OpenScore: One Year On

OpenScore: One Year On

It has already been a year since our Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded. A lot has happened in the world of digital sheet music; with a new app for IMSLP, the complete redesign of MuseScore’s website, its merger with Ultimate Guitar, and the release of MuseScore 2.3. We also oversaw the digitisation of over 250 pieces for voice and piano as part of the OpenScore Lieder Corpus, proving that large scale crowdsourced music digitisation is possible.

We have also made significant progress with the pieces selected by our Kickstarter backers, but we haven’t got as far as we were hoping to. There has been a huge amount of interest from transcribers, yet turning this interest into progress has been more challenging. We have received submissions for most of the works on the list, and the quality has generally been very good, but even the very best transcriptions have needed substantial reworking before being ready for publication. This was necessary to ensure the scores meet our guidelines and are consistent with other editions.

Key challenges

  • The length of the pieces
    • Many are over 100 pages
  • The number of instruments in each piece
  • The variety of instruments
    • Each piece uses a different set of instruments, so requires a different template score.
    • Pieces often contain specialist instruments that transcribers are not familiar with.
  • The need for consistency
    • Each transcriber brings their own unique skills, experience, and style to the project.
    • Consistency is needed between the different works, and also within works, as some of the longer works have been distributed among multiple transcribers.
  • The need for semantic correctness
    • Digital scores contain special markup that allows computers to understand them. Without this “semantic” information, the computer wouldn’t be able to tell whether “Allegro” is a tempo marking or just an ordinary word.
    • Semantic information is required for things like playback, editing, transposition, part extraction, and content re-flow - in short everything that makes a digital score different to a paper score!
    • Scores can still look fine without semantic information, so transcribers often don’t realise when it is missing or incorrect, and often don't understand why it is important.
  • Exceptions to rules
    • Every piece brings its own unique set of challenges that require new decisions to be made, and past decisions to be reviewed, often before the transcription can even begin.
    • Virtually every piece has brought up at least one new quirk of music notation that we have never encountered before.

You might think that accuracy would be a problem for a crowdsourced project, but we have been pleasantly surprised with the degree of effort transcribers have gone to in ensuring that their transcriptions match the original. Where mistakes have slipped through, they have generally been spotted pretty quickly by other users, and corrected just as fast. The problem is not with accuracy, but with meeting the technical requirements needed for optimum playback, and also to enable part extraction, transposition, and to re-flow the layout on different devices. Contributors are good at spotting inaccuracies because they make the score “look wrong”. However, scores that don’t meet the technical requirements can still “look right”, so contributors struggle to spot these issues, or to even understand why they matter.

As a result of these challenges, we have had to rethink our strategy. The initial plan had been to digitise the initial set of pieces and then develop the automation tools required to be able to digitise the rest of the public domain. However, owing to the challenges listed above, it is now clear that the automation tools are required even for the initial set of works.

What about the Lieder Corpus?

The Lieder Corpus project successfully digitised 250 pieces in the space of 4 months. It was able to do so because most of the above challenges did not apply. Pretty much all of the lieder pieces consisted of just a voice and a piano, so we were able to provide transcribers with a single template score that met the guidelines and covered all of the pieces. Also, the Lieder Corpus pieces were all roughly 1 - 3 pages of music, so we could simply give all lieder contributors the same reward: one month of MuseScore Pro for every completed transcription. The majority of the OpenScore pieces are much longer, and have a varying density of music on each page, so even the task of assigning a reward value to each piece is significant, let alone checking the scores for accuracy and consistency with the guidelines.

What next?

Over the last few months we have been working on a set of automation tools designed to make the task easier for transcribers and reviewers. One of these tools allows us to join scores together much more reliably than we could using the albums feature built-in to MuseScore. This enables us to split larger scores among multiple transcribers, with each transcriber working on a different section, and then join all the sections together at the end using the new tool. Another tool checks scores against the guidelines, reporting any problems and giving instructions on how to fix them. We will be making this tool available via a web interface, so that transcribers can upload scores and get feedback without waiting for a manual review. This in turn will mean less work for reviewers, enabling us to get through pieces much faster, while still maintaining a high standard of quality.

These changes mean that we have had to push the target date for delivery back to February 2019, by which time we hope to have complete transcriptions for all but the very longest of pieces. We will be attending the FOSDEM open source event on the 2nd and 3rd of February 2019, where we will give a presentation about the project and unveil the completed collection. If you can make it to Brussels that weekend then please come and join us to talk about all things OpenScore!

Launch of the OpenScore Lieder Corpus

Launch of the OpenScore Lieder Corpus

This week saw the release of the OpenScore Lieder Corpus, a collection of 19th Century lieder by French and German composers. The project was run in collaboration with Dr Mark Gotham, a musicologist at the University of Cambridge, and Leigh VanHandel, Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Michigan.

