Category Archives: Music Scanning

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!

Sheet Music Scanner Update

Sheet Music Scanner

If you want to scan music on your iOS device (Music Optical Character Recognition), there are only two options worth investigating.  Both represent a minimal commitment versus traditional scanning.

Traditional scanning required a computer, scanner, and specific software in the $250 range.  There are two “major” scanning programs: Neuratron’s PhotoScore (8) and Musitek’s SmartScore X2.  From personal experience, I recommend PhotoScore as the best solution, although SmartScore X2 has improved dramatically.  If you are working with an existing PDF generated by a notation program, you may also want to check out PDFtoMusic Pro, another $250 app, that converts existing PDFs into MusicXML files.

If you have a mobile device, the leader in the category in Neuratron, whose app NotateMe ($40) can be used to write music by hand–but in my opinion, its In App Purchase (IAP) of $30 that adds PhotoScore to NotateMe is a game changer.  In many of my trials, my iPhone scans as accurately as Neuratron’s desktop/notebook program, at 1/3 the overall price.  There is also a free version of NotateMe, called NotateMe Now, which will let you try a single staff, as well as to scan a single staff.  It is also important to mention that NotateMe is also available on Android, and Neuratron really likes the Android platform.

Still, for some users, $70 for an app is too hard to swallow–even it if means a significant reduction in work load.

That is why Sheet Music Scanner took me by surprise when it added the ability to export a MusicXML file.  Sheet Music Scanner is a $4 app that allows you to convert music to be played.  That didn’t really meet any of my needs as a music educator, although I can see how it would be valuable to “amateur” musicians (i.e. musicians without college degrees that had to take years of theory).  This summer, the app added the ability to export data to a number of formats, including MusicXML, and this changed my entire view of the app.  It also turns out that Sheet Music Scanner can scan from photos, or open a stored PDF for scanning.  As of today, Sheet Music Scanner is the only iOS app that can handle recognition of a PDF (NotateMe requires a physical copy to actually take a picture of).

That app was updated today, and now allows for scans of longer documents.  Early on, I tried a 37 page Bach cantata, which crashed.  The program will now handle that document.  Additionally, the app now allows for transposition.  You can change the key on the fly; and furthermore, if you export the transposed song, it will export in that new key, too.  I just tested this on the same cantata–and it worked.  Sure, there are things I need to fix.  I am okay with that.  No matter what program I use, clean-up is required.

Ever have a song that you needed transposed on the spot?  Here’s your solution!

I also love that I can open a document from Dropbox to Sheet Music Scanner to Notion on my iPad.  This is one step closer to a world where a “traditional” computer isn’t needed.

Again, there are things that Sheet Music Scanner does not do yet (e.g. triplets) and may not do (lyrics).  That’s okay.  Most directors that I know want to scan music to do one of three things (they are not avoiding buying music–for people that do that, there is already an existing invention called the photocopier that has been used for the purpose for many years):

  1. Make rehearsal or accompaniment tracks
  2. Re-voice or re-arrange material for students (difficulty, voice change, instrumentation needs)
  3. Create assessments from literature in green note/red note software

If you want to scan with as much accuracy as possible, Neuratron’s products are what you will want to use.  For example, our orchestra teacher needed a bassoon part from a movement of one of Beethoven’s symphonies written for a Bass Clarinet.  With PhotoScore (on my iPhone), I was able to scan that part with a high degree of accuracy, including diacritical markings (accents, staccatos, dynamics), and my editing time was mainly entering multi-measure rests, adjusting some slurs, and adding symbolic crescendo markings.  There were only a few actual notes to correct.  Re-entering the score by hand would have taken hours–I was able to do it in less than 45 minutes with the NotateMe app, Finale, and Notion (I like to mass edit in Finale, and to do final editing with Notion).  This is a very different function than making a set of rehearsal tracks for a choir.

Remember…MakeMusic just removed SmartScore’s scanning out of Finale 25.  You likely need a way to scan music.  And I don’t know about you, but SmartScore lite always resulted in a mess for me.  Here is a $4 solution to replace that program with something that is already better.  Need more accuracy?  Neuratron is available.  I don’t feel bad about endorsing both products–in a world with eight well-known notation programs (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, MuseScore, StaffPad, Noteflight, and Flat.io) and many less known programs, there is certainly room for two or three scanning apps.

