Last night, SmartScore X2 Pro went “live” on the Musitek website. It has been over two years since SmartScore has been updated, and as a person that scans music on a regular basis (to bring into Finale and SmartMusic), I was very excited to try out the program. I own the full version of SmartScore Pro X (the previous version), and have used SmartScore Lite over the years with Finale. At a music conference this past fall, I was surprised to hear (from a reputable source) that a Finale user is better served by using SmartScore Lite and not upgrading to Smart Score Pro X.
SmartScore X2 Pro is an odd mix of products…it contains a scanning engine, but you can also use the app to write music (music notation) and to play back audio (now with some Garritan sounds, which are owned by MakeMusic, Inc.). SmartScore Pro also brings in text, although hyphenation causes a lot of issues (very common in choral music). In summary, SmartScore is a non-MakeMusic program that is bundled with a lot of MakeMusic features, and I still wonder how long it will be before SmartScore is outright purchased by MakeMusic. SmartScore Pro X (the previous version) did not scan music with a high enough level of accuracy for me (when I spend more time fixing problems rather than recreating a score, there are too many issues), so I searched for other alternatives.
This summer, I invested a bit of money into two other programs to allow me to convert music to MusicXML files so that I could bring them into Finale/SmartMusic. Those other two programs would be PDFtoMusicPro ($199) and PhotoScore Ultimate 7 ($249). PDFtoMusicPro only works on PDFs that were created by a notation program (Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore), and accuracy is really unpredictable. There are several music publishers who put scores online for perusal. When my choir sings one of these songs (always purchased!), I download the PDF from the website and unlock them, and then use PDFtoMusicPro to convert them to Finale/SmartMusic. In these cases, with music that was recently generated, PDFtoMusic Pro does a great job of conversion. Older music, some on cpdl.org, for example, doesn’t always result in such a good conversion. PDFtoMusic Pro exports to MusicXML, which can be imported into Finale.
PhotoScore Ultimate has done a terrific–but not perfect–job of converting choral scores that are in PDF format, whether I have scanned them, or they come from a source like CPDL. Although PhotoScore is connected with Sibelius, scores can be saved as MusicXML files and imported to Finale. As of SmartScore X, I would have recommended the purchase of PhotoScore OVER SmartScore, as an owner of both. But what about SmartScore X2 Pro?
Thankfully, Musitek offers a free trial download of SmartScore X2 Pro. Sadly, you cannot save or export from the demo, so I was unable to export any examples that would compare the output of SmartScore X2 to PhotoScore. At the moment, I’m preparing music for our return to school (tomorrow!) so I have a number of scores that I am working with. This includes scores that I originally scanned as TIF files, and scores that I scanned with my Canon P-150 directly to PDF. Score recognition takes a while–at least on my 2008 Aluminum MacBook–regardless of program. It’s not incredibly long, but it’s not incredibly fast, either. I used SmartScore and PhotoScore on three different songs, just to see the difference in accuracy. I’m finding SmartScore X2 to be just as inaccurate as SmartScore X (I may try this test later). SmartScore can open a PDF, but it simply converts a file to TIF format, and then saves that TIF on your hard drive. PhotoScore simply reads PDFs (it may convert them to a TIF, but does not save it on your hard drive). It didn’t matter whether I was using a TIF file or PDF…in both cases PhotoScore was more accurate than SmartScore X2 Pro.
There’s no doubt that SmartScore X2 comes bundled with more features than PhotoScore, but it costs more ($399) than PhotoScore Ultimate ($249) and is less accurate in my tests. There may be an ultimate setting, or a specific scanner, that results in a different scenario–but I’d wager that the tools I’ve used to generate PDF and TIF files are as good or better than the equipment available to most music educators. So I’d say from a real-world perspective, PhotoScore seems to be the better way to go.
As a side note, there is an open-source scanning program called Audiveris which only runs on PC and Linux (they’re working on it for Mac, but the problem comes with the program’s engine that drives Audiveris which is called Tesseract (this sounds like the Avengers movie) that doesn’t work on the Mac. If you have a PC or Linux computer, you might want to try Audiveris for free and see how it works. I may see if I can install this on one of our remaining PCs at school and see how it does.
In conclusion, SmartScore X2 Pro is out with a number of features and a number of versions. Most music educators are going to own Finale and SmartMusic (bundled) so they can create their own SmartMusic assessments. What we need is the easiest way to get music from paper (or a PDF) into Finale. Bundled options in SmartScore, such as editing and playback, are of limited use when you can tap into “easier” editing and playback tools in Finale. Although SmartScore has strong connections with MakeMusic, when it comes down to importing music into Finale, PhotoScore Ultimate is going to be your best bet–if SmartScore Lite doesn’t do the trick for you with Finale. PDFtoMusic Pro is probably best left alone, unless you are converting a large number of music notation generated PDF files. Although PhotoScore isn’t directly connected to MakeMusic, you can export any scan to a MusicXML file and easily import it into Finale.
What does intrigue me is that Musitek shows “Mobile Applications” as an option on their webpage, indicating some possible way to scan music with an iPad, iPhone, or other device. That would be outstanding–we’ll have to wait to see what that means.
One final note: both SmartScore and PhotoScore indicate which measures are wrong after converting a file. If you export this data to Finale, Finale does not show the same information (e.g. too many notes, too few notes, hidden time signature changes). My number one wish for Finale is that it would highlight incorrect measures with a color (SmartScore uses a reddish color, PhotoScore uses a purple). When you can see which measures are wrong, you can quickly move to address those errors, rather than hunting through a larger score where it’s easy to miss things. Knowing the issues with Sibelius, I would love to see MakeMusic develop a relationship with Neuratron (makers of PhotoScore) and to include both SmartScore Lite and PhotoScore Lite with Finale.