OpenScore: Creating a template score

Posted 6 years ago

A template score is simply an empty score (no notes or symbols added) but with the correct title, composer, and all the right instruments added. Creating a template score is the first step to starting a transcription. You must create a template score before you can reserve a piece to transcribe for OpenScore.

Guidelines for template scores

Music is full of special cases so it may not be possible or appropriate to follow these guidelines in all situations. Ask if you are unsure, and feel free to discuss these guidelines in the comments below! (Extended discussions should take place in the forums.)


  • Page size must be the international standard A4 (210 × 297 mm).
    • This allows easy scaling to other sizes in the A, B and C series, and is reasonably close to US Letter size.
    • A3 (297 x 420 mm) may be used for scores with more than 35 staves visible on any single page.
  • If the work consists of multiple pieces/movements then:
    • Each piece/movement needs its own score (you only need to submit a template for the first one).
    • If it doesn't make sense for a particular movement to be on it's own (e.g. it is very short) then it can be put it the same score as a neighboring movement.
    • The template score must have all of the instruments from all of the movements. (This is to allow the separate movements to be joined later using MuseScore's albums feature.)

Tip: If not all instruments are listed on the first page of the source edition, consider writing a note (as staff text) on each instrument staff in the template to say which movement(s) the instrument appears in and at least one page number on which the instrument is used. This makes it much easier to check that the template contains only the correct instruments, that they are in the right order, and that there are no duplicates. You can also use this note to justify the choice of instrument or instrument sound used (if there was a choice) and to explain why you think a guideline does not apply in this particular case, such as if you decided to put multiple instruments on one staff instead of using separate staves. Some examples:

Alto Flute: Called "Bass Flute in G" in source edition but I renamed it to "Alto Flute" to avoid confusion with an actual Bass Flute. Used in Mvt. 3, p.74.
Tenor Tuba in B♭: Actually a Euphonium but labelled "Tenor Tuba in B♭" to match the score.
Harps 1, 2, 3: all three on one grand staff since, when playing, they always play the same thing. (Sometimes only one or two play and the others remain silent, but I will just notate this with staff text like in the source edition.)
Violins I (2 staves): 2nd staff (divisi staff) needed throughout Mvt. 2
Violins II (1 staff): Mvt. 2 has a divisi on p.56 but it is too small to justify adding another stave.

Instruments are usually listed at the beginning of each movement, but be aware that these lists are often incomplete. In particular, the list might contain a single staff labelled "Percussion", but later pages might have separate staves for Triangle, Bass Drum, Tam-tam, etc. You will need separate staves for the correct playback. Also, solos within instrumental and choral sections (e.g. "Violin solo" or "Soprano solo") may not be announced until they actually happen, so look out for these later in the score. If solos occur, you need to decide whether the soloists should be separated from their section (i.e. separate instruments used for "Violin solo" and "Violins I"). The answer is usually yes, unless the solo only lasts for a few notes and adding another staff will unduly disrupt the layout.


  • Instrument names should be given in the language of the source edition.
    • The instrument name given in the Mixer (part name) should be the same as the name given in the score (long instrument name).
    • The short instrument name should be a suitable abbreviation of the long instrument name.
    • When an instrument is in a specific key:
      • always use the form "Trumpet in C" rather than "C Trumpet", and "Trumpet 1 in C" rather than "Trumpet in C 1".
      • always use the English name for the key (e.g "E♭" rather than German "Es", "F" rather than French "Fa", etc.)
  • Score text and Lyrics should be in the language of the source edition.
    • If the source edition uses multiple languages then you should too.
  • Title and composer name should be the popular English variant.
    • This means that if the name is not usually translated into English then you shouldn't translate it either.
    • For example, use "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" instead of "a little serenade", but use "The Four Seasons" instead of "Le quattro stagioni".
    • The title of the work or composer's English language Wikipedia page is usually a good choice.
    • For operas or songs, the title is usually given in the same language as the lyrics.
  • Exceptions to these rules may be made in special cases, such as:
    • if the original uses a non-latin alphabet (e.g. Cyrillic) we will probably use English instead
    • if the work is unlikely to be of interest to people outside its native country we will probably use the original language


Numbering systems

The two main numbering systems used in music are:

  • Arabic numerals
    • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12...
  • Roman numerals (capitalised)
    • I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII...

Other systems are occasionally used:

  • Capital letters (Latin alphabet)
    • A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z
  • Lowercase letters (Latin alphabet)
    • a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
  • Lowercase Roman numerals
    • i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x, xi, xii...

