Category Archives: Music Scanning

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!

 

SmartScore NoteReader is available…How does it compare?

As I talked about scanning in my Technology in Music Education workshop yesterday, I noticed that SmartScore's NoteReader had been released on the App Store on the 15th. The app itself is free, but if you want to export any of the data, you have to pay $9.99 for the premium upgrade.

SmartScore NoteReader is an app that allows you to scan and then play music (for free), and then (as an In-App Purchase) to export data a number of ways (including e-mail and Dropbox) so that you could import that data into SmartScore Pro X2 or any number of music notation programs, such as Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, and Notion.

SmartScore NoteReader allows you to take a picture(s) of a score, import a picture of a score, or import a PDF to recognize. In comparison, NotateMe's PhotoScore In-App Purchase allows you to take a picture (or a series of pictures) of a score, but importing a picture (on iOS) requires working through other apps, such as Mail. At the moment, NotateMe does not allow you to import a PDF. As a result, in terms of working with existing documents, NoteReader is easier to use than NotateMe/PhotoScore.

I have only done a few scans with SmartScore's NoteReader so far, and initial trials indicate that NotateMe/PhotoScore is more accurate than NoteReader. On a one part score, SmartScore's NoteReader scans with equivalent accuracy to NotateMe/PhotoScore–when all staves scan. NoteReader dropped staves that NotateMe/PhotoScore did not. PhotoScore also does a better job of handling lyrics–more lyrics are accuate than on NoteReader, although there are errors with lyrics on both apps.

On a single line band score, I would estimate that NoteReader is scanning at 75% accuracy while NotateMe/PhotoScore is scanning at 95% (or greater) accuracy. In a multi-page choral score, NotateMe/PhotoScore stays at 95%, while NoteReader's accuracy diminishes greatly (50% or less).

I am using the same set-up for scanning for both apps, with an iPad “document camera” stand and an iPad 4. It is possible that a closer photo could yield a more accurate “reading” from NoteReader; but I have noticed that NotateMe/PhotoScore tends to be a little more accurate when you don't zoom in very close to the page! Additionally, I would assume that the better the camera (in other words, with a newer device or an iPhone), the better the resulting accuracy of the scan. So, if you scanned with an iPhone 5S, you might have higher accuracy with both programs.

The current setup for scanning

Again, these are preliminary tests, and both apps are in their first weeks (or days) in the App Store. Undoubtedly, there will be app updates in the weeks, months, and years to come. It is exciting that you can scan music on your iPad (or iPhone, or Android) device without the need to purchase a scanner.

In terms of accuracy, NotateMe ($39.99) plus the PhotoScore In-App Purchase ($29.99) is currently the winner, by a large margin (particulary when dealing with multiple parts). In addition to scanning, NotateMe also is a handwriting-based music notation app which allows you to edit those scans after they have been recognized by the software. NotateMe's ability to “Open In” feature is useful when exporting the data to another app (such as Notion). Both apps allow for the use of Dropbox.

In terms of built-in useability (selecting existing images, using PDFs) and price, SmartScore's NoteReader (free, $9.99 In-App Purchase to export data) is ahead of its competitor. At 1/7 the price of the NotateMe/PhotoScore package ($69.98), NoteReader might be worth purchasing. And remember…both SmartScore and PhotoScore are very expensive desktop programs, each costing nearly three times the price if you were to buy both of these apps!

And if you want to just TRY these apps, NotateMe does have a “lite” version called NotateMe Now (allowing for one score at a time) which DOES include PhotoScore, and SmartScore's NoteReader is a free app (until you want to export data). So…if you have an iPad, iPhone, or Android device (note: the camera on the iPad 2 and the original iPad Mini are not high resolution enough to work with some apps, such as NotateMe), at the very least download the free versions and see what these apps can do!

Note: In the image above, I show what happens when you export the MusicXML file generated by these apps into another app (in this case, I printed these to my printer from Notion for iPad). Compared to the original score, both apps could not determine an existing multi-measure rest (there were 3 in the original file). NoteReader dropped the first and last staves of the original; NotateMe/PhotoScore's greatest issue was the addition of a second note to a number of notes in the score. Both scores picked up key signatures, clefs, and time signatures changes (meter changes) in the original score, and both can play back what they have processed from paper to digital notation. Just remember…whenever you scan in music, there will be clean-up. The important question at that point is: 'How much clean-up do I have to do here?”

