Using MuseScore to create lead sheets

As I noted in an earlier post, I recently purchased Finale NotePad, the cheap-o version of this music notation software. I needed it to create some basic lead sheets for some new material that The Viper and His Famous Orchestra will be debuting at our summer shows for 2009. Lead sheets are a practice tool for bands working in a vernacular tradition — they typically include just a simplified version of the “head” melody of a song written out on a treble-clef staff, with chord symbols written above the staff (like what you’d find in a fakebook).

As a notation project, a lead sheet is a pretty simple creature and doesn’t require all the bells and whistles that someone doing, say, a full orchestral score would need from software. And I found NotePad pretty easy to figure out to quickly get a line of music down on paper. But because lead sheets are created for musicians who need it mostly as spot-check reference tool for practicing, and for musicians who may or may not be skilled readers of music, they do create there own demands on someone notating the music — mostly, demands for simplicity.

Some of these demands I found hard to meet with Finale NotePad. Most notably, I found I couldn’t get the line to break where I wanted it so that there’d be a nice, round, easy-to-read four measures per line  on the page. This doesn’t sound like a big deal – but it makes a lead sheet infinitely more useful as a practice tool if it can be set up this way.

On my earlier post, I noted this issue with NotePad and mentioned that I was going to be trying out an alternative, free and open source program called MuseScore. Well, within less than a day, I’d been contacted by two separate boosters of MuseScore with helpful advice and more. A David Bolton commented on my post, saying “MuseScore can add grace notes and double bar lines plus many more things that NotePad can’t do.” And then some superhero known only as “Lasconic” emailed me out of the blue, having voluntarily taken on the project of himself or herself inputting my lead sheet for “Heyse Latke” into MuseScore. As he/she writes:

I created a musicXML file from your pdf with an OMR software and open the musicXML with musescore. Then I modify it. The most recent prerelease of musescore has a plugin to break every 4 measures automatically. You can break where you want too of course. You can label the part with rehearsal marks, and use double barlines. I didn’t put any appogiatura, but it’s also possible. Not sure you’re playing a mandolin, I thought it was a ukulele. I didn’t change it neither but it’s possible as well. The result looks cleaner and beautiful, at least for my taste. Hope you like it! Tell me what you think and try musescore! It will be great to have your feedback on the forum:

And he/she is right: it is cleaner and beautiful. Take a look at:

Or the musescore file at:

I haven’t yet properly thanked Lasconic or written to the forum. But I have begun using MuseScore and am finding it to be absolutely perfect for my purposes. There are some issues with needing to download a supplementary midi pack to be able to play back some of the fuller, multi-staff scores I’m now also creating with it. But for creating basic lead sheets, it’s an easy-to-learn, simple-to-use program for creating very usable, professional looking stuff. I’m very impressed and happy with it.

8 thoughts on “Using MuseScore to create lead sheets”

  1. I’m using MuseScore for composition projects (choral music) and I’m loving it. Yeah, it has the occasional bug, but overall it is easy to use and the results are so nice to look at!

    1. Emily if you love it then I’m doing something wrong. Can you help me with a simple note entry method that actually puts notes on the paper one at a time with all the right characteristics ( 16th, natural F for the first) and then add a dotted 1/8 F# next to it with bar linking ending and not going on to the third note. I’ve spent hours learning this just barely works and then copying this ‘doublet’, pasting it and changing to and E,F# doublet just coulddn’t be done

  2. K.. well I may be the only guy over 65 still trying to get my songs published, I don’t know. First though, I feel i need to create lead sheets.
    With pencil and paper, I get something very hard to reproduce, mail, or fax. I need a nice editor. For me the process on paper is simple. step 1: get the staff on the paper. step 2: Put the notes on the paper. Musescore fails miserably at step 2. No point in going farther with it, is there? Could you give me a lead on a program that
    can put SINGLE notes on paper with the associated note characteristics, Natural, dotted etc. with a single mouse click? Sounds easy to me.. I guess it’s not since all the free programs fail in simple note entry. I finally got a doublet in 6/8 timing down on the paper, copied it and could not edit it, nor disconnect it from the first one. Why in the world should this be rocket science. I expected to drop the copy, edit the notes for the the second doublet and be on my way. FAILURE again.. time to scrap it ! Thank you for a lead to a program that can put notes on paper with a single click from a simple table of characteristics and change ANY single note with a click that brings up the table of characteristics for me to change and push enter to have the change made.

    1. Hey, Thank you. I’m afraid I’ve read this but I very much want to make this work soo… off to the tutes again. MuseScore is very impressive at the macroscopic level but when you get down to the microscopic level, I have found it to be counter-intuitive, clumbsy and even operable at single note entry or manipulation. Hope I’m wrong…

  3. Thank you for the interesting reading. 😉

    It is clearly stated in this reference, something I learned the hard way over a 12 hour period. MuseScore is broken.

    “The first is beaming an eighth to a sixteenth triplet. This is a common bebop idiom, but by default, MuseScore does not do this. So after entering the notes, you need to back up to the first note after the break you wish to remove, then open the Beam Properties palette and double-click the “Middle of beam” icon.”

    The author of this didn’t mention how very clumsy it is to enter the notes to start with.

    He also didn’t mention if you copy and paste your creation of a ‘6/8 doublet’, you won’t be able to change the scale value of the notes.

    Finally, while the beam is, indeed, very annoying, it’s not a show stopper.

    The real show stopper for me is the lame note entry method.

    Honestly, the only reason I can think of that the note entry is so lame is that the programmers are not creating new music of their own and trying to use MuseScore to provide the associated lead sheets.

    It’s not that MiseScore just absolutely won’t do this, because I did struggle my way through and find a way.. but.. After i copied the ‘doublet’, I couldn’t edit it after I pasted it leaving me with the very unsavory chore of fighting through the clumsy note entry at every ‘doublet’ with different notes each time. This is like having a program that is not only clumsy but stupid as well.

    Yes, admittedly, this sounds harsh. Sadly, the note entry methods of other free programs have mimicked MuseScore, or Vica Versa and that needs to stop.

    I would add this. ‘Doublets’ are very common to 6/8 music in general, and probly 2/3 and 4/8. Hmm..

    Could there be like one day of programming time available in the ranks to fix this ? A nice big red SCREAMING WARNING would have saved me a ton of time. Sometimes the best answer is the truth. “We only allow certain note entries of certain forms of music so don’t try using MuseScore as a general purpose program lead sheet creator as you will be sorely disappointed.”

    I’ve stated in other venues that using the note characteristics table to set up notes, as is described using the typing method, and then simply clicking the mouse to set the note on the page would be a wonder way to enter notes. Beyond this, selection of any individual note would pop up the note entry table, showing everything about the note including its scale value, any of which could be changed with a single click and then entered as the edited not with a the Enter key…

    Is there any money available to fix this otherwise very huge, powerful, probably all encompassing program to make it actually useful for daily work?

    Good luck with the project and please let me know if you decide to fix it. I will be at the front of the download line when it’s done.


  4. Cliff, MuseScore has a few thousand things that do work, and even your oddball requirements simply require a few extra mouse clicks from you – and all you can do is complain endlessly about how broken it is, along with every other free program? Way to look a gift horse in the mouth, dude!

    I recommend you go splash a few hundred bucks apiece on a few commercial music notation programs, searching for the magic one that gives you the warm fuzzies you crave, the one that can read your mind and figure out what you intend to put on paper without ever requiring more than one mouse click from you. Good luck with that.


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