A review of optical music recognition software

Reviews

Listen to the podcast episode

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman talk with John Hinchey about this review of optical music recognition software products, or “music scanning apps”, and how you can incorporate them into your own work. John also brings along a checklist of the items to look for once you scan your music and how to get the best results. Listen now:

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
Scanning the music scanning apps
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Optical music recognition (OMR) software — or more colloquially, “music notation scanning software” —  is one of those amazing wonders of technology. It’s based on optical character recognition of an image. When you think of all of the lines, shapes and text that go into an image that we humans see as a coherent set of directions to sing, play an instrument or conduct, let’s just say it boggles the mind.

What are we asking this software to do is threefold. The first task is to play back the source document for aural feedback. The second task is to make it more suitable for archiving and printing. The third task is to translate it into a format that can be used for editing or further manipulation, such as arranging or transposing.

Why we asking the software to do this is perhaps evident, but is worth mentioning. Hearing a piece of sheet music can aid in learning to read it, as well as to play along with it for practice. Translating it into an editable format which we can open in music notation software or in a digital audio workstation (DAW) allows the user to save time, compared to inputting the material from scratch, when archiving or editing sheet music.

In this review of OMR software, I’ll focus on four applications (click on the link to be taken straight to the review):

PlayScore 2
ScanScore
PhotoScore Ultimate
SmartScore 64 Professional Edition

For a benchmark of the effectiveness of each of these applications, I needed to set some parameters.

Playback

When it comes to playback, I’ll keep it simple:

  • Does it accurately playback the pitches and rhythms?
  • Can the user edit, tempo, pitch and volume?

Notation content via MusicXML export

For content, I’ve broken it down into two groups, which I’ll reference throughout this article:

  • Group 1: Notes, rests, accidentals, tuplets, clefs, ties, articulations, dynamics, lines, slurs, ornaments, time signature, barlines, multi stave instruments
  • Group 2: Lyrics, chord symbols, chord diagrams, multi-measure rests

What is the process?

The basic process is the same for all of these apps.

  • Input: An image of music notation is brought in via scanning or file (PDF, TIFF);
  • Recognition: The image is analyzed and the app determines what all those shapes mean and assigns musical symbols (notes, rests, text, lines, symbols) to them;
  • Edit: The results of the previous step are presented in form that the user can edit, correct and further define the meaning of those musical symbols;
  • Playback: The image is now in a form that can be played back within the app for proofing or use as a practice aid;
  • Output: The edited file is now ready to print, save as a PDF, or export as a MusicXML for MIDI file which can be opened in music notation software or DAW for further cleanup or adaptation.

Source materials for testing

To test this software, I chose three PDFs that I felt would cover a range of music notation that I run into in my everyday work:

  1. “NCL Celebrates-Rock”, a three page piano vocal score I created in Sibelius several years ago;
  2. “We Don’t Get Fooled Again”, a single page of a trumpet part I created in Dorico;
  3. The first page of “I Waited For The Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn, which is a PDF of a scan that has some schmutz on it (that is the technical term).
The first page of “NCL Celebrates-Rock”, one of the source tests

To see those source materials for yourself, you can download them here.


Generalities

Generally, all of these apps read notes and rests on a scale of OK to excellent.

The rub comes in on symbols and text. The issue with text on a page is, ‘what type of text is it?’: page text, staff text, system text, lyrics, chord symbols, dynamics, etc. If there is an ‘A’ above the staff, is it a rehearsal mark, a chord symbol, a lyric from the staff above, ‘A tempo’ or something else? For instance, one of my favorite misfires (and this happened in several of the apps) is that the marcato symbol is often misinterpreted as an ‘A.’

Original source material
The same material, as interpreted by OMR software

You can see the pitfalls here. That this can be done with any success at all is amazing. Lyrics are most often successfully read correctly (although if I had a nickel for every ‘m’ that came out as ‘rn’…).

Much like a relationship gone awry, text also has “attachment issues”. If you look at a page and see a forte marking below the second staff system, to your eye it’s applied to the note in that system. But you may discover that, on closer inspection (attachment lines help with this), the reading of the scan may have that forte attached above the third system.

