Category Archives: Music

Mastering MuseScore: the definitive guide to MuseScore 2

Mastering MuseScore

I am incredibly pleased to present Mastering MuseScore, the definitive guide to MuseScore 2.  I have been working on this book for the past two years, in conjunction with my contributions to the development of the software plus my teaching and whatever gigs I could fit in.  If you are a MsueScore user already, or are interested in learning about what is possible with free and open source music notation software, you will love this book.  I wrote it to be as comprehensive as I could, covering every feature, every option, every trick I could think of, and yet I start with the absolute basics, so beginners can get going right away.  Sales of the book directly benefit the further development of MuseScore.  Please check it out!

MuseScore 2.0.1 Released

So much was happening around the release of MuseScore 2.0 in March that I neglected to post the news to my blog here.  Nonetheless, response has been amazing!  For more on the MuseScore 2.0 release, see the original announcement at https://musescore.org/en/2.0.

Now, I have two other important bits of information to share.

First, we have now released the first update: MuseScore 2.0.1.  This fixes over 100 bugs and illustrates our commitment to keeping MuseScore fresh.  To download, go to https://musescore.org/en/download.

Also in that spirit, I have release a new version of my MuseScore Example Manager extension for LibreOffice.  This extension greatly simplifies the process of inserting musical examples into text documents.  Simply click the MuseScore icon that the extension adds to the LibreOffice toolbar, select the MuseScore score you wish to insert, and it is automatically converted to a graphic (PNG), trimmed to remove margins, and inserted into your document.  What’s more, the graphic is linked to the original score, so that if you Ctrl+click the example in your document, the original score is automatically opened in MuseScore for further editing.  Clicking the MuseScore icon on the LibreOffice toolbar then automatically regenerates and updates the graphic.  You can download the extension at http://extensions.libreoffice.org/extension-center/musescore-example-manager.

Improved Note / Accidental Layout In MuseScore 2.0

My involvement with the MuseScore (open source notation software) project continues to deepen.  At first I just helped with documentation and support.  Then I dusted off my programming chops and wrote some plugins, and then started bug fixing.  Last summer I went further and implemented a whole new flexible chord symbol parsing and rendering system, and I’ve continued with bug fixing since in preparation for the big 2.0 release, which is getting closer and closer (no, there is no official date to announce).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone in and overhauled the basic note layout algorithms.  I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but more importantly, I’m excited for what it will mean for users of MuseScore 2.0 – better looking scores with much less need for manual adjustment of notes, chords, dots, ties, or accidentals.  You can read more here:

Improved Note / Accidental Layout In MuseScore 2.0

The Accessible Music Notation Project

An important announcement!

Some of you may know that I have been working on and off over the past few years on tools and methodology to support blind musicians as well as educators working with them.  I have managed to put this work to good use in my own teaching, but so far, I have not developed anything really polished enough to be ready to share it with the rest of the world.  Recently, I became inspired to try to change that.  After engaging in discussions with some blind musicians and educators – including some of the experts in the field – I have come to believe strongly that that there are some real needs here and some real opportunities to address them.  While I am sure there are any number of people more qualified than I to be dealing with these issues, the universe seems to be telling me that I need to take the initiative to start making some things happen.  So, I have launched The Accessible Music Notation Project:

http://accessiblemusicnotation.wordpress.com/

Right now, the “we” referred to throughout the site is the “royal we” – that is, it’s really just me speaking for myself (albeit with the support of some people I respect).  But I hope to see the project grow over time.  I hope to find musicians and educator willing to share their ideas regarding what is needed, programmers willing to help address these needs, and perhaps people and organizations willing to help fund these efforts.

I honestly do not know where all this might lead, but I have ideas of what I think is possible, and I intend to be setting forth as time permits.  Please feel free to share this and if you have ideas for me, please let me know.  Replies on the site itself would probably be best for any substantial comments.  One of the whole reasons for creating the site was to make sure there was a permanent record of some of the ideas being tossed around via email over the past few weeks.

Solo Piano Concert at the Denver Public Library

This Thursday – June 13 – I will be performing a solo piano concert for the new “brown bag” lunch series at the Denver Public Library. I will be playing a numch of my original compositions that I think work especially well for solo piano. Maybe a standard or two as well. It’s a great space on the 7th floor. See http://denverlibrary.org/event/brown-bag-music-series-marc-sabatella for more information.

Gift of Jazz Presents Graduation Concert for Jazz Education Courses

The students of the Gift of Jazz spring courses are proud to present their graduation concert at Dazzle (http://.dazzlejazz.com/) on Wednesday, June 12, at 7 PM. The concert will be hosted by the instructor for these courses: professional pianist, composer, and educator Marc Sabatella (http://www.outsideshore.com/music/) . Tickets are $10 and you are encouraged to buy them online (http://www.modtickets.com/Mod/Tickets/Tickets.aspx?id=417) .