If you don’t own it yet, Sheet Music Scanner will be a wonderful tool in your app collection, and it would be my “App of the Year” for 2016.  The developer keeps improving the app and $4 is a cup of coffee in today’s world–go download it today.

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!

Sheet Music Scanner: MusicXML ready!

Some time ago, I blogged about a couple of apps that could take a picture of your music and play it back for you.  To be honest, I can see some use for such a feature–but I needed a scanning app to do more.  I need scanning apps to be accurate and export MusicXML to another program.

Well, the developer of Sheet Music Scanner took that feedback and kept working on their app.  To make a long story short, I have been pretty sick (when you hear the new episode of our podcast, you will know what I am saying) and I also was a bit dismissive of the app after trying it out originally.  I put off testing of the new features when I should have been looking at the app with an open mind.

Once again, I made a foolish mistake.  Lesson learned (once again): never assume that because something doesn’t meet your needs that it cannot improve to meet your needs.

This weekend, the developer of the app released the newest version, which  includes a couple of amazing features:

  1. It works on iPad or iPhone (it always has, but I just wanted to mention this)
  2. You can open a PDF from an online storage location (iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive) and recognize the score.  No other scanning app for iOS deals with PDFs.
  3. You can export to MusicXML.

I have been putting this to the test with some choral music.  I have been pleasantly surprised by the results.  For example, here is a Mozart score from the Choral Domain Public Library:

After saving the score to Dropbox and opening with Sheet Music Scanner, the app took about two minutes to process the seven page song (it moves as fast as 5 pages a minute on my iPad Air 2).  I then exported to MusicXML and opened the score in Notion for iOS:

 

I did edit the first measure which ended up having an additional half note, no time signature, and no key signature (the key signature began in measure 4).  That editing took all of 20 seconds.  The end result was a highly accurate scan–with the exception of the multi-measure rests on the next pages.

There are a number of things the app does not do (yet), such as: triplets / tuplets, percussion notation, dynamics, also double sharps, double flats and grace notes.  These are all on the developer’s roadmap over the next year.

It also doesn’t scan lyrics, and after initially being disappointed in that, I wonder if that isn’t just a blessing in disguise?  As the app just “gives you the notes,” doesn’t that make it a better teaching tool rather than a tool for copyright infringement?  The app also doesn’t include diacritical markings like accents, staccatos, etc.  And to be honest, if you need to add those, use Notion and its new handwriting feature.

I did try a 37 page double-choir Bach score, which the app crashed on.  I don’t blame the app–I have seen live choirs crash on the same literature!

Here is the amazing thing: the app is $3.99.  You will have to do some clean-up, and you will need to do some editing.  But this is a developer who has figured out how to scan music, in an industry that has been developing similar products for 20 years or more!  There is no doubt that NotateMe with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase is more accurate than Sheet Music Scanner, or that it scans for more things–but the NotateMe package is $70 (already a better investment than computer apps that do the same thing)–and Sheet Music Scanner is $3.99.

Seriously–go spend the $3.99 for Sheet Music Scanner and $25.00 for Notion (buy the handwriting feature) and try out this combo for yourself.  I think you will be amazed at what you can do!

MakeMusic to discontinue scanning in Finale:

Granted, SmartScore lite was never the best option, but they were going to greatly increase its functionality.

From the Sibelius blog: http://www.sibeliusblog.com/opinion/makemusic-pulls-pdf-importing-and-scanning-from-finale/

My response:  ARRRRGGGHHH!

Instead of making an easier path to legally obtain copyright at prices that reflect school budgets and allows for best practice use of technology, this potentially leads to a more restrictive future with higher prices and more difficultly in using technology.

What a sad day.

MakeMusic will incorporate scanning into SmartMusic, which will be of value to music educators (I’m not sure how you would edit scanning errors), but to those that use Finale, another path of music OCR will be needed.

*8:20pm edited to reflect that scanning will be a part of SmartMusic.