Not used for OpenScore:

  • Numbers as words
    • One, Two, Three, etc.
  • Ordinals as words or numbers
    • First, Second, Third, etc.
    • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

Basic rules

  • Use Arabic numerals for most things:
    • Instruments (Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, etc.)
    • Choral parts (Soprano 1, Soprano 2, etc.)
    • After the word "number" (or abbreviation "no.")
      • Songs within an opera (No. 4, No. 5, etc.)
      • Systematic titles of works (Symphony No. 5, Bagatelle No. 25, etc.)
  • Use Roman numerals for really big things:
    • Acts or Movements (Act I, Act II or Movement I, Movement II, etc.)
    • Groups of instruments/singers within an ensemble (Orchestra I, Orchestra II or Choir I, Choir II, etc.)
      • can also use capital letters for this (Choir A, Choir B, etc.)
  • Use lowercase letters to subdivide a numbered item:
    • Sections within a song (No. 3a, No. 3b)
  • Use lowercase Roman numerals for further subdivision - rare!
    • Sub-sections within sections of a song (No. 3ai, No. 3aii)

Special cases

  • Stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, etc)
    • Always use Roman numbering for string sections (Violins I, Violins II, etc).
    • Always use Arabic numerals to refer to players or desks (stands) within a string section:
      • "1 solo" or "player 1" - one player plays alone (i.e. without the rest of the section)
      • "2 soli" or "2 players" - two players play alone (i.e. together, but without the rest of the section)
      • "1 desk" or "desk 1" - the two players sitting at the 1st desk play alone
      • "2 desks" - the two players at desk 1 and the two players at desk 2 play alone
    • Use an Arabic numeral and a lowercase letter to refer to players within desks
      • "1(a)" - the outside player at desk 1 ("desk 1, player 1")
      • "1(b)" - the inner player at desk 1 ("desk 1, player 2")
    • Look out for:
      • "metà" or "half" - the outside player at every desk in the section (i.e. half the section)
      • "gli altri"/"g.a."/"altri" or "the others" - all other players in the section

Shared staves and instrument changes

You must use a separate staff for each instrument and instrumental part. This is important for controlling sounds and balance in the Mixer, displaying the instrument list on, and extracting parts.

Shared staves

Each instrument should have its own staff in the transcription, even if multiple instruments shared a staff in the source edition. Sometimes a single instrument section splits into multiple parts. This can handled in one of two ways:

  • Wind instruments typically use separate instrument staves (or "part staves") for each part (e.g. Flute 1, Flute 2, etc.)
    • Add two or more wind instruments (e.g. Flute) to the score and change the names to include numbers or Roman numerals (Flute I, Flute II, etc).
  • Stringed instruments typically use divisi staves (although sometimes part staves are also used - e.g. for "Violins 1" and "Violins 2").
    • Add one string section to the score (e.g. Contrabasses) and then add a second staff (non-linked) to this instrument.

See the guidelines document for more information about part staves and divisi staves, and how to use them.

Instrument changes

Sometimes one instrument is swapped for another between (or within) movements, with the same musician playing both instruments. This is an instrument change. Examples include:

  • Changing to a different transposition (key) or range
    • B♭ Trumpet changes to C Trumpet
    • Clarinet changes to Bass clarinet
  • Changing to a different instrument from the same instrument style/family
    • Flute changes to Piccolo
    • Triangle changes to Tambourine (often all percussion instruments are played by one person)

In all cases the instruments should be added separately so each has its own staff. Do this regardless of whether the instruments are to be played by the same person. Use the Hide Empty Staves feature to hide instruments that do not appear in the current movement.

As a consequence of using a different stave for each instrument, OpenScore transcriptions should never contain any "Instrument Change" text. However, they may contain staff text which uses the "Instrument Change" text style. (The difference is that "Instrument Change" text creates a new instrument in the Mixer, whereas staff text using the "Instrument Change" style does not.)


It is not usually necessary to use separate staves for:

  • Very small splits
    • If there's only a handful of notes different for Flutes 1 and 2 in a whole score then a separate staves are not needed.
    • In this case use chords or voices and whatever textual indication is used in the original (if any) - e.g. "div."
  • Percussion instruments in different keys (e.g. "Timpani in C, E, G")
    • As a rough guide, if MuseScore doesn't have separate instruments for each key then you don't need another staff. Percussion instruments don't usually have separate instruments for each key.
    • Note: if a subsequent movement has "Timpani in F, A, C" then you do need another stave for this, because you can't change the name of a stave part way through a score. You don't need six staves ("Timpani in C", "Timpani in E", "Timpani in G",...) but you do need two staves ("Timpani in C, E, G" and "Timpani in F, A, C").

Specialist instruments

MuseScore provides hundreds of instruments, but only about 80 are available in the Instruments dialog by default. You need to change the dropdown setting from "Common Instruments" to "All Instruments" to see the others.


You will notice in particular that there are:

  • Plural instruments (e.g. Violin and Violins - they are not the same!)
    • use the plural instrument when many instruments play the same line (e.g. a whole orchestral section)
  • Transposing instruments in different keys (C Trumpet, D Trumpet, E Trumpet, etc.)
    • note: if you see "B Trumpet" in a score it means "B♭ Trumpet" and you should use a "B♭ Trumpet". Composers can be lazy but you shouldn't be!
  • Different sizes (Oboe, Piccolo Oboe, Baritone Oboe)
    • note: a "Bass Oboe" is the same thing as a "Baritone Oboe", but this is not true for all instruments.
  • Different periods or regions (Violone, Clavichord, Baroque Trumpet, Irish Flute, etc.)