Each song is around 2 pages of music for voice and piano, and the MuseScore community stepped up to digitise over 250 pieces such pieces in the space of 4 months. Like the main OpenScore collection, the entire corpus is released under the Creative Commons Zero copyright waiver (CC0), which effectively puts the songs in the public domain to allow unlimited copying, adapting and sharing. The songs are freely available at

Lieder Corpus team: Mark Gotham, Dan Rootham, Bruno Bower, Peter Jonas, Will Bosworth, Leigh VanHandel

Lieder Corpus team: Mark Gotham, Dan Rootham, Bruno Bower, Peter Jonas, Will Bosworth, Leigh VanHandel

The corpus was officially released at the “Scores of Scores” event that took place in Cambridge earlier this week. There was a recital of works in the corpus on Monday evening, followed by a special dinner hosted at Murray Edwards College. Tuesday saw the Scores of Scores conference in the Maxwell Centre, where researchers from around the world gave presentations on how digital corpora have revolutionised musicology. Attendees included Michael Scott Cuthbert, Associate Professor of Music at MIT and author of the Music21 toolkit, and Dr Matthias Röder of the Karajan Institute in Salzburg.

A key goal for the Lieder Corpus project was to highlight the role of female composers in 19th Century music. At the launch event, Dr Gotham noted “There are many areas of music that women have traditionally been excluded from, but 19th Century lieder is one area in which female composers were able to contribute, and it is only right that we give their contribution the recognition it deserves.” Female composers whose works are available include Louise Reichardt, Fanny Mendelssohn, Josephine Lang, Clara Schumann and Augusta Holmès.

 The Lieder Corpus was digitised in association with the social enterprise Four Scores and More, and funded by the University of Cambridge Arts and Humanities Impact Fund 2017/18.

Accessibility of sheet music software

Accessibility of sheet music software

OpenScore aims to bringing digital sheet music to everyone, including people who are blind or partially sighted. However, simply producing digital scores is not enough; the software used to read the scores needs to be accessible too.

Accessibility is rarely a priority for commercial software providers, and the situation with sheet music software is particularly dire: no major commercial music notation editor released in the last decade has offered meaningful accessibility support. However, as an open source program, MuseScore is able to cater for a wide range of needs. For the last few years, MuseScore has been working in close partnership with RNIB, the UK’s leading charity for people who are blind or partially sighted, to improve MuseScore’s accessibility features.

The latest project has seen the development of MuseScore's screen reader support on Windows. Already, the open source NVDA screen reader is able to recognise MuseScore’s palettes, dialog boxes and score elements. We now plan to extend support to other platforms and screen readers, including Jaws (Windows), VoiceOver (macOS), and hopefully the Orca screen reader on Linux.

Once the digital scores have been created, blind and partially sighted (and sighted!) musicians can use the playback functions to learn the piece by ear. However, it’s not enough simply to be able to listen to the score, because there may be details hidden in the notation that are difficult to pick out from a recording. Furthermore, a performance, whether it is done by a computer or by a live musician, is only one interpretation of the piece.  Blind and partially sighted musicians need access to the notation if they are to be able to fully appreciate the piece and understand the composer’s intentions.

One solution to enable blind people to read music notation is Braille. Braille uses a system of raised dots to communicate information by touch, and is commonly used by blind people for reading text. However, Braille music notation bears little resemblance to ordinary music notation, or even to ordinary Braille text, making it difficult to teach and learn. This, combined with the fact that there is a general lack of music available in Braille, means that few blind musicians ever learn to read Braille music. The situation should improve as more digital scores become available, because these can be converted into Braille using software tools. However, a solution is still needed for blind and partially sighted musicians who don’t read Braille.

Audiobooks are the non-Braille solution to enable blind people to enjoy stories, and interactive formats exist to provide audible descriptions of pictures and charts in textbooks. There has been some discussion in accessible circles about doing the same for sheet music, but little progress has been made so far. However, Peter Marchant, a UK-based software developer, has created a prototype "Talking Scores" mobile application to provide an audible description of MIDI files.

Peter’s application is unique in that it not only describes MIDI scores using a synthesised voice, but it can actually be operated by a combination of a foot pedal and voice commands given by the user. Commands are along the lines of “play four bars with a metronome”, or “play the right hand at half speed”, or “play the left hand while describing the bottom note”, etc. Instructions are remembered, creating a command state which persists until cancelled or overridden. For example, “play four bars with a metronome” not only causes those four bars to be played with a metronome; it also enables the metronome for all future playback requests until the user explicitly says "without metronome". Similarly, future request will implicitly contain "four bars" until a new number of bars is given, or the entire piece requested.

A voice-based interface is extremely helpful for blind users, and those who struggle to operate the touch-based interfaces prevalent on modern mobile devices. It may also prove a valuable feature among sighted users. Consider a musician who is trying to play along with the digital accompaniment, and doesn’t want to put down their instrument to operate the physical controls: “Maestro, from the top, please!”. As is often the case, meeting the needs of accessibility users makes an application easier for everybody to use.