 

My First “Real” Test of NotateMe’s Full PhotoScore In-App Purchase

Although I have had the full version of NotateMe's PhotoScore In-App Purchase, I haven't had much time to work with the app. We had a long family vacation, I am continuing to work in the basement, and I was getting ready for my sessions with the Wisconsin Center for Music Education this week.

I'm currently in a hotel, ready to work with teachers tomorrow–and an evening (or few) away from home gives me an opportunity to finally work with some of the apps I have wanted more time to work with.

I just finished scanning a two-part choral score that I purchased for my students at the end of last year. I won't say what the score is, but I would guarantee that most middle school teachers either have performed this piece or will perform it in the near future, as it is a very popular song from a very recent animated movie.

I chose to scan the score on my iPhone versus my iPad for two very important reasons. First, this is a hotel, and like all hotel rooms, lighting is not great in the room–so I could use the flash for the pictures. Second, I figure the iPhone has a better camera than the iPad (this is always true…the best camera ALWAYS goes into the top-of-the-line iPhone. In my case, we're talking both a 4th Generation iPad and an iPhone 5, neither is the newest, but the iPhone's camera is still better than the iPad's).

Ultimately, I am very impressed with the results. Like the PC/Mac version of the software, The Notate Me PhotoScore In-App Purchase does a good job reading most notes, diacritical markings, and yes, even lyrics. When I export from NotateMe into Notion on the iPad, the accuacy is amazing–I would say in the 95% range or higher.

Like other music readers, the app does occasionally miss stave groupings (e.g. reading voice parts and piano as continual vs. combined staves), but this may be because of the bad lighting in the room. I will try this again in the future.

However, like other scanning products, PhotoScore does get confused in a choral score where there are occasionally two staves, three staves, and four staves (when empty staves are hidden). I don't know if there is a way to encourage any scanning software to fill staves systems from the bottom up, versus the top down.

Let me put this another way: if you have an iPad (or iPhone), and you want to enter music into any software program (NotateMe, Notion, Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore), this app and its plugin should be considered a must-have. Without doubt, it is a pricey combination…$39.99 for the app and $29.99 for the plug-in. At the same time, you don't need to buy a scanner, and remember that PhotoScore Ultimate (Mac/PC) is a $249 option. Granted, the desktop/notebook version does have a editor embedded (And you can use NotateMe to edit), but as a Finale user, I have always found it easier to simply pull the MusicXML from PhotoScore into Finale. This holds true with the NotateMe version of PhotoScore….you may want to export the file to DropBox and open it in whatever app you wish, be it Finale, Sibelius, Notion, Notion for iPad, MuseScore, or any other app.

Musitek, the makers of SmartScore (paired with Finale, but not owned by MakeMusic) also has a scanning app for Android and soon iOS. My “hacked” HP Tablet running Android doesn't have a good enough camera for me to test that app and compare it with NotateMe's PhotoScore (also available on Android). I my experience, PhotoScore has always been more accurate for the music I scan (choral octavos) than SmartScore…and PhotoScore imports text (sometimes incorrectly, many cases of “the” are recognized as “tne,” for example). However, the SmartScore app will be a $10.00 In-App Purchase, so it will be worth purchasing at any case (SmartScore Pro X2 is a $299 program). The SmartScore app will also handle PDFs, whereas NotateMe's PhotoScore cannot handle PDFs at this time (something I hope for, as all of my music has been converted to PDF files). When the SmartScore app is released for iOS, I will certainly purchase it, and may even write a head-to-head article.

All I can say is that I wouldn't hesitate for a second to spend $39.99 on this app and another $29.99 for the PhotoScore IAP if I had a recent iPad and wanted to scan music…choral, band, or orchestral.

Referral Link: NotateMe (full version)

You can also download the free one-staff NotateMe Now, which comes with a free PhotoScore Now feature that scans one part at a time.

 

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