PDF Scanning should be welcomed (Sibelius Blog)

Earlier today, Philip Rothman (who runs the Subelius Blog) wrote a post about Finale’s newly announced feature of importing PDF files directly into Finale.  You can read the whole post here (recommended): http://www.sibeliusblog.com/opinion/finales-new-importing-feature-should-be-welcomed-not-scorned/

If you don’t follow the Sibelius Blog, you should, as it is the primary news conduit for notation software (the blog used to be run by Daniel Spreadbury, now with Steinberg and the upcoming Dorico).  Don’t let the name of the blog fool you–it is about digital music notation of all kinds, and should probably be renamed to reflect that quality.  I love Mr. Rothman’s work, and I hope to meet him at some point in the future.

Apparently the Facebook thread on Finale’s announcement has not been positive.  

The funny thing is that there are already ways to convert a PDF into digital music, via PDFtoMusic Pro (only with a document created by a notation software package), PhotoScore (or my favorite: NotateMe with the PhotoScore IAP), or even SmartScore (the scanning software bundled with Finale, but available in a much more robust package).  And to be 100% honest, no PDF is ever “locked,” with the right software, nothing is truly locked in any format.  Locking simply keeps honest people honest–which makes you wonder if it is worth locking in the first place.

I am amazed at the concern about copyright when it comes to scanned music.  In the blog post, composers were worried more about artistic intent than income–and I wonder if that is the case, or if it looks too self-serving to write about income first.  When I have discussed scanning with music educators, copyright also becomes an immediate concern.  What we have to realize is that copyright is broken all the time, not just by scanning.  That teacher that makes a photocopy of music so that students can bring it home but not lose the originals?  Copyright infringement.  That choir teacher that rewrites notes for a boy with a changing voice?  Copyright infringement.  The director that posts a video on YouTube (or knowingly allows a parent to do so)?  Copyright infringement.  The choir director that makes a rehearsal recording for their students?  Copyright infringement.  The school that lends a score to another school for a concert?  Copyright infringement (your purchase does not allow you to extend the agreement beyond your own school).  The list goes on and on.  

That doesn’t mean you should go out and purposely break copyright, but it is probably time to rethink copyright and fair use in terms of music and music education.

There are several realities that composers/arrangers/and publishers have to come to grips with:

  1. Composers/Arrangers/Engravers/Editors/Publishers deserve to be paid, but the old model is broken.  If you self-publish an app or a book on iTunes or the iBook Store, the creator gets 70% of the profit and Apple earns 30%.  Apple splits its 30% with others, such as a 7% of the overall cost (25% of its income) to referrals.  It is time for an iBooks or Amazon Kindle store for music, where publishers can make content available and individuals can publish without a publisher or editor.  There should be a way to buy classroom sets, and a way to print songs for teachers who want paper music.  And yes, composers and arrangers should be paid more.
  2. I would also be happy to see an Apple Music solution, where schools bought subscriptions to ALL music.  The fees would be based on number of students, and directors would report which songs were used so that composers/arrangers/publishers could be paid.
  3. The existing online stores are all publisher based, and bring huge limitiations–such as the cost of music.  Online copies are at face value–sometimes more. My local music store will give us a 10% discount at any time, meaning that if I am willing to wait a week or two, I can save over buying instantly–and instantly means the publisher isn’t paying for printing, binding, shipping, or even to a local bookstore.
  4. I realize this means that local music stores will no longer benefit from music sales.  That’s okay–then they can focus more on the other aspects of their business.
  5. The transition to paper music means that it would be easier to distribute music, easier to collect music, and huge amounts of time, budget, and space can be saved without having to store and file music.
  6. Music libraries would no longer have to worry about damage.  I have seen two such situations: one where termites ate the entire music collection, another where the entire storage room flooded.
  7. School budgets are not what they were.  Choral octavos are often $2.25 (or more) for 8 pages of music.  A P/A CD is often $26.99.  Music shouldn’t cost this much.  I have taught with a declining budget for the past fifteen years–and this isn’t changing any time soon.  I think my situation is the norm.
  8. There should be a way to trade in an existing music library for digitial versions–perhaps at a fraction of the cost of the purchase of a new copy.  Perhaps schools could be recompensated for providing a clean scan of a song that is Permanently Out of Print.  At any rate, copyright should allow for the conversion from paper to digital for all collections.
  9. No song should ever be POP.
  10. There should be an easier way to obtain permission to do things like arranging for changing voice, orchestrating something, or making a song for Mariachi (see the Sibelius Blog article).
  11. The current trend of every publisher having their own store and app is a killer in education.
  12. It is frustrating to buy expensive music and to find notation typos which cannot be corrected.  In a digitial format, publishers could edit typos in a minute.
  13. I have bought a number of items over the years that were in the public domain, and I have never once had a music store or publisher contact me and say, “Download this and print this…save your money for something newer that is under copyright.”

