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Celebrating MusicXML’s 20th Anniversary

MusicXML 20th Anniversary!It was 20 years ago today that MusicXML was first publicly presented to the world. On October 23, 2000, I gave a poster presentation on Representing Music Using XML at the First International Conference on Music Information Retrieval in Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. This talk described MusicXML 0.1 and its early implementations for Finale, Sibelius, MIDI, and MuseData.

Ten years ago I took a look back at the first 10 years of MusicXML with both a blog post and an article on MusicXML: The First Decade. Today I’d like to look at how far we have come in the past 10 years. A lot has happened!

Double the Application Support

Ten years ago we had over 130 applications supporting the MusicXML format, which was already impressive. In the past 10 years we have nearly doubled that to over 250 applications.

There has been a lot of growth in web application support as well as mobile application support on iOS, iPadOS, and Android. Desktop app support continues to grow as well.

Once of the biggest categories to emerge over the past 10 years as been digital audio workstation (DAW) support. Where Cubase stood nearly alone 10 years ago, it has been joined by Logic, Digital Performer, SONAR, Reaper, and other apps today. DAWs now join notation editors and music scanners as categories where nearly every major app supports MusicXML.

More Consumer Sites

MusicXML’s main success has been as an exchange format between different applications. It has long been the standard when people work together with different apps to prepare written music for print, film, shows, and online services.

However one of the original goals was also to be a consumer format. We wanted musicians to be able to download interactive sheet music and use it in whatever application they like, not just the application where they first accessed the music. Copyright issues make this more complex than I appreciated 20 years ago, but there have still been breakthroughs in the past few years.

The original consumer sites for MusicXML files such as the Choral Public Domain Library focused on public domain sheet music. Today we also have licensed sites for downloading MusicXML files of copyrighted music. MuseScore.com is currently the largest of these sites, having made the transition from unlicensed to licensed since its acquisition by Ultimate Guitar two years ago.

We now know of over 20 sites that offer MusicXML files for sale, subscription access, or free downloads. These range from small sites with tens of files to large ones with either tens of thousands or over a million scores available.

More Functionality

Over the past 10 years we have released MusicXML versions 3.0 and 3.1 with major improvements in functionality. Version 3.0 added many improvements to playback, including a standard set of over 800 instrument sound identifiers. Version 3.1 improved support for the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) standard, including support for many more music notation symbols.

Development has not stopped there. We are currently working on MusicXML version 4.0, planned for release in early 2021. This will provide better support for concert scores, generating parts from scores, and more. Each release also includes many smaller changes to make moving music files between applications ever more comprehensive and seamless.

More Stable Governance

Ten years ago, MusicXML was owned by Recordare, a small independent company with limited resources. With the development of MusicXML 3.0 in 2011, it became clear that MusicXML needed a larger home to continue to grow.

The first new home was MakeMusic, the company that purchased Recordare’s assets in November 2011. MakeMusic provided the resources for this web site and for the MusicXML 3.0 online documentation. MakeMusic’s support allowed us to start hosting face-to-face meetings at the NAMM and Musikmesse shows. Other companies in the MusicXML community soon joined as sponsors.

Michael Good at MakeMusic NAMM Booth, 2012

Michael Good at MakeMusic’s NAMM booth in 2012

However, development of the format slowed down. People were more willing to collaborate with an independent company like Recordare than with a competitor like MakeMusic. Joe Berkovitz from Noteflight recognized this problem early on. He worked for several years to get MusicXML transferred from oversight by a single company to an independent standards organization.

We found a home in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Community Group structure. MusicXML development was transferred to the W3C Music Notation Community Group five years ago. This group was responsible for delivering Version 3.1 and for the ongoing development of Version 4.0.

NAMM 2016 Music Notation Community Group Attendees

Attendees at the first face-to-face meeting of the W3C Music Notation Community Group, NAMM 2016.

Membership in the W3C Music Notation Community Group is free of charge. You do not need to be a W3C member to join the Community Group. Click on the JOIN OR LEAVE THIS GROUP button on the group homepage to begin the process of joining the group and contributing to the ongoing development of the MusicXML standard.

Thanks

There are so many people to thank for the success of MusicXML over the past 20 years. When you put together a list like this you are always afraid of leaving someone out, but I will try anyway.

