COVID-19 Suggestions

By now I’m sure that most of you know about the pandemic that is sweeping our already-troubled world. All I can add to the information already out there is a few special thoughts for musicians.

I expect that you already know how to wash your hands properly, and if you don’t check for a video by your favourite musician and they probably have one along with one of their songs to sing while you wash. Remember to pay attention to the backs of your hands, especially your nails and UNDER your nails. Many of us use our nails to play and we don’t always think of what might be under them. I’ve even heard of musicians avoiding washing their nails for fear of softening them. That’s a small concern compared to potentially getting deathly ill or worse, killing someone else by your negligence.

Remember that soap “kills” the virus by breaking up the fatty (lipid) layer that surrounds the bad stuff. Of course viruses are not alive so they are not really killed; they are disassembled into harmless bits. Soap does this even better than alcohol, so clean your surfaces with soapy water (except for the electrical ones or screens, right?).

Sharing instruments is a bad idea right now. So is trying out new ones (or used ones) for the time being. If you get strings in plastic packages online it’s a good idea to clean the outside of each pack with soapy water, then rinse and dry. It sounds overboard but after seeing people working with fast food sneezing on it, I have to think that hygiene is not uppermost at places that don’t deal directly with the public and don’t think about passing on viruses just by shipping stuff. This is a special problem now that we have fast delivery with little time for the virus to just “die off”.

Just please be careful. No one is immune from this disease, there is no cure (yet), and you can have it and pass it one before you have any symptoms. I don’t want any of you to die, or even get sick, from COVID-19. And if you are in a group with a low infection rate that doesn’t mean that you cannot contract it, get sick, and die. Statistics deal with large numbers of people. YOU are 100% of you.

And if you get bored in self-isolation, or if you just like humour, Zach Weinersmith of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics (SMBC) has made virtually ALL of his e-books available FOR FREE at

Thank you Zach Weinersmith for your generosity at a critical time. Laughter really helps.

MuseScore 3.0.1 Update Released

MuseScore has released their first update to version 3 as version 3.0.1. This update is mostly a bug fix with a few tweaks to new features. Director of Education for MuseScore, gives a great overview of the revised MuseScore 3 on Scoring Notes, which is well worth the read. His examples highlight the collision avoidance new to MuseScore 3 that is a terrific addition.

If you just want to download the new version, it’s here.

You can download the new version and play along with Marc as he demonstrates the new features. You just can’t find anything comparable for free – in any field that I know of!



A Generous And Caring Teacher

You may have noticed that I left my post about the October 20 deadline stay at the top of the post stack until today, October 22. The reason is the generosity and sympathy of Ariane Cap, a superb bass teacher who went beyond-the-call-of-duty by extending the deadline even though she has been sending out daily messages and even had a countdown clock on her web site! That is a level of kindness that it too too rare in society in general, no matter where. This is her living we are talking about. So big props to her and I really hope that no one reading this missed that new deadline (assuming that you wanted to learn the bass from the best teacher I have ever encountered). And I hope that if any of you did ask for the extension it was because your internet was off for over a week.

OK, so next time I’ll be taking a close look at Hal Leonard’s Play-Along Vol. 19 “Steely Dan” as requested by you, the readers.

MuseScore 2.1 a MAJOR Update

What’s better than FREE? High-quality notation software that is as good as (and in some cases better than) paid software, but still free! Welcome to MuseScore 2.1.

The MuseScore team has demonstrated their integrity with their great programming, but they have reached new heights with their announcement of MuseScore 2.1, the first major update since 2015’s version 2.0. After working for a long time on version 3.0, the enormity of the project and issues of backward-compatibility kept pushing a release date farther back than they liked, so they came up with a great idea: cherry pick the best features of 3.0 so far, make over 300 bug fixes,  spiff up the user interface and simply call it MuseScore 2.1.

That little “.1” is deceptively simple; this is an enormous “update.” There are far too many great improvements to copy here, so I’d suggest you head over to the MuseScore web site and check out the video that gives a short but inspiring look at a few of the new features, followed by a text list of many of the best new features. Don’t skip the video, because with the new support for all SFZ libraries, you really do have to hear it to believe it. You can also mix different SFZ’s to get just the instruments that you want.

