Last night I wrote out the first 24 bars of Mozart's famous Rondo Alla Turca, with pen and paper and nothing else. It's quick and dirty, with wavy freehand lines and a few corrections, but I can read it while I practice, and that's what counts.
Now let's see how I fare with MuseScore. This is a bleeding-edge version, about one week old: commit# r5654, dated 2012.05.20.
Here goes... create new score, instrument: Guitar (Tablature), cut time, no sharps/flats. The choices should be labeled "C / Am" etc for clarification. A lot of rock/metal/blues guitarists just read tablature and don't know much about standard notation or music theory jargon... and some of them are damn good performers. Help 'em out.
Since this is tablature, why do I need to choose a key signature anyway? Oh. I see. I look at my handwritten tablature and type what it says there: "0 2 1 2". Whoops, I just entered a quarter-rest and diddled the note length icons. I've gotta enter the notes in A-B-C format?! Sigh. B, A, G, up-arrow for G#, A. D'oh, wrong octave! Let's see, in staff notation mode I'd select the notes and hit Ctrl+down to drop them down an octave. Wrong! That moved them down a string and up 5 frets. I actually have to hit the down-arrow 12 times. WTF.
When I get to the 3rd or 4th measure, I realize it's putting bar lines every 4 beats, not 2. I guess I want 2/4. I drag that in from the Time Sig palette. Amazingly, it reformats my music without throwing away the 2nd half of each measure.
Measure 5: how do I enter grace notes? Ah, the Grace Note palette. Uhhh... do I want accacciatura or appoggiatura or...? I'm just a dumb guitar player! My great-grandparents came over from Italy 100 years ago. I know a little Italian but not those words. I click buttons. Nothing happens. I double-click. Not what I want. I give up, I'll come back later....
Ok, it's later. I see. I click the "7", then double-click the 32nd Grace button. That gives me a little "7" in front of the big "7". Click the big "7" and repeat, now I have two little sevens. Click the first, down-arrow it to "3", click the other, down-arrow to "5". Cool.
Now I need a chord, a high A with the F# below it. In staff mode, I'd type A, shift-F, up-arrow for F#. Nope, doesn't work. I try the Notes menu, Add Interval, 3rd Below. Hmm, that does something weird, probably a bug. I end up clicking on the line below the "5", which gives me a "0", then up-arrow 7 times to F#. I have to make sure I've selected the same note length, an 8th. If I select a 16th, it gets inserted in front. A quarter, it deletes the "5" and the next 8th-note too. This might make some sense in staff mode, but not in tab.
Finally, I go back and add the bassline, as Voice 2 (green). Yeah, I have a clue about multiple voices because I've made tablature with Lilypond. They're a fucking pain in the arse. They work for choral and keyboard music, especially in manuscripts and engravings where you can bend the rules, unlike in software. The "voices" feature (probably modeled after Finale) makes almost no sense for tablature, where, in a way, the strings are the voices. Look at some good 400-year old tablature, like John Dowland's "Lachrimae"... you can find scanned originals online. You'll see stems and flags used to indicate timing, but not on every single note, just the main melody. The rest is left to interpretation.
To their credit, the MuseScore developers are clearly aware of different tablature styles. Just look at all the options. Right-click "Guitar", pick Staff Properties. next to "Type: Tab" click Edit... under Presets you'll see French (historic) and Italian (historic)... and if you click Full Config, you can change the font, use letters instead of numbers, flip the strings upside down. You can also change the tuning under Staff Props, Edit String Data.
Update: Here's the Tablature Creation manual. Nope, I didn't overlook anything... except "multiple staves" (show standard notation above the tablature, as a linked staff), which sounds helpful for debugging.
In the interest of progress, I muddled through it... here's my MuseScore version of the above Mozart tab. Click for high-res.
What would I change?
I think MuseScore needs a completely different input mode for tablature -- "What You Type Is What You See" -- like this:
- Numbers 0-9 .......... enter a note by fret number
- Ctrl 1, 2, 3, etc .... select note length
- Enter ................ move down to next string (same as down arrow)
- Space ................ advance right (can be used to enter a rest)
- Arrows ............... move
- Shift up/down ........ move selected notes to adjacent string
- +/- .................. move notes 1 fret up/down (1 semitone)
- Ctrl +/-/up/down...... octave up/down (tries to choose strings sensibly)
This UI should make multiple voices unnecessary, though they'd still be there if someone has a use for them.
In "lute tab" mode (lettered frets) it would make sense to enter notes using letters A-Z, or at least A-M (12 frets). We'd only lose a few keyboard shortcuts.
There could be an "auto-advance" toggle button. When enabled, you don't have to hit space to advance, but you couldn't enter double-digit frets. Would be useful for entering melodies and basslines. Maybe you could hold down Shift to enter chord (advance to next string instead of advancing right).
Hmmm... it would be nice to have 2, 3, or 4 keyboard shortcuts for some functions. For example, Ctrl = should do the same thing as Ctrl +, and you might need a 3rd shortcut for the keypad + key. This is easy to implement in programs with text config files, but tough for GUIs.
Once the UI is ironed out, some visual improvements are in order. Besides a few glitches, which just need fixing, MuseScore tablature looks cheesy. The default font sucks... make it smaller, with serifs. Line breaks around numbers should be tighter. Beams should slant. There should be extra space around long notes and beamed note groups.
Another new feature for basso continuo parts... and probably for "Nashville Notation" which is also written using numbers above/below the staff.
Not much to it. Click on a note, press Ctrl+G, type the numbers. Other than that, it's like entering lyrics. Press enter to stack them vertically, or don't if you want horizontal figured bass. Space for next note, tab for next measure.
Actually there is a bit more... I need sharps (major), flats (minor), and numbers with a slash through them (augmented). Ok, "#" is sharp and the letter "b" is flat. Cool. Is "4/" a slashed 4? Nope, it turns into a "?"; I guess that part's not quite finished. "4+" works though... means the same thing (augmented)... but maybe I want a slash, you know?
Update: Here's the Figured Bass manual Much more complete than the Tablature manual. It does mention that I can't do "4/". I can do "4\", but that renders just like "4+". The "historic" style option looks better, but there should be a "do what I say" option...
This is the other new killer feature. In a multiple-instrument score, I go to File menu, Parts, click "New All Parts", and Close. No need to "extract" each part to a separate file anymore. Now I have a second row of tabs, one for each part, below the filename tab. I can edit the score OR the parts, and the other will update automatically. Nice!
According to this ongoing forum discussion, Sibelius and Finale only added this feature a few years ago. Right now, MuseScore just has the basic score/part linking functionality. There are tons of possibilities and complications... linking one instrument to another, transposing instruments, enharmonics, piano reductions, divisi parts, linking a range of measures, partial measures (pickup notes), etc. Getting this right would require a huge UI redesign. What could go wrong? A) nobody will understand it except programmers. B) it'll be too buggy to use. Everyone will stick to the old "select all, copy, paste, fix up" routine.
Keep up the good work, guys. Wish I could be more help.