Using Musescore for Handbell Music

Musescore is a free music notation program which allows us to write in musical notation like Word or Libreoffice Writer allows us to write in normal language.

It is popular because it is free and yet is able to be almost as useful as commercial software costing hundreds of dollars.

Some of the shortcomings become apparent when it is used for handbell music. There is nothing substantially different about handbell music — a quarter note or quarter rest is the same as in any orchestral score. But there are some notational quirks that have to be worked around and Musescore was not designed with handbells in mind.

One of these quirks is the callout, or listing of each handbell and/or handchime that is used in the score. This appears at the beginning of the score and allows the performers to lay out only the handbells needed for the piece. The handbells are laid out on a cushioned table in front of each performer and space is always at a premium.

Here are some tips that I hope will be helpful when using Musescore to write or arrange handbell music.

I am using the latest version (3.6.2) but I will try to keep this as version-agnostic as possible. Also, this uses Musescore “right out of the box” without any extensions or changes of any kind.

Creating the score

When creating a new handbell score, do not enter a key signature other than C-major (no sharps or flats). Let the time signature default to 4/4. If you already know the number of measures, enter that value plus one. The callout will be the first measure.

Enter text for the new piece. Note the run on sentence for “Composer”
Select “Choose Instruments” and press Next.
Select “Hand Bells”. Press “Add to score”
Select C-major scale (no sharps or flats). Press “Next”
Accept defaults. Press “Finish”

After pressing Finish in the “New” wizard, you will have a blank score.

Delete the time signature and any key signature if one was entered. This is also a good time to apply your handbell style template.

Page sizes, number every measure, etc.

Now the score should be a “clean,” blank set of systems.

Right-click in the first measure and select “Measure Properties…”

We’re gonna change the first measure only.
  • Check the “stemless” attribute for both clefs.
  • Enter the number of bells represented by each clef. If one clef has more bells than the other, use the larger number.
  • Check “Exclude from measure count”

That’s it. Press “OK.”

With the first measure selected, press “N” to engage note entry. Enter every bell in the appropriate clef. This becomes the callout measure.

Measure zero, the callout.

Now comes the trick. Select measure 1, the measure after the callout measure. From the Frames && Measures palette, double-click the “Insert horizontal frame” or drag and drop it onto measure 1. The frame should now separate the first two measures.

Separate the first two measures.

Select the frame and stretch it to the right until the callout measure is the only measure remaining on the system.

The callout measure now has the entire system to itself

(If using handchimes, just create another callout measure the same way.)

Now is the time to add signatures and tempo header to what we now consider to be the first measure.

Time to gather signatures.

Now for the second little trick. If you’ve been wondering about the run-on attributes up at the top (“The first of a…”), now all will become clear.

Drop an “Insert text frame” onto measure 1. The frame should stretch across the page between the callout measure and measure 1. Double click on the run-on attribute to edit it, position the cursor after the word “series” and press Enter. Now there are two lines.

Click anywhere outside the text (or press Esc) to exit edit mode, click once on the text to select it and cut it (Ctrl-X). Select the text frame and insert the text there (Ctrl-V). It will be left justified so, with the text still selected, click on the Right Justify selection on the Inspector.

Almost there…

Now select one of the first notes in the callout measure, select “System Text” from the Text palette and change the text to “Handbells used:”

Done. Well…except for all those notes and things.

You can make adjustments to suit your fancy, but this is very close to the form used by most published handbell music. Here is what it looks like when printed:

Any suggestions, improvements or questions are welcome.

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A retired software engineer who hates retirement with a passion. My hobbies are economics, philosophy and futurism.

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Tomm Carr

Tomm Carr

A retired software engineer who hates retirement with a passion. My hobbies are economics, philosophy and futurism.

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