The theme for this series of courses has been Latin Jazz. We have been working on the rhythms and styles of Afro-Cuban music, and I think you’ll be impressed be how deeply we have gotten inside this music. In addition to performances by the Gift of Jazz ensemble and improvisation students – in which you’ll hear classics like Manteca, Mambo Inn, Afro Blue, and El Manisero – a professional ensemble will be premiering original pieces by the composition students.

The Gift of Jazz ensemble consists of David Atkinson, Bill Germain, David Nelson, Tom Germain, Gayle Mace, Jeff Tomlan, Jack McCutchan, and Robert Lipscombe. The improvisation students are David Land, Gayle Mace, Casey Barnett, Alan Rogowski, Thomas Windham, Lee Ann Gott, Tom Germain, Bill Germain, and Cindy Williams. The composition students are David Land, Charlie Vavra, Gayle Mace, Thomas Windham, Bob Wesley, Alan Rogowski, and Nili Abrahamsson. The professional ensemble that will perform the composition students’ pieces will consist of Tim Libby (trumpet), Sam Bittner-Baird (trombone), Marc Sabatella (piano), Jon Cullison (bass), Manuel Lopez (drums), and Eric Trujillo (percussion).

Other Scale-Based Voicings

There are other logical ways of constructing voicings; too many to describe individually here.  Most approaches are similar in that they they associate a scale with each chord and construct the voicing from notes in that scale. By using a scale approach, you can devise your own patterns for voicings. For instance, a second with a third stacked on top is a somewhat dissonant but not too cluttered sound that many pianists use extensively.  For a chord such as Fmaj7, you can apply this format at any position in the associated F lydian or F major scale.  Since the F major scale contains an avoid note (Bb) in this context, one would normally opt for the lydian scale and the B natural, so that none of the generated voicings would contain any avoid notes.  The particular pattern described above yields “F G B”, “G A C”, “A B D”, “B C E”, “C D F”, “D E G”, and “E F A” over the F lydian scale.

Most of these voicings are very ambiguous, in the sense that they do not readily identify the chord.  As with the 3/7 and quartal voicings, however, you will find that the presence of a bass player, or just the context of the chord progression being played, will allow almost any combination of notes from a given scale to make an acceptable voicing for the associated chord.

You may wish to experiment with different patterns and different scales to see if you can find any voicings you particularly like.  Often, the goal is not to find a voicing that completely describes a given chord, but rather to find a voicing that conveys a particular sound without seriously corrupting the chord.  You may find that at a given point in the music, you may wish to hear the characteristic authority of a perfect fifth, or the characteristic dissonance of a minor ninth or of a cluster of several notes a second apart, but without the characteristic wrong note sound of a completely random selection of notes.  Thinking of the associated scale and putting your sound into that context gives you a logical and reliable way to get the sound you want without compromising the harmony.

Close Position and Drop Voicings

The simplest voicing for a four note chord is the close position voicing, in which all the notes in the chord are arranged as close together as possible.  For example, a C7 chord might be voiced in close position as “C E G Bb”.  This is referred to as root position, since the root, C, is at the bottom.  The chord might also be voiced in close position as “E G Bb C”, which is also called the first inversion, since the bottom note has been inverted to the top.  The second inversion is “G Bb C E” and the third “Bb C E G”.

A drop voicing is created from a close position voicing by dropping one of the notes down an octave.  If the second note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 2 voicing; if the third note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 3 voicing.  For a C7 chord in root position, “C E G Bb”, the corresponding drop 2 voicing is “G C E Bb”.  The second note from the top, G, has been dropped down an octave.  The corresponding drop 3 voicing would be “E C G Bb”.  Drop 2 and drop 3 voicings can be constructed from any of the inversions of the chord as well.  On the piano, the dropped note must normally be played in the left hand, so these are almost always two handed voicings.  The intervals in these voicings make them perfectly suited for guitar.

Close position and drop voicings are effective when used to harmonize a melody, particularly in a solo setting.  Each melody note may be harmonized by a different drop voicing, with the melody note on top.  Pianists and guitarists often use this type of approach in their own solos.  A phrase in which every note is accompanied by close position or drop voicings is said to be harmonized with block chords.  Red Garland, Dave Brubeck, and Wes Montgomery all regularly played block chord solos.

Polychord and Upper Structure Voicings

The basis of a polychord voicing is to play two different chords at the same time, such as one in the left hand and one in the right on a piano. The relationship between the two chords determines the quality of the resultant chord.  These are always two handed voicings on a piano, or five or six string voicings on the guitar.  They produce a very rich, complex sound compared to the voicings presented so far.

