MuseScore and Alternative Music Notation Systems

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MuseScore is a free, open-source, cross-platform music notation application for composing, editing, and printing sheet music.

Craig Fisher is working on adding features to MuseScore that are needed to support various alternative music notation systems.  This will be a big step forward to have this level of support built into a graphical notation application like MuseScore.  Read more about his work and follow his progress on his website:

Jan Braunstein has used MuseScore to create and print sheet music for his Chromatic Lyre Notation. Below are some helpful tips from Jan on how he did this with MuseScore, even though it does not currently support chromatic-staff notation systems.

Be aware that the process involves various workarounds and is not automated, convenient, or user-friendly. MuseScore will be easier to use with alternative notation systems that more closely resemble traditional music notation. Our thanks to Jan for providing his insights on this.

MuseScore does support plug-ins, so it might be possible to create a plug-in that provides more native and comprehensive support for chromatic-staff notation systems.


To change the number of lines in a staff, choose “Stave Properties” (right click anywhere on a staff). In the “Lines” box, choose the appropriate number. To generate some staff line patterns you may need to create an additional staff and do the same with it. Adjust the spacing between the staves under “Style” menu > “Edit General Style” > “Page” > “Stave Distance” (e.g. “2sp”). Add additional staves to get a wider range.

When entering notes on the staff, enter them so that they appear at the desired position on the staff and are visually correct for printout.


To use noteheads that differ from standard notation (e.g. quarter note (quaver) with hollow notehead), use the “Note Heads” palette and drag and drop any symbol from there to the notehead in your score that you want to change. That replaces the original notehead. To change more than one note at a time use control-click or command-click (depending if you’re on mac or windows) to select multiple notes and then double-click the symbol you want in the “Note Heads” palette to change them all. You can add other symbols to the “Note Heads” palette from “Create” menu > “Symbols”.

“Note Properties” Menu

You can access the “Note Properties” menu by right-clicking on a note. This lets you change the notehead group and type, stem settings, and other parameters.

Custom Symbols and Fonts

MuseScore comes with a built-in font that contains the symbols for noteheads, stems, rests, etc. Unfortunately, MuseScore’s handling of different font symbols can be a bit inconsistent, and it currently does not allow any other fonts to be used, or allow any customization of the the built-in font. This makes things more difficult if you need to use custom symbols. However, it is possible to create your own symbols as bitmap images that you can place anywhere in the score. On a Mac you can just drag and drop an image into the score to insert it.

The “Set Invisible” Function

The “Set Invisible” function is very useful. Access it by right-clicking on anything. Use it to hide noteheads, stems, and a range of other things, then replace them with other symbols.

Ledger Lines

To add custom ledger lines you will probably need to use the “Lines” palette to draw them by hand. MuseScore does not currently provide a way to hide ledger lines. Even when you go to “Style” menu > “Edit General Style” > “Notes” and set the ledger lines width to zero, they are still displayed and printed. (This may be a bug that goes unnoticed because it is rarely encountered in traditional notation.)


Set the orginal clef to invisible using the “Set Invisible” function (by right-clicking on the clef) and replace it with a custom symbol. It is probably better to use clef symbols from “Create” menu > “Symbols,” rather than the “Clefs” palette since it is easier to place them exactly where you want. This also lets you use your own symbols from bitmap image files.

Drumset Staves

MuseScore’s “drumset” feature lets you customize the staff, remapping pitches to different vertical positions (lines or spaces), and selecting which note head to use for each line or space. Then you can use a MIDI instrument to enter notes on your custom drumset staff. You can also enter notes with your computer keyboard by setting shortcut keys for particular notes. Unfortunately, mouse-based note entry is different than for normal staves. You can’t just click on the appropriate line or space to enter a given note/drum. You have to select the drum/note you want to enter using the drums palette, entering one kind of drum/note at a time. Also, you cannot just move a note up and down the staff by dragging it, although you can move it up or down using the up and down arrow keys. See this video on creating drumset parts in MuseScore.

To set up a drumset staff go to “Staff Properties” (right click on the staff), select “Use Drumset,” and then click “OK”. Right click on the staff again and select “Edit Drumset”. A menu appears where you can assign midi notes to lines in the staff and also choose one of four pre-defined sets of different notehead for any note.

Audio Playback

Audio playback may not be important if the goal is simply to produce visually correct printouts. However, it is possible to achieve correct playback using a “Drumset,” see above. This feature lets you link midi notes to different staff positions, as in Finale. Unfortunately, MuseScore currently has fewer options for customization than Finale.



  1. For drumset staves: allow standard note entry so that you can just click on the appropriate line or space to enter a note for a particular drum, rather than having to keep switching back and forth between different drums using the drums palette.
  2. Allow users to create additional custom note head types/shapes, perhaps by importing an image file for a particular note head symbol, or by using symbols from fonts besides MuseScore’s default font.
  3. For Drumset notation: allow users to define different note heads for different note durations, for example, one note head type for crotchets and another for minims of one particular pitch. This could just be one note head shape for “solid” notes (crotchets or smaller duration) and one for “hollow” notes (minims or larger).
  4. Allow users to customize the vertical position of staff lines beyond just setting how many lines a given staff has (in Staff Properties).


This page last updated March 2011 (MuseScore 1.0).