Monday, March 9, 2009

Free Libre Music Notation Software Search Part 2

In Part 1 I introduced my search to upgrade from Melody Assistant to FLOSS, and I listed the main FLOSS Music notation software I found, together with the operating systems they run on. Since then I have installed the following:
  • Lilypond in Windows XP
  • MuseScore 0.9.4 in Windows XP
  • Denemo in Windows XP (0.8.2) and Ubuntu Linux 8.10 (Denemo includes Lilypond since it is a Lilypond GUI front end.)
  • Canorus 0.5 in Windows XP
My hope was to take a song I had entered into Melody Assistant (which I really have enjoyed over the years) and somehow pipe it through as many programs as required to come out the other end unharmed and ready to print. Alas, it was not that easy. The song did not yet have lyrics. It was a barbershop quartet song in four voices on two staffs (Youtube video here). Melody Assistant had trouble directing stem, note-head, accidental, and other mark traffic between the two voices on each staff, and it seemed to me I would be forever fine-tuning spacing if I didn't upgrade. This is what it looked like in Melody Assistant.

First Canorus 0.5. Canorus and I never did hit it off very well. The interface is pretty and inviting enough. It may be a great piece of software now or soon. But the task at hand was all about data transfer, and Canorus does not yet have any Import capabilities to speak of. Also, I was pre-conditioned by my reasearch to expectslow development from Canorus (though I see 0.7 was released March 10). Also on the bad side, Canorus file dialogs don't work properly with the Windows My Documents folder. I do like the promise of close interface with Lilypond including raw data file editing.

Second Denemo. My Ubuntu version was not as advanced as my Windows version 0.8.2. (Why do I experience this often with Ubuntu?). From the start, identical with Canorus, the file dialogs don't work right with Windows. The midi file from Melody Assistant did import, but not as well as with MuseScore 0.9.4. View scrolling didn't work well. It wasn't apparent how to get the midi playback to work in either Windows or Ubuntu Linux. I didn't go far with Denemo.

I finished my task with MuseScore 0.9.4. The midi file came in on four separate staffs, which I was not able (even with forum help) to combine into two. I had to re-enter two of the voices. In the process, I fell in love with the MuseScore entry keys. QWERTY A, B, C, D, E, F, and G enter notes, with MuseScore guessing the octave and CTRL+UP or CTRL+DOWN correcting octave mistakes. 10-key (or other) numbers and dot select note durations. S adds a slur, and + adds a tie, with SHIFT+RIGHT extending them further. With slight conditioning, I was moving right along in my note entry at a speed I never attained with Melody Assistant. I had wondered about their choice of keys (which I understand are customizable), but I ended up sold. Muse Score spaced all notes well before and after I added lyrics. It flipped stems well when I added the Lead part below the Tenor part on the Octava bassa (Treble) staff. Due to a strange glitch it didn't flip them when I added the Bass part below the Baritone part, so I had to flip the stem for each note or beam set individually using the "x" key and the arrow keys to advance. The final printed score looks great. I had to manually shorten only two beam sets due to conflicts with the lyrics, and it was a simple matter of double-clicking the beam to do this. I was disappointed with Muse Score's export to Lilypond. The lyrics didn't survive. Nor did the stem directions for the two-voiced staves. But Muse Score's native printing is admirable and sufficient for my present need. This (other than a MuseScore PNG export glitch) is what it looked like from MuseScore.

I will probably remember to try all three (Denemo, Lilypond, and Canorus) next time I have a task. And if I am in Linux more regularly at that time, I will also try Rosegarden.

If the developers are listening, my parting message to them this time is, "It's the data, buddy!" We want not only Libre software, but Libre Data. Please put emphasis on accurate imports and exports with Lilypond, MusicXML, and midi, or whatever you know is best (I don't). We write music to communicate, to share. Please let us do that by freeing your data.

Update March 21, 2009: MuseScore (not Muse Score or Musescore) appears to be the correct "brand" name.


lasconic said...

For sure, the better format to share music notation between scorewriter softwares is MusicXML. MusicXML has been designed for it.
MIDI is just a format storing : "at this time you have to play this pitch during X seconds". So no staff, measure, note, notehead, dynamics etc... in it.
Lilypond format has been designed to be the input format of Lilypond typesetter, so an easy to use and versatile language to code a score. But it's hard to parse by a computer. Hope it helps.

Thomas Gail Haws said...

It helps a lot, lasconic. I accept fully your explanations.

Question about Muse Score: Is Muse Score planned to be independent of Lilypond forever (unlike Denemo and Canorus)? I confess the idea of Lilypond teamwork appeals to me.

lasconic said...

has been a long time. But Musescore is not independent from lilypond. You can save as lilypond file. It's still beta but working good.