PlayScore 2: Another Tool To Buy

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about PlayScore Pro, an app that had a lot of promise, but didn’t work for my personal work flow. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the creators of PlayScore Pro, which is owned and operated by Dolphin Computing Ltd and Organum, Ltd. There is a new version of PlayScore 2, which answers the difficulties that I experienced trying to get PlayScore Pro to fit into my workflow.

As a side note, I have to mention that I don’t think the creators of PlayScore 2 were worried about my individual work flow…the improvements to the new version just happen to address them.

PlayScore 2 works very similar to PlayScore Lite and PlayScore Pro (which are also still available, and might add some confusion) in that you can take pictures of your score and the app recognizes the music, making it able to play your music or to export it as a MusicXML file to another app (or using AirDrop, to your Mac).

PlayScore 2 now adds the ability to import a PDF directly into the app, and to recognize all the pages of a score at the same time.

The selling points of PlayScore (Lite, Pro, or 2) have always been speed and accuracy—including pulling in additional markings (diacritical markings like staccato and accents, crescendos, and dynamics). PlayScore 2 does not import lyrics or text—but their website (PlayScore.co) indicates this is in development (with no specific timeline).

In a moment of transparency, the first version of PlayScore 2 that I used “hung up” on a choral score that had staves that appeared and disappeared along the way (very common in choral scores). The developers were aware of the issue, and this morning (as I write this post) a new version of the app came out that solved that problem.

The suprise for buyers will be PlayScore 2’s purchase options…the use of all features requires a subscription. You can get a subscription for $4.99 a month or $15.49 a year. Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and Robby Burns (www.robbyburns.com/blog/) were just talking about subscriptions a few weeks ago on Twitter. I think we all see subscriptions as an evil necessity (although Paul is reluctant to buy apps that require them). The idea of a buy once-use forever app is hard to justify. We’re close to nine years with the iPad, and I’m still using the original purchase of forScore that I bought for $0.99 at that time. I’m more than ready to buy “forScore 2” to make sure that the company can continue to stay in business!

All that said, I think a $16 annual charge for the ability to scan your music, importing from a PDF, is a fair price. It takes time to enter any song into a digital format, whether note by note (how did I ever do that for hundreds of scores?) or simply playing into a digital piano and recording it to create an audio track. If the app saves you one hour of time during the year, and you earn at least $25 an hour, the app has already saved you money. If you are scanning a bunch of scores, the app will likely save you tens or hundreds of hours of time. It doesn’t take long to prove that the old axiom is true…“time is money.”

There are now three reliable scanning apps on the Apple App Store. The first is NotateMe with the PhotoScore in-app purchase, which sells for about $70 all together. NotateMe is just about as accurate as the PhotoScore Mac/Win version, although it won’t read PDF files (the Mac/Win version does). The second is Sheet Music Scanner, a $4 app that does a good job of importing notes, but there are some things it does not do (triplets). And now there is PlayScore 2 which I can recommend as well. If you are scanning a piece to use purely as accompaniment, PlayScore 2 might be the best starting point, as it attempts to import (and play) expression.

In terms of my own work flow, I will now try to scan a song with Sheet Music Scanner and PlayScore 2 to see which does a better job with that score (the results are never the same) and then export that scan to Notion or Finale to finish editing the score. I don’t generally use NotateMe/PhotoScore on my iPad/iPhone because it doesn’t import PDF files. If Sheet Music Scanner or PlayScore 2 don’t do a good job, I will then go to my MacBook and use PhotoScore to scan the PDF. And if the PDF was generated by a notation project, I will use PDFtoMusic Pro (on my Mac) to decode the file into a MusicXML file. PlayScore 2 does not appear to be available on Android yet, and neither is Sheet Music Scanner, but you never know what the future will hold (NotateMe is available on Android).

Incidentally, NotateMe on iOS/Android works very well if you have sheet music on hand, and attempts to import lyrics. PhotoScore has been the gold standard for scanning for long time—the app just can’t handle PDF scores, and that is where I live most of the time.

In summary, I have a number of tools on my devices to help me scan, and it doesn’t take long to see which one is the best tool to use.

I continue to scan every score that I use, so that I can have it on my iPad, and I purchase a digital copy when they are available (even if I have to buy five copies of a choral score). A notation-created score will be smaller (it uses a font instead of an image) and can usually be decoded by PDFtoMusic Pro to help me make accompaniment or rehearsal files.

This is a good day, everyone—I’m pleased to be able to recommend PlayScore 2 to you as an additional tool to add to your tool kit. I’d recommend the annual subscription due to the cost savings (only three months of a monthly subscription).

