Category Archives: Music Scanning

Music Scanners (Sheet Music Scanner)

Part 1:

Sheet Music Scanner

I was recently contacted by the developer of Sheet Music Scanner, who graciously offered a download code to the app.  The app currently sells for $3.99, and is currently on version 2.1.  The app works well–scanning one page of a time.  It allows you to save a scan, as well as to export audio to MIDI (with the intent to open the file in GarageBand).

My immediate feedback to the developer was that I was surprised there was no MusicXML format, and they were surprised to hear that request.  In fact, I was the first to request it.  That really surprised me–and it made me think about my usage of scanning, which is likely different than the average iOS device owner.

You see, once I have music scanned, I want to do more with that music than simply listen to it or export it to GarageBand.  I typically want to import it into a music notation program and to do other things with it (clean it up, edit it, export it as a higher quality audio file, etc).  I think most music educators would follow my case use.  But what about the millions of iOS musicians who don’t care about music notation?

As I have said, Sheet Music Scanner works  very well–one page at a time, and it is priced right.  My only “gripe” is MIDI, as a single line of music imported into Notion with a split point of middle C for that melodic line (although that setting may be in Notion and not in the MIDI file–but there are no options as you open a MIDI file into Notion).  I will discuss a further MIDI trial a bit later in this post.

In partial summary, Sheet Music Scanner is a solid app, particularly if you want to scan more than one part at a time.  If all you need is one part, NotateMe Now is still the leader by allowing editing and a price tag of “Free.”

Part 2:

iSee Notes Pro

The realization that many people might not need music notation software but still a need to scan led me to look a little further in the App Store, and sure enough, I found another app that was similar to Sheet Music Scanner.  This app is called iSee Notes Pro and is also $3.99.  This app, however, has not been updated since December 2014, and only can be used in landscape mode.

I decided to do a little test comparing Sheet Music Reader, iSee Notes Pro, and NotateMe (full version with IAP).  That video appears at the end of the post.  I found a public domain version of “America, the Beautiful” on Wikipedia, printed it, and used that as the test material.  I figured that “America, the Beautiful,” would add a greater challenge as a four-part arrangement than a single melodic line–but not too much challenge being both homophonic and unison rhythm (homorhythmic is not a word that spell check appreciates).

Sheet Music Scanner was surprisingly the most accurate. It can only scan one page at a time, is the slowest in recognition, and lacks the ability to export a scan via MusicXML file.  MIDI import may work well into GarageBand (I have not tried it), but Notion imported each line of the piano score as a separate MIDI track (a piano track at that).  See the image below.  Again, I am a huge supporter of MusicXML–while it is not perfect–which is still the best way to share accurate music data between notation-based programs.

America the Beautiful from MIDI

You should save your money if considering iSee Notes Pro.  The landscape requirement ended up scanning part of our oak kitchen table, and the application actually tried playing the wood grain.  While the app does allow multiple pages, it seems to ignore key signatures.   Additionally, the app hasn’t been updated since 2014.  It is dangerous to send any money towards an app that hasn’t been updated in more than a year (in other words, iOS 8 had just been released when this app was last touched–and we are currently on iOS 9.3).

NotateMe has been one of my favorite apps for a long time.  Surprisingly, it had scanned errors when Sheet Music Reader did not.  I don’t know how to explain that.  Altogether, this is a $70 app, but with that $70, you can scan multiple pages and voices (The free “trial” version, NotateMe Now only allows for one voice at a time), wth higher quality sounds, the ability to edit the scan in the notation editor, words are scanned (although not always correctly), and you can share documents via MusicXML.

I don’t know how any of these would do in reproducing “swung” music. That would be a situation where you would want NotateMe, and then to export to Notion, which can add swing to a song.

If you are a music educator–NotateMe is still the app to purchase (with the added In-App Purchases).  That said, having Sheet Music Scanner around for an additional $4 seems like a no-brainer.

And if you are a musician wishing to scan and then hear your music, and you need to hear more than one part at a time, then check out Sheet Music Reader.

