SoundFonts and SFZ files

Updated 3 weeks ago

    MuseScore 4.0's Sound and playback support:

    • SoundFont (.sf2/.sf3): supported directly, no need to click load in the synthesizer anymore. Setup per instrument in the Mixer. Cannot select preset/bank in the mixer directly (yet). See SoundFonts.
    • SFZ (.sfz): supported indirectly through 3rd party VST. See SoundFonts.
    • VST, VSTi: supported VST3, some VSTs are reported not working properly. See Working with VSTi
    • MuseSounds: free high quality proprietary sounds from MuseGroup, installable thru MuseHub.

    The following describes MuseScore 3 only, it contains instructions that do not work on Musescore 4.

    Jump to a curated list of free files downloadable, feel free to add to the list.

    Overview

    All pre-defined instruments added onto a score is capable of creating audio playback without further setup. MuseScore creates audio playback by using the Synthesizer and the virtual instrument technology. MuseScore 3 comes with the free MuseScore_General.sf3 which contains the virtual instrument and human voice sounds, drum/percussion kits sounds, and sound effects needed.

    To use custom sounds, install a custom virtual instrument file, enable it inside Musescore, then configure a score to use a sound inside the custom file. The two sample-based MIDI synthesizing virtual instrument technologies supported by Musescore 3 are SoundFont (.sf2/.sf3) and SFZ (.sfz).

    Creation of audio playback starts with processing of score notation into MIDI data. MIDI exchange utilized includes sound preset/patch/program, MIDI velocity, MIDI CC etc. To edit sound preset usage, see Mixer chapter. To choose whether Musescore use MIDI velocity or MIDI CC or both, and the MIDI CC number used (CC2 by default), see Synthesizer chapter. These data are used together with SF2/SF3/SFZ data.

    SF2/SF3/SFZ data consists of sound samples in (PCM (WAV), OGG, or FLAC format / container) and algorithms that handle MIDI data provided by Musescore (sound volume response / attenuation modulator). MuseScore does not offer functionality to edit any data inside SF2/SF3/SFZ, including the MIDI handling algorithm. How MIDI data such as MIDI velocity affect sound volume is determined by the file but not Musescore, it is solely engineered by the creator of SF2/SF3/SFZ file. The free Polyphone editor can be used to edit them, it can also convert SF2/SF3 into SFZ and vice versa, but with some definition data loss. The SFZ definition files can be edited with any plain text editor.

    Install a custom file by copying it into the custom virtual instrument directory, which is configurable in Edit → Preferences: General tab, see Preferences chapter, it is by default:

    • Windows: %HOMEPATH%\Documents\MuseScore3\Soundfonts
    • macOS and Linux: ~/Documents/MuseScore3/Soundfonts

    Then enable the custom file by setting up Synthesizer window. Scores refer to virtual instrument files by their ordering in the list in the Synthesizer window. Scores do not create correct playback, unless the ordering is identical to the ordering used last time. To save and load the ordering setting, see Synthesizer chapter.

    Lastly, configure a score to use a sound inside the custom file.

    Musescore creates playback audio in real-time, it does not use or save cache. A score using a custom virtual instrument will not create identical playback on another machine unless the custom virtual instrument is also installed on that machine. To export audio as an independent file, see Export chapter.

    SoundFonts

    SoundFonts (.sf2/.sf3) are virtual instrument files. The SF2 format is invented by a now defunt company, but a copy of the format specification can be viewed online, see Soundfont, MIDI velocity and instruments.xml: Online Resources. SF3 offers sound data compression, see Glossary. One soundfont file is capable of embedding (packaging) all data required for multiple Musescore Instrument sound generation, see the Instruments, staff setup and templates and Mixer chapters.

    • GM SoundFonts: Conforms to GM (General MIDI) program / preset numbering standard that Musescore use. If the pre-installed SF3 in Synthesizer is replaced with a custom GM soundfont as 1st ordered item , staffs create correct playback without further tweaking and picking in the Mixer.
    • SND SoundFonts: Contains sounds that response to MIDI CC 2 signals created by Musescore 3's SND mechanisms, see Glossary: SND.

    Musescore need time to process soundfonts at startup, especially SF3 files. Removing unused files from the list in the Synthesizer can speed up program startup.

    Installing SF2/SF3

    1. Unzip if required
    2. Double click on a sf2/sf3 file
    3. A dialog appears asking if you want to install the SoundFont. If not, right-click or Ctrl-click on the file, select to "open with ... MuseScore"
    4. Click "Yes" to place a copy of the SoundFont file in MuseScore's SoundFonts directory.
    5. Setup Musescore
    6. Use it on a score

    If you're having problem, move / copy the file manually to the custom virtual instrument directory.

    Disabling and uninstalling SF2/SF3

    To disable a virtual instrument, remove the file from the list inside Synthesizer.

    To uninstall a virtual instrument, remove the file from the directory. This may change the virtual instrument ordering in Synthesizer, which affects all scores previously created with this Musescore program because the order of soundfonts affects playback. Score may play an incorrect sound even if it does not use the virtual instrument you just uninstalled. When Musescore cannot locate particular data, a staff's playback falls back to use the first sound of the first file, that is usually the "Grand Piano" sound of the pre-installed SF3.

    Internal structure of SF2/SF3

    a simplified illustration

    • one SF2/SF3 file, embedding all the following data
      • instrument 1 sound 1 (eg guitar normal)
        • sound samples (various pitches)
      • instrument 1 sound 2 (eg guitar open string)
        • sound samples
      • instrument 2 sound 1 (eg piano)
        • sound samples
      • instrument 3 sound 1 (eg violin arco)
        • sound samples
      • instrument 3 sound 2 (eg violin pizz)
        • sound samples
      • instrument 3 sound 3 (eg violin tremolo)
        • sound samples
      • etc

    SFZ

    SFZ is a free virtual instrument format not related to sf2/sf3, see https://sfzformat.com . SFZ files do not embed (package) audio sample. Musescore 3 understand and uses each SFZ for one articulation sound of one instrument only, see the Mixer chapter.