Page text like titles, composer, etc. usually end up in the right area on the page. But here is the next issue: What does the MusicXML file define that text as on the way out?

MusicXML is amazing (all hail Michael Good!), but it depends on correctly defining the musical notation elements. If you are just going to clean up a score and print it directly out of a scanning app, a big bold piece of text at the top of the page with the letters spelling out the title is ‘the title.’ But if that same piece of text is not defined as ‘title’ in the MusicXML code on the way out the door, when you open it in your music notation software, it will be a huge piece of ‘technique’ text attached to only one staff.

Now, multiply this by headers, footers, chord symbols, lyrics, technique instructions, page numbers and more. If these aren’t correctly defined in the MusicXML output, you’ve got a lot of cleanup on your hands in your music notation software before you can get to any other editing.

The composition title, interpreted by OMR software as oversize staff-attached “technique” text

So in general — and I hate to break this to you — music scanning software is not an infallible silver bullet. There are some examples (which each company will happily provide) where you scan in a piece of music and it comes in 99.9% perfectly. In the real world, though, that is not always the case.

But that is not to say this type of software does not have its place in your tool kit as an educator or a composer/arranger/music prep professional. On the contrary; these apps are powerful and can still save you a lot of time and aid in the learning process.

So let’s take a look.


PlayScore 2

PlayScore 2
Official web site
Price: $5.99/month or $23.99/year (Professional version)
Platforms: iOS; Android

PlayScore 2 is an iOS and Android app designed for music notation recognition that can then be played back and exported as a MusicXML or MIDI file. Of the four applications I’m reviewing, it is the only one that is just for phones and tablets. It’s a great tool for anyone needing as assist with reading sheet music or hearing sheet music for practice and study.

To import into PlayScore 2 you can either take a photo with your device’s camera or import a PDF from your device’s storage, Dropbox, AirDrop and more. PlayScore 2 then scans and opens the document in the Documents screen.

From there, you tap the document; you are now in the Play screen and your music is ready to play. In all of my tests this happened very quickly. Press the play icon and you’ll hear the results.

Editing

There are no built-in notation editing tools in PlayScore 2, other than a masking feature. This can come in handy if you don’t want to hear (or see, in the case of an export) certain sections. You can mask entire staff systems, or do a smaller mask to mute elements which may have not translated well.

So if you do want to edit the music notation for other uses, you’ll need to export a MusicXML file and open it in your music notation software. And, as with importing, you can use the usual iOS/Android export to computer methods.

Playback

This is where PlayScore 2 really shines. The playback is very impressive.

You will have to set the playback tempo with the tempo slider, as it won’t read a metronome marking from the scan. There are also additional controls for dynamic range, play repeats, auto transposition (useful in a score with transposing instruments), and, yes, swing! You can also loop sections for repeated playback for practice.

PlayScore 2 will read and play back multiple voices per staff, as well. You don’t have to do anything special. Whatever parts are in the music are picked up by PlayScore 2.

Notation content

The content of the MusicXML export currently is limited to my “Group 1” but not “Group 2” as defined earlier in the Generalities section of this post. So, no lyrics, chord symbols or multi-measure rests.

As with playback, if PlayScore 2 detects multiple voices on a staff, they will be exported to MusicXML. The same is true for tremolos. PlayScore 2 supports up to four voices per staff.

PlayScore attempts to be as accurate as possible in preserving the music layout in the generated MusicXML. Cross-staff beaming is faithfully preserved, as are beams over barlines.

Impressions

Who this application is aimed directly at is no mystery. It’s designed for students and hobbyists who want an assist in learning new music and improving their sight reading. PlayScore 2 is a great tool for those purposes. Input and recognition is fast, and there aren’t a lot of tools and functions cluttering up the interface. It’s very intuitive. You can also use it as a ‘music minus one’ style accompaniment system.

Beyond that, you can output MusicXML and MIDI to edit further in your music notation software or DAW. Recognition is limited to “Group 1”, but it did that very well. It was very accurate with notes and articulations.

Of all the applications we reviewed, PlayScore 2 has the best support for tremolo notation. It was the only one to have correctly recognized the 2-note tremolos in my “NCL Celebrates – Rock” test example.