  • My collaborators at Recordare – Geri Actor, Tony Berman, JoAnn Close, and Aaron Jacobs – for all their support in getting MusicXML off the ground and commercially viable.
  • The people whose work inspired the design of MusicXML – Walter Hewlett and Eleanor Selfridge-Field for MuseData, David Huron for Humdrum, and Barry Vercoe for pointing me in their direction.
  • The earlier adopters of MusicXML, especially Graham Jones at SharpEye and John Paulson, Mark Maronde, and the Finale team at MakeMusic in the early 2000s. Linking one of the top scanners to one of the top notation editors started MusicXML’s successful adoption. Market leaders can tend to prefer lock-in to open formats. John Paulson saw that nothing was going to stop MusicXML’s adoption and decided that MakeMusic should make the most of it.
  • All the contributors to the MusicXML format over the years – through the Yahoo! group, the mailing list, the forum, and now the Community Group. Doill Jung, Curtis Morley, and their teams contributed key ideas to make MusicXML handle high-fidelity graphical rendering in addition to musical semantics. Don Byrd, Michael Scott Cuthbert, Didier Guillion, Bernd Jungmann, Mogens Lundholm, Mark Olleson, Donncha Ó Maidín, Christof Schardt, and Dominique Vandenneucker are among those who have contributed so much over the years.
  • My colleagues at MakeMusic past and present. Karen van Lith, Karen VanDerBosch, and Beth Sorensen were key players in making the MakeMusic acquisition happen. Paul Carlson, Grégory Dell’Era, Gear Fisher, Fred Flowerday, Michael Johnson, Trent Niemeyer, Andy Stephens, Jonathan Tschiggfrie, and Jason Wick have provided management and project support.
  • My co-chairs in the W3C Music Notation Community Group past and present – Joe Berkovitz, Adrian Holovaty, and Daniel Spreadbury. It has been a joy to work with them and the entire MusicXML community to make better music notation software standards. Better standards will keep growing the use and enjoyment of digital sheet music.
W3C Music Notation Community Group Co-Chairs

W3C Music Notation Community Group Co-Chairs Adrian Holovaty, Daniel Spreadbury, Michael Good, and Joe Berkovitz at Musikmesse 2017.

Finale 26.3 MusicXML Updates

Yesterday MakeMusic released Finale 26.3 and an updated Dolet 7.6 for Finale plug-in. The MusicXML improvements for both Finale 26.3 and Dolet 7.6 for Finale include:

  • Music written with percussion clefs using standard rather than percussion notation now exports correctly.
  • Music written on 2- or 3-line percussion staves now exports and imports more accurately.
  • Percussion notation rests set to a specific staff position now export and import more accurately.
  • Custom Clef Designer definitions are now exported.
  • Stacked chord symbols are now exported and imported.
  • Measure numbers now export more accurately from documents with multiple measure number regions.
  • Stems shortened to nothing using the stem length tool are now exported correctly.
  • When notes display in other layers when rhythmic notation is applied, their stem directions now export correctly and articulations are displayed after import.

Finale 26.3 also includes a fix where MusicXML import no longer changes MIDI quantization settings.

As part of our continued MakeMusic technology modernization, the Dolet plug-in no longer supports Finale versions prior to Finale 2011 as of version 7.6. You may continue to use older Dolet versions with earlier Finale versions.

While MakeMusic has been continuously improving our MusicXML 3.1 support, the W3C Music Notation Community Group has started work on MusicXML 4.0, planned for release in 2021. Please join the group to contribute to MusicXML 4.0’s development, or watch the MusicXML GitHub repository to track our progress.

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale 26.3 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in the Finale portion of our Help Center.

Finale 26.2.2 MusicXML Updates

Today MakeMusic released Finale 26.2.2 and an updated Dolet 7.5 for Finale plug-in.

The MusicXML improvements for both Finale 26.2.2 and Dolet 7.5 for Finale include:

    • Text in the JazzText, Broadway Copyist Text, and Finale Copyist Text fonts now exports more accurately, especially for codas, segnos, and metronome marks.
    • The Scale Expression with Attached Note setting is supported during export.
    • Staff style changes in the middle of the first measure are now exported.
    • Positions of text repeats at the end of multimeasure rests export more accurately.
    • Metronome font information is now exported.
    • Hyperlinks for measure-attached text blocks are now exported.
    • Accent articulations in a text font are now exported as accents.
    • Hidden smart shapes are no longer exported.
    • Hidden clefs now export as hidden.
    • Hidden time signatures at the start of a part now export as senza misura.
    • Parts with no visible clefs are now imported without clefs displaying.

Finale 26.2.2 also includes MusicXML export of exact slur positions.