OpenScore in Education: Music notation for all!

OpenScore in Education: Music notation for all!

This post is in response to the recent Guardian opinion piece “Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy”, by Charlotte C Gill, and the reaction it generated.

In her article, Gill claims that traditional music education concentrates too much on music theory. She suggests that a shift towards a more practical form of music education could open up the subject to a wider audience. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her article generated a lot of criticism, with over 700 people signing an open letter denouncing her conclusions as “simple anti-intellectualism”. At OpenScore, we believe music theory to be an important skill, one that is essential to developing a full understanding of music history and culture. However, we agree with Gill that music theory sometimes serves as a barrier to music appreciation. Fortunately, OpenScore can help to remedy this situation.

OpenScore will create digital editions of famous classical pieces, allowing students to listen and follow the score.

We find it hard to disagree with Gill’s assessment of music notation as a “cryptic, tricky language […] that can only be read by a small number of people”. Her critics object that this “flies in the face of countless initiatives [to make] musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds”, but one cannot help but wonder why these “countless initiatives” were necessary in the first place! OpenScore is able to provide students and educators with something they have not had access to until now; a free set of digital tools to make music notation fun and easy to understand. By offering scores as digital files, students can actually hear how the music sounds as they follow along in the score.

The fact that standard music notation is difficult to learn is borne out by the prevalence of alternative forms of notation, such as guitar tablature and chord symbols, which provide a shortcut to making music. Video games like SingStar and Guitar Hero aim to give players the “musician experience” as they perform on a virtual stage. These games proved massively popular despite (or because of) the fact their makers chose to substitute real music notation for a simpler notation-like interface. These days, many amateur musicians skip notation altogether and learn to play piano pieces by copying hand movements from YouTube videos. These developments should not be seen as a threat to traditional music practice. Rather, they should be seen as an opportunity to engage with an audience that would not otherwise have been interested in learning music. As these people progress, some of them will undoubtedly become interested in learning proper notation and the theory behind it. By providing standard notation along with the alternative forms they are used to, OpenScore can make the transition as easy as possible.

OpenScore can highlight piano keys alongside standard notation.

Of course, not all students struggle with notation. Advanced students with an eye for composition can take OpenScore’s digital scores and edit them with notation software to produce their own arrangements and orchestrations. OpenScore files are free from copyright restrictions, allowing students to publish and share their arrangements under their own terms. The files are compatible with all popular music notation programs, including MuseScore, Finale and Sibelius. Students at the University of St Andrews have already used OpenScore resources to produce a translation of a French opera.

OpenScore's digital scores are free from copyright, accessible, and can be edited with music notation software.

Now that our Kickstarter campaign has reach it's funding goal, OpenScore stands ready to provide free music notation to suit everyone. Our ever-expanding collection of digital scores makes it easy to listen and follow along with standard notation, and our accessible scores provide specialist notation for those who are physically unable to read standard notation. We can even provide alternative forms of notation for those who are not yet ready to face the challenge of standard notation, and we can ease the transition when they are.

We did it!

We did it!

Our Kickstarter campaign has reached the funding target with two days to spare! A huge thank you to everybody who has backed us and made the digital sheet music revolution possible! OpenScore has been our dream for many years, and we know from the comments and messages we received that other people shared the same dream for just as long.

It took years for crowdsourcing projects like Wikipedia to gain momentum, but the support we have received will allow us to hit the ground running. We’ve already had a huge number of people reach out to us who are interested in transcribing, and thanks to them we’ve been able to publish the very first OpenScore Editions.

There are still a couple of days left of the campaign, and all the money we raise in this time will be put to good use. This is your chance to make sure your favorite piece or composer is one of the ones to get liberated first, before we move on to do all public domain sheet music. 

We leave you for the time being with the OpenScore Edition of Tchaikovsky’s epic 1812 Overture. Thanks again for your support!

OpenScore Edition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture

OpenScore Edition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture

OpenScore: Turning music into art

OpenScore: Turning music into art

In this guest post, digital artist Nicholas Rougeux describes how he creates the artistic visualizations of sheet music which form the cover image of each OpenScore edition.

Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland and Chicago, I was never far from a computer from as early as I can remember. I was always been drawn more to the creative tools and puzzle games than violent games, which is probably why I still have the original Mario Paint for the SNES I was given in the 90s. I gave myself many stiff necks by spending hours staring up at the television, creating Nintendo-themed pixelated images and moving icons of Game Boys, airplanes, and cats around to compose music. I spent my childhood playing games like Myst and using tools like Microsoft Paint, Bryce 3D, and Ultra Fractal to create digital art so a natural progression was to find a way of putting those creations online by building websites.

These days, I’m a web designer by day and like to call myself a data artist any other time I get the chance. Data-based art piqued my interested in the early 2010s while working on several data visualization projects, which lead to creating projects about roads, transit, national parks, literature, and more. I enjoy the restrictions a dataset provides because I enjoy thinking of ways to represent its entirety in a pleasing way without letting outliers skew the results.