Scanning Software for Mac & Windows Computers

A few days ago, I received a promotional e-mail from Musitek.  The e-mail read:

SmartScore X2 Pro Edition
New Version 10.5.8

This is our most powerful upgrade ever!

Every day for the past 2 years our engineers have been working hard to improve SmartScore X2 Pro recognition, editing, playback and MusicXML export features and functions. All that work has paid off. Now, you can enjoy those benefits and more with one low, discounted upgrade price of just $99 !

Not long ago, Neuratron released its latest version of PhotoScore (now Photoscore and NotateMe Ultimate 8).

I am a Finale user.  That has changed somewhat as I have not upgraded to Finale 2014 and am instead using Notion (iOS and Mac/Win) while waiting for the next version of Finale.  For years, I used SmartScore and bought SmartScoreX Professional Edition to use to recognize music.  I was never really happy with the scanning results (always working with choral music), so I started to look at other solutions.

Finally, I took the plunge and bought PhotoScore Ultimate.  PhotoScore is the scanning software paired with Sibelius.  As a Finale user, I felt that I was “cheating” on the Finale ecosystem–but found that PhotoScore Ultimate simply did a better job of scanning (accuracy) than SmartScore X Professional.  When SmartScore X2 was released two and a half years ago, I downloaded the demo and compared PhotoScore and SmartScore X2.  At that point, PhotoScore had not been updated since 2011.  Even so, I found that PhotoScore still did a better job than SmartScore X2, so I did not buy the update.

I like to continue to give programs a chance to improve.  So with the announcement of SmartScore X2’s latest improvements, I wanted to try the program.  In fact, the e-mail stated:

Want to try before you commit?
Click here to download a free demo of SmartScore X2 Pro, Version 10.5.8

I downloaded the new demo, and when I opened it to run, I was told the demo period had expired.  I e-mailed Musitek, and asked for help, and they responded suggesting that I download and install the actual patch to X2, which I did.  That didn’t work, either.  I e-mailed again, and they encouraged me to buy the upgrade, and they told me would be willing to refund my money if I was dissatisfied.  I didn’t want to do that–$99 isn’t an impulse buy.

I remembered that I had my Windows 8 tablet (last turned on in March), so I charged up that computer and  downloaded the demo on that computer.

I am currently working on making some rehearsal tracks for a musical I am working with in the fall, so I simply took the next piece–which was already in a PDF format–and ran the two programs on it.  The original PDF isn’t mine, as we don’t have the actual scores yet (they show up about a month before the show), so I am using someone else’s scan to get ready for the show.  This particular scan has another language written on top of each line (it was obviously performed and translated in this other language), so not only do the programs have to make sense of the music–they also have to try to make sense of all the text.

The truth be told–I am used to having to delete all the text and enter it by hand regardless of the scanning program that I use.  But still, this is a real life situation.  I’m not throwing a single line instrumental score at these programs, or even a simple (clean) SA choral score.

It s possible that if I used a flatbed scanner, and scanned everything as a .TIFF file that SmartScore X2 prefers (it converts PDFs to TIFF files, where PhotoScore seems to just work with PDFs), I might get better results.  But again, all of my music either is already scanned or will be scanned as a PDF, and if I am going to recognize it with software, I will not do so from yet ANOTHER scan in another format.

My results?  SmartScore is greatly improved, but PhotoScore remains better.  Perhaps the new SmartScore would have resulted in a better scan than the old PhotoScore, but Neuratron upped their game with PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.   You can see an example of each program below, from the 3rd page of the same score.  Both would require clean-up, but PhotoScore gets you further down the road.  Not only does PhotoScore get more notes right, it also does so in the correct voices (i.e. multiple events happening at the same time on the same staff).  Both programs tell you where measures don’t add up correctly.  I have never done much editing in either program–as soon as I can, I import it into a true notation software package and begin clean up.

It is worth saying that SmartScore X2 has Garritan sounds embedded in the program–so if you are looking for a scanning program to play what you see, SmartScore will undoubtedly sound better than PhotoScore.  For me this isn’t an issue–if I want quality sounds, I move to Notion (on the Mac or on the iPad).