I am hoping that Alfred, as a part of Peaksware (which also owns MakeMusic) will be a leader in changes to copyright and distribution/sales of music.  I am also hopeful that Noteflight’s involvement with Hal Leonard will cause changes there, too.

On the other side of the equation, why might a teacher want to scan?

  1. To create authentic assessments in green note/red note software
  2. To create an accompaniment track/rehearsal track–either with piano, or with parts
  3. On a related note, to let students hear their part in context
  4. To provide a copy free of errors
  5. To modify an arrangement (changing voice/missing instrument/etc).
  6. To make a cleaner copy of a score, perhaps splitting parts that usually appear on one staff into multiple staff (think 3 part women’s scores on a SATB choral octavos that switches women from one to three parts throughout a song–confusing to say the least).
  7. To extract a single line to make it accessible to a person with disabilities (e.g. Zoom a single part 300% for a sight-I pared individual)
  8. To simply the arranging of a song to another medium (thiis was a major concern in the Siblius Blog post)
  9. To use digitial notation, such as Newzik (see my last post)

Again, all of these uses, other than #1 (and perhaps #3), are against copyright (Fair use states that you can use up to 10% of a work for educational purposes, making scanning for use with green note/red note assessments a truly legitimate use of scanning under copyright).  It would be great to see publishers, composers, and arrangers embrace all of these uses.  In truth, I want to be able to download a PDF and MusicXML file of any song I purchase, particularly if I am buying a classroom set.

Please note that I have not included “as a way to avoid paying for a song.”  I recently heard about a choir director who was very excited about buying music from Sheet Music Direct.  They were thrilled that all they had to do was to buy 5 copies of a song to be able to use it with their whole choir.  They were devastated to learn they were in breach of copyright.  And yes, they truly thought that was the case.  

When I was in college, we studied the Lutheran liturgy, and one of the things I loved was that Lutherans asked to be forgiven for the “things we have done and the things we have left undone.”  When it comes to copyright, there are sins of omission and sins of commission.  If someone wants to use music illegally, they will do so with the “5 copy” trick, with a Smartphone (e.g. Readdle’s Scanner Pro) , or with a photo copier.  They aren’t going to be scanning with the intent to use and distribute.

I think back to a series of articles and Twitter posts by Andy Inhatko, who was writing about Game of Thrones and how many people were illegally accessing the series.  His point was this: Make it easier and affordable for people to obtain something legally than it is illegally to do so, and most people will follow the path of least resistance.  The same is true for music.  Address copyright for music education, make it easy to obtain and cost-effective to buy music, and most people will do so.  Make it easier for us to use the music in the ways we need to use it.  That is a scary thought if you are an old-school executive at a music publisher.  The key is to focus on the potential (increased) income from a source of revenue based on legal use that meets the needs of music education.  Sure, there will always be those that break the rules.  But the rules simply keep honest people honest, and I would like to think that most music educators fall into a grouping of honest people.

P.S.  As I have written before, if there was a multi-publisher and independent publisher/self publisher iBook Store/Kindle Store/Apple Music for sheet music, publishers could subcontract music stores to go and check compliance with schools–and schools would have a clear case for specific funding–the cost would be based on numbers of students and would have to be be figured into the curriculum or fund-raising.  This would actually create equity among all schools in terms of available resources.  That could have an amazing impact on music education.

What would you do in your program if every song was available to you for a set fee per student per year?  Ensembles, solos, duets, etc.

It is 2016, in a world that is becoming cloud-based.  There is no (good) reason why this couldn’t and shouldn’t happen.

P.P.S. Some publishers are part-way there, such as Carl Fisher offering P/A recordings as free downloads, or Graphite Publishing and Bandworks offerings PDF sets of music to purchasers.  That is the right direction, to be sure.