Like most of my project, visualizing music happened accidentally when I was looking for ideas for new projects. I often browse Pinterest and enjoyed seeing experimental music notation and collected a few pins in a music board. While doing this, I realized that sheet music was just another way of visualizing data and set out to extract the data.

An important side note: Ironically, despite an upbringing in a musical family with parents who were both in the theater during their younger years and watching them play show tunes on our piano throughout my childhood, I could not—and still can’t—read sheet music.

After giving myself a crash course in music notation and making countless mistakes by manually cataloguing each note in simple scores like Moonlight Sonata in a spreadsheet, I sought a saner solution, which lead me to MuseScore. It may sound corny, but finding MuseScore felt like a gift from above that hit all the right notes in my book: free, flexible data conversion, huge online community of examples, and easy enough for a beginner like me to figure out.

Using a combination of MuseScore and a few other tools, I was able to convert sheet into CSV files, which I could with NodeBox to visually explore the data and eventually create Off the Staff—a project that visualizes the pitch, duration, and instruments, for every note from a score. Every image generated is for sale a a poster in a variety of sizes and types of paper.

For example, the image below shows Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter from (left to right, top to bottom). The sheet music is available on MuseScore and posters are available for each as a set or individually.

Visualization of Vivaldi's  Four Seasons . Spring (TL), Summer (TR), Autumn (BL) and Winter (BR).

Visualization of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Spring (TL), Summer (TR), Autumn (BL) and Winter (BR).

Each dot represents a note in the score. Pitch is indicated by the distance from the center of the image, while the time at which the note occurs is given by the angle from the 12 o'clock position. The size of the dot indicates the duration of the note, and the color of the dot is different for each instrument. The colors of the dots are different for each instrument, and are selected from a complementary palette designed to reflect the theme of the piece.

Creating these images is only possible because the sheet music is stored as structured data or “source code” instead of static images like PDFs. This allows them to be parsed to extract the musical data. MuseScore’s Commons Attribution licence is important to me as an artist because it allows me to sell posters of the images and give credit to the original composers.

Many early examples can be seen in my original blog post and a couple are included below showing how how notes from Moonlight Sonata could be visualized by grouping by their measure.

The opening measures of Beethoven's  Moonlight Sonata

The opening measures of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

Flower visualization of Beethoven's  Moonlight Sonata

Flower visualization of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

The process for creating these images was somewhat convoluted by using several tools to convert and manipulate the data many times. Since the initial concept, I’ve found more efficient methods of manipulating the data to create the images.

When the good people at MuseScore were starting to work on OpenScore to make more sheet music available in their flexible digital format, they asked if I would be interested in creating an image for the cover of each score. I was very excited and was happy to participate. I was also pleased to help create the logo as part of their branding.

Covers of two OpenScore Editions: Fauré's  Piano Quintet No. 2 (Op. 115)  and Schubert's  Allegretto in C Minor (D.915)

Covers of two OpenScore Editions: Fauré's Piano Quintet No. 2 (Op. 115) and Schubert's Allegretto in C Minor (D.915)

Since I first created the images, I and others have wanted to see them in motion while hearing the music. Moving forward, I plan to create an animated video of each score and below is the first result—Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

I’ve found a lot of joy creating these images and seeing the visuals driven by musical data. I’m excited to see what types of visuals can be created from more scores.

Nicholas Rougeux is a Chicago-based digital artist and web developer. From a young age, his fascination with the digital world led to a healthy obsession with data visualization and fractal artwork, which has been published in publications and exhibitions around the world.

Openscore: Making sheet music accessible

Openscore: Making sheet music accessible

Accessibility is one of the many reasons OpenScore is so important. OpenScore's digital sheet music editions are not only useful for sighted musicians—allowing them to listen to, edit and share sheet music—the editions are also of vital importance to anyone who would struggle to read ordinary music notation. This includes musicians who are blind, partially sighted, or have trouble reading music due to a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

There is currently a serious shortage of sheet music available in a format that blind or partially sighted musicians can read. While solutions do exist, publishers do not consider it worth the effort to implement them because there is little profit to be made from selling to this small but important market. OpenScore means to solve this by creating digital scores which can easily be converted to other formats. We will provide all OpenScore Editions in Braille for blind musicians, and Modified Stave Notation (MSN) for those who are partially sighted, have dyslexia, or suffer from a similar condition.

The opening bars of  Beethoven's Für Elise  in standard notation, Braille and MSN.

The opening bars of Beethoven's Für Elise in standard notation, Braille and MSN.

We started to publish the first OpenScore Editions last week, and now Für Elise is available in Braille and MSN. The Braille file can be downloaded right from the page of the OpenScore Edition, while the MSN score has its own dedicated page.