You should use the closest matching instrument to the one indicated in the score. If you can't find the one you think you need check to see if it is available under a different name (e.g. Bass Oboe/Baritone Oboe) before settling for a substitute. Once the instrument is added to the score you can rename it as appropriate, and change the sound in the Mixer if necessary. (Don't rename instruments to match a lazy composer/publicist! Keep the "s" in "Violins" and the "♭" in "B♭ Trumpet".)

If adding a transposing instrument (one that sounds at a different pitch to that written) then the transposition needs to be setup via the right-click Staff Properties. (This is done for you if you found the correct instrument in the Instruments dialog.) Be careful with key signatures of transposing instruments. By convention, key signatures are often omitted for certain instruments (e.g. Horns).


The rules for vocal instruments are the same as for other instruments, with a few exceptions.

Voice types

Where possible, try to identify the correct voice part (Soprano, Alto, Tenor or Bass) in MuseScore's Instruments dialog, noting the availability of the specialist parts (Boy Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Contralto, Countertenor, Baritone), which should be used where appropriate (note: "Contralto" should always refer to a soloist; "Alto" should always refer to the chorus, or to a soloist taken from the chorus).

Where the parts are unspecified and/or indeterminate, you may use:

  • Mezzo-Soprano for a generic female voice (rename it "Female voice" or whatever it says in the source edition)
  • Baritone for a generic male voice (rename it "Male voice" or whatever it says in the source edition)
  • Voice for a generic voice of unspecified gender

Each solo and each chorus part should have its own staff, except when the parts are non-overlapping (i.e. they don't sing at the same time) and are traditionally played by the same person/people. For example, if an opera has a "Chorus of Soldiers" in one scene and a "Chorus of Villagers" in another scene, and both choruses are sung by the same people, then they should share a single "Chorus" staff (or single set of SATB staves), with "Soldiers" or "Villagers" added as staff text where appropriate.

Naming conventions

Edit the instrument names for vocal staves to match the source edition, following the standard instrument and language guidelines as used for non-vocal instruments.

Vocal instruments don't have plurals in MuseScore, so you can use "Soprano" for a soloist or a group of singers (e.g. a chorus), but you should give them different names if both are present in the same score. Usually the soloist will be labelled "Soprano solo" or given a character name, while the chorus will just be labelled "Soprano", or "Soprano 1" and "Soprano 2" if they split.

Mixer sounds

See this document for suggested Mixer sounds.

  • You must use the default "Ahh Choir" Mixer sound for staves which represent a group of singers (e.g. a chorus)
  • You must use a different MIDI sound for soloists
    • the sound must be appropriate for the genre (classical, jazz, electronic, etc.)
    • each soloist should use a different MIDI sound (where possible)
    • the MIDI sound should not be used by any other instrument in the score (where possible)

Best practice is to use brass, string or woodwind instrument sounds for solo singers. Try to use a sound that is from a different instrument family to the accompaniment (so if the singers are accompanied by strings you should only use brass and woodwind sounds for the singers). Percussion instruments are not suitable because the volume fades over time.

Time signature groupings

MuseScore has different beaming rules for each time signature. For example, MuseScore will not beam across the middle of a bar of 4/4. If you find yourself having to manually join or break lots of beams it is possible that your source edition uses a different set of rules. This is often the case for odd time signatures like 5/4, which can be grouped as 2+3 or 3+2, or in vocal scores which only beam melismas (slurred notes).

You can change the beaming rules for a time signature by right-clicking on it and going to "Time Signature Properties". It is likely that you will still have to join or break beams manually somewhere in the score, so the correct beaming rules are the rules that lead to the fewest manual adjustments.

Stave brackets and extended barlines

Add stave brackets to whichever staves have them in the source edition (these will usually be the standard "thick square" bracket or curly brace "{"). Start with the longest bracket, which will invariably be the the one closest to the system, and work your way outwards.

Next, if you added any additional staves connect these with brackets too. Use curly braces for divisi staves and the thin square bracket for parts staves. If the source edition had a single staff for "Trumpets 1 & 2 in B♭"which later changed to "Trumpets 1 & 2 in C" your transcription should have separate staves for "Trumpets 1 in B♭", "Trumpets 2 in B♭", "Trumpets 1 in C" and Trumpets 2 in C", and these should all be connected by a single thin square bracket.

Orchestral scores and scores for large ensembles often extend barlines between staves, usually leaving a gap between wind, percussion and stringed instrument families. You should extend barlines between the same staves as in the source edition. The handbook explains how to extend barlines between staves.

Previous Section Next
OpenScore: Choosing a source edition shoogle's blog OpenScore: Reserving a piece to transcribe