Category Archives: Music Notation

Music Notation

MusicJot: New iOS Music Notation App

musicjot

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.

mozart

The app is clean, but is very basic.  It just looks young.  I have a feeling the look will mature in time.

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 MusicJotNotateMe, 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?).

In summary, when I work on notation projects on iOS, I am still going to go to Notion.  You, however, might be quite happy with MusicJot or any of the other notation apps mentioned in this post.

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!

2016 in Review, Best of 2016

2016

As we draw near to the end of 2016, everyone is posting their “year in review” summaries.

While 2016 has been a terrible year for many, and while some bad things happened to my family and I in 2016, generally it was a pretty good year, and we end the year counting our many blessings.

The big story of 2016 in educational technology has been the dominance–or the reported dominance of the Chromebook in education.  Chromebooks sessions are the topics people are attending these days, and schools are buying a bunch of them.

If you have Chromebooks, the best solutions are going to cost money in the form of annual subscriptions.  The best Chromebook applications are generally the same applications that have been web-based on Windows and Mac for the past years.  Look at all of the products that are carried by MusicFirst, along with Flat.io, The New SmartMusic, and SoundTrap.

The best device isn’t a device from 2016–it remains the 12.9″ iPad Pro.  We are awaiting a refresh of this model, but the new large iPad is ideal for music educators, particularly when paired with an Apple Pencil and AirPlay wireless mirroring in the classroom.

My favorite educational apps remain those that I use daily: Keynote, PDF Expert, Notion, forScore, unrealBook, Pages, Numbers, NotateMe (with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase) and GarageBand.

The two apps that I would recommend as “apps of the year” would be newcomers to the scene: Newzik and Sheet Music Scanner.  I have not made the shift to Newzik yet, but they are positioned well as a company that can read PDF files OR MusicXML files.  In other words, Newzik is ready for the next generation of digital sheet music.  Sheet Music Scanner is a game changer, as it is a relatively small app that is being aggressively updated, and does an incredible job scanning music (although it doesn’t scan everything).  As I have mentioned previously, if I have to choose one app for app of the year, it would be Sheet Music Scanner. Sheet Music Scanner completes the ability for me to scan, edit, and export music all from my iPad without having to touch my computer.

In terms of hardware, there haven’t been many new products for music education.  I am glad to see the growth (albeit slow) of devices like the CME XKey Air, wonderful bluetooth MIDI keyboards, and the Yamaha bluetooth MIDI adapters.  For bluetooth foot pedals and iPad stands, I would recommend AirTurn…although there are a few products from IK Multimedia.

In terms of full-blown notation programs, it has been a big year with a new product (Dorico), major updates (Finale 25 and Notion 6), and regular updates (Sibelius, StaffPad, and MuseScore).

And in classroom music, we have seen the introduction of Music First, Jr., and well as the continued growth and support from Quaver Music.

As we close out of 2016, I think we are fortunate to have the devices, accessories, and applications that are on the market.  For the most part, there is very little that I want to do with technology that I cannot do with solutions that are on the market.  It hasn’t always been that way.

I hope 2016 has been a good year for you (even if there have been challenges), and I wish you the best in 2017.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by (or subscribing to) and reading this blog.

As always, app links in my blogs are usually referral links that send 7% of the total purchase price (out of Apple’s 30% of the purchase price) to the “referrer.”  The developer receives the full 70% of the revenue from their app–so when you purchase from a referral link, you financially support this blog whose content remains free and not behind a pay wall.  Thank you for using these referral links!

Can we ask tough questions to the “industry”?

A few minutes ago, StaffPad posted this tweet:

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-1-52-33-pm

The tweet, and video, can be seen by linking below:

https://t.co/JkmWNwG4t1

I just wonder how long StaffPad can be viable as a product as it really is intended to be run on (optimized for) one exclusive category of Windows computers: the Surface tablets and the Surface Studio.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t run StaffPad on another Windows-based computer, but if you do, you can’t take advantage of the Surface tools (including the new Surface Dial).   It is hard to get an actual number of units sold, but one source stated that up to 8 million Surface systems would be sold this year.  How many of those 8 million buyers need a stylus-based notation program?

Compare that to 40 million iPads sold this year.

We just don’t know sales results for products on the market.  For example, how many copies of Finale 25 are sold each year?  Notion?  Notion for iOS?  Dorico? Sibelius?

And then how about the multi-platform competition, such as Noteflight and Flat?

And then the FREE elephant in the room, MuseScore 2 (with a new version coming sometime in the future)?

Notion for iOS has a very large potential install base: over 150 million iPads (those sold in the last three years)–not counting iPhones that can also run the app.  In addition, these devices are in schools and in the hands of music educators.

Notion, Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, and MuseScore can run on Mac OS or Windows OS, with  over 240 million units per year that can run those programs.

When you come back to the Surface series (Surface, Surface Pro, Surface Studio) which had an all-time high sales year totaling 8 million systems, and fewer sales in previous years (before the Surface 3, the “non-pro” Surface could not run Windows 8/10), how is there possibly a customer base to support the program?  Generally, schools are not buying these devices, either–much lower cost solutions are usually pursued (e.g. Chromebooks).

And let’s be honest: the majority of technology users don’t need a notation program, and if they do, they will look at solutions like Noteflight, Flat.io, MuseScore, Finale Notepad, and Notion for iOS rather than more expensive solutions.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no problems with the Surface series, and if I had enough extra income, I would buy one to use, too (I need to save up for my iPad Pro, new MacBook, and several more ukuleles).  I have no issue with StaffPad, and if it was on Mac OS or iPad, I would buy it.  If I had a Surface, I would buy it. But I am a music educator who teaches with technology, and a music educator who teaches others how to use technology.  I do arranging in my spare time.  I use a wide range of products, as no single solution does everything the best.

