Learning MuseScore

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by Maxwell Shinn | September 2013 |

In this article by Maxwell Shinn, the author of Instant MuseScore, we will learn how to enter notes and rhythms into our score, copy and paste measures, how to create chord symbols, and how to change the beaming patterns to enhance the readability of our score.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Entering notes

In order to enter notes into our score, we need to enter Note Entry mode. MuseScore has various modes that we can use to accomplish special tasks. You can enter Note Entry mode by clicking on the N button in the toolbar. You can tell whether you are in Note Entry mode at any given time by checking whether the N button is depressed. You may also enter/exit Note Entry mode by pressing the N key.

After you enter Note Entry mode, the quarter note should be selected by default. If you hover over the staff, you should see a light blue outline of a note appear. Clicking here will cause a quarter note of that pitch to be inserted. In the toolbar, you will see several notes of different lengths, such as half notes, eighth notes, and whole notes. This area is called the Note Entry toolbar, and indicates which note will be inserted when you click on the staff. Right now, the quarter note should be selected. Click on the half note, and then click an area of the staff on top of the rest that is immediately after the quarter note we just inserted. A half note of the pitch you chose will be added.

In MuseScore, whenever we add notes, we must overwrite other notes. First, we overwrote a whole rest with a quarter note, which caused three beats of rest to be added after the quarter note. Then, we overwrote a quarter rest with a half note. Since the half note was longer than the quarter rest, it also overwrote one beat from the half rest following it, and changed the rest to a quarter rest to accommodate the size of the half note.

To add an accidental, simply insert the note without the accidental, and then press the appropriate accidental button in the toolbar. For example, let's insert an F eighth note. We click on the eighth note button, then on the F line of the staff, and finally on the sharp button in the toolbar.

We can insert dotted notes in a similar fashion by using the dot button on the Note Entry toolbar. In the next measure, let's add a G dotted quarter note by clicking on the quarter note in the Note Entry toolbar, then clicking on the dot button, and then clicking on a G in the staff. The dot will stay selected after you insert the note. If you would like to deselect the dot, you can click on it again. It is also automatically deselected when you change the note duration. Thus, you should always select the dot after you select the value of the note you would like to be dotted.

It is possible to notate more quickly using keyboard shortcuts. The number keys 1 through 9 will select different durations, and the letters A through G will insert the designated note. The 0 key inserts a rest. Inserting notes this way will always insert the closest note with the desired pitch. If you hold Ctrl (or on Mac) while pressing the up or down arrow keys, MuseScore will move the last note you inserted up or down an octave. So, inserting a C half note and moving it up an octave can be accomplished by pressing the sequence 6 C Ctrl + ↑. Notes can be adjusted by a half step by pressing the up or down arrows without holding the Ctrl key. Hitting the up arrow will always create sharps, and the down arrow creates flats. This allows us to insert an F eighth note with the keystroke sequence 4 f ↑.

While at first the keyboard shortcuts may seem complicated, as you get the hang of MuseScore, it is worthwhile to learn them. They will allow you to notate music extremely quickly and make your overall experience with MuseScore much more pleasurable.

Making chords is also very straightforward. We just click on top of our previously inserted note after selecting a note of the same value. Be careful! If a different note length is selected, it will overwrite the previous note.

Chords can also be inserted rapidly with keyboard shortcuts. Just start by inserting the first note of the chord normally. If you would like to insert a note of the chord above the previous note, hold Alt and press the interval above the previous note you would like to insert. To insert it below, hold Shift and do the same. Notes are always inserted in the present key signature. So to insert a C first inversion chord, press the sequence E Alt + 3 Alt + 4, or to insert a C second inversion chord, press the sequence G Alt + 4 Alt + 3. Alternatively, after inserting the first note, you can hold Shift and type the letter names of the notes to add to the chord. So pressing the sequence G Shift+C Shift+E would insert the same C second inversion chord.

If you ever make a mistake, you can always undo your latest changes by going to the Edit menu and selecting Undo. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Z (or + Z on Mac).

Let's put some notes and chords in some measures for both the trombone and piano parts so that we have something to work with.

