PhotoScore 8 and AudioScore 8 are out!

PSASBundle8DVDPack

Think for a moment about the programs on your computer for a moment.  Which programs are on your computer that are truly irreplaceable?

My answer to this question has changed over the past two years as the apps on my iPad have gained more functionality, and as the number of quality solutions for some types programs have multiplied.

Microsoft Word may have been an indespensible program in the past, but services such as Google and programs such as Pages (free with a Mac and also free via iCloud.com) and Open Office has changed our reliance on these programs.

I mainly use my Mac for four tasks these days.  Those tasks are: editing music in music notation programs, scanning music, creating concert programs, and dealing with video.  In these four categories, I have several programs that I use consistently.  For video, I use iMovie and Handbrake.  For scanning music, I use my Canon P-215’s own software.  For creating concert programs, I use Pages.  When it comes to music notation, I am likely to use Notion or MuseScore (and will perhaps jump back on the Finale bandwagon with the next release).

But when it comes to taking a PDF and scanning it with music recognition software, I have ONLY one program of choice: PhotoScore Ultimate.  Neuratron just released PhotoScore 8 and AudioScore 8, and I have been working with these programs today.  AudioScore takes audio and converts it to digital notation (transcription), which is a feature I seldom need.  I can definitely see how arrangers and composers could benefit from a transcription program.  Most of my work requires me to import existing printed music into digital notation, and thus PhotoScore has been a lifesaver for me.

I have tried all of the music recognition apps, and PhotoScore (even in Version 7 which was originally released in 2011) has been far superior to any other solution.  The one exception would be PDFtoMusic Pro, which takes a PDF generated by a music notation program and converts it to MusicXML.  This is a highly accurate process, but chances are you are trying to recognize a scan you (or someone else) has personally scanned on a scanner or photocopier versus recognizing a printed file from a composer.

If you use Finale, Notion, or MuseScore, PhotoScore is for you, too.  Yes, PhotoScore is the “bundled” software that comes with Sibelius (albeit a lite version), but you can save any PhotoScore document to a MusicXML file and then edit it with any music notation program that opens a MusicXML file (even Notion or Symphony Pro on iOS).

Neuratron turned the recognition world on its head last summer as it introduced the ability of its Android & iOS app to take pictures of printed music and to use the PhotoScore in-purchase app to convert the music to digital notation.  For $70 ($40 app, $30 add-on), we are now able to scan music “on the fly” without the need for any additional hardware.  I have been a pest in the past months, regularly asking employees at Neuratron when we would see the next version of their desktop programs.  Sibelius and the Sibelius Blog leaked news of the coming update earlier this year, but there was no specific ETA for the updates.

Well, today was release day.  You can go to Neuratron’s website (Neuratron.com) and purchase PhotoScore Ultimate (and AudioScore Ultimate) today.  The prices:

  • New purchase of PhotoScore Ultimate and AudioScore Ultimate: $369
  • New purchase of PhotoScore Ultimate or AudioScore Ultimate: $249
  • Any upgrade of PhotoScore Ultimate or AudioScore Ultimate to its updated version: $99
  • If you own and update both programs from previous additions: $119 for both
  • If you add AudioScore to PhotoScore during the update, you can get it for just $50 (80% off – limited time offer)
  • And if you bought the program on April 11th or more recently, you get the upgrades for free.

In my honest opinion, the $249 I spent on PhotoScore Ultimate 7 (same price as version 8) was the best $249 I have ever spent on music technology for my Mac.  It has saved me over a thousand hours of note entry in the time that I have owned it.  While there will ALWAYS be scanning errors, PhotoScore Ultimate runs circles around its competition–and even lyrics are recognized.  And if something doesn’t scan well, it is usually indicative of the quality of the printed music itself rather than a problem with the program.

PhotoScore 8 has a lot of improvements “under the hood,” but the biggest change is that NotateMe (the main app for Android/iOS) is included in the program (which, incidentally is just over 80MB on my Mac).  There has been another handwriting recognition app in the news lately that only runs on the Microsoft Surface–and that program has received an overwhelming amount of promotion directly from Microsoft.  With this update, Neuratron also adds the ability to handwrite notation via NotateMe to the Windows platform.

I am currently working on making rehearsal tracks for a fall musical production, importing songs from a PDF of the musical.  As I was about the begin the next song, I used the same PDF in both PhotoScore Ultimate 7 and PhotoScore Ultimate 8 to create a MusicXML of the song.  As should be expected, PhotoScore Ultimate 8 was significantly more accurate than PhotoScore 7, but cleanup was needed in both scores.  The editing screen hasn’t changed much, and I find that I personally edit faster in a traditional music notation program than using PhotoScore’s own tools (or NotateMe, so I simply export PhotoScore’s initial scan as a MusicXML file and open that file in another app.

