TL;DR Get Musescore. Manually enter all the parts, each on a separate staff (unless maybe someone else in your choir already did). Then play it back. Use the Mixer to emphasize your own part at first, then blend it increasingly with the rest to make sure you still know it without getting confused.
When I first started singing in the choir Triangelos, I suddenly had to learn a, to me, impossible number of songs in just a few weeks before our first performance. Everyone else more or less knew them already, and I’m not the bravest at speaking up and demanding stuff to be repeated just for my benefit, so I found myself in kind of a bind.
The solution, of course, was to practice at home, but as I didn’t have any sort of musical instruments and couldn’t really read sheet music anyways… what was a computer geek like me supposed to do? I went online hunting for digital help of course…
The quest led me to the free sheet music program Musescore. Not only is it free, but it’s also open-source and available to both Windows, Mac OS and Linux. There’s even an app for your Android or iOS devices.
But, musescore is of course of no use on its own. You need digital sheet music. We get ours on paper.
Looked into OCR stuff, but seemed expensive and/or messy, so I’ve ended up doing it manually. Went slowly at first… a lot of line counting and alphabet walking from the only two notes I really knew where was, the G and the F… trips through Wikipedia and the Musescore manual when weird symbols and lines sometimes pops up, to figure out what they mean and how to enter them in Musescore… Anyways, through perseverance and curiosity it went quicker and quicker, and although I’m definitely no professional, I can now do it fast enough to definitely feel worth it. Especially since I also share the finished product with the rest of my choir in case they also want to use them to practice.
A note about staffs and the mixer
The most important feature to me in Musescore (other than the regular playback of course) is the Mixer. This allows me to, among other things, mute and control the volume of different staffs. More about that later, but the important thing to note is that if you enter multiple voices on the same staff, you won’t be able to control them separately.
Often you only have two staffs, one for soprano and alto, and one for tenor and bass. Compact and nice on paper, but if you enter it this way in Musescore, you won’t be able to for example listen to only the alto voice.
So, when entering the score into Musescore, I make sure to give each voice its own separate staff. If there for example is a lot of 1st and 2nd soprano variation as well, I like to split those up too. If there’s only one note difference between the 1st and 2nd bass, I maybe keep them as one staff… but either way, it all boils down to whether you want/need to emphasize a certain note when playing it back or not. If yes, you need them in separate staffs. And if yes, copy, paste and adjust can save you a lot of time. 😉
A note about dynamics
I mostly use Musescore to learn what notes to sing and when to sing them, so I tend to not bother entering all the various dynamics and such. Crescendos and decrescendos, mf, pp, fff, etc. Saves a lot of time, and in my experience it might not even be right anyways because the conductor sometimes has their own small variations and such. So, better to spend time at home learning the part and then paying proper attention to the conductor for the dynamics during practice. 🙂
Sharing is caring
I mainly do all this for my own benefit, but as part of a choir it’s good to share, and since I’m very against repeating things unnecessary, I keep all the Musescore-files I produce in a OneDrive folder I share with the others in my choir. Just them though, because copyrights and such… But yeah, I’ve found doing this has helped others as well. Who are maybe not prepared to spend some hours manually entering a score (or know how to), but would very much like to get some help with that tricky part in that certain song. More practice, better choir, more fun for me as well 😀
How I use this for practicing
This thing turned into a bit more than what I had first planned. A simple, hopefully helpful, guide to how you can use Musescore for practicing singing in a choir, when you already have that digital sheet music, maybe sent to you from a helpful nerd in your choir 😛
So, that’ll go in a separate post to hopefully make it as tidy and to the point as possible…