Tips

The only real editing tool in PlayScore 2 is the masking tool. Even though it’s functionality is limited,  it is helpful for getting rid of extraneous marks that may be affecting playback.

For example: in one score, a lyric was being read as a trill causing PlayScore 2 to play back a trill on a note. Using the masking tool, I was able to mask out that lyric and the trill stopped playing back. In the “NCL” test score, it kept interpreting ties across the barline as slurs in the left hand of the piano. Going into the Document Settings and adjusting PDF process quality down towards Faster (away from Better) fixed that. Counter-intuitive? Yes. But it’s all part of the optical music recognition voodoo that I don’t understand but try to harness.

Adjusting the PDF process quality down can actually improve recognition

Bear in mind, Auto Transposition settings only work on a score with multiple instruments of different transpositions. If you have, as I did in my test document of a trumpet part, a single staff instrument you need to play back (and export) as transposed, you’ll need to set that in the Staff play settings. So, for example, to have my trumpet part play back at concert pitch, I need to set the playback to -2, because a B flat trumpet is written a whole step higher than it sounds. Yes, you have to think backwards, but summon your music theory skills and you can do it!

Conclusion

For a fast and easy to use tool for students, hobbyists and professionals needing a way to quickly hear a piece of sheet music, PlayScore 2 gets a big thumbs up. For exporting to music notation software for editing, it is fast, with impressive accuracy — as long as the chord symbols and lyrics aren’t an issue.


ScanScore Professional

ScanScore Professional
Official web site
Price: $179 (Professional version)
Platforms: Mac (macOS 10.12 or higher); Windows (8 or 10)

ScanScore is an app for Mac and PC whose stated goal is “To make scanning sheet music as easy as possible.”

You can scan a document into ScanScore or open a file (JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF and PDF). For scanning options you can use a traditional scanner, or there is a free companion app ScanScore Capture for iOS and Android for scanning in from your tablet or phone. Once you’ve opened your source document in ScanScore, you can edit and playback, export as MusicXML or MIDI file or print or save as PDF.

The initial window you are presented with gives you options for bringing in your sheet music. Once selected, the file or scan is processed. This happened quite quickly for me on all three of the test PDFs.

The ScanScore import screen

Once you import a document, you have an interface with a menu bar, toolbar, side bar with thumbnail images of pages, and a main section with the original document on the left and the scan output on the right. You can change this to a vertical split with the original above and the scan below. You can now start to playback or edit.

Editing

Most of your editing needs are a based on a point-and-click method. Select a tool and perform a task, or for some actions, select an item and then click back on the tool bar to edit. Each of the main tools (notes and rests, accents, techniques, text, clefs, dynamics, barlines, repeats) opens into a palette displaying all of your options.

The ScanScore editing interface

The menu bar is your destination for all other operations, with some often used commands made quickly available with by right clicking (or Control-clicking on Mac).

When inspecting the scan, you’ll see a purple dashed line if the measure is incomplete. If there are too many beats there is a blue dashed line, in each case where will be a number at the end of the line indicating which voice the error occurs in.

A purple dashed line indicates an incomplete measure in ScanScore

ScanScore has an overview of importing, editing, and exporting in a video available on their official support page.

Playback

Yes, it does! You can change playback instrument sounds, adjust tempo and volume, and transpose the playback. ScanScore also accurately represents what is on the scan, so you’ll need to clean it up first.

ScanScore will export MIDI files, but it does not export audio files.

Notation content

ScanScore picks up all of my “Group 1” — core musical content. As for “Group 2”, it picks up some text, but was hit-or-miss on lyrics and chord symbols. At this time, ScanScore does not read multi-measure rests.

Impressions

What first struck me about ScanScore is its clean and efficient user interface. Clicking on each tool type opens the corresponding palette and everything is clearly laid out in front of you.

As for import, each of my test documents opened quickly. The learning curve of opening a document and starting to edit was pretty quick. As with all of these OMR apps, I watched videos and read parts of the user guide as needed, but I also like to see how intuitive an app is. I found ScanScore pretty straightforward.

