What do the colors on the note heads mean?

• Sep 4, 2014 - 15:16

I've been using Musescore for the past 3 years and I have never figured out what the note head colors are for. I can speculate, but I can't find anything to confirm my theory.

I know these colors for sure:
Blue = Voice 1;
Green = Voice 2;
Orange = Voice 3;
Magenta = Voice 4;

Some notes, when they're on the high or low end of the "tone spectrum" will either be a GOLD color, or a RED color. I believe the red means that the instrument cannot play the note, and the gold is a warning that the note is getting too high or too low. Can someone confirm that? If I'm wrong, can someone tell me what these colors mean? Thanks a bunch.


Using the menu item: Edit / Preferences, then on the 'Note Entry' tab, you can clear the check mark next to 'Color notes outside of usable pitch range', if desired.


In reply to by Mark Raymond Luce

I also thought that the colours were set for student or less-advanced players, so composers and arrangers get an idea of the most comfortable playing range for each instrument and know when they are pushing the boundaries (and can adjust dynamics, etc. to suit). A good teaching tool!

If the notes are black - an amateur can play them without a problem. if the notes turned green, it means that only a professional musician can reach the pitch of the green notes. if the notes are red, it means they are absolutely out of the instrument's range.

In reply to by omriavidov

But I have seen pieces where it is clearly telling the musician to play lower than the instrument's range. I see this especially on strings and with woodwinds I actually sometimes see the opposite of that happening.

For example I have seen pieces where a violinist would have to play a note lower than G in the small octave.

Likewise I have seen pieces where a flutist would have to play a note higher than C in the fourth octave or lower than B(as low as A in the small octave is what I have seen). In fact out of all the out of range notes I have seen, besides lower notes on an extended piano(one that extends to C in the subcontra octave), the flute is the most common instrument I see this on.

And this is all without changing the instrument.

In reply to by Caters

In the case of the flute, there are "foot" extension that can allow fora Bb below middle C to be played, and less commonly an A below middle C.

On strings, there is scorditura (alternate tunings) where strings are tuned normally a half or whole step below normal tuning. This make the instruments sound mellower and allows for lower notes to be played. In the case of the violin it normally plays down to a G-flat/F#.

When it comes to the Contrabass, many are modified to allow for playing below E so it can play a low C. I have seen scorditura for a contrabass that tells it to play an A.

In all of these cases, MuseScore colors the low notes red. I normally change the professional range on the the instruments in these cases to show me the notes are written lower than all players are capable of playing. The notes end up gold rather than red.

In reply to by Caters

Sometimes music is written outside the normal range of an instrument. This can in theory still be played through a number of options. Some instruments can be played outside their range but it isn't always easy - for example I'm in a band and we had a special conductor come down to conduct us at a two-day workshop. On one of the days the conductor got the main band to play a piece of music (I'm in the apprentices myself so I didn't have to play it), and he said as a challenge I want you to all play it a tone higher.

There was one point where the first trumpets at this stage had a ridiculously high note that you wouldn't normally play on a trumpet - and you should have seen the trumpeters faces as they tried to hit that note - amazingly they did it!

Also, there is the fact that it could be that the music was written for different pitches of instrument - for example, one piece of music I'm playing with at the moment it has a part wrote for clarinets - now on the first page of that music it says Clarinets - Petite Cl. in Mi b, 2 Cl. in Si b, Cl. Basse in Si b - now what this means is that to play this piece it was actually wrote on the assumption there would be 4 clarinets playing it (it also seems to be wrote in French a bit - it's a piece called Bolero by Maurice Ravel - Ravel was a French composer. In this case, this tells me that to play this piece properly I would have to have someone playing a small clarinet in Eb, 2 clarinets in Bb and a Bass Clarinet in Bb.

So if I was to just put this music into musescore fully and just set clarinet to be just a Bb clarinet I would find in numerous places the music would either go gold or red where I've gone out of the normal range for a Bb clarient, but a small Eb clarinet or a Bb bass clarinet would easily be able to reach. So it all depends on how the composer intended the music to be played and to make sure you've matched the exact type of instrument they wanted.

If you are playing it on an instrument that doesn't have that range there is also always the option of transposing the music or lowering the octave of the music so it still sounds the same - at the moment I'm learning clarinet myself and playing in the band and at the moment have only reached the lower register, there has been a few times when my music teacher has advised me to just play the song in the lower register and if it goes into the higher register play it in a lower octave until I learn the higher register. So if it's too high for the instrument you can always either transpose it or lower it an octave.

I think it's good how musescore actually shows you notes that are outside of the instrument's range - as in a computer you could potentially make any sound play totally outside of the range of the actual instrument, but you wouldn't necessarily notice it was outside of that instrument's range until you got hold of the instrument and started trying to play it and was like oh the real instrument doesn't go that high or low so it's quite a useful reference.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I always find it interesting how so many pieces of software forget about disabilities like colour blindness. I'm not colour blind myself but I can imagine how hard it must be in some cases. I have a friend who's colour blind and he went to chose a pack of crisps in a box, started eating them and was like oh they're not prawn cocktail, they're Worcestershire sauce - and at first we were all like well that's because they're in a purple bag and the prawn cocktail is in a pink bag - it was the first time he'd told us he was colour blind, and the first time that any of us had even realised that to someone who is colour blind a bag of Walkers Worcestershire sauce crisps appears to be the same colour as prawn cocktail.

Tbh it shouldn't be that hard for the developers of musescore to fix that problem as there is possibly some point in the code where it defines the colour of the out of range notes, and instead of having a constant read it from the preferences and to add the option into the preferences section. As musescore is open source and on Github it could even be something that a member of the community with a bit of coding knowledge could do. Just looking it seems to be wrote in C++ so shouldn't be that hard to add for someone with a bit of C++ coding knowledge depending on how well that section was wrote in the first place and create it as a fork - you could also request that feature here - https://github.com/musescore/MuseScore

In reply to by Darren Forster

In Edit / Preferences / Advanced we have many such controls already, but definitely worth adding requests for whatever is found missing. And we take accessibility quite seriously - in fact we just gave a talk at the FOSDEM conference a few hours ago on the work we've done making MuseScore accessible to blind and visually-impaired users.

Anyone know how to get an instrument updated in software? I've got a copy of some recorder music that has a fair few red notes - and it's most significant part of it's repertoire!

In reply to by mrpotato108

There are a few possibilities here, and we'd need you to attach your score in order to understand better.

Most likely, the music was simply entered incorrectly, not taking into account the transposing nature of the instrument (eg, soprano recorder sounding an octave higher than written). In which case, you should first transpose it to the correct sounding pitches, then fix the transposition in Staff/Part Properties to retain the original written pitches, or switch to the octave-transposing clef.

It's also possible the music was written for the wrong recorder - actually written for alto but notated on a soprano recorder staff. In which case, you should use Change Instrument in that same dialog to fix that.

Or maybe it just assumes players can play notes higher than what is normally considered the working range for the instrument. In that case, you could just leave it alone (the color is on screen only and won't print or export of PDF), or you could use that same dialog to increase the range.

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