These improvements are part of MakeMusic’s work on an upcoming digital sheet music sharing and practice solution. Finale product manager Jon Tschiggfrie interviewed me for a recent post on the Finale blog on “the life and times of MusicXML.”

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale 26.2.2 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in the Finale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.

Finale 26.2 MusicXML Updates

Today MakeMusic released Finale 26.2 and an updated Dolet 7.4 for Finale plug-in.

Two main areas of focus for Finale 26.2 development are compatibility with macOS 10.15 Catalina and updating the way that document options work inside Finale. The MusicXML code has now been updated to support these changes. Note that since the Dolet for Finale plug-in is only for 32-bit versions of Finale, it will not run on Catalina.

The MusicXML improvements for both Finale 26.2 and Dolet 7.4 for Finale include:

  • Default hyphen and beam distance are now correctly exported and imported.
  • Unslashed flagged grace notes are imported more accurately.
  • Numerals on 1-bar multimeasure rests are imported more accurately.

We have also updated the MusicXML web site to reflect the latest developments in sites with MusicXML music files, MusicXML software support, and publications about research that uses the MusicXML format. The publications section in particular has many updates from recent Sound and Music Computing and International Society of Music Information Retrieval conferences.

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale 26.2 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in the Finale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.

Finale 26.1 MusicXML Updates

Today MakeMusic released Finale 26.1 and an updated Dolet 7.3 for Finale plug-in. The main improvement in both releases is enhanced support for linked parts in Finale import and export.

Finale 26.1 now automatically generates linked parts after a MusicXML import. Repeats, rehearsal marks, and tempo marks are now imported in a way that works better with these generated linked parts.

In addition, Finale 26.1 includes a new MusicXML export preference to “Include linked parts in compressed files”. When this option is selected, all the linked parts will be included if you are exporting a compressed .mxl file while viewing the score. When importing back into Finale 26.1, Finale will import the differences between the score and parts in page sizes and margins, system breaks, and page-attached text positions into your Finale file.

The Dolet for Finale plug-in does not contain this preference or the ability to automatically generate linked parts after import. However, it does include the import improvements that will let repeats, rehearsal marks, and tempo marks work better with linked parts if you generate them yourself after the MusicXML import.

Another improvement only available in Finale 26.1 is that exporting a folder of Finale files will hide any file conversion or font annotation dialogs that might have appeared in previous versions. This makes it easier to run MusicXML batch exports unattended.

You can see the entire list of the 10 improvements in MusicXML support included in both Finale 26.1 and the Dolet 7.3 for Finale plug-in in the Dolet for Finale version history.

The Dolet for Finale plug-in is 32-bit only and works with Finale 2009 through 2014.5. Starting with v25, Finale now includes all the added features that used to be part of the Dolet plug-in, plus some MusicXML features that only work in 64-bit Finale. All the MusicXML functionality you need is now available directly in the File menu.

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale 26.1 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in theFinale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.

SmartMusic MusicXML Update

MusicXML has played a critical role in the launch and development of MakeMusic’s new web-based SmartMusic music practice software. While the classic version of SmartMusic for desktops and iPad uses Finale technology for its music notation display, the new web-based version uses different technology designed for web applications. MakeMusic uses MusicXML to ensure that repertoire is available in both the new and classic versions of SmartMusic.

Since new SmartMusic launched in December 2016 after a limited early release, teachers have been able to upload MusicXML files and assign them to students to supplement SmartMusic’s built-in repertoire. Unlike classic SmartMusic, these music uploads no longer need to be created in Finale. Instead, they can be created in Finale or another other music notation program that exports MusicXML files – which is just about all of them.

Last January, we improved the import process by adding an online notation editor to SmartMusic educator subscriptions. This beta application let you edit MusicXML files that you imported before assigning them to students, or create new music for your students directly in your web browser. It also let you import full MusicXML scores as well as individual MusicXML parts. However, the MusicXML support was still for import only. Scores that you created or edited with SmartMusic could not be taken back to Finale or used in other applications.

That changed yesterday with the release of SmartMusic’s Sight Reading Builder and Compose applications. Sight Reading Builder lets you instantly generate an infinite number of sight reading exercises, custom tailored for your ensembles. The Compose notation editor is now a full-fledged part of SmartMusic, no longer in beta mode. Both applications are included in SmartMusic premium educator subscriptions, and both applications now let you export MusicXML files.

