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How to Create Musical Symbols from Clip Art and Use in Music Texts

Updated on April 21, 2016

If my previous article on inserting music symbols into manuscripts was overly simple for you, you may not need or want this step-by-step procedure for creating your own symbols. I am assuming that the person who will benefit most from this article is not very confident of their computer skills or perhaps is not highly skilled - yet. Feel free to skip over what you already know here, and if you don't need this information yourself, please do mention it to your colleagues.

The basic procedure that will be described here is simply to modify some clip-art and turn it into a bmp. or jpeg. file. You can also take digital pictures of music symbols, modify them in the same way as the clip-art, and then use them as jpegs in a manuscript; that process is not described here, but you should be able to modify the steps described below.

Just as in the previous article, because of its widespread use I will focus on MS Word with apologies to all of you who use other programs. Start out in a Microsoft Office Word file, either a new blank document or one containing other material.


Select “insert,” then “picture,” then “clip-art.”

 When the clip-art selection menu opens (here on the right side of the screen), search for the kind of symbol you want to use (“notes” for example).

Select the specific piece of clip-art you want to use, and insert it into the document.

(If you are here after selecting “Insert,” then “Picture,” then “Clip-Art,” you should be able simply to click on the picture you have chosen, and it will be inserted into the document. You may need to move it, by dragging and dropping.)

Notice (from the little circles around it, including a green circle) that the clip-art is selected. Leave it selected for now.

Since this pair of beamed eighth notes is a peach color, let’s change it to black.

Right-click to open a new menu and select “Format AutoShape.”

That will open a new dialogue box with several tabs, including one for “Colors and Lines.”

Since the clip-art is still selected, you can just ...

click on the arrow next to the color bar of this dialogue box; select black, then click Okay, and the color will change.

Now comes some real fun! On your computer keyboard (probably above the Insert and Delete keys) there is a Print Key.

Depress and release the key. You just took a “screenshot.” Open the (Microsoft) Paint program or a comparable picture-manipulating program on your computer, open a new blank file, open the Edit menu (or whatever is comparable) and click Paste.

Your screenshot should appear in the file, something like the above picture. You may want to save it as a file, but that is up to you. Notice on the left of the screen, where the Paint Toolbox appears, the icon on the top right has been selected. That is the command for selecting a part of the picture. After selecting the icon, left-or-right-click on the screenshot near the part of the picture you wish to cut or copy, then a small box will appear, which you can expand to the size and position you wish. (The original starting point will remain the same.) If you do not like where the selection box is, click again on the screen and start the selection process over once more. Whatever you select can be cut or copied, then pasted into a new Paint file.

When I took my screenshot (while still in Word), I failed to de-select the clip-art I had inserted, and so the selection dots appear in the picture in Paint now. We can use the Paint eraser to remove the dots and the gray shadow at the bottom of the note. When I did this, I also erased a smidgen of the note itself (bottom, just right of middle). I used the pencil in Paint to color that back in. (Pencil icon is in the left column of the Toolbox, near the top.)


In this screenshot, notice the selected eraser icon on the left. The pencil is lower than the eraser, one icon removed.

Now, the note is complete, and it can be saved as a bmp. or a jpeg. file and saved to your Pictures folder or wherever you wish. From there it can be inserted into a word processing document, just as the clip-art was – but choose "picture>from file" instead of "picture>clip-art." Once in the document, it can be relocated or resized as you wish.

There is still one problem with the picture as I finished and saved it. It has a great deal of white space at the bottom, and that will still be there even when I resize the note in the Word document or wherever I insert or paste it. That creates a problem as I try to type around it, especially if I don’t really want it to be very large. The reason why the white space is there is because exactly what showed on the Paint screen is exactly what was saved as a jpeg or bmp.

There are actually four solutions to this problem, listed here in increasing order of ease and effectiveness (least effective first). One is to adjust the layout of the picture within the Word document. Select the picture of the note in the manuscript, and right-click to open a menu. Select and click on “Format Picture.” Select the tab that says “Layout.” On this page of the box, if you select the option “Behind text” then the note will appear in the manuscript behind the text you have typed, and the white space will not be a problem; but you may have to add some blank spaces in the text (with the spacebar) so that the note does not cover up the words.

Another solution is to get rid of the white space altogether with a new version of the picture. You can open the picture of the note with Paint, select the portion of the picture that you want, then use the selection box (surrounded by the dotted line) and resize the note to fill the white space of the Paint file. Just move the cursor to a corner of the selection box until it becomes a two-headed arrow, left-click and pull the box until the note fills the white space. In order to keep a good ratio, you may have to adjust it from several directions. It will be much larger than you likely will need. Save it again, and when you insert it into a manuscript, you can change the size as you wish.

Within the original Paint file itself, the white space can be eliminated.  Notice on the far right edge and the bottom edge of the white space, there is a very small reddish dot.  When you hover the cursor over it, the cursor becomes a double-pointed arrow.  When it does, left-click and hold down the left mouse key; you can then "pull" the edge of the white space to the point where you want it and even crop portions of the image.

An image can also be cropped within the Word document. Right-or-left-click to select the image, then right click to open a menu; in the middle of the menu find and select "Show Picture Toolbar." In the middle of the little pop-up toolbar, find and select the black lines that indicate the Crop function.  When it is selected, a set of black lines will appear around the image. When the cursor hovers over one of them, the cursor will become a similar black line and can be moved, to cause whatever portion of the image you wish to see and include in the manuscript to remain.  Be sure you use the thick-ish black lines for this purpose; don't try to use the four-arrowed form of the cursor - it has a different purpose and use (that is, to move the entire image).

A procedure similar to that described for altering clip-art can be used with other music symbols by taking digital pictures of some music, saving them to your computer, inserting the picture you want into Paint, selecting the portion you want, and erasing the part you don’t want.

You might wonder why I bothered to manipulate the clip-art in Word at all, before inserting it in Paint. I found that when I went to change the color of the note, it worked better in Word. If the clip-art you select doesn’t need to have its color changed, you can copy or cut the clip-art from the Word file and paste it directly into Paint.

I hope this How-To article helps out some of the less tech-savvy music teachers out there. I always welcome questions and comments.



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