NotateMe, a music handwriting app by Neuratron Ltd, was released earlier this week as version 1.0, having spent two months in a public beta period. We first covered the release of the NotateMe beta in October.
Neuratron is the maker of the AudioScore transcription software and PhotoScore music scanning software, and the handwritten music recognition engine used in NotateMe is based upon the same technology used in PhotoScore Ultimate.
New in v. 1.0 are, according to Neuratron:
- PDF file export
- Open PDF/MusicXML/MIDI files directly in other apps on device
- Anacrusis/pick-up bar support
- Add Dynamics with Text Pen
- Add tuplet numbers using Text Pen
- Improved automatic tuplet recognition
- Recognition engine improvements:
- Note position accuracy
- Slurs & ties
- Crash fix
- Minor misc. changes
- Many MusicXML export improvements
- Improved full score rendering, including notes properly spaced for lyrics
- Bass guitar transposed octave lower
- Crash fix
- Many tweaks
Previously added to NotateMe during the beta period, but after the first blog post in October, were new pen tools like a self-explanatory “eraser” pen, a “red” pen for marking up scores, and a “text” pen to add chord symbols, lyrics, and dynamics. Also added prior to v. 1.0 were editing improvements like pinching to re-size the input area and to zoom the full score, and two-finger scrolling in the input area
Now that NotateMe is out of beta, the price has increased to $21.99 on both the Apple iOS App Store and Google’s Android store. The price represents 25% off of the full price for an unspecified “limited period”.
NotateMe encourages users to “keep at it” if the software doesn’t first recognize your notation style, as it will adjust. Even so, I found NotateMe making some errors in my tests. Whether due to my inherent chicken-scratch manuscript, my unfamiliarity with the Adonit Jot Pro pen (which I used on my iPad), or flaws with NotateMe itself, I found my tests not quite matching up to the screenshots offered as examples on the online stores.
The results are far from unusable, however, and to be fair, I did not spend many hours perfecting my technique. (I sent both examples to Neuratron for analysis using the Export > Help Improve NotateMe option in the app.) The app helpfully gives aural feedback in real-time, and, as you can see in the example above, it notated my bass line, as well as the top voice in the treble staff flawlessly, while tripping up considerably over the lower voice in the treble staff. (In scroll view, demonstrated above, NotateMe is designed to align the notation to the user’s input. When switching to page view, it will align the notes properly.)
After initially publishing this article, I heard from Martin Dawe, Neuratron’s CEO, who kindly took time out of preparing for his company’s annual festive holiday dinner to contact me. “In looking at the screenshots, you should get better accuracy by allowing more spacing between the various symbols. Otherwise it is difficult for NotateMe to know where one symbol begins and the other ends. The reason for this is because handwritten symbols are often separated in themselves and NotateMe has to be able to allow for this. We recommend spacing half the height of a staff in the ‘How to Use NotateMe’ guide,” Martin said.
He further observed “that it doesn’t appear to have learned the sixteenth rests well.” He asked me if I had written many sixteenth rests during the initial learning phase, and I replied that I had not done so, although I had completed the learning phase to 100%. “It should adapt to these better over time,” he said. In fact, Martin explained, NotateMe’s “learning continues past 100% in a cyclical fashion – i.e., it never stops. We simply calculated that at 100% it should be pretty good at recognizing one’s style.”
With that in mind, users expecting magical perfection out-of-the box should set their expectations a bit lower. The app, while powerful, doesn’t always respond instantly, and I found myself waiting quite a bit for NotateMe to analyze my writing before I could move on. Presumably, the app is written in such a way to offer maximum cross-platform compatibility, but this comes at the expense of the look or feel of a typical native mobile app (at least on iOS) that users may have become accustomed to.
Even if the results aren’t perfect, NotateMe’s export to MusicXML feature can allow anyone to get a good start on their creations in NotateMe, and then polish them up using Sibelius or other desktop software — a familiar workflow.
Recognizing handwritten musical notation is devilishly difficult. The folks at Neuratron have years of experience doing it, and while they have made incredible strides, there is much more to be done. Martin told me that “we’re so glad to have reached this massive goal, and we will certainly not be slowing down development.” Already, v. 184.108.40.206 is available for Android, and should be in a few days time for iOS, including double-sharp recognition, improvements to accuracy and voice allocation, and other enhancements. Support for MusicXML import is also promised in a future update, which should further improve interoperability.
While it’s not there yet, hopefully NotateMe — and/or perhaps other music handwriting apps — will improve to the point where you forget you’re dealing with an electronic device at all, and can write music just as easily on your tablet as you would using a real pen and paper.
Updated 12:15 pm with remarks from Martin Dawe, Neuratron’s CEO, regarding further improvements to NotateMe, and an explanation of the results I encountered in my test examples.