Old Technology! (Canon P-150 Scanner)

This afternoon, on a Sunday, I wanted to do some school work involving some scanning. I haven’t had to use my small duplex feeding scanner, the Canon P-150, for some time.

Unfortunately, I’m running Mac Catalina on my MacBook Pro. One of the changes with Catalina is that it requires all programs to use 64 bit programming (something iOS has required for a couple of years), meaning that older 32-bit programs simply don’t run.

Some companies are solving this problem by releasing updated versions to users for free (e.g. PDFtoMusicPro), and others are charging for the update (PhotoScore). And other companies are just letting old programs go.

It turns out that my Canon P-150, which has scanned so many songs for me over the years, is now a brick with Mac OS Catalina. And I find myself frustrated by this…and saddened by this. I’m frustrated because the P-150 has been an incredible tool in my music technology repertoire over the years. I’ve had this scanner since 2012 (I had to look up my old posts) and have more than recuperated the $200 cost of that scanner in the time that I have saved by having that device at hand (it is incredibly small and powerful). And sadly, if you aren’t running Catalina, it still works.

On top of that, Canon USA’s website won’t load. That’s depressing. And when I look online, it looks like a lot of Mac users running Catalina are finding that their products have reached the end of their lives, as Canon isn’t planning on updating anything.

I’m sad because this little device has been a constant companion over the years. It is the oldest piece of technology in my “kit,” as I replaced my 2008 MacBook last summer.

I don’t know what I’ll do in regards to a scanner. As I’m not teaching high school choir (or middle school choir), my need to scan choral scores is pretty minimal these days, and when I want to scan a book, I send them to One Dollar Scan (it’s just more effective in terms of time).

Our home printer has a scanner, but it isn’t a duplex scanner with autofeed. And furthermore, I think scanning on it requires a USB connection…and all we do with it is print to it. It’s an Epson Eco-Tank, which I would recommend to anyone needing a home printer with the need to print in color–provided that you don’t need laser color performance. We’ve saved enough in print cartridges to more than cover the cost of the printer.

I remember scanning parts of a high school library with a flatbed scanner…sitting at home, watching my son (now 11) crawl on the floor, while I watched TV and turned pages. It was a tremendous waste of time, but I did what I had to do; and this P-150 was such a time saver. I hate to say “goodbye” to it, but I think that is what is going to have to happen.

Big News from Neuratron

I just received an announcement from Neuratron, the makers of PhotoScore and AudioScore. Both programs are now available as a new “2020” version. If you haven’t used it, PhotoScore is the gold standard for scanning music, on Mac, Windows, iOS, or Android.

When Mac upgraded to 64 bit only with Catalina (something it did a while ago on iOS), PhotoScore stopped working. The new versions work with Catalina (and older operating systems).

From the announcement:

PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 2020 has been almost completely rewritten to support macOS Catalina and retina displays. Text recognition has been updated to use the latest in machine learning technology and there are a number of editing and usability improvements.

AudioScore Ultimate 2020 has also been updated to support macOS Catalina. In addition, it uses a new  audio separation engine for a faster workflow when analyzing and transcribing notation in mixed tracks.

Are you a Windows user? Here are a couple of apps for you to consider!

There was a time when I was quite literally anti-Apple in my life. That part of my past actually helps me when I meet people that are currently Anti-Apple. There was a also a phase in my life when I was trying to keep devices that ran all operating systems in my house, so I could help other teachers regardless of what technology they used. I don’t do that any more, and my time is spent on my iPhone, iPad, and 2018 MacBook Pro. I realize that I could install a virtual Windows machine on my MacBook Pro–but I have no need to do that.

Quite a while ago, I received information about a couple of Windows based music notation applications that are not available for iOS or MacOS. I thought I would let you know about them.

The three programs are Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora. The ultimate version of Forte includes all three applications. I have linked their YouTube introductions below (yes, there is English overdubbing, as the videos are originally in German). You can also buy each program individually. ScanScore will export to MusicXML, which makes it useful for just about any existing notation program, not just Forte.

You might ask, “Why, in the world of so many music notation programs would I want to buy another program?” The simple answer is: for ease of use and choice. The developers of Forte are trying to make Forte a very easy to use program, and choice is a great thing in the marketplace. And I will add that it is becoming a rare thing to embed a scanner in a music notation program.

The company has also developed iOS and Android apps that work with the Forte platform, including a scanning component for ScanScore, a Forte music reader, and a PlayAlong Orchestra that works with Forte files. Note: all of these iOS and Android apps are not stand-alone apps…you need Forte (and/or ScanScore) on your Windows computer to use them.

I can’t comment on how easy Forte is to use, or how ScanScore operates compared to other options on Mac or iOS, as I no longer have a Windows device…but if you are a Windows user, there are trial versions of the software which would allow you to see how Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora work for yourself. Forte Premium, at the time of writing, is $229, which is a great bargain if you find that you can work easily in Forte, and if the scanning features work well for you. The closest paid notation app I can think of is Notion, which does not include scanning software (I have not heard anything about StaffPad for a LONG time). If you try Forte, send me a note and tell me how the product works for you.

