Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music Editor

Transcribing musical scores from one key to another or from one instrument to another can be painful and somewhat time consuming. While playing the Cello, I find myself needing to often transcribe music from Violin down to Cello so I can play it as a solo Cello piece. However, finding a musical note editor that allows you do this easily and cheaply is difficult.

For the past few months I have spent part of my research time each week searching for a good easy to use tool that was highly flexibly. I have looked at tools for Linux, tools that run on Mac, and also tools that run on Windows. There are lots of great tools out there, and it seems like a lot of musicians love and use either Sibelius ( or Finale ( Both of these are great tools, though somewhat restrictive and very expensive.

Most of the Linux community uses and talks about MuseScrore, NtEd, NoteEdit, Rosegarden, Lilypond and a few others. But in the traditional Linux world, most of these tools are either somewhat unstable, lack core features, or are just not intuitive and easy to use.

None of these tools really worked for me, and the ones that got close, were very expensive. The problem was I was looking for a tool that would allow me to move stuff around the score as I needed, something that would allow me to expand a measure or add any type of extra notation details that I wanted to add. Even the idea of just writing arbitrary text to the score proved to be impossible with most tools. I hated the idea of writing the score, printing it out, and then hand writing extra details. I wanted to be able to do it all on the original and have it print out all nice and pretty. Some of the basic things I wanted to be able to do were: 1) add Suzuki style fingering, 2) add notation to keep track of which string I was planning on playing the note on, and 3) add some details to help me remember when I needed to shift or extend and which position it was in.

After trying most of the tools out there I gave up and resorted to the idea that I would just do this the very long way and do it in graphics program like Photoshop. But then I had the idea that I could just do this in Visio if I had the stencils. It would be pretty easy to make the stencil I needed, it would just take a lot of time.  But once I had them it would be super easy to create and edit my scores since I use Visio nearly every day at work and love the flexibility that it offers. So I went looking on the Internet and found a site that had already done a lot of the work for me. Colleen Kobe has created a whole set of Visio stencils for musical score editing.  These stencils are wonderful and I will say that the $30.00 she charges is well worth it. I bought the stencils and have been so happy with what I can do with them.

The Visio stencils I bought are called “Staff Scribe” and can be purchased at After playing around with creating some scores, I love the flexibility that Visio gives. Now some users might not care for the granular controls or the extra flexibility but it works for me.  Also some users may complain that it takes a little too long to do basic things, my advise to that is that as you get more comfortable with Visio, it will be faster.I Colleen has done a wonderful job building these stencils and I would suggest you get them if you have a copy of Visio and are comfortable using Visio.

After using the Staff Scribe stencil kit for a few days I noticed that a few things were missing and have since created my own add-on stencil to this kit that you can download from here for free. This stencil is designed to be used with Colleen’s Staff Scribe stencils and is not much use with out it. Also I followed her her naming convention I have called my stencil “Staff Scribe--Extras.vss”.

I am also attaching some Cello major scale and arpeggio fingering guides that I have recently put together to help young Cello players learn their scales, the notes, and the fingerings.  Enjoy.

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