In the following comparisons, I imported MusicXML files into Notion and then removed everything but the notes and articulations (I have been placing all lyrics into any document I have worked with over the past three years, and Notion’s main weakness is lyrics.  It is easier to delete all text and lyrics and re-enter versus trying to edit what imports via a MusicXML.  I am hoping this changes in a future version of Notion).  You will notice that PhotoScore 8 does a much better job with the same PDF, making 60% to 75% fewer errors.  As you can see in example 2, if the original score has bar lines that are hard to see, PhotoScore will have a hard time seeing those measures are pat of the same staff unit, and will put all of the voices as if they were one continuous single staff.

photoscore comparo 1 photoscore comparo 2

Unfortunately, I do not have the original score on hand to take a picture of the score with my iPhone with NotateMe/PhotoScore IAP and then to do a comparison of those two solutions.  I will have to write an article about that at a later time.

Here is the big question: do you need PhotoScore Ultimate 8?  If you are a musician who wants to convert PDFS of music to digital music, yes, you do.   NotateMe/PhotoScore on Android/iOS does not yet allow for the import of PDF files.  And of course, you can use a scanner with PhotoScore (this is how it was originally used), but the Android/iOS app may be a better solution for scanning smaller works.  If you are scanning a lot of pages, you will want to invest in a auto-feed duplex scanner like the Canon P-215II, scan your music as a PDF, and then import it via PhotoScore Ultimate 8.

If you already use PhotoScore Ultimate, the $99 upgrade will pay for itself in a few hours of work (you will be saving yourself at least 50% of your current corrections).

Is the addition of NotateMe to PhotoScore a good thing?  Absolutely.  But without a Surface Pro, my main tool for NotateMe will be my iPad, and I still prefer to edit my PhotoScore scans in other software.

If you would like to see all of the information about PhotoScore Ultimate and NotateMe 8, see: http://www.neuratron.com/v8.htm.

And as a reminder, AudioScore Ultimate was updated to Version 8 as well.  Again, my workflow does not need transcription software very often.  However, if you do use transcription–and particularly if you own PhotoScore Ultimate already, you can add AudioScore for a limited time for just $50 (this is normally $249).  You can learn all about the AudioScore changes at http://www.neuratron.com/v8_as.htm.

You can download a free demo of either program at the websites listed above.

Thank you, Neuratron, for once again making my life easier with your programs.

Made it to Salt Lake City

Believe it or not, I was one of two people without a seat on the plane from Minneapolis to Salt Lake Cith this morning. Someone didn’t show up, so I was able to make it here to Salt Lake City–I am currently on the light rail headed to the city center. 

Cities that have light rail from the airport to the city center are awesome–that is the only negative aspect of San Antonio (you have a take a cab or van to the city center).

At any rate…if you are in town for the convention, I will be presenting at 4pm…and my materials are available in the previous post or in the “past presentations” of the blog. 

An introduction to the JamStik, and a review (Video)

If you want to see the video without reading any of my additional thoughts, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Let me make it clear that I do not consider myself a guitarist. I know a good number of chords, I know individual notes when I refresh my memory, I know some strumming and plucking patterns, I have led worship with only guitar (it has been a while), and I have taught classroom guitar at the high school level. I’m horrible at barre chords, and with a real guitar, I often use a capo to change keys to avoid those barre chords.

I think it is safe to say that I know all the I need to know to teach guitar and to enjoy picking up the guitar from time to time.

My last post shared my first thoughts on the JamStik–and I had promised that I would post a video I had made earlier that day when I had finished editing it. Well, the editing is done.

This isn’t a great video. It turns out that my audio on my MacBook was set too high. I was filming the video in just one take, so there are a bunch of edits that are clearly edits after editing, and I never really “closed” the video. When I filmed the video, I had just downloaded Jam Tutor (one of Zivix’s free apps that comes with the JamStik) and started playing with the app…and I simply lost interest in filming the end of the video and just played with the app (for example, Jam Tutor wouldn’t recognize a D7 chord, which simply amazed me, when so many other chords are programmed in). As a result, the video ends with a Star Wars scroll.

Otherwise, the video effectively captures my thoughts…how to set up the JamStik, how to use it with other apps, the couple of flaws I can see (the strings aren’t tuned to guitar pitches, so if you play you can hear “wrong” notes on the strings, even though the right notes play through the iPad), and there’s no way (right now) to “Capo” (can that be a verb?) the device. A fellow JamStik purchaser (I think his is arriving soon), Kevin James Stafford, recently mentioned (on Twitter) that he had been in touch with Zivix and that the capo ability should be coming in a future firmware release.

Another JamStik purchaser, Joseph Argyle mentioned (again, on Twitter), that the JamStik can’t be used for hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. I don’t know if I will ever need these, but it’s clear that the JamStik isn’t meant to be a pure replacement for a guitar. Or at least not this first model. I would imagine that harmonics are also impossible.

At the same time, here’s a way for guitarists to get MIDI data directly into a computer, with no compromises. I loaded up Notion for iPad, and sure enough, it interprets data directly from the JamStik. Were I PreSonus, I’d been inking package deals with Zivix right away (or vice-versa). If you are a guitar player and only a guitar player, you might find that PreSonus’s Progression is a better app to purchase for notation purposes. Remember that guitar is at the heart of PreSonus’ Notion products, and Progression is guitarist’s version of Notion.

