A look at using NotateMe with built-in PhotoScore technology


A bit of frustration

I moved on to try a real-world case: trying to transpose a B-flat trumpet part to a C part using nothing but NotateMe. I gave myself only 30 minutes to accomplish this task, figuring that if it took any longer to complete such a task I should scurry off with a pencil and blank staff paper to do the job instead. I had already familiarized myself with the basics of editing music in NotateMe; a user guide is available from within the app or online as a PDF.

I used a part from my new arrangement of “America the Beautiful” as a test. NotateMe’s readout of the initial photo appeared to achieve 100% note accuracy, but had trouble with multirests, which are not currently supported in the scanning process:

The photo of the trumpet part to “America the Beautiful,” taken on an iPhone 5 with NotateMe


NotateMe’s initial processing of the trumpet part to “America the Beautiful”

First, I inserted empty bars to account for the missing measures, by simply double-tapping the edge of a bar. I then cleaned up the extraneous time signatures using the eraser pen. I deleted the extraneous markings in the same way, and then used the text pen to apply tempo, expression and technique text.

NotateMe’s pen tools make it easy to adjust your work

At this point I was already worried about time. I would have liked to clean up slurs and dynamics, but I wanted to make sure I could finish getting the notes into a new staff.

By renaming my “Part 1” staff to “Trumpet”, NotateMe recognized it as a B-flat transposing instrument. I created a Flute staff below it in order to copy and paste the music. (Copying music involves dragging your finger or stylus — I used the Adonit Jot Pro — across bars, and then tapping and holding to paste.)

A couple of problems: Somehow this erased the key signatures in the Flute part, and I was surprised that the music did not transpose to the key of the destination staff like it would have in Finale or Sibelius. So I had to reapply the key signatures, and then manually select the music on the Flute staff and drag it a step down to transpose it. Neuratron says that transposition is a much-requested feature, one that they are likely to add in the near future as a free update.

By that time, my 30 minutes were almost up. My results weren’t pretty, but they were usable, and I was able to export a PDF to Dropbox. (The original trumpet staff is intact to show the comparison)

The result after a half hour of work in NotateMe (click for PDF)

To be fair, NotateMe’s niche in the world of notation products is not creating publishable-quality output on its own. It shines much more as a convenient sketchpad that plays very nicely with other apps, due to its ability to export MusicXML and MIDI files. The aforementioned Dropbox integration worked seamlessly to keep the files in sync among my iPhone, iPad and Mac.

The better approach to accomplishing my task would have surely been to bring a MusicXML file over to a desktop notation program as soon as I had taken the photo in NotateMe. I could have also used Notion’s iPad app, which has more notation features, but not the handwriting recognition element. But I wanted to see what was possible with no other software.

There are quirks with NotateMe, to be sure. For one, it doesn’t feel as slick as a native iPad app, with its non-standard buttons, fonts and graphics. Neuratron said that this is a design decision, to lessen the impact of overly colorful native buttons and so on, which they believe take away from the purity of working with one’s handwriting on virtual paper. To me, though, the net effect is akin to running a simulator inside iOS.

Measures in the handwriting space sometimes balloon to huge widths if, say, you try to draw a tie across a barline, because currently all editing in NotateMe must be performed somewhat unnaturally on a bar-by-bar basis. Neuratron says that they are looking at ways to improve this. And more generally speaking it can be maddening to draw something over and over that seems totally readable to a human eye but indecipherable to NotateMe, although with each update the app improves.

While the combined price of the app and the PhotoScore add-in ($70 US) is on the high side by the standards of mobile apps, Neuratron does offer a free version called NotateMe Now, which limits the user to working with a single staff.

One big improvement since the early days of the app: There is now a symbol tool pen that allows you to select pre-made musical symbols, and/or tell NotateMe to recognize something you’ve drawn.

Roundup for now

As said at the outset of this post, there are parallels to the early days of desktop software. I had to remind myself that there are so many features we take for granted now in desktop software that were not present in those early days, and Neuratron has promised continued development and additional features (not the least of which is an integration of its AudioScore technology, so that you can play or sing directly into NotateMe through your device’s microphone).

Another parallel: the passion and accessibility of the small developer. I mentioned my frequently calling up Coda tech support many years ago; Steven Reading, in a recent interview for this blog, recalled telephoning Sibelius co-founder Jonathan Finn, whose personal number was published in the manual. Neuratron’s similar passion is evident, with its CEO Martin Dawe actively replying to messages across e-mail and social media, actively soliciting feedback and pushing out frequent updates.

Educators and students have the most to gain from NotateMe at the present time, with its synthesis of sight, sound, and touch. As a professional sitting in front of a desktop most days and nights, I’m in the minority when it comes to the current trend moving toward the web and mobile platforms. So NotateMe, as it currently exists, isn’t as crucial for my regular work as the familiar programs that have been with us for decades.

But, like most people these days, I carry my smartphone everywhere I go. Next time I’m stuck waiting at the doctor’s office or on a stalled train, I’ll surely be much more productive with, and grateful for NotateMe in my toolbox.

Availability and price

NotateMe is available from Apple’s iOS store and Google Play for $40 (US and Canada), £28 (UK), €36 (EU) and $50 AUD (Australia), as well as in local currencies in most other countries.

The PhotoScore add-in is priced at $30 (US and Canada), £21 (UK) and €26 (EU), and can be purchased from directly within the app. The add-in requires a device with 1GB RAM and a 4MP camera. On Apple devices, this means an iPad 3 and later or an iPhone 5 and later.

It’s worth mentioning that the next iPhone is widely rumored to be announced on September 9, appearing in both 4.7″ and 5.5″ sizes, which should be a boon for those wanting to use NotateMe more effectively on a larger smartphone screen.

The free NotateMe Now app, which limits the user to working with a single staff, is available from Apple’s iOS store and Google Play.


  1. Gordon

    A fascinating summary of how music notation methods have developed over the past 20 years!
    I have NotateMe, but have so far found it of limited value – perhaps because my handwriting is so poor! I hadn’t realised that it had been linked up with photoscore, and have just tried out their free ‘one stave only’ version – and am greatly impressed! It seems that the extra app costs about £21, but I would think this is very good value, judging from the results you obtained. I wonder how well it would work on hand-written manuscript?
    Many thanks, Philip, for flagging up this exciting new development!

  2. Andrei

    To me, after the PhotoScore add-in is this (quoted from the NotateMe site):

    “Email PDF, MusicXML and MIDI files of your scores to friends or other musicians.
    – Open in Sibelius, Finale and other desktop software
    – Print to paper.”

    Game-changer, for sure!
    Thanks, Philip

  3. Neil Sands

    We’re having great results with NotateMe’s Photoscore add-on. You need to learn its quirks and it’s very unforgiving if your light conditions aren’t good. But we’re using it on a weekly basis here and it’s immensely liberating.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Great to know, Neil, and thanks, Andrei and Gordon!

  4. Patrick

    How much is the photoscore?

  5. Gordon

    It’s £21 if you’re in the UK – probably somewhat less if you’re in the USA! It’s an ‘in-app’ purchase if you’ve got ‘Notate me’ installed on one of your devices already. Just click on Photoscore option, and it will take you to the app store.

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