This is a big breakthrough for both MakeMusic and our customers. MakeMusic now has two notation editors using different technologies developed for different needs. Musical scores created in either application can now be freely moved back and forth between these two applications with very high accuracy. Of course this exchange extends to over 200 other applications that support the MusicXML format.

We believe that educators will find that SmartMusic’s two-way MusicXML support makes it easier to get your own custom repertoire to your students. If you have issues using the MusicXML features in  the Compose and Sight Reading Builder tools, please let us know through the SmartMusic Help Center.

Finale v26 MusicXML Updates

Today MakeMusic released Finale v26 and an updated Dolet 7.2 for Finale plug-in. Besides supporting the new features in Finale v26, there are over 25 improvements in our MusicXML support from the previous Finale v25.5 and Dolet 7.1 for Finale releases. You can see the entire list in the Dolet for Finale version history. The most important changes include:

  • Version 7.2 changes the default file format for exporting a single MusicXML file from uncompressed (.musicxml) to compressed (.mxl) files. The MusicXML Preferences continue to allow a different setting for batch export of MusicXML files.
  • The MetTimes, AshMusic, LeeMusic, and RussMusic fonts are now supported during export.
  • Chord symbols now export more accurately, including symbols that use the Finale Numerics and Broadway Copyist Text Ext fonts.
  • The “Hide First Measure Number in Region” option is now supported during export.
  • Non-arpeggiate symbols and undertie elisions are now imported.
  • Lyrics now export more accurately from documents where the default music font is EngraverFontSet.
  • Finale v26 speeds up export and import for large batches of MusicXML files.

The Dolet for Finale plug-in is 32-bit only and works with Finale 2009 through 2014.5. Starting with v25, Finale now includes all the added features that used to be part of the Dolet plug-in, plus some MusicXML features that only work in 64-bit Finale. All the MusicXML functionality you need is now available directly in the File menu.

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale v26 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in theFinale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.

MusicXML 3.1 W3C Community Group Report

W3C Community Group Final Report LogoLast week the W3C Music Notation Community Group published MusicXML Version 3.1 as a W3C Community Group Final Report.  This is the Community Group’s first report, and the first update to MusicXML since the Version 3.0 release 6 years ago.

MusicXML 3.1 has four main areas of improvement over MusicXML 3.0:

  • Better support for the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL)
  • Improved documentation
  • Improved packaging, including a new .musicxml extension for uncompressed MusicXML files
  • Other improvements for encoding musical semantics and appearance

You can read more about the updates to MusicXML 3.1 in the Community Group Report and the GitHub issue list.

MakeMusic has been using earlier versions of MusicXML 3.1 in our Finale and new SmartMusic products for several months. We find that the new features really help to transfer scores from Finale to SmartMusic more accurately. For instance, many of the SMuFL features are useful even when preparing music without SMuFL fonts. Since SMuFL provides a  large taxonomy of musical symbols, MusicXML 3.1 was able to add greater expressiveness without a corresponding increase in complexity

We have updated the MusicXML web site for the MusicXML 3.1 release, including the tutorial, alphabetical index, and musical examples. We have also updated the community publications and music pages to include the MusicXML projects discussed at the latest International Society for Music Information Retrieval (ISMIR) Conference.

2017 has been a productive year for the MusicXML community, the W3C Music Notation Community Group, and MakeMusic’s MusicXML development. MusicXML is now supported by more than 230 applications worldwide. ISMIR 2017 shows that MusicXML is being used more frequently than ever in music information retrieval and musicology research. We wish everyone in the MusicXML community a happy holiday season and new year.

Finale 25.5 MusicXML Updates

Today MakeMusic released Finale 25.5 and an updated Dolet 7.1 for Finale plug-in.  These updates improve Finale’s MusicXML 3.1 support to match the latest MusicXML 3.1 version from the W3C Music Notation Community Group.

There are 20 improvements in our MusicXML 3.1 support from the previous Finale 25.4 and Dolet 7.0 for Finale releases. You can see all of them in the Dolet for Finale version history, plus 6 more improvements that are unrelated to the new features in MusicXML 3.1. The most important changes include:

  • Measure number text is now exported for multi-movement pieces where measure numbers are reused, as well as other situations involving more complex use of measure number regions.
  • Buzz rolls and unmeasured tremolos are now supported.
  • Line lengths are now supported for doit, falloff, scoop, and plop elements.
  • Finale expressions with a mix of text and musical symbols from any Finale built-in font (not just Maestro) are now supported.
  • Grace cue notes are now supported.
  • Image height and width attributes are now supported, for better transfer of scaled bitmap graphics.
  • More percussion pictograms and other music symbols are now supported.
  • Files without any measure number regions now correctly export that measure numbers are not displayed.

