Mandolin: Energy Drink for your Daily Practice
By Jean Comeau
Recently, while translating one of my texts from French to English, I was searching the Internet for the exact equivalent of the word "choeur". This word is used in lute-making to name a group of two or more strings tuned in unison or in octave like the ones on the mandolin. As we often do, I was groping from site to site; I knew that the word I was looking for sounded more or less like its French version "choeur", so I tried "mandolin chore". That's when I stumbled on a chat about how boring practicing our favourite instrument can be sometimes. There was a lot of diagnosis, treatments and prognosis proposed. People were talking about taking a break, looking for a different teacher, playing nothing but those "songs we love". Nobody suggested that maybe we should put a little "color" on our daily struggle. Nobody seemed to bow to the evidence that the worst enemy of the lonely musician is precisely his loneliness! Who gets bored of practicing with somebody else or with a group? After all, is music that much different from making love?
Comrade in arms
Personally, I have found a fabulous trick ( for my daily practice, of course!) It's called MuseScore. It's a free software that allows to "create, play and print beautiful sheet music". Nothing is exaggerated in this slogan. I think we can even go further and say it can become the perfect practicing companion: always available, never makes any mistakes, keeps the tempo like a metronome, it can speed up or slow down every time you ask, and like any good teammate it can get on your nerves. And the cool part is that it can instantly shut up when you have enough and it doesn't cost anything… or almost. Let me introduce it.
What does it do, exactly?
First of all, MuseScore can take a completely decrepit score like this Allemande from Leone's Méthode Raisonnée… that looks like this…
and make it look like this…
And, of course, you can produce individual sheets for each musician.
If I was a music teacher, I would perform wonders with such a beautiful sheet music (and maybe my students would be able to play the piece without having to remember what such or such sign, which isn't used anymore, meant this during the classical era, with the exception of Leone, and that, independently from what Fouchetti used to say, Denis preferred to write it differently. And, here, of course, we're not talking about Gervasio. Anyway, these guys really loved catfight! It even shows through their scores!)
Does it play music?
Of course! And this is where it becomes a real practice companion. In just a few seconds, we can generate a vast array of mp3 files:
We can export those files so other people can use them even if they don't have MuseScore.
We can use the original score during our practice. We have perfect control over the speed; we can select a section to be played on a loop. We can select a more difficult section and transpose it in a variety of tones to help us mastering it.
Is it very difficult?
Is working with MuseScore very difficult? No!… Maybe!… Probably, yes! It depends on what we want to do. To produce a simple sheet music (like our Allemande) and a series of mp3 is rather simple. To produce a score for an ensemble is a bit difficult.
And we can add lyrics, work with the mixer and the synthesizer, add tabs, chords symbols, add texts, create albums… that's pretty difficult.
And all that is free?
MuseScore, yes. But, unless someone is very familiar with music writing softwares, it's a good idea to buy the manual Mastering MuseScore. Everything is explained in 398 pages.
Having a little MIDI keyboard may be another good idea. But we can do everything with the computer keyboard. When we know the shortcuts, it's almost as fast.
Jean Comeau for Mando Montreal
Jean studied piano in his childhood and was addicted to Chopin's concertos. He also studied serial composition, flute, organ and singing. During his career as a french and theater teacher in high school, he founded the Bateleur's theater company for which he has written, composed music, made costumes and builds sets for 17 years. Now retired from teaching, Jean devotes himself full time to his passion: the mandolin