Getting music into MusicXML format

Right now, MusicXML is the best way to communicate musical scores between music notation programs.

On your Mac or PC, this might include Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, or other programs.

On your iPad, this might include Notion or Symphony Pro.  Or, in a round about way, a Music XML could be imported into your Mac or PC program, and then exported to be used on the Finale Songbook, Avid Scorch Reader, or MuseScore Reader on your iPad.  You can also read (and now hear) those scores on an app called SeeScore.

Everybody still with me?  Good.

Still, how do you get printed music from the page into your digital device while in a music notation format?

Finale and Sibelius have bundled programs, SmartScore and PhotoScore, respectively, that are very limited in what they can do.  There are pro versions of each app that are much more expensive and are much more accurate–plus they can handle scores in PDF format (although SmartScore converts those files to a TIFF file).  Or, if you have a PDF generated by a music notation product, you can buy another MAC/PC program entitled PDFtoMusic.  As with SmartScore and PhotoScore, there is a “pro” version of PDFtoMusic as well.  All three can import text, but I find proper hyphenation (when importing into Finale) to be a huge problem that exists with all three programs.

So what is the best program to buy, and what’s the best route to take in conversion?

Here are some thoughts that might be useful:

  1. I’m highly doubtful about SmartScore.  If you go on their website, they haven’t even updated the product since July of 2010.  That means no patches, no nod towards OS 10.6 (Lion) or OS 10.7 (Mountain Lion) or Windows 8.  I’ve personally sent e-mails and asked, “Are there any updates coming” to which I’ve received no response (I don’t suppose that I merit a response, but customer service and a short note is always good business).  Compared to PhotoScore Ultimate, I’ve found SmartScore Pro to be less accurate–with every scan.  I can’t recommend it as a product.  Editing scores within SmartScore Pro is a nightmare, and one of the negative aspects about Finale is that it doesn’t highlight where measures are incomplete, or where measures have too many beats.  So you get that information in SmartScore, but editing those scores before importing is a nightmare.  It’s just too easy to make mistakes and those errors can hide too easily.
  2. I’ve been pretty happy with PhotoScore Ultimate, which although it is usually bundled with Sibelius, it can save files directly to the MusicXML format.  As with any music recognition program, the more complex the piece, the more mistakes the program makes.  As with SmartScore, I find it easier to edit a score in Finale (which again fails to tell you which measures have too few or too many beats) than in PhotoScore, but PhotoScore does seem to be more friendly when it comes to editing.
  3. PDFtoMusic Pro is a question mark, as it can only interpret scores created by a music notation program.  This means that anything that you simply scan cannot be read by PDFtoMusic Pro.  On generated pieces, I’ve found the program to be highly successful with PDFs I create myself, but interpretation of resources on CPDL, for example, tend to be a mixed bag.

I don’t scan songs to MusicXML to redistribute or to sell; I scan them so I can make customizable rehearsal resources for myself and for my students.  With SmartMusic, I am also able to make assessments for my students from those same resources.

If you are looking for the best sheet music to digital music (notation) program, I have to recommend PhotoScore Ultimate at this time, which is $249.  I cannot recommend SmartScore, which has not been updated since July of 2010–that’s more than two years.  PDFtoMusic Pro seems to fill a niche if you have access to generated scores, and costs $199.

Again, the more simple the arrangement, the more accurate the resulting MusicXML file.  Very complex scores can require the complete re-entry of all notes in the piece.


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