Finale 25.5 also has several improvements for translating folders of Finale or MusicXML files. First are improvements in the performance and reliability of these translations, especially for folders with large numbers of files.

Next are the new “Include subfolders” options for export and import. These let you export or import files from not just a single folder, but all the subfolders within that folder. So if you have files in the My Scores, My Scores/Bach, and My Scores/Bach/CPE folders, you can translate a single My Scores folder and get all the files converted at once.

MusicXML Preferences dialog in Finale 25.5

We have also added work in progress dialogs that appear when translating a folder of Finale or MusicXML files. This dialog displays which file is currently being exported or import, and lets you cancel out of the folder translation once the current file is finished.

MusicXML work in progress dialog in Finale 25.5

With this version of the Dolet for Finale plug-in, we have removed support for Windows XP. Windows Vista or later are now required to run the Windows version of the Dolet 7.1 for Finale plug-in. Stay with the Dolet 7.0 for Finale plug-in if you are still using an older version of Finale on Windows XP.

The Dolet for Finale plug-in is 32-bit only. Finale v25.5 includes all the added features that used to be part of the Dolet plug-in, plus some MusicXML features that only work in 64-bit Finale. With our 64-bit Finale v25, all the MusicXML functionality you need is available directly in the File menu.

We hope that you find the improved MusicXML 3.1 and folder translation support will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale v25.5 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in theFinale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.

MusicXML 3.1 Arrives in Finale v25.4 and Dolet 7 for Finale

Today MakeMusic released Finale v25.4 and an updated Dolet 7.0 for Finale plug-in.  Together with the new SmartMusic, these are the first commercial products supporting the MusicXML 3.1 format.

MusicXML 3.1 is the latest version of the world’s standard interchange format for music notation, and the first to be developed at the W3C Music Notation Community Group. MusicXML 3.1 is still in beta test, but our implementation experience with Finale, Dolet, and SmartMusic made us confident that supporting it now would benefit our customers. Early implementations of new formats are encouraged in World Wide Web Consortium projects. This helps ensure that problems that do show up in real-life use are resolved before the standard is finalized.

Ever since the earliest days of the MusicXML format, Finale support for MusicXML has driven adoption of the format and its new versions across the industry.  We believe that the same thing will happen with MusicXML 3.1 – Finale’s support for the format will encourage other developers to adopt the features.

For now, the biggest benefits to Finale customers will be in transferring MusicXML files from Finale to the new SmartMusic, and in transferring Finale files to older versions of Finale that pre-date the compatible .musx format (Finale 2009 to 2012).

The most notable improvement for Finale users may be how expressions that mix descriptive text with music notation symbols can now be transferred between applications. We have seen this a lot in our educational SmartMusic repertoire and it is great to have MusicXML support this in a standard way that works between applications. Other improvements that MusicXML 3.1 makes possible include support for:

  • Parenthesized accidental marks
  • Circled noteheads for percussion notation
  • Distinguishing the two styles of percussion clef (rectangle vs 2 vertical lines)
  • Highest/lowest notes without leger lines
  • The sfzp, n, and pf dynamics
  • Arrowhead characters in the Engraver Text fonts
  • Enclosures with up to 10 sides
  • Unexpected musical symbols in Finale articulations

One other change is that uncompressed MusicXML files now have a .musicxml file extension, rather than the generic .xml file extension. This will allow applications to better distinguish MusicXML files from XML files used by other applications that might be on the same computer system.

You can see all the updates to MusicXML in Finale 25.4 and Dolet 7 for Finale in the Dolet 7 for Finale version history. There are even more changes that MusicXML 3.1 makes possible that we plan to add in future Finale and Dolet updates.

Note that the Dolet for Finale plug-in is 32-bit only. Finale v25.4 includes all the added features that used to be part of the Dolet plug-in, plus some MusicXML features that only work in 64-bit Finale. With our 64-bit Finale v25, all the MusicXML functionality you need is available directly on the File menu.

We hope that you find MusicXML 3.1 will make moving your music files between applications even faster and more accurate than before. If you have issues using the MusicXML in Finale v25.4 or in using the Dolet plug-in, please let us know in theFinale portion of our Help Center. If you are a music notation software developer and find a problem with MusicXML 3.1 in your development work, please post an issue at the MusicXML GitHub repository.