Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Audio Production

Notation, Score, And Tablature Editors

MuseScore (v.

MuseScore is a music notation/score editor which spun off from MusE. This is a WYSIWYG editor, which means that the editor and preview functions are inseparable.

Multiple instruments are available in MuseScore, including support for drum notation. Playback in MuseScore sounds great using any instrument.

The UI is simple to navigate with a menu bar that holds every command in the app. A double-decker toolbar offers quick access to basic functions, such as copy/paste and musical notes. A tab bar sits directly underneath the toolbar and the editing area. Multiple projects can be opened simultaneously and switched between using the tabs. The main area houses the editable sheet music. Pan/zoom of the sheet is fluid and swift. Previewing the entire project is achieved with a filmstrip-style viewer below the main area. An outline of what is currently seen in the editor appears on the corresponding page in the filmstrip viewer.

MuseScore looks and sounds great. With plenty of instruments supported, clear playback, and WYSIWYG simplicity, this app is worth the download.

Denemo (v. 0.8.10)

Denemo is a musical score/notation editor. Along with simply creating sheet music, Denemo also has playback and record functionality. Recording is possible from a MIDI device or microphone, and lyrics can be added to the score as well.

The user interface is uncluttered, yet packed with options. Most of the functionality in Denemo is located in two separate menu bars and double-decker toolbars. The main menu bar contains tools for project management: view, copy/paste, setup, and preferences. Below the main menu bar lies the main toolbar, which duplicates some of the functions of the main menu bar, such as open, save, copy/paste, and play.

Underneath that toolbar is another toolbar, which houses the different musical notes that can be added to a composition. The second menu bar contains over one hundred options to modify the actual score in the main work area. Denemo is a fully-featured notation editor with some recording options to boot. It's definitely worth a look.

NtEd (v. 1.10.7)

NtEd is a GTK+ notation editor by the author of NoteEdit. This notation editor is a true WYSIWYG, meaning printout matches the onscreen representation.

Along with standard musical notation, NtEd also supports guitar chords, drum notes, and lyrics. MIDI keyboards can be used to create the score, and NtEd can export to MIDI, PDF, PNG, SVG, and PostScript. The UI is crisp; no jagged notes or lines like NoteEdit. However, it could be more efficient. The note bank is in a separate window, but there is a lot of blank space in the main window that could easily house an upper or vertical toolbar for notes.

NoteEdit (v. 2.8.1)

NoteEdit is a notation editor built with Qt and designed for KDE 3.x. The UI is certainty dated, but NoteEdit is still a decent option, considering that Canorus (a KDE 4.x notation editor by the same developers) is still in early beta.

Directly under the menu bar lies the main toolbar, which houses basic controls and available notes. Notes are selected from the toolbar and then placed in the composition with a mouse click. We noticed that the notes, lines, and even the icons have jagged edges in this app, and the zoom-in function doesn't make them any prettier. While NoteEdit is no longer in development due to Canorus, it is still being maintained and bug fixes are being pushed out.

Frescobaldi (v. 1.0.2)

Frescobaldi is a text-based notation editor for KDE 4.2+. This application is actually a GUI front-end for the popular LilyPond notation engraver. As a LilyPond front-end, Frescobaldi uses a LaTeX-style of input. Notes are entered as plain text and then later generated as sheet music.

While this is definitely not a WYSIWYG application, many people find that text-based entry is more efficient, and Frescobaldi in particular has won several honors. The user interface is split in half by two panes, the left pane for text entry, and the right pane for help, documentation, and previewing. While 'coding' sheet music isn't for everyone, Frescobaldi has carved out a healthy niche for itself, making LilyPond engraving much more accessible.

Songwrite (v. 0.14)

Songwrite is a score editor that supports drums, lyrics, and tablature for a guitar, bass, or banjo. Special effects, such as legato, hammer, pull, mute, roll, slide, and tremelo, are available.

Written in python, the user interface is not very appealing, to say the least. Guitar players, go for TuxGuitar; other musicians, go for MuseScore.

TuxGuitar (v. 1.2)

TuxGuitar is a multitrack guitar tablature editor and player. Despite its Linux-y name, TuxGuitar is also available for Windows and Mac OS X.

The number of strings can be changed, since guitars don't come only in the standard six-string variety. Playback can also be modified to various different instrument sounds.

TuxGuitar sports a built-in guitar tuner, piano roll/editor, matrix editor, mixer, and fretboard view. The toolbars and view layout can both be customized to a pretty high degree. By default, most of the functions can be accessed quickly via the multi-level toolbar. TuxGuitar is a serious guitar tablature editor on any platform. This app is definitely worth the download.

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  • nekromobo
    Now I remember why I read tom's.