The simplest style of polychord voicing is to play two triads; for instance, a C major triad in the left hand on a piano, and a D major triad in the right.  This will be notated D/C.  This notation is overloaded in that it is usually interpreted as meaning a D triad over the single note C in the bass; it is not always clear when a polychord is intended. Polychords are seldom explicitly called for in written music, so there is no standard way to notate them.  You must normally find your own opportunities to play polychords.

If you take all the notes in this D/C voicing and lay them in a row, you will see that this describes either the C lydian or C lydian dominant scales.  Therefore, this voicing can be used over any chord for which those scales are appropriate.  If you experiment with other triads over a C major triad, you will find several combinations that sound good and describe well known scales.  However, many of these combinations involve doubled notes, which can be avoided as described below.  Among the polychords that do not involve doubled notes are Gb/C, which produces a C HW diminished scale, Bb/C, which produces a C mixolydian scale, Dm/C, which produces a C major or C mixolydian scale, Ebm/C, which produces a C HW diminished scale, F#m/C, which also produces a C HW diminished scale, and Bm/C, which produces a C lydian scale.  These polychords may be used as voicings for any chords that fit the corresponding scales.

You may have noticed that Db/C, Abm/C, Bbm/C, and B/C also involve no doubled notes and sound very interesting, although they do not obviously describe any standard scales.  There are no rules for when these polychords may be played as voicings.  When your ear becomes accustomed to the particular nuances and dissonances of each, you may find situations in which you can use them.  For example, the last polychord listed, B/C, sounds good when used as a substitute for Cmaj7, particularly in the context of a ii-V-I progression, and especially at the end of a song.  You may resolve it to a normal Cmaj7 voicing if you wish.

You can construct similar polychords with a minor triad at the bottom. Db/Cm produces a C phrygian scale; F/Cm produces a C dorian scale; Fm/Cm produces a C minor scale; A/Cm produces a C HW diminished scale; Bb/Cm produces a C dorian scale; and Bbm/Cm produces a C phrygian scale.  In addition, D/Cm produces an interesting, bluesy sounding scale.

I mentioned before the desire to avoid doubled notes.  One way to construct polychords that avoid doubled notes is to replace the triad at the bottom with either the third and seventh, the root and seventh, or the root and third of a dominant chord.  Voicings constructed in this fashion are also called upper structures.  They always imply some sort of dominant chord.

For example, there are several possible C7 upper structures.  A Dbm triad over “C Bb” yields a C7b9#5 chord.  A D triad over “E Bb” yields a C7#11 chord.  An Eb triad over “C E” yields a C7#9 chord.  An F# triad over “C E” yields a C7b9b5 chord.  An F#m triad over “E Bb” yields a C7b9b5 chord.  An Ab triad over “E Bb” yields a C7#9#5 chord.  An A triad over “C Bb” yields a C7b9 chord.

You will find it takes a lot of practice to become familiar enough with these voicings to be able to play them on demand.  You may wish to choose a few tunes and plan ahead of time where you will use these voicings.  It is well worth the effort.  The richness and variety introduced by these voicings can add a lot to your harmonic vocabulary.

Quartal Voicings

A style of voicing made popular by McCoy Tyner is based on the interval of the fourth.  This type of voicing is used most often in modal music.  To construct a quartal voicing, simply take any note in the scale associated with the chord, and add the note a fourth above, and a fourth above that. Use perfect fourths or augmented fourths depending on which note is in the scale.  For instance, quartal voicings for Cm7 are “C F Bb”, “D G C”, “Eb A D” (note the augmented fourth), “F Bb Eb”, “G C F”, “A D G”, and “Bb Eb A”. This type of voicing seems to work especially well for minor chords (dorian mode), or dominant chords where a suspended or pentatonic sound is being used.

These voicings are even more ambiguous, in that a given three note quartal voicing can sound like a voicing for any number of different chords.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, if you wish to reinforce the particular chord/scale you are playing, one way to do this is to move the voicing around the scale in parallel motion.  If there are eight beats of a given chord, you may play one of these voicings for the first few beats, then move it up a step for a few more beats.  The technique of alternating the voicing with the root in the bass, or the root and fifth, works well here, too.  On a long Cm7 chord, for instance, you might play “C G” on the first beat, then play some quartal voicings in parallel motion for the duration of the chord.

As with the 3/7 voicings, these voicings are convenient left hand voicings on the piano or three or four string voicings on the guitar. They can also be made into two handed or five or six string voicings by stacking more fourths, fifths or octaves on top.  For instance, the Cm7 chord can be voiced as “D G C” in the left hand and “F Bb Eb” in the right, or “Eb A D” in the left and “G C G” in the right.  The tune “So What” from the album Kind Of Blue used voicings consisting of three fourths and a major third. On a Dm7 chord, the voicings used were “E A D G B” and “D G C F A”.