Here’s a simple, hopefully helpful, guide for those who are in a choir, and maybe just got an email with a link to a bunch of Musescore-files sent to them from that weird nerd in the back row.
This is what you do.
0. Download Musescore
Go to musescore.org, download Musescore (big green button), and install it as you would any other program.
Note: If you struggle with this, and/or the next step, just ask that nerd, or a friendly one in your neighbourhood, for help 🙂
1. Get a file onto your computer
Download one of the Musescore files. You can identify them by having the extension “.mscz”, and once on your computer they might have the icon seen below. Here seen next to a PDF file, which might be more familiar to you. But yeah, you want the Musescore file now 🙂
Note: If you see files whose name starts with a dot, for example “.Celtic Advent Carol.mscz”, these are temporary files that doesn’t work, so ignore them and find the one that doesn’t start with a dot 🙂
2. Open the file in Musescore and start practicing!
Once you’ve opened the file in Musescore (either via Explorer or Finder, or via File/Open inside Musescore, like you would in any other application, like Word, Pages, etc), you should have a view similar to this:
There might be some extra panels open, but they are mostly useful for entering sheet music. For playback, very few things are needed.
The View menu, that you see open in that image, is where you turn on and off all those various panels, including the essential Play Panel and Mixer, which we come to shortly.
At the middle top, you have the play-button, and a jump-back-to-the-very-start-button.
If you want to start playback from a certain place, simply click on a note to select it, and then press the play-button.
Playback with the Play Panel
In the View menu, you can open the Play Panel. It looks like this:
On the right you can adjust the tempo and the main volume.
The tempo can be useful in tricky parts (or if the tempo is just wrong compared to what you remember from last choir practice).
The Volume slider is mostly useful if the song has a lot of unison parts, which can sometimes result in a bit distorted sound because all the sound gets added on top of each other and ends up being too loud to function. If that happens, just nudge this one down a bit. Otherwise, just use the computer volume as you normally would.
At the bottom middle, you find the same play buttons as in the main window, but you also have some loop buttons you can play around with if you feel like it. I rarely use them, but found it useful a few times when I really struggle to find a certain note. Then I’ve set the playback to loop over that section over and over again until it sticks.
In the View menu you also find the mixer, which is the most important thing. It looks like this:
As you can see, you have a number of controls repeated down, one for each staff (note line) in the score. And you can fiddle with these both when playback is stopped, and while you’re listening.
Use Mute to turn one off. Use Solo to turn everything else off. Use the volume dial, by clicking on it with your mouse and dragging up/down, for more control over the volume of the various voices. You can also change panning (for example put your voice in the right speaker, and the rest in the left), or change instruments used to playback and such, but I rarely bother with that. If you double-click a dial, it resets to its default value, which is useful.
Either way, I usually do something along the lines of this:
- I start by turning my voice up to max.
- And and the rest down to a quarter or a half, depending on how secure I already am. That way it’s easy to hear what I’m supposed to sing, but I still have the others in the background.
- Practice until getting comfortable.
- Then I start turning the other voices back up towards their default value. (remember: double-click the dial to reset it).
- If I then have trouble finding my notes, I go back to step 1.
- If I’m still finding my notes ok, I start turning down my own sound to make sure I can still find my notes without leaning on what I hear.
- If not, practice more.
- And when I can get through the whole song, with basically no volume on my own voice, then I’m good to go 🙂
Which in my case usually means: Go, lay down on the couch, and memorize lyrics for an hour or two… because that’s what I personally really struggle with learning 😛
Hope this helps someone. I use it for literally every new song I get in the choir, and it helps me a lot. Especially with those tricky bits… that one note I just can’t quite find… that place with a bit of an off beat making it difficult to articulate properly without “getting it”… that crazy section where everyone sings something different and I’m not sure when to actually start and/or stop singing…