OpenScore's Braille files are generated using Music21, an open source toolkit for analysing digital sheet music. Music21 was developed at MIT as a music research tool and Braille conversion was a relatively recent addition. There are more mature Braille converters out there, but we have chosen to use Music21 because it is open source. We hope that the availability of OpenScore's digital editions will drive the development of free Braille converters like Music21, and we will update the Braille files regularly to take advantage of these improvements. Blind musicians can read our Braille files on their Braille terminals, or have them embossed onto paper.

A blind musician reading music from a Braille terminal.

A blind musician reading music from a Braille terminal.

Modified Stave Notation is ordinary music notation which has been adapted to make it easier to read by partially sighted musicians, or those with reading disabilities like dyslexia. This usually involves some combination of making lines thicker, symbols larger, and sometimes using a non-white background or different colors for each note. OpenScore's MSN files were created by our partners at RNIB, who are experts in music accessibility. MSN files are usually tailored to an individual’s particular needs, so the ones we provide are just representative examples. People with different requirements can apply different styles as described in this tutorial.

As a primarily auditory experience, music is an activity that sighted and non-sighted people should be able to participate in on equal terms. That is why it is vitally important that we make OpenScore a success and increase the availability of accessible content. Please back the Kickstarter campaign and help spread the word about digital sheet music and accessibility!

OpenScore: MuseScore and IMSLP founders discuss the project

OpenScore: MuseScore and IMSLP founders discuss the project

Thanks to the generous support of our backers, our Kickstarter campaign is more than halfway to reaching the funding target!

We thought we would take this opportunity to share with you a conversation between Thomas Bonte (MuseScore founder) and Edward Guo (IMSLP founder), who met in met in Salzburg back in April to discuss their collaboration on OpenScore.

OpenScore in Education: Translating a French Opera

OpenScore in Education: Translating a French Opera

In this guest post, Dr Julia Prest of the University of St Andrews describes how OpenScore has helped her and her students to translate a French opera into English.

“You’re suggesting I do what?” asked my inner voice, somewhat incredulously in summer 2013. “Are you really asking me to translate a whole opera?”, it continued: “That sounds impossible”. “That sounds interesting”, I heard my outer voice proclaim, rather more politely.  And both voices were right.  One of the stage directors of St Andrews Opera, now called Byre Opera, had just asked if I might be interested in preparing a translation of a French opera to be performed by the company in summer 2015.   Later that week I sat in a university teaching committee meeting where the Deans exhorted us yet again to devise more innovative modules.  “Why does everything have to be innovative?” grumbled my inner and outer voices in unison.  And then it clicked: how about a module on translating opera? That would certainly be innovative; the first in the UK, in fact.  As a graduate in Music and French and a member of the St Andrews Opera chorus, I was well-placed to teach this hypothetical course.  I have always enjoyed teaching translation, which is a core feature of our language programme, and our students repeatedly ask for more training in this area.  Moreover, in the absence of a formal Music degree (though we do offer a number of music modules), many of the most musically talented students at St Andrews study modern languages.  The French cohort at the time included four outstanding singers whom one could realistically expect to sing in the performance of the opera, now identified as Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, and who would surely want to take the module and contribute to the text that they would later sing.  What I did not expect was for the module to be oversubscribed and to appeal to students with no prior interest in opera.

Student production of  Iphigenia in Tauris  by  Byre Opera . Photograph courtesy of Ben Goulter.

Student production of Iphigenia in Tauris by Byre Opera.
Photograph courtesy of Ben Goulter.

Opera is notorious for its elitist image, and translation is key to making it more accessible both to young performers and to a wider audience.  But translating to fit pre-existing music is extraordinarily difficult: not only do you have to convey the meaning of the original in terms of plot, characterization and so on, but the translated text has to fit the music.  Not just in terms of the syllable count, but also the word stress.  So, crudely, stressed syllables and important words need to go on stressed musical beats (e.g. the downbeat) and on the longer, more prominent notes, which in turn necessitates moving things around and sometimes taking liberties with the meaning at the level of detail or nuance.  Oh, and you want nice open vowels on any long high notes otherwise the singers will kick up a fuss.  Without doubt, fitting the translation to the music was the greatest challenge for me and for my students.  In practical terms, the two biggest remaining challenges were assessing the course as a French module and not as a music module (deciding what I could reasonably ask from French students in terms of musical ability and not penalizing those who had no prior musical training) and the practicalities of using scores and submitting the students’ final assignment.

Contrary to popular belief, not all students at St Andrews are wealthy and many of them balked at the prospect of buying the vocal score for a hefty £40.  And even this did not solve the problem of working on the score throughout the semester (in pencil?) and then submitting final versions of portions of the opera for assessment at the end (in ink?).  Being able to see how each student expected their translation to fit the music was essential, so we needed the text on the score; using a pencil to write in the text is problematic since it could become illegible and/or subject to change.  The two options were to ink in the proposed translation thereby defacing the score or to use photocopies, which in turn raised unwelcome issues of copyright and fair usage. Thankfully, I was working with a group of willing students who were excited about the project and who were in due course thrilled to have their work (albeit substantially reworked by me) performed later that academic year and grumbles were minimal.  But one cannot rely on good will for the ongoing success of a module. 

