Are You Proficient with Notation Software?

Lesley Schultz • August 2021String Section • August 13, 2021


With any ensemble or music class, sometimes parts need adjustment to best serve all of your learners. Maybe you have some balance issues with the sections in your ensembles. Maybe you are missing an important instrument entirely (with a band or full orchestra). It is too much for us to ask our young violas to spontaneously transpose a tenor sax part, and I know of professionals who get confused when one is written out two notes below and plop and alto clef on the end, it creates a needlessly busy and hard to read part. Maybe you teach a guitar class and want all of your student exercises to have TAB and standard notation, or piano students who could play a more complicated piece as a duet rather than as a single player. Maybe you are having students play at a solo and ensemble contest, and a score does not exist for the judge. These are all situations where you need to be proficient in notation software. 

I can almost hear the groans, “Notation software, complicated, takes too much time, mistakes hard to catch.” These can be true, but I have some tips on making life easier when using ANY notation software.  

First, learn your keyboard shortcuts, some of these are software specific, but there are universal ones for every program. Shortcuts for copy, paste, select all and cut can help you in any software, not just notation. Second, learn how to musical type for your specific software. I frequently use MuseScore, a free online downloadable program for Mac OS and Windows. Musical typing, plus keyboard shortcuts to change octaves, add accidentals, articulations and add slurs and ties are extremely valuable to me. I frequently once I start a musical typing session for an instrument do not stop to touch the mouse or track pad until the end of the musical line or there is a sizable music break.   

Investigate the scanning features. These are getting better all the time, but depending on the part I am scanning, I find them still too inaccurate for reading an “old school handwritten part” from the 40s-60s. Some of those hand transcribers were messy! If it is a more modern typeset part those scan in much better. By scanning you can save some time, because then you just add the instrument you need to add/transpose etc. and most softwares will run the transposition for you if you copy/paste. I prefer to check with my ears, but I find the more I do this the better I get by double checking all is well with my eyes. 

If making a score, copy/paste what you can, and then change the notes in the measure. This has the added benefit of if articulations match you don’t have to re-do your articulations, and dynamics if they are consistent across the ensemble. This also has the added benefit of hiding your weaknesses if you really aren’t proficient in reading alto or tenor clef, or transposing horn to saxophone or trumpet, etc. Most large scores I have worked with have a doubling part somewhere. 

Last, when it comes to special notations, for guitar, harp, percussion etc., make sure you have a software that can handle all the special things it needs to do. Your notation software should be able to link a standard guitar notation staff with a TAB staff, it should be able to have all the special symbols that harp players need (that’s pretty extensive) Percussion notation is its own special area, so you would do well to know what all their various notation symbols mean, especially when it comes to cymbals (pun intended).  

It may not be your favorite thing to do, but being proficient in notation software can make your life easier, and help your students achieve the highest they can, and support the sections that need an extra boost. 

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family.

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