizes, etc of the score. Format > Reset entire score to a default layout is a great way to quickly accomplish this task.

Bug fixes

MuseScore Studio 4.3 includes a major update to MusicXML import functionality, along with ongoing bug fixes. Some of these include fixing:

  • A bug for retaining selections when selecting multiple notes and adding intervals
  • A Windows bug where slurs from grace notes could disappear in parts if copy/pasted
  • A mouse sensitivity issue when selecting objects some users reported
  • A situation that could cause hairpins in a score to disappear from corresponding parts.
  • Lines associated with tempo changes (rit. / accel.) not being able to be dragged past certain measures in some situations.

Observations

MuseScore Studio 4.3 is an impressive release, especially considering it comes with the messaging that if you like 4.3, you’re going to love 4.4. While the new options are impressive and useful in their own right, it is evident that this release is about preparing the MuseScore Studio infrastructure for other libraries beyond Muse Sounds.

Muse Group also owns StaffPad, who has offered popular 3rd party libraries for years in the StaffPad store within the app. Muse Hub is possibly heading in that direction as a destination for users to purchase libraries that can be enjoyed across different Muse products beyond MuseScore Studio. With these updates in MuseScore Studio 4.3, users will eventually be able to tap into specific presets that tie back to the specific library they want to use.

A comparison with NotePerformer

With 3rd party instrument libraries seemingly on the horizon for Muse Hub, this is a good opportunity to offer some first thoughts to how this might look in comparison to the NotePerformer Performance Engine (NPPE) which supports automatically mapping the playback of scores to a select menu of VST3 instruments in Dorico, Sibelius and Finale.

Purchase process of 3rd party libraries

It’s too early to tell how this would look in terms of how libraries are sold for use in MuseScore Studio. This could look more like NotePerformer’s approach, where the goal is to make use of existing libraries you own for an additional fee to use NotePerformer’s playback engine.  StaffPad — another Muse Group product — uses “StaffPad Editions” of popular libraries like Berlin Series from Orchestral Tools and Cinesamples, which are sold for a fraction of the full retail price — but can only be used in the app. This could possibly be the angle if the libraries are sold directly on Muse Hub.

To add more to the calculus, Muse Hub is a central location to easily add new features and functionality into both MuseScore Studio and Audacity via Muse Sounds and Muse FX. At the moment, Audacity does not yet support much in the MIDI realm, but that could change in the future. One could envision a future in which purchasing a VST instrument via Muse Hub would make it available for use in both MuseScore Studio and Audacity.

NotePerformer requires you to first purchase the VST directly from the company producing the library, and then charges you to integrate that library with NPPE. It’s a very reasonable way to quickly use one or two libraries with notation software, but this can start to add up in cost for users. It’s a good fit if you plan to use the full version of the library with a DAW, as the library is the same one that can be used outside of NPPE, as well as if you use multiple notation products, since you need only get the NPPE engine once for use across Dorico, Finale, and Sibelius. But it’s not as great of a value proposition if you only want to access a particular library with NPPE for use in one particular notation software product.

NotePerformer Playback Engine and some supported third-party NPPE-compatible libraries

Ideally, I would like to see Muse Group not follow the NPPE model. Instead, I’d prefer them offering a MuseScore Studio Edition for sale via Muse Hub that would bring down the cost substantially for users who only want access to the library while using MuseScore Studio. If Audacity later supports MIDI fully in a way that a professional-use DAW would, perhaps selling the full version of the library directly via Muse Hub could allow access in both MuseScore Studio and Audacity, but there should always be an option for a more lightweight version of the library designed for use in MuseScore Studio only.

Muse Hub

Playback in NotePerformer vs. MuseScore Studio

Both NotePerformer and MuseScore Studio use a mix of notation and text to trigger different playback options on a selected instrument, but there are differences in how this looks with techniques indicated by text.

For example, when using NotePerformer with Sibelius, there are stock variations of text that can trigger col legno using different variations of case and words. Typing “col legno”, “Col legno” and “col legno battuto” will all trigger the playing back a violin as col legno.  If you choose to abbreviate it to “c.l.” to conserve space, this will not trigger playback. You can then write “col legno” as plain text and hide it as a solution or add “c.l.” to the playback dictionary mapped to col legno if you think you might use that again in the future. Both are easy to do, and in most cases it is nice that you can just write music as you normally would and NotePerformer takes care of connecting the text to a corresponding playback effect without needing you to do anything else.