I had in fact anticipated that FR4110 Translating French Opera would be a one-off, to coincide with Byre Opera’s production of Iphigénie en Tauride.   But the module attracted considerable interest not only among our student body but also more widely.  It was the object of a feature article in the Times Higher Magazine and I was later short-listed for the Times Higher Most Innovative Teacher Award 2016.  I began to wonder about running the module again in spring 2017 with (since Byre Opera were to perform Janáček that year) a more restricted final performance requiring fewer resources.  But what about the problem with the scores?  I decided to consolidate what I’d learned and to translate the prequel, Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide this time, but the vocal score for this one cost a whopping £52.  This is when MuseScore and the OpenScore project came to our rescue.

MuseScore 's notation software allows translations to be added directly below the original lyrics.

MuseScore's notation software allows translations to be added directly below the original lyrics.

Following an approach from the OpenScore team, the University of St Andrews and OpenScore agreed to collaborate on a pilot project to transcribe an uncopyrighted version of Gluck’s opera.  Initially this was for the exclusive use of the students on my module, but the transcription will now be made publically available with due credit given to the University. Student testimonials confirm that they found this an extremely useful tool for a number of reasons.  One student wrote:

As someone with only very basic musical knowledge, the MuseScore software helped bring the sheet music to life. This allowed me to better understand how my translation would fit alongside the music and led to what I believe to be a far superior translation than I would have otherwise been able to achieve. In addition, being able to access the score online allowed me to easily access the score and see how each syllable fitted with the notes, without having to buy the fairly expensive vocal score. I know that other students would greatly benefit from the opportunity to access such scores online free of charge.

(Jessica F., fourth-year student in French)

Another wrote:

MuseScore was an invaluable resource throughout Translating French Opera, making the module accessible to students without any formal musical education. The fact you can hear the pitch and rhythm of each note on the score meant a lack of technical knowledge was not a barrier to producing an effective translation. As the weeks went by, my ability to read music improved dramatically thanks to the possibility of hearing the notes while following them on the screen; I end the course with better musical as well as translation skills! Being able to hear the music also gave me the confidence to alter it where appropriate, because I could listen to my changes and check they corresponded to the rhythms in my head. MuseScore definitely enabled me to fully embrace and engage with this fascinating module.

(Rachel D., fourth-year student in French)

In short, we have found MuseScore to be a highly valuable pedagogical tool, and the OpenScore project will be crucial in making opera (and other forms of music) freely available to wider audiences across the world.  Opera is – or could be – for the many and not for the few.  See here for more details of my project on Translating Opera: New Languages, Audiences and Contexts (complete with photos of Byre Opera’s production of Iphigénie en Tauride):

Dr Prest is a Reader in the School of Modern Languages at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests focus on early-modern French theatre, including ballet and opera. Dr Prest also lectures in this field, and in 2016 she was short-listed for the Times Higher Education Most Innovative Teacher Award for her module Translating French Opera.

OpenScore: Kickstart the sheet music revolution!

OpenScore: Kickstart the sheet music revolution!

OpenScore is a new crowdsourcing initiative to digitise classical sheet music by composers whose works are in the public domain, like Mozart and Beethoven. Massive crowdsourced projects such as Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg and OpenStreetMap have done wonders for the democratisation of knowledge, putting information and power in the hands of ordinary people. With OpenScore, we want to do the same for music, and we’re running a Kickstarter campaign to make it happen!

OpenScore’s aim is to transform history’s most influential pieces from paper music into interactive digital scores, which you can listen to, edit, and share. This will be of huge benefit to orchestras, choirs, ensembles, and individuals looking for materials from which to practise music, but it doesn’t end there! All OpenScore sheet music editions will be freely distributed under a Creative Commons Zero. This means there are no copyright restrictions, and everyone will be free to use the files for any purpose. We want to maximize the benefit to music education and research, and inspire composers and arrangers to produce new content. 

OpenScore is the result of a partnership between two of the largest online sheet music communities: MuseScore and IMSLP. IMSLP is one of the world’s largest online archives of public domain sheet music and musical recordings under Creative Commons licenses. The IMSLP community has done part of the work already. Since 2006 they have been searching for out-of-copyright musical editions, scanning and uploading them. Now we want to take those scanned editions, which are currently just pictures of pages, and turn them into interactive digital scores. This is not something that can happen automatically; someone has to take those scans and transcribe them, which means typing them up, one note at at time, into a music notation program. This is where MuseScore and its community come in.