    Installing SFZ

    1. Unzip if required
    2. Move / copy SFZ files and the folders containing audio samples manually to the custom virtual instrument directory. Leave the sub-directories and their contents as they are.
    3. Setup Musescore
    4. Use it on a score

    Disabling and uninstalling SFZ

    Same as in soundfont

    Folder structure of SFZ and audio samples

    SFZ files do not embed audio data. Audio files (WAV or FLAC format) are usually located in folder(s) next to SFZ file(s):

    • SFZ definition file 1 (eg guitar normal)
    • SFZ definition file 2 (eg guitar open string)
    • SFZ definition file 3 (eg piano)
    • etc
    • folder(s) next to the SFZs contains all samples

    Setting up Musescore to use a custom SF2/SF3 or SFZ

    Once the files has been installed, they also need to be enabled inside the synthesizer window, see Synthesizer.

    Using a custom sound on a score

    If the sound needed is shipped with Musescore, use it by adding instruments onto a score instead, their sounds are already configured properly.

    To add a custom sound, choose and add an instrument that use a staff style similar to the custom sound would relate to, then change its sound in the Mixer.

    Advanced users could create custom instruments, see developers' handbook instruments.xml chpater. That chapter has info on how to make a soundfont more compatible with MuseScore 3 such as adding sound change text (eg pizz.) support, adding MIDI CC response etc.

    List of downloadable SoundFonts and SFZ

    The list below are different from other sf2/sf3/sfz online depositories, in that these virtual instruments contains at least one Musescore 3 compatible attenuation modulator. That is, they are engineered to at least responds to one volume-affecting MIDI data exchange practice used by Musescore 3, such as MIDI velocity. Community handbook editors updating this list should be mindful of the distribution aspect of the SoundFonts or SFZ's license (wikipedia)

    All sounds

    Orchestral sounds

    File that contains common instrument sounds of the four families:

    Piano sounds

    SF2 Pianos
    SFZ Pianos
    • Salamander Grand Piano
      Downloads: version 2 | version 3
      Description: Yamaha C5, 48kHz, 24bit, 16 velocity layers, between 80 MB and 1.9 GB uncompressed
      License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
      Courtesy of Alexander Holm
    • Detuned Piano (244 MB uncompressed)
      License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0
    • Plucked Piano Strings
      Description: 44.1kHz, 16bit, stereo, 168 MB uncompressed
      License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0
    • The City Piano
      Description: Baldwin Baby Grand, 4 velocity layers, 696 MB uncompressed
      License: Public domain
      Courtesy of Big Cat Instruments
    • Kawai Upright Piano, release 2017-01-28
      Description: 68 samples, 44KHz, 24bit, stereo, 2 velocity layers, 58 MB uncompressed
      License: GNU General Public License version 3 or later, with a special exception
      Courtesy of Gonzalo and Roberto

    Drumset SFZs

    Troubleshooting

    Tips on extracting downloaded files:

    • ZIP (*.zip) is standard compression format supported by most operating systems.
    • sfArk (*.sfArk) is a compression format designed especially for compressing SoundFont files. To decompress it, use Polyphone (cross-platform software); or this online service: https://cloudconvert.com/sfark-to-sf2
    • .tar.gz (*.tar.gz) is a popular compression format for Linux. Windows users can use 7-Zip; Mac users can use The Unarchiver, or macOS' built-in Archive Utility. Note that if using 7-Zip, you will need to apply decompression twice—once for GZip and once for TAR.

    If the toolbar play panel is greyed out, or not visible, follow the instructions below to get your sound working again:

    1. Right-click on the menu bar and make sure there is a check mark next to the Playback Controls menu item. If this step does not solve your problem, go to Step 2.
    2. If the play panel disappears after changing the SoundFont, go to EditPreferences...I/O tab and click OK without making any changes. After restarting MuseScore, the play panel should reappear.

    If you are setting up a SoundFont for the first time, please use one of the recommended SoundFonts listed above.

    If playback stutters, then your computer may not be able to handle the SoundFont being used. The following advice may help:

    • Reduce the amount of RAM (memory) used by MuseScore by using a smaller SoundFont. See the list above for suggestions.
    • Increase the amount of RAM available for MuseScore by quitting all applications except MuseScore. If you still have problems and a large SoundFont is important to you, consider more RAM for your computer.

    Drum notation and Unpitched layout sound requires MIDI Bank number set to 128

    The pre-installed SF3

    MuseScore 3 comes with the free MuseScore_General.sf3. It is located in the directory shown below. This directory should not be used for installing custom files, the custom virtual instrument directory should be used instead.

    • Windows x86 (32-bit) / MuseScore x86: %ProgramFiles%\MuseScore 3\sound\MuseScore_General.sf3
    • Windows x64 (64-bit) / MuseScore x86: %ProgramFiles(x86)%\MuseScore 3\sound\MuseScore_General.sf3
    • Windows x64 (64-bit) / MuseScore x86_64: %ProgramFiles%\MuseScore 3\sound\MuseScore_General.sf3
    • macOS: /Applications/MuseScore 3.app/Contents/Resources/sound/MuseScore_General.sf3
    • Linux (Ubuntu): /usr/share/mscore-xxx/sounds/MuseScore_General.sf3 (with xxx being the MuseScore version)

    See also

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