I find myself at a place where I can actually recommend either program.  If you are a Finale user, working with PhotoScore does require you to work outside of the Finale environment, as you have to work with MusicXML files.  This isn’t terribly difficult to do, but if using Finale already stresses you out, working with yet another package might push you over the edge.  in that case, you can invest in the SmartScore upgrade knowing that you have a solid program to work with.  For the last few years, I would not have felt comfortable saying that.  But do keep in mind that you still will have more clean-up work to do than if you go with PhotoScore.

If you want the most accurate scanning–again, from PDFs in particular–your best solution is PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

Disclaimer: Although I used my own income to purchase SmartScore X Professional and PhotoScore 7 Ultimate, I was given copies of PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8 for review purposes; and while I was unable to re-install the demo of SmartScore X2 on my Mac, this did not influence my conclusion in any way.  Had SmartScore proved to be more accurate than PhotoScore, I would have paid the $99 upgrade fee to move to SmartScore X2 this evening.

A big day for music technology…

Two major items hit the news today that have the potential to impact our lives as musicians and music educators.

The first is that MusicFirst introduced PracticeFirst, a new system that will allow green note/red note assessment for $6 per student, with additional titles being added for an additional cost (teachers can also provide their own literature, which is what I would do). I haven’t see or used the system (other than some screen shots at http://www.musicfirst.com), so I cannot tell you how the service compares to SmartMusic or Music Prodigy. I can tell you that the pricing does come very close to affordable for even my current situation where student socio-economic factors are an issue. $6 per year, for the same general ability to assess student pitch and rhythm, versus $40 for SmartMusic and $30 for Music Prodigy, is one heck of a deal. Furthermore, PracticeFirst is web-based (meaning any device, potentially including phones), and it is also supposed to assess tone. I still need to see what Weezic will release in this area. I would still love to see a buy-once app that didn’t have to rely on servers, as $6 per student is still nearly $2000 for my program. That is $10,000 over five years, and $20,000 over ten years. That is a significant investment, and SmartMusic and Music Prodigy would be more! Remember, you aren’t getting much content with PracticeFirst, but with advances in scanning, it is easier than ever to scan music, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be assessing full pieces of music…you should be selectively choosing the measures you will assess. For the cost savings over SmartMusic ($11,000 for my program), I can make my own assessments, plus as a choral director, I always had to make my own literature assessments anyway.

Again, we don’t know how PracticeFirst will compare with other programs, but it will be fun to find out.

As a side note, also check out the resources at www.odogy.com for additional green note/red note applications in music. There is a web application called CommunityBand, as well as a Recorder Application, a Music Share Application, and a Duet Maker. All are priced very affordably for music education.

Finally, the handwriting music on a tablet space has really heated up. The Sibelius Blog covered StaffPad, a handwriting app mainly for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Microsoft Surface 3 [The Pro is the better option with the larger 4:3 screen], about two weeks ago. This week, Neuratron announced its pending third version of NotateMe for iOS and Android. Today the Sibelius Blog broke the news about TouchNotation, a new handwriting music app from Kawai (the link is a referral link. If you buy the app from the link, I will relieve a 7% commission from Apple, but the cost is the same, and the company makes the same amount). The app was live in Japan first, and there is a free version available as well. The app is on sale for $7.99 until the end of April, and has various in-app purchases. I have only played with the app for a few moments, but it seems to work well enough, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to add lyrics (not so great for a choir director or general music teacher).

I am intrigued by the entrance of Kawai into the app space. NotateMe remains the app I would recommend on iOS or Android, as it allows for the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, which is worth its weight in gold. And I don’t have a Surface Pro 3 (I would buy myself a new MacBook and an Apple Watch first), so I have not purchased StaffPad (which would not work so well on my Asus T-100 tablet without an active stylus). But it seems that StaffPad has captured the excitement of a number of musicians and executives at Microsoft. I have seen a number of musicians who are buying a Surface Pro 3 just for StaffPad. On a similar note. I know musicians who bought iPads for forScore and unrealBook.

