Gene Gajewski

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Fermata – the evil eye?

Ugh! Ran into a gremlin bug in MuseScore that has been giving me grief for the last couple of days. I’ve been working with a score titled The Planets composed by Gustov Holst. It’s a full symphony, so it’s going to be a lot of work and a long ride to get everything in shape.

I noticed – when converting to MIDI, that the first notes of the second movement, Venus, the Bringer of Peace, were starting on the second beat of the first measure. Not only that, but the measure as seen in the DAW was off by one. It should have been absolute measure #186 instead of #187. Very strange.

I tried a few things; I tried bringing it up in Cakewalk, I tried bringing it up in Cubase, tried delete time here and there to get things to line up – no satisfaction. What was happening was that whenever you fixed something in one place, you messed things up in other places. Ouch! So I went back to the source – MuseScore.


I looked around and noticed that the last measure of the first movement ended with a fermata. A fermata is a hold or grand pause of unspecified length. I would suspect that an orchestral conductor simply holds the orchestra on that fermata note for whatever period he feels is correct. MuseScore, when converting a score to MIDI, must settle on something timewise as well, right? So, I selected that last measure in MuseScore and that’s when it all hit me.

Only a few instruments were playing on that last measure, and I had selected the measure for one of the silent ones, an empty measure with a whole rest. The application status bar was saying that the measure started on beat one and ended on beat one. WTF? How is that possible? What weird time signature was this? I scanned back through the score to find the last given signature and it was specified as 3/4 time. (I’m looking at the score from an elevated level, so I’m not really paying attention to meter closely, yet.)

There should be three beats in that last measure! This must be somehow related to the next movement starting on the wrong beat, I surmised. A simple test – what if I replace that whole rest in one of the empty measures with three quarter note rests? Viola! Now the status bar is showing that last measure starting on beat one and ending on beat three! Awesome! Win!

Before I get too excited, I must remind myself that I need to go through everything and check all the fermatas in the score (there’s a ton of them) to see that they aren’t claiming to start and end on anything other than the beats of the meter they are supposed to be on. That’s going to be some work. But I’ll do it. This is going to be an awesome piece once done.

Update: Looks like I’ve posted too soon…

There’s a little bit more to the problems I’m having with conversion to MIDI than meets the eye. Although the way MuseScore counts beats in the status bar line is a bit janky the real issue is the pause between movements that MuseScore allows. This isn’t a visible, engraved thing that you see on paper but rather a feature to allow MuseScore to pause between movements or segments during playback. It lets you specify in seconds how long you’d like to pause. The problem with this is that this pause isn’t part of the sheet music, but midi needs something to do to eat up time.

What MuseScore is doing is simply restarting playback regardless of the meter. What happens is that the music continues down the road in the score on whatever beat that happens to be. That’s OK for playback, but… When you’re trying to use measure and beat in the MIDI output to navigate around it’s all off. Badly! What to do?

  • Eliminate the pause between sections. It’s not needed for engraving, plus it’s easier to enter a few blank measures in the DAW in between them. If I need a three second pause, I’ll just add in three bars of 2/2 rests at 120bpm.
  • Note any breath marks. they look like a comma symbol in the score. Although google says they’re not supposed to alter the tempo, MuseScore treats them by adding an empty measure. This means any subsequent landmarks are going to be off by a measure between the printed score and the MIDI score. At least it’s a full measure and not willy-nilly as above.

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