    A great article!
  • akorzan
    I found using WINE with, don't laugh, FL Studio works great. Latencies are on par with Windows. Only problem is some VST plugins have mouse problems... I.E: double-clicking has to be absurdly fast. Another trivial problem is that battery life in laptops is nonexistent with WINE and FL Studio.
  • longshotthe1st
    Why would anyone even bother? Time is money, I'm going to just stick with what works.
  • damiensturdy
    Great read. FLStudio is one of only two pieces of software that keeps me tied to Windows. Sure, it runs under Wine, but getting it working is a pain, and you're lucky to get 100% of the functionality. As an advanced user of FLStudio, I use almost everything the app provides, and I need it as low latency as possible. 20ms is too much- 10ms is better. In general I've never achieved
  • damiensturdy
    Damn, it cut my post off. No way to edit that? ah well. I was basically saying that this article has helped me decide what software to use when I build my synthesizer this year.
  • g00ey
    Has anyone tried running software such as FL Studio in Linux using a virtualization software such as VirtuaBox? VirtualBox can even run in seamless mode which allows you to have Windows windows next to Gnome/KDE windows in the same screen.
  • Anonymous
    Very nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:

    Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...

    BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).
  • damiensturdy
    @g00ey, yes. Latency and audio are weak through a VM, and the audio still has to travel through whichever audio library the Linux distro is using, it's a no go.
  • caeden
    g00ey, as a general rule of thumb you don't want to virturalize your workstations whether they be for audio or video editing. In part due to stability, and in part due to speed/latency.
    I was surprised at the scoring software. Looks about as good as my wife's version of Sibelius, with the exception that she had to pay for hers.
    Personally I just do editing and cleanup, and while it looks like it is much improved on Linux from what it use to be, it has improved more on the windows side. But nice to know that there are options available if I were to ever cross over.
  • Anonymous
    I'm really looking forward to the Video apps review since that is my main sphere of interest.
    But it really sounds like it is time to get the 'ole midi keyboard out of the closet and try some of those synth apps!
  • Anonymous
    No love for Pure Data?
  • adamovera
    nekromobo: Thanks! Great name BTW.

    g00ey: If you're only using samples and not recording, going live, or hooking up to any other apps, I don't see why it would be a problem. Although that would definitely reduce the functionality of FL Studio. Oracle VirtualBox is free, if you already own a copy of Windows it can't hurt to give it a try.

    adsgdVery nice article you could also have covered comercial productos on Linux like:Harrison Mixbus; Renoise; EnergyXT; WusikStation; PianoTec...BTW there is big updates soon for Ardour (3.0), MuSe (2.0) and Rosegarden (?).

    Not sure how Harrison Mixbus packages the Linux version, no trial available either. Renoise, EnergyXT, and PianoTec don't qualify due to the package/repo rule - see page 2. I don't think WusikStation has their Linux version ready yet.

    boombipNo love for Pure Data?

    Doesn't qualify due to package/repo rule - see page 2.
  • g00ey
    @damiensturdy & caeden, I can imagine that latency could be an issue when it comes to virtualization but the software I have tried (such as graphics, video playback, office and DTP) works surprisingly well under virtualization so I just figure that maybe audio production software works inside a virtual machine.

    So called Type 1 hypervisors have support for something that is called passthrough which means that some hardware can be assigned to communicate directly to the virtual machine without intervention of a virtual abstraction layer (that usually manifests itself as a ring buffer between the hypervisor and the VM) this is commonly used on network interface cards to ensure a good throughput and lower latency on virtual machines that require this.

    For this to be possible the hypervisor has to be run "on the metal" and not as an application inside an OS (such as the VBox or the VMWare Workstation). Xen is one such example that is integrated with the operating system. The ESXi/vSphere is another, but it is its own operating system.

    Moreover, the hardware needs to support either Intel VT-d or AMD-IOMMU which provides this passthrough feature.

    Edit: Not only Xen is supporting PCI passthrough, we are also beginning to see this on KVM and VirtualBox. This is possible since one has managed to add type 1 like attributes on type 2 hypervisors and the distinction between the two of them is getting fuzzier. This is possible by patching come parts of the (type 2) hypervisor into the kernel. KVM can pass through up to 32 PCI units and it also supports multi-function passthrough. It currently does not support passthrough of graphics cards (or VGA passthrough, which is due to advanced BIOS features of a GPU in a computer) like Xen does, however. I don't know about VirtualBox but I expect it has similar capabilities, but only on Linux. VB currently has no support for this on other host platforms.
  • pelov
    Love the entire series. Great work
  • Anonymous
    Fantastic article, thanks Adam.
  • mc84ss
    What would anyone reccomend for taking mp3s and "mixing up" any profanity. I work in a secure building and my boss frowns upon any music with profanity.
  • pocketdrummer
    Linux is definitely not the OS to use for Audio Engineering. Not only is it seriously restricted in the drivers department (most decent interfaces do not support linux), the Sequencers (or DAWs as this article slightly misrepresents) are not sophisticated enough to really stand up to the likes of Cubase, Sonar, Pro Tools, or even Ableton Live. There's no real point in trying to build a Linux system for recording unless you just love working around severe limitations.

    This is coming from an Engineer who uses Ableton Live and Cubase on Windows and Mac systems (depending on the application and gig).
  • Anonymous
    I agree with pocketdrummer here, and I must add that i have used Lunix for audio engineering and music making for many years and I can assure you that nothing in the lunix world is as powerful and stable as even a simple DAW like Garageband on the Mac.. Linux is nice for daily computing, but don't go there for serious work...
  • salsaman
    I hope you will mention LiVES ( in the upcoming video roundup.
  • Anonymous
    Mixxx is a fun mixing application, that I'm a little surprised didn't make this article.