Inserting triplets

To insert a triplet, first enter Note Entry mode. Then, from the Note Entry toolbar, choose the total duration that you would like all three triplets to sum to. Next, insert the first note of the triplet in the position you would like the triplet to occupy. After this, exit Note Entry mode, and from the Notes menu, under the Tuplets submenu, click on the Triplet option. A triplet will be created with the selected note as the first note. MuseScore will automatically enter Note Entry mode for you again, and select the correct duration of note needed to complete the triplet. From here, you can replace the two rests with notes by inserting the correct notes on top of them, as we did when we entered notes previously.

Also, there is a keyboard shortcut to make this process easier. While in Note Entry mode, select the proper duration you would like the entire triplet to be, as before, but then hit Ctrl + 3 (or + 3 on Mac). The triplet will be inserted, and the proper note duration to fill in the triplet will be selected. You can now enter the notes of the triplet as you would enter normal notes. For instance, to insert a triplet arpeggio of an F major triad totaling one beat, we would press the sequence 5 Ctrl + 3 F A C. For a B major triad totaling two beats, we would similarly press 6 Ctrl + 3 B DF ↑.

Inserting ties

Ties are very easy to create in MuseScore. The simplest way to insert a tie is to insert both of the notes that you want to be tied together, exit Note Entry mode, click on the first note, and then click on the tie button in the toolbar, or press the + key. Make sure the two notes you are trying to tie together have the same pitch, or no tie will be inserted. This method works for individual notes, and also for chords. In order to have flexibility when tying chords, you must tie each note of the chord individually if you want the full chord to be tied. An easy way to do this is to ensure that you are not in Note Entry mode, hold Shift, click on the first note of the first chord so that the whole chord is selected, and press the + key. Again, for this to work, you must have two chords with identical pitches next to each other.

If you are working with keyboard shortcuts, then there is also a faster way to enter ties that does not require the use of the mouse. After you enter a note in Note Entry mode, the note you just entered will be selected, and the cursor will be located on the right-hand side of this note, as shown in the following screenshot:

Then, using the appropriate keyboard shortcut, select the duration of note you would like this note to be tied to. Finally, press the + key. MuseScore will insert a note of the selected duration tied to the previous note. So, pressing the sequence 5 C 4 + will insert a quarter note C tied to an eighth note. While this method is extremely convenient for single notes, it does not work for chords.

Often, it is necessary to flip the tie for visual appeal, especially when tying chords. This can be accomplished by ensuring that you are not in Note Entry mode, clicking on a tie, and then pressing the X key.

Even though ties look very similar to slurs in many situations, they are created differently. Slurs will be discussed later.

Copying and pasting

Suppose that we would like to repeat a measure in the bass line, or that the next measure in the melody is very similar to the previous measure. As in a word processor, we can copy and paste measures and fragments of music.

First, let's copy and paste a measure. Exit Note Entry mode by ensuring the N button in the toolbar is not selected. Then, click on a portion of the measure where no notes are present. The measure should be selected, as indicated by the blue box around it. Now, either go to the Edit menu and click on Copy, or press Ctrl + C ( + C on Mac). The measure will be copied to the clipboard. Now, click on a portion of the target measure without any notes, and either click on Paste from the Edit menu, or press Ctrl + V ( + V on Mac). The notes will be inserted, and the target measure will be overwritten.

It is also possible to copy any portion of your score, even if it spans partial measures or multiple staves. First, click on the note at the top-left of the region you want to copy. In the following example, this would be the E♭ in the right hand. Then, press and hold the Shift key, and click on the note at the bottom right corner of the region you would like to copy. Here, that would be the D in the left hand. MuseScore will select all of the notes in between.

Once you have selected the region, you can copy it in the same way you copied the measure before. To paste the region, click on the first note or rest in the uppermost stave where you would like to paste it, and paste as we did with a single measure using either Ctrl + V or Paste from the Edit menu. If your selection has different measure breaks or is in a different meter than the destination, the selection will be reflowed to fit the destination, and ties will be added as necessary.

Inserting and deleting measures

Often, it is helpful to insert or delete a measure in your score. Luckily, MuseScore makes this extremely easy. To insert a measure, select the measure (as we did when we copied a measure) immediately after the location where you would like to insert the measure. Then, go to the Create menu, and under the Measures submenu, select Insert Measure. A measure will be inserted. To insert multiple measures, select Insert Measures. A dialog box will prompt you for how many measures to insert.

If you would like to add measures to the end of the score, you can select Append Measures from under the Measures submenu within the Create menu. There is no need to select any measures to perform this operation.

