This evening, I decided to put these two iPad music notation apps to the test. I used Ave Maria by Tomas Luis de Victoria (or da Victoria, depending on the edition), which I’m planning on introducing to my top choir next week. As a point of full disclosure, I could probably find a Finale file (or a Sibelius file) of this on the Choral Domain Public Library or the IMSLP. The Choral Domain Public Library mentions that this song is actually misattributed and should be attributed to Jacob Handl. And even the CDPL is wrong by listing Jacob Handl…the links about the misattribution indicate that the song should be attributed to Jacob Gallus!
I could also scan the music I have and use SmartScore to convert the file to a MusicXML/Finale file with a high degree of accuracy and some correct lyrics. But I wanted to see how these two programs worked compared to each other, so I chose to enter the first few measures by hand (about 1/3 of the complete piece).
Symphony Pro was easier to use, and entering notes went faster. I haven’t worked a lot with Symphony Pro, so although I’m familiar with the layout, I’m not anywhere near as efficient with Symphony Pro as I am with Finale, which I’ve used since the early 1990s. Symphony Pro allows for the addition of lyrics, and you can delete extra measures. You cannot create a tenor treble clef, and it seems that there is no way to enter a comma or colon in the lyrics. Currently, you cannot adjust the tempo for various sections, you can only set the master tempo. One feature Symphony Pro does offer is the ability to play music into the app (it records what you play), and if you have the Apple Camera Connection Kit and a USB Midi Keyboard that works with the iPad (sadly, our school has the M-Audio Keystation 49i, which doesn’t seem to work with the iPad according to their forums), so you can play music in at a high degree of accuracy, saving time. However, the resulting PDF shows the lower quality of the notation itself…the music font itself is not as elegant as we are used to seeing with Finale and Sibelius, and there are spacing issues with the music. I’m not sure how to change a note to an enharmonic value, but putting the song in the Key of G caused notes that needed to be sharp to be sharp. The sound of the program is more than acceptable (far better than General MIDI on any device I’ve heard).
Notion was much slower to use, although it worked just fine. Again, you cannot create a tenor treble clef, but you can set tempos at various points of the score. Interestingly, the first measure, which I put in 3/4 due to word stress, still played as a 4/4 measure. I was unable to set notes as enharmonic tones, so a D-sharp always showed as an E-flat. And of course, there is no way to place lyrics on the app, other than to import them. There is no way to record music as you play it into the app at this time. The sounds, of course, are phenomenal–as you would expect. The output looks good (like a document created in Finale or Sibelius), but there is no way to tweak the layout at all.
In both apps, choral “friendliness” would be appreciated…we could use preset staves for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass.
I wanted to show the difference in output between the two versions, and in doing so, decided to visit the Choral Public Domain Library to see if a version was available. There wasn’t a Finale version available, but I was able to use some other tools (PDFtoMusic) to quickly convert a PDF to MusicXML, import it into Finale, and export it as a file. This way, you can compare the output of Notion, Symphony Pro, and Finale.
I also tried importing the Finale-created Ave Maria into both Notion and Symphony Pro.
Notion imported and played the file “just fine,” but imported the bass part as a bass, writing everything up an octave…so I had to adjust that. The fermata in the first measure was ignored in playback.
Symphony Pro also imported the file, but crashed on playback, and then crashed again in following attempts to send a PDF of its interpretation via e-mail, even after “closing” the app. Clearly, Symphony Pro 2.2 has some issues with importing MusicXML files…hopefully the coming version 2.3 will fix those issues.