MuseScore 3.3 Beta Available

In recent articles, I discussed some upcoming accessibility improvements to MuseScore, the popular free and open source music notation program. I am pleased to report that a “beta” version of MuseScore 3.3 is now available that includes most of this work (for Windows / NVDA; we hope other platforms will follow within the year.

I encourage anyone with an interest in accessible music notation to install and try out this beta, which is the culmination of years of gradual progress resulting in the first “fully” accessible version of MuseScore. And please, give us your feedback! You can leave comments here, or in the support forum on musescore.org: https://musescore.org/en/forum/6

To get started, visit https://musescore.org/en/download and click the link for the MuseScore 3.3 Beta (or, if there is a more recent version available by the time you read this, grab that instead) and then download the Windows 64-bit build (the 32-bit build should work too if your syste is only 32 bit). You can then install this file normally. If you have NVDA running, everything should work out of the box. If you don’t have NVDA, download and install it here: https://www.nvaccess.org/download.

MuseScore is a full-featured and sophisticated program, so there is a learning curve associated with it, and not everything will be readily apparent to a visually impaired user. We have a section of the online document especially for visually imparied users: https://musescore.org/en/handbook/3/accessibility. Over time I hope to provide more resources.

MuseScore Accessibility Demo

Tomorrow I will be doing a live streaming video demonstration of MuseScore’s accessibility features (both current and “coming soon”) as part of my MuseScore Cafe series:

I’ll have a special guest with me as we go over how to use keyboard shortcuts and a screenreader to read and write sheet music in standard notation.

Updates – Summer 2019

I haven’t given this blog as much attention as I would have liked, as other projects have demanded their attention lately. But I am coming back to this now and would like to tell you about some of what is happening.

First, on a personal note, I (Marc Sabatella) am preparing to begin work with a blind student this fall and will use it as an opportunity to assess the current state of tools first-hand. I am also in a position where if I can find funding (e.g., grants), I will be able to make the time this year to work on accessibility close to full time. So I would very much appreciate any leads.

Second, regarding MuseScore: we have been continuing to make incremental progress, and once some pending changes are completed, merged into the main code, and released, I think we will finally be able to say we have an accessible music notation program (possible as soon as this fall). Here is a post on the MuseScore forum: https://musescore.org/en/node/292383.

There are a few other Braille tools that have been in development for a while that I would like to highlight here.

Toby Rush’s Braille Music Notator is now open source. This unique web-based tool allows blind and sighted users alike to read and write Braille music in BRF format. In the realm of conversion from MusicXML, Haipeng Hu continues to work on an ambitious framework for a Braille conversion tool he calls BrailleOrch. Meanwhile the music21 programming system – which is also open source – continues to make progress, both as a music representation system in general and with respect to its Braille support in particular.

New Accessibility Work On MuseScore

After a period of relative inactivity, I am pleased to announce that accessibility work on MuseScore is resuming.

Divya Raghunathan is currently working on this project as part of Google Summer of Code.  So far she has already implemented a new pair of navigation commands that make it possible to access virtually all symbols in a score via keyboard.  Next up is a way to navigate the palettes by keyboard, which will finally enable blind users to to create a full range of scores, as opposed to using MuseScore primarily just as a score reader.

To learn more about this work, see her blog at https://musescore.org/en/user/930801/blog/.  Feel free to comment and provide feedback!

MuseScore 2.0 Beta 1 released, with accessible score reading support

As I related in a previous article, we have been working on making MuseScore accessible.  It is a large project as MuseScore was never designed with accessibility in mind, and the Qt framework used by MuseScore has a number of issues that make it difficult to produce fully accessible applications of any complexity.  Plus of course, simply deciding how to present standard music notation in an accessible way is a difficult problem in itself.

However, as of yesterday, the MuseScore 2.0 Beta 1 release is available, and the first round of accessibility support is in!  It has been tested with NVDA on Windows and works well with that.  There are mixed reports using Jaws, VoiceOver (Mac), and Orca (Linux).  We have Andrei Tuicu – a Romanian student working through the Google Summer of Code – to thank for the new accessibility features.  I (Marc Sabatella) served as his mentor for the project.

So far, all that is fully accessible is score reading functionality – the ability to load a score and navigate through it while hearing the contents of the score read aloud.  The basic menu commands should be self-explanatory, although there are still some glitches with how the menus read due to what appear to be Qt issues.  It seems no worse than many other programs, though.  You can also use the File / Export menu to convert to other formats, hit Space to listen to play back, or hit Tab to access the program toolbar.

With a score loaded, the right and left cursor keys move forward and backwards through the score a note at a time, and the screenreader should read the notes aloud (pitch, duration, etc).  In addition, when using the cursor keys with Ctrl+Alt+Shift, it will move not just note by note, but will also include the clefs, key signatures, time signatures, and barlines.  Information about articulations, dynamic markings, lyrics, and so forth are read along with the notes they are attached to.

