The search for a Linux music score editing program

Some time ago I had promised a friend I’d bring some drum exercises the next time I went back home. Of course, I forgot so I taught him the exercises I could remember and promised I’d write some of those exercises and send him by e-mail. Thus, I had to find some Linux program to do it. I knew there were a couple of alternatives, and I even knew some names, but I had never used them to typeset music, so I had to give them a try. Sadly the search was more painful than I had expected.

Disclaimer: I have no idea about music programs and my needs were a bit "special" (typesetting drums, not "normal notes"), so take my comments with a grain of salt.

The programs I tried were Rosegarden, NtEd, NoteEdit, Lilypond, Canorus and MuseScore. I’m sure there are more, but those were the ones I had the patience to try, and they were conveniently packaged for Debian. My final pick was MuseScore, but as I said YMMV.

Rosegarden is, according to its website, a “well-rounded audio and MIDI sequencer, score editor, and general-purpose music composition and editing environment”. It seems like quite a complex beast, and probably capable of a lot of things (most of them I’m not really interested in of course). I think it took me a while to figure out how to fire up the music score editing interface, and once I did, I couldn’t see anything that helped typesetting drums. While I could have typeset the notes in their correct places, I didn’t find a way to change the “head” of the notes (like for the hi-hats and stuff, see the Lilypond documentation for drums). Thus, discarded.

NtEd didn’t seem bad (althought I find the UI really ugly), but it seemed a bit painful to use the keyboard and I couldn’t figure out how to add “lyrics” (for the comments on using left or right hand). Also, it doesn’t have any notion of drums, so I would have had to change all the types of note heads all the time (using the mouse, which involves extra pain).

Noteedit also looked nice, but again I couldn’t figure out the lyrics, keyboard usage seemed suboptimal and it had no special shortcuts or options for drums.

I also considered using writing Lilypond by hand. What I wanted seemed simple enough to be writable by hand, but adding lyrics and possibly a second voice didn’t seem so fun anymore (it looks more like programming than typesetting).

Canorus looks quite simple, but it seems to lack, again, good keyboard input and any kind of drum typesetting support (I can’t see how to change the note heads, again). Also I can’t seem to find any option for adding lyrics.

Finally, MuseScore seemed to match my needs. Although it did take a bit of time to figure out certain things, and I don’t completely get the keyboard usage, it seems easy enough for what I wanted, the lyrics input is very clear and easy, and the output is quite good (although probably most, if not all, these programs really use Lilypond as backend, so I guess all of them look good). The downside is that the Debian package in the current Debian Sid is quite unstable, so I have to save very often :-/