MuseScore is the world’s most popular music notation program, and it’s entirely free and open source. MuseScore has a dedicated community of millions of people around the world, who use MuseScore’s software, apps and website to compose, arrange, practise and share digital sheet music. OpenScore will harness the power of this community to produce transcriptions of public domain pieces, using the crowdsourcing method outlined in this post

The advantages of digital music are huge. Digital scores can also be parsed by software tools for research and analysis, and can even be converted to Braille notation for blind musicians. Digital scores can also be easily adapted into alternative forms of notation or turned into artistic visualisations, such as this visualisation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Nicholas Rougeux.

Visualisation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by  Nicholas Rougeux

Visualisation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Nicholas Rougeux

Nicholas is a digital artist and web designer based in Chicago, and he has agreed to create a visualisation to be used as the cover image for each OpenScore edition.

OpenScore’s Kickstarter campaign runs from today until the 30th of June, 8pm UTC. The funding target is €45,000 (roughly 50,000 USD), which allows us to liberate 100 pieces, and will help us to start developing the necessary systems to scale up to liberating all public domain music. Backers get to pick which pieces get liberated, and if we exceed the funding target then we will liberate one extra piece for every €450 (~500 USD) we get over the funding target, up to a maximum of 1000 pieces! But remember, if we don’t reach the initial target then nothing gets liberated, so it’s really important that you help spread the word quickly, and to donate if you are willing and able. Thank you for your support!

OpenScore: Happy Birthday Gabriel Fauré!


OpenScore: Happy Birthday Gabriel Fauré!

Gabriel Fauré  (12 May 1845 – 4 November 1924)

Gabriel Fauré (12 May 1845 – 4 November 1924)

We went public with OpenScore back in February at FOSDEM 2017, when we told the world about our plan to liberate public domain sheet music. Since then, we’ve been really busy spreading the word, meeting up with partners and other interested parties, creating demos and showcase projects, and generally getting everything ready for the upcoming launch of the Kickstarter campaign (not long to wait now!).

Pilot transcription

While all that’s been going on, we’ve also been running a small pilot to make sure the whole transcription process is as smooth as possible. A small number of members were invited to take part in a trial transcription of Fauré’s Requiem. As today is Gabriel Fauré’s 172nd Birthday, we thought it would be appropriate to share it with you now. (Please be aware that this is an unfinished preview version and as such is likely to contain lots of errors and layout problems. We need your help to get it ready for final release! More on this below.)


Starting with a PDF scan of the original score from IMSLP, we divided it up into small chunks, each just a few pages in length. These were sent out to the volunteer transcribers, along with an empty MuseScore template document with all the instruments already added. The transcribers were given a few days to complete their pages and upload them to be checked by a member of the admin team. If no errors were found then transcription was accepted straight away and the transcriber was rewarded with a month of MuseScore PRO membership. If errors were found then score was sent back to the transcriber along with comments about what they needed to improve, and they were given a bit more time to make those improvements and get the reward.

We were really impressed with what we saw, and in one or two cases we were able to accept the transcription straight away. However, in most cases there were at least a few mistakes, or places where the transcriber hadn’t been aware that there was a better way to do whatever it was that they had been trying to do. However, they all did a great job of making the changes we asked for, and we didn’t have to reject any transcriptions!


If you are interested in transcribing then you might like to take a look at this set of guidelines which I put together to help transcribers. The guidelines describe the most common errors we saw in transcriptions and explain how to avoid them.

Peer review

Once the transcriptions have been collected and joined together, it's time to check the full score to look for:

  • Errors that escaped notice during the first check
  • Inconsistencies between sections transcribed by different people
  • Issues that arise during the joining process

We'll need your help to be able to spot all these things and put them right. We'll soon launch a new tool for which will allow you to click on the exact part of a score where a problem lies and leave a comment to bring it to our attention.

Publishing an OpenScore Edition

The final step in the process of creating an OpenScore Edition is to give it a nice cover page. For this purpose, we're teaming up with Nicholas Rougeux, a digital artist and web designer based in Chicago. Nicholas created visualisations of sheet music for his Off The Staff project, and he has agreed to create a visualisation of each OpenScore Edition.

Visualisation of Fauré’s Requiem by Nicholas Rougeux

The visualisation should be read clockwise starting from the 12 o’clock position. Each circle represents a note in the score; the size of the circle represents the duration of the note, while the pitch is indicated by the distance from the centre of the image.


OpenScore: Join the transcription effort!


OpenScore: Join the transcription effort!

Exactly one month ago we introduced OpenScore to the MuseScore community, and one week ago we announced it to the world at FOSDEM, Europe’s largest open source software conference. OpenScore is a new initiative to digitize public domain music, including the works of the great classical composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.

Introducing OpenScore at FOSDEM 2017

Getting involved

OpenScore is only possible with your help. We would be extremely grateful if as many people as possible could back the Kickstarter campaign when it goes live in a month or two, or work with us to produce the OpenScore transcriptions. We really want OpenScore to be a success, so to help galvanise the community we will be offering rewards to those who choose to take part. Kickstarter backers will be able to have a say in which pieces get transcribed, and transcribers will be rewarded with PRO membership of

If you are interested in taking part then you can sign-up to register your interest here:

Answers to questions

The first blog post generated a huge number of comments and questions about OpenScore, and so I will try my best to respond to them here.