I also hope you didn’t miss the news about the next version of Sibelius (8?) that will also utilize the Surface Pro’s active stylus. It seems that if you are a musician who uses Windows, it is time to buy the Surface Pro 3.

So…that’s the big news today…PracticeFirst, odogy.com, and Touch Notation, as well as mention of StaffPad, NotateMe 3, and Sibelius. Aren’t options wonderful?

Presentations from the 2014 Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference

This weekend (Friday), I had the privilege to present three sessions at the Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference (I usually just call this the Iowa MEA).  If you are in a surrounding state, I really recommend this conference.  It is a smaller conference and most of the vendors are local–but clinicians come from across the country to present on a wide variety of topics.  Don’t let the size of IMEA fool you–it is packed with professional development.

My first session was a summary on the latest with the iPad in Music Education.  (PDF of the presentation: The Latest and Greatest with iPads in Music Education).  In summary: better hardware, better iOS, better [and continually improving] apps, and better accessories for music education.

My second session was an overview of some of the ways you can use devices OTHER than iPads in your classroom (PDF of the presentation: Technology for the Rest of Us).  This was a discussion of web apps for all, Android, Chromebook, and Windows “Tile” Apps.  There was one big surprise about Chromebooks that I will be blogging about soon.  I also recommend Chad Criswell’s post about High Tech options for low-cost budgets: http://www.musicedmagic.com/tales-from-the-podium/low-cost-musictechnology-options-for-the-music-education-classroom.html.

The final sessions was my core “60 Apps in 60 minutes,” which is more than 60 apps.  (PDF of the presentation: 60 Apps in 60 Minutes).  On the positive side of things, my overall list changes very little over time–but the best apps continue to improve with each passing generation.  As a secondary teacher, it is a joy to be able to recommend Amy Burns’ FREE interactive book, “Help! I am an Elementary Teacher with One or More iPads” to elementary teachers looking for even more elementary-focused apps, applications, and lesson plans.

I love presenting in Iowa–it is a relatively close convention (about a 3.5 hour drive from my house) in a wonderful town (Ames), and Des Moines is only a short drive away.  On Saturday, my wife and I drove down to Des Moines and visited the Iowa State Capitol (it is a beautiful building–if you have not visited it, do so) and then went to blow our own glass Christmas ornaments at Studio Fuzzishü in the West Des Moines area.  We wanted to spend some time in the East Village and perhaps at the Jordan Creek Mall, but parking was an issue in both those places.  We also had the chance to visit some friends of the family that had moved to Southern Minnesota on our way back to the metro area of the Twin Cities.

A great post by Philip Rothman about NotateMe on the Sibelius Blog

A few years ago, Philip Rothman took over the Sibelius Blog as most of the Sibelius team headed to Steinberg (I believe that Daniel Spreadbury, who was a part of that group, used to run the Sibelius Blog). Although the Sibelius Blog was never limited to “Sibelius-Only” items, Mr. Rothman writes about music notation in a broader sense. As a result, if you are a person that uses software from other companies/developers, and you haven't followed the Sibelius Blog, you are missing out.

Last week, as MakeMusic announced its transition to go under the umbrella of Peaksware, Mr. Rothman was also given access to the new CEO over MakeMusic, and was able to ask questions that I had not thought of. As I mentioned, the topic for me became more about the people currently employed by MakeMusic, as I have had the opportunity to get to know a number of MakeMusic's staff over the past years. I was very happy to be able to read Mr. Rothman's information about the news.

Today, Mr. Rothman wrote about one of my favorite iOS/Android apps, NotateMe. He did so with feedback from Neuratron's CEO, Martin Dawe–and I really enjoyed reading about Mr. Rothman's experiment with NotateMe. So, go read the article. And if you subscribe to blog feeds (my latest choice of blog feed readers is Feedly), subscribe to the Sibelius Blog so you can read all of his posts!

 

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