The MuseScore team welcomes feedback on the new accessibility of MuseScore 2.0 Beta 1.  The best way to do that is to post a thread to their Technology Preview forum.

We all realize, of course, the score reading is only part of the battle.  Next up will be to make score creation and editing accessible.  Actually, it is partially accessible already, but many important markings – key signatures – will be difficult or impossible to create.  Still, when MuseScore first starts up, there is a blank 32-bar score already loaded (key of C, 4/4) and you should be able to start typing in notes at least.  Press “N” to enter note input mode, then select a duration using the number keys on your keyboard (3-7 are sixteenth note through whole note), then type a letter name for pitch.  There is of course a lot more to note entry than this, and again, only some of it will work without use of the mouse, but that should get you started and give you an idea of the potential.

Accessibility work to begin on MuseScore

I am thrilled to report that Andrei Tuicu has been selected to participate in the Google Summer of Code  and will be working on MuseScore Accessibility!  That means Google will pay Andrei for the summer to work on this project, with guidance from Marc Sabatella.  We have others who have volunteered their time to help out as well.  This is a fantastic kickstart for the project, and we hope the work will continue past the summer (albeit without Google’s financial support).

A truly accessible free and open source notation program now appears to be on the horizon.  Further work will be required to integrate Braille conversion and other tools to fulfill all the goals of the Accessible Music Notation Project, but this will surely be the cornerstone of such efforts.

MuseScore Accepted for Google Summer of Code

MuseScore – the open source notation program – has been selected by Google as one of the mentoring organizations to participate in the Google Summer of Code 2014. In this program, students are be paid to work on an open source project. Students can choose what they want aspect of the project to work on, but a list of sample ideas is provided by the mentoring organization Improving accessibility is the #1 suggestion on the short list offered by MuseScore in their list of ideas).

Having the leading open source notation program be truly accessible would be a major breakthrough for blind musicians – particularly composers and arrangers. As a technical contributor to MuseScore myself, I am familiar enough with the code to have a pretty good sense of what is involved and am willing to serve as a mentor. I have already identified a list of specific issues to address in making MuseScore accessible. If others have other issues they would like to see added to this list, let me know.

So if there are any students out there interested in improving the accessibility of MuseScore, this would be a perfect time to get involved! Google is accepting student applications next month. For more information, see the Google Summer of Code web site. Feel free to contact me specifically about this, or join the chat on the #musescore channel on the IRC network freenode.

Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested!

Google Summer of Code

I’ve been very busy lately helping with the MuseScore 2.0 release, which is moving along but still not what I’d call “imminent”.  So not much activity on the accessibility front I’m afraid.

However, one bit of news to report: the annual Google Summer of Code is now accepting applications for mentoring organizations.  At some point, I could imagine establishing the Accessible Music Notation Project itself as a candidate, but knowing what I know about the process, I can safely say we’re nowhere near ready.  On the other hand, MuseScore successfully participated last year, and is applying again this year.  I have contributed an accessbility proposal that I hope a student chooses if MuseScore is accepted as mentoring organization:

http://musescore.org/en/developers-handbook/google-summer-code/ideas-2014#Accessibility-for-Visually-Impaired-Musicians

The basic idea if it all works out is that student would be paid by Google to work on this project.  Doing everything required to make MuseScore fully accessible is beyond the scope of what one student could get done in one summer, but I do think there couldf be some significant impact.  So I hope MuseScore is accepted and that a student selects this proposal to work on!

If anyone else interested in issues of accessibility and music notation would like to apply to become a mentoring organization, you have until February 14 to get your application in.  Students interested in getting paid to do this work, applications are accepted starting March 10.

Here is the site for the Google Summer of Code:

https://www.google-melange.com/gsoc/homepage/google/gsoc2014

Kickstarter Campaign to Produce Braille Scores from MuseScore

The MuseScore folks are proposing a very interesting project to convert scores created in their notation program into Braille.  They are currently using Kickstarter to try to fund this work.  I have been involved with MuseScore for some time now, and I have every confidence that they will be able to achieve what they are setting out to do here.  It’s an extremely exciting possibility to consider.  MuseScore is the leading free and open source notation program, and there are thousands upon thousands of scores produced with it that could be made available in Braille format.

The initial stage of the proposal involves producing a professionally produced and freely available standard print edition and recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier using MuseScore.  That much has already been funded.  The next stage will be to produce a Braille edition of that work, and then the next stage will be to develop, test, and release a tool to convert other MuseScore files to Braille, using open source

Here is a link to the MuseScore blog post announcing the campaign:

http://blog.musescore.com/post/62818273654/braille-music

And here is a link to the Kickstarter campaign itself:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/293573191/open-well-tempered-clavier-bah-to-bach

Please consider supporting this effort!