This is a continuing series about ten tech tools to help a secondary music educator prepare for a concert. The idea comes from Amy Burns who is running a series on this topic for elementary music educators (See her posts for #10 Audacity, #9 SoundTrap, and #8 iTunes Remote)
In this series, I previously blogged about PDF/Music XML music readers, such as Newzik and Gustaf. Most publishers are not making MusicXML files available to musicians, so how do you obtain a MusicXML file? You have to make it yourself.
Once you have that MusicXML, you can interact with a file in a number of ways—-changing keys, editing notes or texts (correcting original errors in scores), creating new parts from existing parts for your required instrumentation, and exporting audio as a rehearsal/performance track or into a digital audio workstation for tweaking with other digital instruments or loops.
The traditional approach to making a MusicXML file would be to enter notes through a notation application such as Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, MuseScore, or Notion (That’s a pretty impressive list of programs in and of itself) and export your file as a MusicXML file. The challenge is that these programs can require time to learn and a comfort level using technology. Many music educators do not have the time to learn and use this software—and the version of the software they may have learned years ago has likely changed significantly over time. As a side note, if you are getting back into notation program, I suggest Notion as a starting point, as it has the most user-friendly interface, is the cheapest entry point (other than MuseScore, which is free), and has the best stock sounds. Of course, Notion also has a very mature iOS app (additional purchase required).
If the process of entering notes via a mouse, finger (iOS), or keyboard causes your blood pressure to rise, there are a couple of incredible solutions on iOS for you to try.
Simply put: use your iPhone or iPad (the better the camera, often the better the results), take pictures of the music, and an app converts those images to notation that can be exported via MusicXML. The results aren’t going to be perfect, and you may have a little or a lot of clean up to do…but it is amazing how much the scanners get right.
The first app I recommend, simply because of price point, is Sheet Music Scanner. It looks like Sheet Music Scanner is currently $3.99 (pricing can always change). This app doesn’t recognize everything in a score, but the developer is always adding features, and you can open an existing PDF into this app for recognition. No other app allows for importing of existing PDFs. While Sheet Music Scanner was originally intended to be able to scan and play back music—it exports to MusicXML (I often export directly into Notion on iOS).
The second app I recommend, again because of price point, is NotateMe with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase. NotateMe is by Neuratron, which is a basic notation program that also recognizes handwriting (the first on the market to do so) that later added scanning to its feature package. PhotoScore is a $250 computer program (Mac/Win) that is the gold standard in scanning. NotateMe is a $40 app with a $30 PhotoScore In-App Purchase. A $70 app shocks people, but I remind you that when you scan with NotateMe/PhotoScore, you are avoiding the price of a computer, the software, and a dedicated scanner. The results are generally very good—although results will vary depending on the quality of the original score, the layout of the original score (e.g. four individual voice parts on one staff with crossing beams is never going to scan well—if it even has a chance to be read well by a human off a paper version). PhotoScore will also attempt to scan lyrics. PhotoScore will not import a PDF (in the iOS/Android version), so you will need a paper copy on hand.
I have talked about these applications many times before—but it is always amazing to me when I speak at conferences to find out how many people do not know about these apps that I would consider “core” to the music educator’s experience.
Once your score is in the MusicXML format…the possibilities are endless as to what you can do with it!