ScanScore

This summer, I was contacted by the team at ScanScore about their latest update to their program, which was first released in 2018. ScanScore comes from the same company that makes Forte, a music notation program. I have never reviewed Forte as I haven’t personally used a Windows computer since 2008.

While I would have loved to review Forte, and the company was kind enough to offer a copy so that I could do so, I couldn’t do so. I have mentioned Forte on this blog in the past.

As previously mentioned, the team from ScanScore asked if I would be willing to check out their app. My immediate response was, “Sorry, I don’t have a Windows PC.” They were quick to reply to let me know that ScanScore is written for Windows and Mac, and there is even an iPhone app. Don’t get too excited about the app…it uses the phone an image scanner, and your computer still needs to do the heavy lifting on the ScanScore app. There are also different versions of the app if you need fewer features (from $39 to $179).

I use scanning, but I do so in very condensed bursts of time–preparing scores for my classroom, my own choirs, or for other choirs. If I’m making a ukulele lead sheet, I’ll do so from scratch most of the time (ukulele is my main focus outside of school these days). I haven’t really needed a scanning app since last January, and with choirs at school suspended for this academic year, I may not need to scan anything this academic year!

I have existing scanning tools that work very well for me. They include:

  • PhotoScore (by Neuratron) (Mac or as a part of NotateMe on iOS) ($249 Win/Mac, $70 iOS)
  • PlayScore 2 ($22.99 year)
  • Sheet Music Scanner ($3.99)
  • PDFtoMusicPro ($199)

If I need to scan anything, these apps are where I start. Sheet Music Scanner is step #1, then PlayScore 2 is step #2.

I have used PhotoScore, both on iOS and Mac less and less, and much of that goes back to problems with Mac OS Catalina. The last version of PhotoScore stopped working on Catalina, and an upgrade to PhotoScore that works is $99. I have struggled with the concept of paying $99 for an app that I use a few times a year. The accuracy of PhotoScore is very good most of the time. But every one of these apps will require clean-up work.

PDFtoMusic Pro is a wonderful app if you have a PDF that was published by a notation app. If so, PDFtoMusic Pro will generally read that PDF and convert it to MusicXML with great accuracy. If the PDF is a picture (scanned), PDFtoMusic Pro won’t work at all.

You’ll notice I don’t have SmartScore listed–I used to be an owner of SmartScore, but PhotoScore proved to be more accurate than SmartScore, at the same time that SmartScore’s upgrade prices drove me away. So I can’t offer you any current insights on SmartScore. Sorry.

So…where does the new application, ScanScore, come in?

First, it is more affordable than PhotoScore, and attempts to recognize lyrics, as does PhotoScore. Second, it allows you to use your phone as a scanner and to send the image back to the program. And it brings your scan to an editor after scanning, much like PhotoScore.

So, how did it work? Again, I’m not in the scanning mode right now, so I’m creating an artificial comparison (something that really isn’t crucial to me on a need-to-get-it-done-as-quickly-as-possible basis). I decided to take a a version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata from IMSLP, and to see how the programs did with it.

Here’s the original:

I scanned this with the various programs, exported the results as MusicXML (no corrections), and opened the MusicXML files in Notion. Here’s ScanScore…you can see that it didn’t handle the triplets, and did attempt to import the text:

How about some other programs? Here’s PhotoScore from my iPhone (I had to save the PDF as a photo first). It gets more of the triplets, less of the text. Measure 5 is an issue on all of the scanning applications. The Mac version might handle this a little differently, but again, I’m struggling to justify the $99 upgrade.

Here’s Sheet Music Scanner, the $4 app on iOS. Sheet music scanner doesn’t handle a lot–triplets is one of the things it doesn’t do…but if you think of the piece in 12/8…it works.

Since the original was computer generated, how about PDFtoMusic Pro? Overall, things look pretty good, but measure 5 is a mess.

And finally, how about the program that seemed to handle it the best–as a scan? Here’s PlayScore 2. It does strange things with the left hand, putting the whole notes in different voices.

How about some conclusions?

First, I’m glad ScanScore is out there as another option, at a lower price than some other competitors.

Second, it is nice to have another product that is attempting both Musical OCR and text OCR.

Third, expect clean-up with any scanning app. I like to do that clean-up in other apps that I already use (Notion, Finale) rather than in an application (which is offered in ScanScore, PhotoScore, or PDFtoMusic).

Fourth, I like the option to use a phone as a scanner.

And finally, I’m pretty sure ScanScore will take a look at this article and try to figure out what happened, learn from it, and improve the product. The score is from https://imslp.simssa.ca/files/imglnks/usimg/d/d0/IMSLP218185-PMLP01458-Beethoven_Op_27_No_2_I.pdf and as a free PDF resource, anyone is free to download it and try on their own software.

There is a lot of different types of scanning that will favor one score over another, and different scores offer different challenges. A lead sheet has different scanning challenges than a band director’s score, and a choral score has different challenges than a orchestra quintet. Sometimes, if I have to scan something, and Sheet Music Scanner or PlayScore 2 don’t work well, I’ll try other options. In other words, it is nice to have multiple options when you are doing a task.

Interested in ScanScore for your Windows PC or Mac? Visit: https://scan-score.com/en/

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).