Although I did use PDFs for my three test files, I did try the companion ScanScore Capture app on my iPad and it was very handy.

If your work style is point-and-click you’ll find yourself right at home with ScanScore. I found myself wishing there were keyboard shortcuts assigned to the tools, but there are none. So a long day of editing is going require a lot of mousing.

There were a few basic procedures that are not built into editing that would be big time savers. One would be the ability to add or delete a dot to or from a note or rest. It is possible to change the basic duration of a note by clicking on the note in the scan (such as an eighth note) and then clicking on the duration you wish to change it to in the note palette (a sixteenth note), but you cannot add or remove a dot in a similar manner. You have to delete the note and input a new note with a dotted duration.

Identification of slurs or ties is also problematic. Processed scans routinely identify slurs as ties and vice versa — something not uncommon in all OMR applications, but even more so in ScanScore. When you click on a curved line that is one or the other, it would be great to have the slur or tie icon highlight to let you know which one ScanScore has identified it as. Ultimately, I found myself deleting and replacing them all. One way you can check it is to start playback to quickly hear which is which, but this can lead to a lot of unnecessary steps.

Slurs aren’t ties, despite ScanScore saying otherwise

When we reported this issue to ScanScore, they said this was a new issue to them and that other users have not reported it. Perhaps I was unlucky!

You cannot add or delete bars in ScanScore, so if the numbers or bars processed in the scan is incorrect, you’ll need to fix those in later in your music notation software.

Working with scores with hidden staves like “NCL Rocks” or “I Waited” is problematic for playback and MusicXML export. In the case of “NCL Rocks” the first two systems are piano-only (one grand staff). Then in the third system, two vocal staves are added above the piano. ScanScore can’t redefine the location of that piano to those staves for playback and export.

Upon MusicXML export opened in Sibelius the result is this:

ScanScore has told us that improving the export to Sibelius is a known issue, but that MusicXML “export to Finale, Musescore, et al. works fine,” and that they are currently working on an update to improve export to Sibelius.

In the contextual menu (right-click), the contrast between the grays and black made some things a bit hard to see, particularly the Volta brackets (1st and 2nd ending brackets) menu for open or closed brackets. This menu is easy to use, however, and has plenty of options.

Tips

Learn the ScanScore keyboard shortcuts for Switch to voice which changes which voice you are editing, and Change Voice which allows you to move notes between voices. You’ll use these a lot and it will speed up your workflow.

If you have a lot of dotted notes to fix, it’s more efficient to add a rest to fill the bar out rhythmically and then fix them in your music notation software, where you can add dots to notes more quickly.

You can copy and paste notes in ScanScore and in some cases this may be faster than clicking in the notes from the palette.

Summary

ScanScore’s interface is very straightforward, gets the music in fast, and is easy to learn. But I found the accuracy of the recognition and MusicXML export to be not as robust as the other apps.

The lack of keyboard shortcuts makes long editing sessions a bit tedious and adds to the time required to get from input to output. This app has some maturing to do before it’s ready for prime-time.


Photoscore Ultimate

Photoscore Ultimate
Official web site
Price: $249 (Ultimate)
Platforms: Mac (macOS 10.12 or higher); Windows (7, 8, or 10)

Next on my list: PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 2020 by Neuratron, for Mac and Windows.

If you are a Sibelius Ultimate user, you may have installed a “lite” version of PhotoScore, as it comes bundled with your Sibelius license. (Here, any further references to “PhotoScore” refer to PhotoScore Ultimate.) And if you are an experienced Sibelius user (especially if you used Sibelius 6), you will find PhotoScore’s user interface and workflow very familiar.

Similar to ScanScore, you can scan in or open a file directly in PhotoScore (JPEG, BMP, TIFF and PDF). There is an option to choose between printed or handwritten music.

You can export directly to Sibelius Ultimate from PhotoScore or export (Save as) MusicXML, MIDI and NIFF files. (A NIFF file is a music interchange file format.) You can print directly from PhotoScore or save as a PDF.

