Category Archives: Music Scanning

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):

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!