Category Archives: Music Scanning

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:

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):

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.

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.