I have not yet tried the JamStik with my MacBook (there is a free download available via the JamStik website), but I have no doubt that the JamStik will work perfectly with my MacBook.

At any rate, in terms of music education, a classroom guitar with case costs $150 or more (probably more–from personal experience, don’t buy a classroom guitar without a truss rod. The JamStik, incidentally, has two), plus there are upkeep fees, need for storage, and other costs. In comparison, the $299 price tag of the JamStik isn’t far off from what you would expect to pay for such a device. A decent backpacker guitar (I bought one of these for teaching guitar…it simply isn’t as unwieldily in the classroom) is in the $200 range (sometimes more, sometimes less). For a device with IR sensors and a Wi-Fi hub embedded inside of it, I see the JamStik as a fairly priced product, although I hope there can be an educational discount in the future. I also need to find out what happens when several JamStiks operate in the same room (do they all share the same embedded network name and channel), and if the JamStik can be operated by USB connection if necessary (all future tasks to try).

As a side note, I also just came across a product called PocketStrings, which is simply a portable guitar neck (4 or 6 strings), and I see this as a possible solution for practicing without a JamStik at home (for example, if you had a classroom set of JamStiks that you wouldn’t send home with students).

I think this device has huge potential for music education, and I am curious to see what “real” guitar players think, and how it can be incorporated into a “traditional” guitar classroom.

The Perfect Stylus?

As an iPad user, I am always on the search for the best stylus.  Although I have tried many styluses, I have settled on a few in my daily life:

  • The Boxwave Evertouch Capacitive Stylus (usually around $10 on Amazon)
  • The Adonit Jot (Pro)
I loved the Maglus Stylus, but I find that rubber-tipped styluses let me down.  I have also used Pencil by Fifty-Three, and that device is also rubber-tipped and the Bluetooth feature only works with their single app.  I have not tried any of the other Bluetooth styluses on the market.
 
The other day I received an e-mail from Applydea, the creators of the stylus.  They now sell a fiber mesh tip for the existing Maglus stylus (if you have a removable tip), as well as a black anodized version.  They also offered a free fiber mesh tip to existing owners of the Maglus.
 
I instantly bought a second fiber mesh tip and a black Maglus.  These items arrived today, and I couldn’t be happier.  Until the fiber mesh stylus came into my life, the Maglus was my favorite stylus.  I love its weight and design–like a drafting pencil, which allows you to hold it like a pencial or a marker.
 
I’m only a few hours into ownership, but I may have finally come across the best non-Bluetooth stylus on the market–the Maglus stylus with the fiber mesh tip.  It’s the best of both worlds.  And I am very happy because I had e-mailed the company about the possibility of a fiber mesh tip some time ago (I’m sure I’m not the only one), and they have delivered.  When the Maglus arrives, you’ll be blown away by its packaging (there’s a magnet in the box!).  My only complaint?  I wish you could buy the Maglus with the tip of your choice.
 
The other fantastic element of the Maglus is that the tip is easily replaceable…so if your rubber tip breaks (this happened with my Maglus 1.0, which did not have a removable tip–the rubber “sides of that 1.0 stylus also fell off), you can replace it, or if your fiber mesh tip wears out or tears, you can replace it.  In the spirit of honesty, because of my problems with Maglus 1.0, Applydea gave me a discount (10%?  I can’t remember) on the Maglus 2.0, which I am still using (and is now outfitted with the fiber mesh tip).
 
Of course, I’ll need to use my Magluses over the next days to give a full accounting for this stylus, but I think I’ve finally found the non-Bluetooth stylus that I’ve been looking for.  I recommend this stylus.

Ho Hum…Office on the iPad

This afternoon, Microsoft introduced Office for the iPad.  You can download the apps for free and use them to view existing documents in Microsoft’s cloud product, SkyDrive, or you can pay $99 per year to enable the apps to allow for editing when you subscribe to Office 365.

Reviews of the apps themselves are mostly favorable, indicating that they are on par with Apple’s iWork apps, which are now free (to purchasers of an iPad after September 1st).  One educational technology expert that I follow (Fraser Speirs) has already stated that Office for iPad puts Google Apps in a distant third place as usable on the iPad.

Let’s be honest here: I don’t know of many iPad users who have been holding their breath for Office; perhaps they were in 2010 or 2011, most have moved on.  Schools, by and large, have moved to GAFE (Google Apps for Education), and with Apple’s new pricing strategies this past fall, iWork does most of what a normal person needs an office suite to do; on the iPad, on a MacBook, or via iCloud.

And most people aren’t going to spend $99 per year for an office suite when they can get similar functionality free from Google or Apple (or even Open Office) on a Mac or Windows PC.  

It might be a very good app…but that model has expired, and few schools and companies are dependent on Office at this point.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Office for the iPad will be a bust, mainly because of the cost, and the fact that it is a yearly cost.  That’s too bad if it truly is a solid set of apps for the device.