You can upload your pieces to the MuseScore site, for private or public viewing. This version will also upload an MP3 of your score so that it plays back with the instruments that you chose, and now others can hear it just as it sounds on your computer. You can even keep a change log if you upload different versions of a piece.

Some of the innovative ideas go far beyond what you might expect for FREE software, such as the “swap” function that allows you to swap two sections of music by cutting the first, swapping it into the place you want it to go, while the function takes the music to be swapped out of there and onto the clipboard so that you can simply paste it into its new spot. A great time (and sanity) saver!

Of course the one feature that the MuseScore team has been working on for years is importing a PDF file as flawlessly as possible, and now with the enhanced playback options the project with the IMSLP to make thousands of classical scores available and playable is closer than ever to reality in a version that will please most classical music enthusiasts. This is a project with ambitions, and so far they have outdone themselves. Bravo!

Remember that YOU can help too. Gaze over their development page to see the myriad ways that you can help, from editing words to writing code, to testing, and yes of course to donating. Just think — you can be a part of computing history and help musicians all over the world! Even just playing around with it and finding obscure bugs is a big help.

If you don’t have MuseScore 2.1 yet, try it out TODAY. If you do have an older version, update right NOW. You will be glad you did.


Dorico’s Plans for Chord Symbols

By far the most important feature to the readers of this blog seems to be chord symbols, judging from the comments and email I get. (BTW, thank you to all of you who write in with kind words about the blog. Unfortunately this is a common spam technique when a URL is added, so if you do add a valid URL it may take me some time to get to it.)

I’ll admit that I am busy on a project that is beyond Dorico at this moment (odd as that seems) so I have to thank Philip Rothman for alerting me to Daniel Spreadbury’s comments in the Dorico forum. There is very good news and some bad news. Since I prefer it this way myself, I’ll give you the bad news first: guitar diagrams, it seems, are a long ways off for now.

OK, the good news is that chord symbols (i.e. chord names with optional bass notes added) should be ready for the next major update in June. As usual, the number of options for naming them will be staggering, and should fulfill the preferences of virtually any composer, arranger, or typesetter.

One thing to note is that the chord symbols will be attached to a system, which will make lead sheets simple, especially piano-vocal ones.

Chord symbols can be entered from a MIDI keyboard via Shift-Q, and you will be able to enter inversions and specify the root as well as entering polychords.

Rather than steal his well-deserved thunder, take a look at Philip’s web site and read what Daniel posted in the forum.

Great Gifts for Musicians

Yes, it’s getting late, but a lot of us have the ultimate gift over the next week or two: time!


If you (or a loved one) have always wanted to write a song but never quite gotten around to it, or to finishing one, check out my book How To Write Your First Song. (In Canada, click here.) No previous theory is necessary, just the desire to write a song that you will be truly proud of. I share some of the ways I go about it, but the main aim of the book is to help you find your own way. While your first song is always the hardest to write, there is little in this world as satisfying as finishing one. (BTW, this book is also meant to help accomplished songwriters who have hit a wall and need a way around it that works.)

And if you are feeling really generous, to a friend, significant other, or yourself, Dorico is a great choice. I’ll be writing more on it in a few days, but the 1.0.20 update confirms that they are on track to become THE notation software program to use.

Slate and Pearl Team Up to Produce “Mimic PRO”

I have written a lot about how great Steven Slate Drums are and found that most drummers agree with me (I haven’t actually met one who disagrees). Now Slate has teamed up with drum maker Pearl to produce a “drum engine” that can produce the best-sounding drums recorded in 24-bit at the finest studios around. You can choose individual drums for a set, select mic positioning, tweak the EQ of each drum, and record a performance (even include a headphone mix for yourself). Get in line quick for these, because they are going to sell quickly.


Click here to hear Steven Slate tell you all about them. The comments say it all!


Welcome to the site that reviews some of the most interesting advances in music that combine excellence with true value. Most real musicians don’t have a lot of money to waste, so I try to help you spend what you have wisely for better sound and more fun. We look at instruments, hardware, software, stompboxes, and some things too cool to be categorized. A big shout out to my friends and readers from Just Jazz Guitar, where I’ve been doing just this for most of a decade. A great magazine that is sorely missed by all.