It just doesn’t seem like there are enough notation users to support all of these programs–which is even MORE true when you consider a relatively small installation base.

I love having the options that are on the market–but realize that companies have to pay their bills, too.

 

 

Using WAV files in Notion

n-tempo

Several weeks ago, Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and I talked to Micah Blouin from PreSonus about the new version of Notion 6 and other offerings from PreSonus for music education on the ME&T Podcast.  Check it out if you haven’t already done so!

One of the things Micah discussed was “pinning” a WAV file audio track to a Notion score, and using their feature called N-Tempo, where you can “tap” a tempo into a score to sync it to the WAV file.  He mentioned that this feature was great for transcriptions.

I recently contacted an artist about the possibility of transcribing a song of theirs so my 8th grade students could sing it in our spring concert.  I received permission today, and since I am still recovering from a bad cold that hit two days ago, I began working on the song.

In Notion, I suggest creating a separate instrument to “pin” the WAV file to, and if you don’t have a WAV file, there are plenty of web-based sites that will convert existing audio to a WAV format.  Just keep in mind that WAV is an uncompressed file format–so a audio recording is easily ten times larger than other popular formats (mp3 or Apple’s m4a).  Then you make a N-Tempo instrument track, and you plan the rhythm you want to tap to.  If you are working with an artist that shifts tempo freely, it can be better to make the N-Tempo track the same as the melody part.  Then you enter Notion’s N-Tempo recording tool (it looks like a joystick) and tap the tempo using any key on the “A” row of your keyboard.  To stop recording, hit space or ESC.

Side note: I have used “tap tempo” in Finale, which requires the space bar.  It took a look in the manual to realize that the space bar was NOT the entry method for Notion.

It helps if your WAV file starts with the downbeat…so use an editor to trim your audio before importing it.

At any rate, using this method made the transcription easy and fast, and I would definitely recommend it to any one.  I will certainly be using it again!

P.S.  “O Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” was NOT the score I was entering today.  I just used it as an example as it is in the Public Domain.

Finale 25 Now Available

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.20.58 PMEarlier today, Finale 25 was released by MakeMusic.  The program (Windows/Mac) features new 64-bit architecture, bug fixes from previous versions, transposing playback (see instruments at their written pitch, hear them played at their played pitch), and an expanded library of Garritan Sounds.  For those of you who interact with pro audio applications, you can now do that through ReWire (I don’t use pro audio applications for my workflow).

I have only been working with Finale 25 for a little while today…I was given a preview copy, but I had some installation problems on my old MacBook (those difficulties disappeared when I used the public installation file that was released today).

My first opinion: Finale 25 opens and runs like Finale.  As much as that seems like the understatement of the year, remember that this program has been reworked extensively, so to have a program continue to look and operate as it did before is no small feat.  It is also important that previous users are able to open the program and use it.    Remember the nightmare for Sibelius users when a new version changed the operation of the program with Microsoft Office-like ribbons?  As another example, Finale has encouraged “simple entry” for years, yet those of us who have used the program for a long time (I raise my hand here) still use “speedy entry.”  Both options still exist, and menus all seem to be where they ought to be.

The upgrade price is $149 from a previous version of Finale, and of course, if you have bought Finale recently (e.g. last week), I would contact MakeMusic directly to see what they can do.

Should you upgrade?  Obviously, MakeMusic would prefer it if you did–and there is nothing wrong with that.  Your upgrade helps the company keep the lights on and continue development on the program.

If you are a Mac user, MakeMusic has let some versions of Finale fall into obsolescence on the Mac due to “old” OS conflicts.  I don’t expect MakeMusic to continue supporting old versions of any operating system, so if you have a Mac that can run El Capitan (current) or Sierra (coming), it might be worth the upgrade price to guarantee continued operation in the future.

If you are a Windows user, you are going to need a 64-bit machine to run Finale 25.  Sadly, my Windows machine is an Asus T-100 Transformer that runs 32-bit programs.  It is time to send that computer to the farm (it doesn’t feel that old, and in fact, my MacBook is older).  To check whether your old Windows computer is compatible, open the Windows Start Menu, Choose “System” and then look under “About.”  There is a category called “System type,” and my Asus reads, “32-bit operating system, x64-based processor.”  Time for me to buy the Surface 4 Pro, I guess (but in truth, I need a new MacBook and 12.9″ iPad Pro first–as well as a few more ukuleles!).

If you have a more recent machine,  the 64-bit program should be marginally faster and more stable than Finale 2014.  If you are running Finale 2012 on a 64-bit Windows computer, it is time to upgrade.  If you are running Finale 2014, you’ll have to decide whether the new features of transposing playback, expanded Garritan sounds, and ReWire integration are worth the upgrade to you.  If you export audio tracks for rehearsal files, the expanded Garritan sounds should make the purchase worthwhile, and if you are a band director who makes scores for your students, transposed playback will be a nice (must have?) feature.

Missing in Finale 25 is scanning, which was recently pulled from the product.  Have no fear–there are still ways to get music from paper or PDF into Finale, you’ll just have to do it outside of the Finale sandbox.  Although I will blog about that in the future, look at Neuratron’s PhotoScore Ultimate 8, Notateme/PhotoScore on iOS and Android, and the latest version of Musitek’s SmartScore X2.  All of these programs export scanned materials to MusicXML, which can be read by Finale.

So…congratulations to MakeMusic, and best wishes for a great launch and continued success!