To delete measures, simply select the measure by clicking any blank area within the measure, and then go to the Edit menu, and click on Delete Selected Measures. Doing so will delete this measure position within all staves, not just the selected staff. You can also select multiple measures (as we did earlier when we were copying by selecting one measure, holding the Shift key, and selecting additional measures), and use the same menu button to delete all of the measures that you have selected.

Chord symbols

In jazz and popular music, it is very common to give musicians chord symbols to read from. To create a chord symbol, make sure you are not in Note Entry mode, and click on a note that you would like to add a chord symbol to. Then, either go to the Create menu, go to the Text submenu, and select Chord Name, or press Ctrl + K ( + K on Mac). A text box should appear that looks exactly like the ones we saw before. Now, you can type the name of the chord in the same way you would write it on paper. (For example, D minor would be Dm, and a G7 chord would just be G7.) All lowercase b characters will be converted into flat signs, and all # characters will be converted into sharps. To move to the next location in the measure, press the space bar. If you press the space bar repeatedly, you will move forward without inserting any chords.

Now that our chords are inserted, we can optionally make them look stylized. To do this, go to the Style menu and click on Edit General Style. Then, click on the Chordnames option on the left-hand side. You should see a textbox appear on the right-hand side containing the text stdchords.xml. Change this to jazzchords.xml, and then press OK. The chords you entered should be appropriately stylized.

Many styles of notation, especially within jazz music, use chord symbols and slashes to indicate improvisation. To create these slashes in MuseScore, insert four quarter notes on the middle line of the staff. Then, after exiting Note Entry mode, right-click on each note and select Note Properties. Check the box that says Stemless. Also, find the option labeled velocity type and choose user, and then change the value of the box velocity (0-127) to 0. Now press OK. Then, locate the section of the palette labeled Note Heads, and drag the parallelogram slash shape on top of each note. This will create the slash notation.


The proper beaming of notes is a key feature of quality engraved scores that often goes unappreciated. It is extremely easy to change the beaming patterns to enhance the readability of your score. There are several utilities in the palette that allow for this.

To start, go to the section of the palette labeled Beam Properties. Hovering over each icon will tell you what it does. These properties can be applied to different notes. The Start beam option is for notes in the middle of an existing beam. It breaks the existing beam at the specified note, and starts a new beam on that note. The Middle of the beam option will ensure that the selected note is beamed to the notes on both sides of it, and the No beam option will break any beams going to the selected note.

Let's learn how to use these with a simple use case scenario. Suppose you enter three eighth notes followed by an eighth rest. MuseScore will automatically choose the following beaming:

However, to a musician who is sight-reading, it may be easy to confuse this with a triplet. To correct this, simply drag the No beam icon on top of the third eighth note in the passage. The note should highlight red as you hover over it, before you drop it. Once you let go of the mouse button, MuseScore will automatically adjust the beam according to what you specified.

Similarly, choosing the beaming wisely can make difficult passages easier to read. Let's consider the case of two sixteenth notes followed by two eighth notes and two more sixteenth notes.

Especially with the sharps and flats in this example, it would not be easy to sight-read such a passage. However, dragging the Start beam option on top of the B♮ makes this passage much cleaner and easier to read.

To undo any of these changes, ensure that you are not in Note Entry mode, and click on the note that you have changed. Then, in the Beam Properties section of the palette, double-click the A icon to reset it back to default.

Though MuseScore uses standard conventions for whether to put the beam above or below the notes, if you would like to change this, simply ensure that you are not in Note Entry mode, click on the beam, and press the X key. The beam will flip to the other side of the staff.


In this article, we learned the basics of creating notes including ties and triplets, copying and pasting measures, creating chord symbols, and also changing the beaming patterns to enhance the readability of our score.

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Instant MuseScore [Instant] Learn to create beautiful scores and quality sheet music with this popular, free music composition software with this book and ebook
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About the Author :

Maxwell Shinn

Maxwell Shinn is a composer currently located in the Minneapolis region. He first discovered MuseScore in 2009, and shortly thereafter began using it as his exclusive music notation software package. Later, he began contributing to the community by compiling the GNU/Linux nightly builds. Max has composed two full length musicals in MuseScore, as well as works for orchestra, concert band, chamber ensemble, instrumental solo, and others.

Additionally, Max is known for releasing his works to the public, allowing for unlimited performance, recording, and even modification under the Creative Commons BY-SA license. These works are available for download from his website, www.MaxShinnPotential.com.

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