The same situation of using col legno in MuseScore Studio looks a bit different. Once Staff text has been added, MuseScore Studio requires you to make a selection each time by first clicking the sound icon next to the staff text to see your options, and then selecting the playback option you want to hear. MuseScore Studio will not automatically enable any playback option based on what you type. So, if you type add Staff text, type “col legno” and then do not select the playback option, nothing changes in your playback.

Not reacting to the inputted text may appear to be only a negative, but there are some very big upsides here. If you do select “Col Legno” from the offerings after clicking on the sound icon, it will pre-populate your staff text saving you from having to type anything. Also, after selecting an option, any variation in text you want will still trigger the playback without requiring any workarounds to accomplish this. Finally, I like that you can quickly see a menu of available options you may not have known were available to you, without digging around elsewhere to try to find out this information.

Additional thoughts

Ideally, MuseScore Studio could borrow a bit of NotePerformer’s approach in a future update and intelligently connect playback to text based on a lot of common ways a particular technique is indicated. This would be enormously helpful with things like MusicXML imports, so you wouldn’t have to go through each text element and select the corresponding playback option manually.

MuseScore Studio recommends 16GB of RAM to operate the software with Muse Sounds, but NPPE recommends 32 or 64GB of RAM for most of the libraries it is compatible with. This kind of processing power can also be an additional barrier to entry for users who may not have equipped their computers with this power. It should be noted that the included NotePerformer sounds are very lightweight, and require only 4GB of RAM as a system requirement.

Both NotePerformer and MuseScore Studio handle the playback of notation extremely well. Some differences in the quality of the outputted audio can be experienced using either software depending on the instrument being played and the exact phrase being performed. MuseScore users had previously missed some of the more advanced playback options found in NotePerformer, but MuseScore Studio 4.3 bridges this gap when running Muse Sounds — and reminds us there is much more to come in the process.

Availability

MuseScore Studio 4.3 is free and available now for Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download it directly from MuseScore.org (note: not .com!) or through Muse Hub.

Learn more

For full coverage of MuseScore Studio 4, please read our comprehensive reviews of MuseScore 4, MuseScore 4.1, and MuseScore 4.2.

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. Frank Gregorio

    I would love to use MS 4.3 instead of MS 3.62. However, it appears there is still a MAJOR omission in 4.3.

    I use hairpins and dynamics symbols constantly in adapting existing songs to MS sheet music. They influence how the song is played using the virtual mixer/player. Frequently, existing songs will swell a measure for 1/2 of the bar (<), then de-swell the measure (<). The amount it is swelled or de-swelled can be chosen in MS 3.62 by simply editing the "velocity" values in the hairpin inspector. So if I want the instrument to swell by 8 points of volume via the hairpin, all I have to do is enter the # 8 in the velocity portion of the inspector. Ditto for de-swelling it. Likewise, dynamics marks such as "p", "mp", "mf", etc. can be changed in velocity the same way. Since my adaptations try hard to mimic the actual song's nuances, I use hairpins and intermediate dynamics marks constantly to change the volume of every instrument or voice.

    MS 4.3 still does not allow volumes of hairpins or notes to be edited. The "Playback" menu is still blacked out. Although they promised to make the changes, I have not seen it. MS 3.62 does allow both hairpins and dynamics to be fined tuned via the velocity menu in playback. So …

    Any word on this?

    1. Steve Morell

      Thanks for this comment Frank. The switch to MS4 came with a bunch of feature regressions as a result of such large changes in the infrastructure of the software that are well documented (and includes velocity issues in the list here).
      https://musescore.org/en/node/334701

      Whether to update is of course 100% to you when you feel the time is right, but I can offer a workaround that would let you take advantage of all the great stuff in MS4 now available from an engraving/UI prospective.

      Muse Sounds do not react to any velocity changes you set, but you can still set playback to MuseScore Basic Sound Fonts as you have in MS3 when in MS4. Once you do that, you can select a note or group of notes and in the Properties Playback options, change the velocity. You can then uncheck “Play” on the hairpin or dynamics and use the velocities to fine tune your playback to your liking.

      Hope that might help and bridge the gap until it is resolved. If I had to guess I think this will be all handled using automation of elements like volume, expression, pan, etc. down the road to more resemble a DAW so I’m not it will necessarily be restored to how it worked in MS3, but who knows.

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