The concept of written notation to digital notation, or handwriting recognition for music, has blown up over the past few years. I still remember the very famous video from ThinkMusicTechnology back in 2013 that resulted in a lot of excitement about the possibility:
It was a great idea, but the Kickstarter failed. Since then, there have been a number of handwriting apps…I will see if I can put them into chronological order (and I am sure I am missing some):
- NotateMe (September 2013)
- Touch Notation by Kawai (March 2015)
- StaffPad for Windows Surface Tablets (March 2015)
- Notion for iOS [added as an IAP] (November 2015)
- MusicJot (January 2017)
- Komp Create (April 2017)
- Compoze Leadsheets (September 2017)
I do know of some other notation apps that are bringing handwriting soon.
When I see a new app that is entering an established field (looking back to 2013 in this case), I always ask: “What is unique about the app that makes it unique/easier/better/more powerful to use than other apps?” Hopefully every app has an answer to that (it is something that I like to ask on the podcast) rather than to be an alternative. For example: Finale has always been about the power user. Sibelius has always been about power and easier to learn. Notion has always been about high quality sounds and logical keyboard commands. MuseScore is always improving and Free. Dorico is focused on quality engraving and logical keyboard commands. As you think about notation apps for tablets and phones…what is the specialty of each of these apps?
I have a bias here, and I want to be clear about it: I find it easier to compose, arrange, and edit with a mouse/trackpad, QWERTY keyboard, and MIDI keyboard. I used Finale throughout college, and continue to use it–and I also use Notion on most projects (they both get used), both the desktop and iOS versions.
I find handwriting to be best for writing short sequences of notes (e.g. A sight reading exercise) versus an entire song. I love and adore NotateMe, and would have paid far more for it (it is $70 with the scanning IAP), but I don’t do any editing or writing in NotateMe–I use it for the PhotoScore and export features.
I do find handwriting to be the very best way to add diacritical markings…as these are a pain to add with most desktop/notebook programs, even knowing the shortcuts.
When I watch StaffPad’s videos of people collaborating on a composition to be played moments later via a WebCam connection with StaffPad, I feel the frustration that process would actually take (the first time, it would be fun. The second time…give me Finale or Notion…or MuseScore, or Sibelius, or Dorico…)
So, please be aware of my bias. That said, I realize there are a lot of people–music educators included–whose minds melt with any notation software, and handwritten solutions may be the only solution that works for them.
As a result, we have six solutions for iOS (with more on the way), all that work. The latest of these is Compoze Leadsheets, which is coming from a freemium approach. You get three lead sheets for free’ additional lead sheets cost most, and unlimited lead sheets cost $50. The program works like many others, with some very good integration (so far) of repeats and multiple endings. Other features, including export, are coming in the future…some included with the unlimited version.
My advice? Download it and try it, as you start for free. It works well, and if you haven’t tried handwriting notation, it is worth a shot (no Apple Pencil needed). That said, the program itself isn’t of much benefit to me as I need–from Day 1–the ability to have lyrics and to be able to import or export via MusicXML.
I also struggle with the idea notation apps that are in the $50 range or are subscription based, particularly when there are apps like Notion, where the base app, and all possible in-app purchases are $50 (this gets you a rather extensive sound library AND handwriting in Notion). I’m not against people making money…but $50 apps and subscription models (particularly those without an education version) are a very tough sell for schools.
If you download Compoze Leadsheets, you should also try some of the other handwriting apps, such as NotateMe Now (also free). In 2013-2014, I used NotateMe to have my students compose short compositions in class, and that was a successful unit. There are better solutions in 2017, such as the education versions of web based apps like Noteflight and Flat.io. I am particularly interested in trying Flat.io’s new assignment feature.
I also want to make it very clear that Compoze Leadsheets is BRAND NEW on the App Store–and it should be given some time to mature. As I mentioned, download it, and see what you think. Check in occasionally to see what they add.