Earlier this week, I was contacted by Mona Lisa Sound about their relatively new (January 26, 2017) music notation app, MusicJot. They offered a promo code, which I was happy to accept, and I have had the chance to work with the app a little bit this week.
iOS is fortunate to have so many quality apps, and there are several music notation apps. My long-time favorite is Notion, which has most of the features of a desktop program. In addition, there is Symphony Pro (more like a desktop program), NotateMe (notation by hand), and several other apps such as TouchNotation and iWriteMusic. On the horizon is Komp, another handwriting based notation app. In addition to these apps, both flat.io and Noteflight will work on iOS devices. As a result, MusicJot enters a field that is somewhat already crowded in terms of music notation applications for iOS. As a disclaimer, I am an unpaid beta tester for Notion and Symphony Pro, and I often am in touch with many of the other programs mentioned in the post.
MusicJot is a handwriting-based music notation app that is being developed in part by a musician and arranger who has arranged over 100 string quartets. The development team consists of two programmers. The idea behind MusicJot is to give composers an easy path to entering music, with an eye on the accessibility of StaffPad on Windows Surface devices. MusicJot utilizes the handwriting to notation engine of MyScript, which hails back to the “original” handwriting to notation app (which failed crowd funding) by Think Music Technology. Interestingly, Notion, offers this same functionality (from MyScript) as an In-App Purchase for iOS devices, and the feature is included in the desktop versions as well (generally for Windows Surface owners).
My initial thoughts about MusicJot can be summed up in one statement: the app is still young. It works–you write notes and then click outside of the measure to convert the notes to digital notation. After the notes are entered, you can play or edit what you have written. You can also add notes via touch, as well as change settings such as clef, time signature, key signature and so on. In other words, it has the standard functionality you would expect for a music notation app (missing, however, is ukulele as an instrument, which has become very important to me). Printing is coming soon, but you can export your notation (in my world, in the preferable Music XML format), but for now you have to e-mail the file to yourself (the actual MusicXML export feature saves the file in iTunes, whereas “Open In” would be a far more useful solution). The app opens with animated tutorial pages, and help is available on every page.
Recognition is fine–I have not been unhappy with any handwriting to music notation app. As Notion uses the same handwriting backbone, MusicJot is just as accurate. I have no complaints in this area. And yes, the Apple Pencil is supported, but I do not have a device that can use an Apple Pencil at this time (waiting for the 2nd generation 12.9″ iPad Pro).
The copy and paste features of the app seem to be very well thought out, and if you are editing (and have an Apple Pencil for best results), the ability to drag a sequence of notes (for pitch or length) and the ability to drop an octave after pasting is pretty novel. This just goes to show that every app has excellent features.
I’m not sold on the visual appearance of the app–it is clean (a much less cluttered approach than NotateMe, whose real power is in the PhotoScore In App Purchase anyway), but it also appears–for me–too “basic.” This is why I say that the app is young–it is missing features and its appearance will mature over time. To be honest, as it now exists for use, I would rather see the integration of the new SMuFL font in place of MakeMusic’s font.
All that said, I don’t want to be too harsh, as I am in support of every app that can be used to create and teach music.
For my level of music notation, I need apps that can quickly edit (from a scanned score) or create a chart, and as such entering notes by hand is a inefficient use of note entry for me. I much prefer to use handwriting recognition to add diacritical markings after I have entered notes into a score (this is a great use of Notion‘s handwriting IAP). However, if you only need to write short passages of music or don’t want to learn the intricacies of a notation program, apps like MusicJot, NotateMe, and the upcoming Komp would be an easy way to get music into digital format, particularly without StaffPad on iOS (can they really be selling enough copies of the app to stay on Windows on one family of devices?).
The app is $29.99 until March 16th, and then will go to $49.99. I realize that apps are FAR underpriced on the App Store. Finale is a $650 program (without education discount). The fact that Notion for iOS is $16 is crazy–although you of have to spend $30 for ALL the sounds and another $8 for handwriting. NotateMe is a $40 app, with a $30 PhotoScore scanning In App Purchase. All that said, I’m a little worried that the $50 regular price of MusicJot will not appeal to the basic user who doesn’t want to deal with the intricacies of Notion (which is pretty easy to use). At the same time, developers should charge what they want to charge.
So…keep your eye on this app. If you are intrigued by the app, get it while it is 50% off.
You can learn more about MusicJot. at Mona Lisa Sound’s website (http://monalisasound.com/musicjot.html), what appears on the MyScript website (http://myscript.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/170217-MyScript-Blog-MusicJOT-Case-Study.pdf) and also check out their introductory video (which should appear below):
Note: All the app links in this blog post are referral links. If you buy an app from that link, 7% of the purchase price comes back to me for the referral, out of Apple’s 30%. The developer still receives their full 70% for the value of the app, no matter how you buy the app. So…if you choose to buy an app from a referral link, thank you. My next cup of coffee (or part of a cup of coffee) might be from you!