Forte Notation: https://www.fortenotation.com/en/

ScanScore: https://scan-score.com/en/

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).

Preparing a score for accompaniment files…

It has been a while since I have talked about my process of taking an existing score and preparing it for an accompaniment file or a rehearsal file. I just prepared ten scores for our district’s high school choirs (three high schools) who hold an October joint concert.

Step 1: Obtain the music. It seems obvious, but for my process, you need music IN HAND, not a PDF.

Step 2: Scan each page (each song separately, of course) with NotateMe, using the in-app purchase of PhotoScore. Why NotateMe? It scans nearly as accurately (sometimes more so) than the desktop version, bringing in most lyrics and diacritical markings. Suggestions: scan with a white background, and then use a flash. The better the camera, the better the scan…so think about using a late model iPhone or Android device.

Step 3: Rename the file in NotateMe and export using MusicXML via e-mail to myself. To be honest, my one major gripe of NotateMe is that I just can’t use “Open In” to open the MusicXML file directly into Notion for iOS.

Step 4: Import the MusicXML file into Finale on my MacBook. I actually can edit notes/rhythms easier in Notion (Mac or iOS) than on Finale, but Notion tends to not be so good with lyrics. I like to have the lyrics when I create a choral score…it makes a number of things easier (following a score, going back to edit later, etc.). This is also good if you later plan to export a MusicXML file to a red note/green note program like SmartMusic, PracticeFirst, or MusicProdigy. If I have to arrange something, I use Finale as my primary tool as it has a explode/implode feature. As a tip…voice parts should all have their own line without multiple notes. So, if you have an SSAATTBB score….there should be eight vocal lines, not four. This will save you trouble later!

Step 5: Edit in Finale, or your notation App of choice. If you are a band/orchestra director, you will want to enter percussion parts at some point, as they just don’t scan right.

Step 6: Export at MusicXML file to Notion on Mac. I do most of my note/rhythm editing in Notion, which allows me to swap voices anywhere (not a whole measure) and also shows measures with too many notes. While in Notion, make sure sound assignments are correct. You can name the files correctly and later add a “switch instrument” command to make vocal parts sound like a piano versus a choir “Ah.”

Step 7: Save the file in my Notion folder in iCloud Drive. Notion for iOS uses this folder. So if i have something saved in this folder, it shows up on my list in the Notion for iOS app.

Step 8: Final edits on Notion for iOS (this is a great place, with an Apple Pencil, to add any missing diacritical markings. Make sure tempos are where they should be; create tempos and ritardandos as necessary for proper playback. Why Notion for iOS? The sounds are good, and exporting is incredibly easy. The full sound library is also less expensive on Notion for iOS than any other program (with the exception of MuseScore, of course).

Step 9: Adjust the mixer bar in Notion for iOS to make playback files. For example, bring soprano up above the median line, bring piano below, bring altos, tenors, and basses all the way down. Instant soprano rehearsal track.

Step 10: Export to iCloud Drive as AAC file.

Step 11: Open up iCloud Drive and rename each file (e.g. Song Title Soprano. Otherwise Notion saves them as Title 1, Title 2, Title 3…)

Step 12: Repeat steps 9-11 for each part, as well as a piano only part.

Step 13: Distribute parts as necessary. These can be copied to Google Drive, Dropbox, opened in forScore or unrealBook, and so on.

This sounds like a lot of work, but an average song can have all rehearsal tracks created in a much shorter time than sitting down to play parts. Additionally, you will always have the tracks in the future and that file can always be used again. It is smart to keep the files in multiple organized places, as accidents do happen.

One other note: should you learn that a software program will be discontinued, you should open all of your files (over time) and export them as MusicXML files so as to be able to use them again someday. You could actually do that at the end of your process as Step 14, just to be safe.

NotateMe and PhotoScore Updates

I have not posted for a while, as I have been busy with our middle school musical and raising my own boys.  To be honest, the news front in technology for music education has been pretty quiet as of late.  Earlier today, Apple announced a new iPad which replaces the iPad Air 2, for $329, which isn’t a device that you want for yourself (you want to wait for the new iPad Pro)–it is a device that is meant for schools or for kids.  With a school discount, the new iPad is $299, which places it firmly in Chromebook territory (and nearly $150 cheaper than the best Chromebooks for schools, such as the new Samsung flip models).  In the past, if you wanted the cheapest iPad, you had to buy an older generation iPad–Apple changed this today.

We’re still waiting for new iPad Pro models–which is what I am waiting for, too.

This leads me to the actual point of this post–both the app and desktop/notebook versions of PhotoScore and NotateMe have been updated.  Additionally, AudioScore and Hit’n’Mix are also available.  From Neuratron:

PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8.8 and AudioScore Ultimate 8.8 are available to download.

Featuring the latest in cutting-edge music AI, existing version 8 customers can update for free. Version 1-7 customers can upgrade for a discounted price.

AudioScore Ultimate 8.8 offers significantly improved audio-separation and transcription abilities to help you discover the notation within MP3 and CD tracks.

PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8.8 features NotateMe 4 music-handwriting technology for composing on-the-go with the Microsoft Surface Pen, in addition to user-interface, editing and recognition improvements.

NotateMe 4 and the free NotateMe Now 4 are also available for iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and Samsung Galaxy Note with S Pen.

Finally, the new Hit’n’Mix 2.5 (which powers AudioScore 8.8 audio processing) is available separately for ripping out and manipulating individual notes and audio from full-mix tracks – more details at hitnmix.com.

Furthermore, if you should wish to upgrade from a previous generation of software, Neuratron has made it simpler to do so (I believe that they sent out an e-mail to existing customers).

I have not had a chance to play with the updated versions of the software–my workflow at this time of the year does not require any scanning, and I don’t have an iPad Pro to try NotateMe’s new Apple Pencil functionality.

From my personal experience, there is no better scanning software on the planet than Neuratron’s PhotoScore, either the desktop/notebook version, or the In-App Purchase found with NotateMe on iOS or Android.  The desktop/notebook version sells for about $250, the app version is about $70.  Yes–you will have to edit a score, but it is amazing how much time these applications can save you.  There are some other wonderful scanning solutions (some that are significantly less expensive), but Neuratron’s products are the gold standard of the industry and I recommend them wholeheartedly!

Music OCR – “What’s My Note?”

whats-my-note

A big thank you to Chad Felton for bringing this app to my attention…

The world of Music OCR (Optical Character Recognition) has really advanced in the past three years.  I have used Music OCR to get music into a digital format for years, with the intent of creating accompaniment files.  I suffered for many years with the poor quality of the (formerly) embedded scanning program in Finale, SmartScore (made by Musitek).  I don’t want to be mean about it–but if you used SmartScore Lite with Finale, you know what I mean.  While the most recent version of SmartScore X2 is greatly improved, some time ago I moved to PhotoScore Ultimate (by Neuratron).  The most recent version of Finale (25) removed scanning as an option altogether.

Some time ago, Neuratron introduced a notation program for mobile devices, NotateMe, and eventually embedded PhotoScore functionality in the app (as an in-app purchase).  The end result was a $70 (overall) app that often scanned as well (or better) than the full version of PhotoScore Ultimate on a computer, which is a $250 purchase.  The most important difference  (to me) is that the computer version of PhotoScore can scan a PDF, while the mobile version requires a paper copy to scan.

A couple of other mobile scanning apps have been released, such as an app by Musitek called “NoteReader” (I really can’t recommend it), and a few apps that scanned music and played it back, such as Sheet Music Scanner.  I didn’t really see the functionality in scanning music to hear it–I need apps to do more than that.  There are also apps like MusicPal and iSeeNotes that don’t offer enough functionality for me to recommend them.

As I have written about in the past, Sheet Music Scanner added the ability to export MusicXML files, and that changed its functionality for me–and opened the door to scanning music for many new people as there is no longer a price barrier.  Better yet, Sheet Music Scanner can open an existing PDF.  The app can’t recognize everything yet–but it is amazing how well it does for less than $5.

Musitek has released a program called “Music-to-XML” for $99 that scans music and exports it to a MusicXML file.  I have not tried this program–I have other programs that do this, and my experiences with Musitek’s products while improved from the past, are less positive than with other products.  Unless I am sent a trial version–I will likely not be trying Music-to-MusicXML.  If you were going to spend $100, I would likely send you towards the $70 NotateMe/PhotoScore solution for mobile devices.

As I mentioned in the open of this post, Chad e-mailed me and asked if I had seen “What’s My Note?”  Basically, this is an app that scans a page of music, and as you touch notes, it plays back your notes.  I bought it (only $1 at the current time) and I tried scanning a couple of things.  I did not tax the program too heavily, but it accurately scanned and played back notes that I touched.  The following video is their promo video from their website:

I’m not overly enthused about the app’s tag line: “A new app for choral musicians who don’t read music well.”  That said, I find myself a little more open to this type of music scanning for playback versus Sheet Music Scanner’s original purpose, as you can touch YOUR note and hear YOUR note in context of the larger score.

Some immediate thoughts: The app makes more sense on an iPad (the larger the better) than on a phone, as you have more room to touch (you can “zoom in” on a phone, but then there is a lot of scrolling).  The bad part about that is that phones have better cameras than iPads.  The app is available for Android, too.  I wish the app allowed you to open existing PDFs rather than having to take pictures of everything.  I also wish that that it would allow the option of playback so you could sing along with the printed notes as an option (Sheet Music Scanner’s original function).  Finally, I wish that you could do something with the recognized music after you had scanned it, such as exporting it.

If you have a mobile device and need the greatest possible accuracy, NotateMe with the PhotoScore IAP is still the way to go for $70.  If you want to try mobile scanning with greater success than used to be possible with SmartScore Lite without breaking the bank, buy Sheet Music Scanner. What’s My Note? takes a different approach to scanning, and and there are likely some choral musicians that will benefit from being able to touch their part to hear it.  I will keep all three of these applications on my devices.

P.S. This video from “What’s My Note?” is fun (and the song is included with the app):