What is SCORE?

Formatters and editors
How does Score store music?
Inputting music in Score
Editing music in Score
Layouting music in Score
Limitations of Score

SCORE is a music notation program. You have certainly heard about Finale, Sibelius and probably a lot of other music notation software. While some programs of this kind offer advanced features like voice recognition or video support (rumors have been spread on an internet forum that there is a musical flight simulator under development for a future release of one program), SCORE manages without such bells and whistles. It's really what you would call a plain vanilla application. While a Windows version has been announced, the current version is still running under DOS. And there are some more things that distinguish SCORE from its colleagues.

Formatters and editors

Simply speaking there are two different orientations of music notation software. Firstly there are formatters. LilyPond is a good example of a pure formatter. It works like a secretary you dictate a letter and she formats it for you in her own "handwriting" (only that music is much more difficult to handle than text). You enter musically meaningful material and LilyPond outputs a graphical representation. Formatters are semantically oriented programs.

The computer music notation planet
(as seen by NASA's Voyager 2)

If formatters represent the "south pole" of the music notation software globe, then editors represent the "north pole". In contrast to a formatter, an editor, as its name implies, lets you edit every single music notation element by hand. Editors are graphically oriented programs.

SCORE is probably the "furthest north" located program available. It lets you create any constellation of symbols used in music notation. The strength of SCORE is that you can put any symbol anywhere on a page of music, and more importantly, it will stay there.

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How does SCORE store music?

SCORE represents every item (i.e. a note, rest, stave, beam, slur etc.) by a list of parameters (numbers) that can be freely edited. parameters 1-4 always have the following meaning:

The meaning of the other parameters depends on the type of item. There is e.g. a parameter for the duration of notes/rests, the number of stave lines for staves, size of items, thickness of lines..., to put it in a nutshell: for anything you can think of. This parameter concept makes Score very flexible.

Here is a simple music example...


... and how it looks like in SCORE's parameter representation:

item No. p1 p2 p3 p4 p5 p6 p7
1 8 1 0 0 2 200  
2 3 1 1.5  
3 17 1 17.416 0 -1  
4 18 1 25.416 0 4 4  
5 1 1 40.416 4 10 0 1
6 1 1 64.838 5 10 0 1
7 1 1 89.26 6 10 0 1
8 1 1 113.935 7 20 0 1
9 14 1 138.526 1  
10 1 1 145.357 8 20 2 4
11 14 1 200 1 2  

Here the explanation item by item:

  1. p1 = 8 means this is a stave. It has the staff number p2 = 1 (notice all items have p2 = 1, they all appear on the same stave). It begins at the very left at p3 = 0 and ends at the very right at p6 = 200 (this is by default the right end of the type area in Score units; one unit is .9525 mm). The vertical position is at p4 = 0 and its size is p5 = 2 (this is very large, 17.78 mm stave height).
  2. p1 = 3 means this is a clef. p3 and p4 are, as always, the horizontal and vertical position. p5 specifies the type of clef and p5 = 0 means this is a treble clef.
  3. p1 = 17 means this is a key signature. p5 holds the number of flats or sharps. p5 = -1 means "one flat".
  4. p1 = 18 means this is a meter signature. p5 holds the numerator, p6 the denominator.
  5. to
  6. p1 = 1 means this is a note. p4 (vertical position) tells us that item 5 is at p4 = 4, that is between the two bottommost lines, i.e. an f1, item 6 is at p4 = 5 and therefore g1, item 7 a1. p5 = 10 means "stem up". (p5 = 0 means "no stem", p5 = 20 "stem down".) p6 holds the type of notehead (p6 = 0: a solid notehead, p6 = 1: half-note-head, p6 = 2: whole note-head to list the most important ones). p7 holds the duration in quarter notes (p7 = 1: one quarter note).
  7. A quarter b1 (flat) with stem down (p5 = 20).
  8. p1 = 14 means this is a barline. p4 in this case does not mean the vertical position, it holds the number of staves that are connected by the barline (here p4 = 1, only this stave).
  9. A whole note (duration: p7 = 4, notehead: p5 = 0) c2 with stem down.
  10. Another barline, this time with p5 = 2, i.e. an ending double barline.

There are up to 18 parameters. All parameters that are not used in the example are left out in the table - they would be 0 or not present at all in SCORE's internal representation.