Advertisements

App Update and Happy New Year

47FFD5DA-2602-4DD9-B603-BFCE02BE3AFF

It is New Year’s Eve, and we have had a very mellow day, and we are also going to have a very mellow evening.  We’ll all be in bed long before the New Year arrives.  2018 was a year full of a number of major life moments for me, which I will write about later.  As 2018 closes, I am very thankful for family and friends and the role they have played in my life.

I wanted to post about an App Update to one of the tools that I use with my choirs early in the year.  The app is called “In Tune” and it is a game that asks you to determine whether a second pitch is sharp or flat compared to a first pitch, on an increasing level of difficulty.

5645A87B-B693-40F8-A47E-D13955F31C97

I use Dale Duncan’s “S-Cubed” method for sight singing (highly recommended), but I modify the content using other tools.  For example, I use Sight Reading Factory to generate exercises for my students (based on Dale’s exercises).  This way, I can make a version that plays along with students.  The Sight Reading Factory versions are great for exams, and for dropping online so that students can take a sight reading assessment if they miss an assessment.  I start assessing during this middle part of the year, making sure my students have all had exposure to the method before making it actually “count” towards their grade.

Early in his method, Dale asks teachers to sing sharp and flat notes to their students to help them develop sensitivity to pitch.  This is an area where I don’t follow Dale, because I strongly believe that we should never sing something wrong intentionally in an educational setting.  I substitute three or four days of playing “In Tune” with my choirs in place of demonstrating flat and sharp for my students, and at the end of every two pitches, I ask students to determine whether the notes were flat or sharp (they vote), and we enter the majority’s vote into the app.

The two negatives of the app have been that you can’t replay pitches (sometimes the choirs talk, as the next notes start immediately, and they can’t hear the new pitches and you can’t replay them), and the pure tone can rattle in your skull—finding a correct volume can be a challenge.

The app hasn’t been touched in three years, but was updated this week.  I’m very happy about this, as you will now have the option to buy other sounds as a reference pitch for the app.

860D24B6-02EC-4ADE-9F11-91E869C84142

Incidentally, my choirs always improve significantly over three days with the app (we meet every other day), and I think they get the point of “sharp” or “flat” versus singing “on pitch” in a more effective way than if I sing sharp or flat for them.

In the future, I may have students vote online for sharp or flat, instead of raising their hands, using any number of apps or services—including SMART’s new web-based tools (which were demonstrated to us in October and look amazing).

If you haven’t tried In Tune, I recommend it, and if you use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method, I think it is a nice alteration to his methodology.

As a note, In Tune is an iPhone App, so it runs in that odd magnified size on an iPad, and if you want to buy it on an iPad, you have to search for iPhone apps.

F3F1A989-B89A-46B9-AE3F-717ED25D5659

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2019 is stellar for you!

Two App Updates (9/10/18)

I just saw that two apps, neither new, have been updated recently. Treble Cat (and Treble Cat HD), a note reading game, has been refreshed in look and style (I assume we’ll see a similar update to Bass Cat and Rhythm Cat in the future).

I also noticed that Music Memos has been updated. Music Memos remains one of the apps that surprises people the most as I present sessions. Music Memos was invented by Apple to replace the need for musicians to use Voice Notes to “jot down” musical ideas (this was quite common). Music Memos takes a musical recording and analyzes the key, tempo, and harmonic structure–and adds bass and drums to the recording. Ever need to make a quick accompaniment for an ensemble? Try Music Memos. You can also export the final project to Garage Band (Mac only…hoping for iOS integration in the future), or you can export audio as an audio file. Yes, you can edit the program’s interpretation of the chords. When I show this app to audiences, there is always a gasp of awe–even with collegiate students. If you haven’t tried Music Memos, do so–and it is FREE…another wonderful gift for musicians and music educators from Apple.


Flat v. 2 for iOS

A number of web-based programs simply do not run well on iOS, and therefore, companies are forced into making an iOS app if they want to tap into that potential revenue stream.

Flat.io has had am iOS app for quite a while, but announced this past week that it had released a new version of the app.

If you have an iOS device, and if you have a Flat.io account (if not, why not? There is a free version of the service), give the new version of the app a try today!

Cleartune has been updated!

With the appocalypse of iOS 11, many long time apps disappeared. One of those was Cleartune, one of the tuners that has been in the App Store for years. It was a favorite app for many users…and it was gone.

The good news? Bitcount (developer/company) updated it yesterday, and Cleartune is back!

While I would certainly recommend Tonal Energy Tuner as well, Cleartune is a great option…and it now works iOS 11. I hope more of the currently missing apps come back from the dead as well!

Many thanks to Michael Good, the creator of MusicXML and a VP at MakeMusic for tweeting about this and bringing it to my attention!

Compose Leadsheets (New App for iOS)

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:

ThinkMusic iPad App Kickstarter

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):

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.