Which pieces will be transcribed for OpenScore?

The initial transcription effort will concentrate on a specific set of pieces selected by the Kickstarter backers, with a few additional pieces that we think will be of greatest interest to the general public and the wider music community. At some point we would like to expand OpenScore to all public domain music, but this depends on the success of the initial campaign.

When can we start transcribing?

The transcription effort will begin in earnest once the Kickstarter has been successfully funded and the pieces selected. However, we are currently in the process of creating demonstration scores to show to potential backers, so if you sign up now then there might be something for you to do before the Kickstarter.

How can I submit transcriptions to OpenScore?

Many of you were keen to know about the process for submitting transcriptions. We don’t currently have the resources to check all scores being uploaded to, so for the time being we will be approaching individual users with pages for them to transcribe.

Can I submit transcriptions I have already done?

You can tell us about any existing transcriptions when you sign up, but we can’t promise to be able to check all of them immediately. We will contact you individually if we think your existing transcription will be of interest to the Kickstarter backers. Other transcriptions may be considered at a later date.

What is the goal for OpenScore transcriptions?

The goal of OpenScore is not to produce the ultimate critical (or “urtext”) editions, nor is it to produce a beautiful engraving. Instead, the goal for OpenScore is to produce digital editions that are semantically accurate transcriptions of the original public domain editions, which will be fine for the vast majority of users. Furthermore, the OpenScore editions will provide a starting point for creators and arrangers to produce ultimate editions of their own. We will refresh the OpenScore editions with each MuseScore release to take advantage of improvements to MuseScore’s layout rules.

How will the Braille scores be produced?

We are partnering with RNIB to get advice about Braille and MSN notation, and we invite Braille readers in the community to offer their feedback on the Braille we produce. (Our advisors at RNIB mentioned that reading the Braille can even be a valuable way of spotting mistakes in the MusicXML that would otherwise go unnoticed.)

The conversion from MusicXML to Braille will be done with the open source Music21 toolkit. The Music21 developer assures us that, with the exception of piano scores (for which Braille conversion is notoriously difficult) the output will be correct and perfectly readable, though it may not take advantage of all the repeat markings and abbreviations that are available in Braille notation. We expect that the mere existence of OpenScore’s Braille and MSN scores will raise awareness of accessibility needs and create demand for better conversion tools, thereby driving their open-source development. Again, we will be sure to refresh the OpenScore Braille files to take advantage of these improvements as they arrive.


Introducing OpenScore


Introducing OpenScore

It is our great privilege to announce OpenScore, the successor project to Open Goldberg and Open Well Tempered Clavier. The goal with those projects was to liberate specific works by Bach. The goal with OpenScore is much more ambitious; we want to liberate all public domain music!

The aim is to digitize and liberate the works of Mozart, Beethoven and other famous classical composers by making their scores freely available in MuseScore’s MSCZ format. This enables convenient sharing, adaptation and playback across a range of devices, including computers, phones and tablets. The scores will also be available in various other formats, including PDF, MIDI and MusicXML, as well as accessible formats like Braille and Modified Stave Notation for blind and partially sighted musicians.

Best of all, the scores will be released into the Public Domain using Creative Commons Zero, meaning there are no copyright restrictions, so everyone will be free to use them for any purpose! This will be of huge benefit to orchestras, choirs and individuals looking for materials from which to practise music. It will also facilitate a number of uses in research, academia, and education, and help to inspire composers and arrangers in producing new content.

To make it happen, MuseScore and IMSLP joining forces along with a number of partners across the music and tech industries. However, for OpenScore to be a success we also need the help of the community. MuseScore and IMSLP represent the two largest online communities actively creating and sharing sheet music. We want to harness this potential to create the largest, and most accurate, digital collection of public domain scores available anywhere. We need your help to make this happen.

In the coming months we will be running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund the liberation effort. We will be very grateful if those of you who are able to could donate to the crowdfunding campaign, and help spread the word among friends and family, and via social media, etc. Once the campaign is live, it’s very important that we get the word out as quickly as possible to build momentum. (The campaign isn’t live at the moment, so don’t start sharing just yet!)

There are other ways you can get involved too, such as by helping to produce the transcriptions of public domain works in MuseScore format. There will even be rewards available, in the form of PRO accounts on, for users who complete transcriptions that make it into the OpenScore collection. If you’ve always fancied having a PRO account, but didn’t have the money to buy one, then now you will have the chance to earn one!

Finally, we’re looking for talented people within the community to come forward to help us ensure that OpenScore has the greatest possible impact. If you have some experience with online marketing, communication or graphic design and are willing to help out then please get in touch via my contact form.

P.S. Look out for us at FOSDEM 2017 where we will be announcing OpenScore to the world!