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Inputting music in SCORE

You could enter the music by typing all the parameters which would be pretty much work. For basic music inputting, Score offers an input mode. In input mode you would first input the notes, clefs, barlines etc. and then the durations of notes and rests:

tr,k1f,4 4,f4,g,a,b,m,c5,mh;

The first line means:

The second line means:

This way you can input music line by line. A third input method would be a "menu stave": You can pick items (notes rests, barlines etc.) from such a stave and copy them to another stave one by one using the mouse.

The input music is not yet justified by Score, the positioning might look ugly. ("Spacing" or "justification" mean the vertical positioning of notes, rests and all other kinds of items.) Score does not perform any automatic operations unless you explicitly tell it to do so. Among those is the spacing algorithm which can be executed using the "lj"-command. Many people using SCORE love its spacing, however if you are not satisfied with the result, you are still free to position the items by hand wherever you want or use a third party solution that can be heavily customized.

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Editing music in SCORE

The main user interface of SCORE (version 4) is divided into four zones: On top the "status bar" (to speak in Windows terms), below a command prompt, then the graphical editing window and at the bottom "menu boxes".

SCORE's main user interface

As a DOS program, SCORE has to be very careful with memory and screen vectors. That's why it shows only a preview quality for the musical symbols. However, the position of the symbols is very precise and is guaranteed to be exactly the same as in the final printout. SCORE also offers a so called "show mode" in which it shows the exact outlines of the symbols, which requires more screen vectors and therefore more memory.

One of the most powerful points of SCORE is its heavy use of letter commands. Tasks that in other programs require a series of clicks through nested menu structures are performed by a few keystrokes in SCORE. Sequences of commands can also be stored in macro files. Version 4 introduced a simple menu bar, nevertheless the letter commands are still essential, so new users need some time before they can operate SCORE without the manuals at hand.

In the graphics window you can select items for editing, move and copy them by using the mouse. Contrary to the letter commands, the use of the mouse is not required. SCORE can be operated with the keyboard alone.

SCORE in edit mode

When selecting an item, SCORE enters the edit mode. (To remind the user, edit mode has been entered, the user interface by default turns blue.) The status bar dissappears and instead a list of the item's parameters can be seen. (Compare to those of item No. 8 in the table above.) New values can be assigned or item specific operations can be executed. Some of them can be accessed using the menu bar.

Layouting music with SCORE

SCORE does not automatically layout and justify your music after input or every time there have been changes. SCORE gives you the full control about what is happening to your music. Therefore if you want to have it to be rejustified, you will have to tell SCORE. Two of the most important letter commands are the justification commands, both for horizontal justification ("spacing") and vertical justification (adjusting the distance between staves).

For page layout and part extraction, SCORE comes with an external tool, the PAGE program.

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SCORE is not perfect

SCORE has, as any other software, its faults. Score suffers from its age. There are compatibility problems with nowadays' hard- and software, especially MIDI and graphics card incompatibility, also many problems with Windows 2000 and XP which do not have native DOS any more and instead have to emulate it. The good news is that SCORE runs under Linux DOS emulations nearly as good as under those distributed with recent Windows versions.

And yes, SCORE has bugs. As it is a niche application and maintained by a single person (in his spare time, I assume), there are no regular bugfixes. There are also some minor limitations of item flexibility that are due to the design of SCORE's file system, but there are always reasonable workarounds.

SCORE has some more imperfections. But for most of these imperfections, some clever people have written tools that highly improve SCORE's functionality. There are e.g. tools for conversion to MIDI, for making SCORE ready for Cyrillic text, for mass renaming sequentially numbered SCORE files (SCORE stores music page by page in sequentially named files) and many more. Some of them are freeware, some of them must be purchased.

SCORE is not for everyone

If you want quick results (i.e. want to input your music and print it immediately), SCORE is certainly the wrong choice. If you are ready to invest some time and brain to make your music look good instead of leaving everything to another notation program's algorithms and your computer's CPU, Score will probably be the right thing. In any case, especially if you are not (yet) a music engraving expert, some literature about music notation will be helpful as SCORE will leave more decisions to you than other music notation programs do. One definitely can learn a lot about music notation by using SCORE.

Thomas Weber, March 2006. Thanks to Christoph Lehmann, the members of the SCORE user list (George A. McGuire being one them) and Gordon J. Callon.
© Thomas Weber 2006