Some operations use dropdown menus via the menu bar. For other tasks you’ll see a version of the familiar Sibelius keypad. The keypad layouts are not exactly the same as Sibelius’s, but they are similar enough for a Sibelius user to feel at home. The Output window has a right-click menu, and there are keyboard shortcuts for many functions (always a plus). You can scan directly from the app or import PDF and other files.

There is a sidebar on the left. In the top pane is where the Scans are listed. Once a page is read it appears in the lower pane in the Scores section. At that point you can select a page and edit it in the output window. This window is split into a an upper pane (an image of the original) and a lower pane (the content read).

PhotoScore Ultimate

The NotateMe part of this program deserves an article of its own and I won’t cover it here. In summary: you can draw in notes with your mouse, or, if you have a tablet style interface with your PC (or a Mac with an iPad connected by an app like Duet), you can draw in notes and symbols. These will then be converted and exported in all of the file formats. If you have NotateMe on your iOS or Android device, you can import those files in as well.

Playback

Yes it does! In PhotoScore you can change tempo, feel (swing, etc.), and reverb.

Changing playback sounds is a bit hidden. It’s done through the Edit Instrument window. To activate this window you need to move your mouse to the left to the staff name in the Output window, double-click and then click on Rename which will allow you to choose another instrument.

Notation content

PhotoScore is the most comprehensive of the apps in this review. It picks up all of “Group 1” and “Group 2”: Notes, rests, accidentals, tuplets, clefs, ties, articulations, dynamics, lines, slurs, ornaments, time signature, barlines, multi stave instruments, lyrics, chord symbols, chord diagrams, and multi-measure rests.

Impressions

Being a longtime Sibelius user, I felt right at home in the PhotoScore interface. The keypad and many of the standard Sibelius keyboard shortcuts are built-in here as well. The first keypad layout is exactly the same, and the successive layouts are similar enough to allow you to quickly get to your editing operations.

There are many similar editing procedures to Sibelius, as well, such as Alt-clicking to copy and paste. Another really useful one is adding an interval above or below a note by clicking on a note and pressing the number on your top row of your computer keyboard (add Shift for intervals below). You can use the up and down arrows to nudge notes up and down, and add Command on Mac or Ctrl to move notes an entire octave, just like in Sibelius.

Whenever you’re exporting MusicXML, it’s important that the text be defined as — or created by — the correct text style. As I demonstrated earlier, lyrics must use the lyric text style, titles must use the title text style, etc. PhotoScore makes this easy. When you double-click a piece of text, you are presented with a window allowing you to define the text style.

Defining the text style in PhotoScore

This process can be sped up even more by using PhotoScore’s Find & Replace feature.

As in Sibelius, each piece of text has an attachment line which shows you which staff it is attached to. This is very helpful for troubleshooting.

All of this makes editing quick and efficient with lots of familiar keyboard shortcuts. Fewer menu pulls and clicks translates into time saved.

My test scans came into PhotoScore with impressive accuracy. Chord symbols and lyrics were not 100% accurate, but were largely complete, and certainly enough so to be usable. Oddly, it fell short on some ties that appear as a dots on whole notes. Tremolos aren’t recognized — and there is no way to fix tremolos in PhotoScore — so you will have to fix those in your music notation software.

Tremolos are not recognized in PhotoScore

In my trumpet part test page, the multi-measure rests did come through, albeit with the wrong number of rests: “45” instead of “15”. It’s a very easy fix to double-click on the number and type in the correct number.

The number of bars in a multirest can be misinterpreted, but it is easy to fix

There’s one thing to mention about the way multi-measure rests are exported from PhotoScore. If you choose Send to Sibelius from the File menu, the file opens as a Sibelius document and the multi-measure rests come in correctly. For example, a 15-measure multi-measure rest will be fifteen actual measures in Sibelius, as expected. If you choose Save as MusicXML and then open that MusicXML file in your music notation software, the multi measure rest comes through as one measure, not fifteen.

Tips

Adjusting PhotoScore’s settings for what is read — and what is not — can really save you a lot of work.

When opening an instrumental part or score without secondary elements such as chords, lyrics, fingerings, tuplets, or grace notes, go to Preferences > Reading and turn off everything you won’t need. This can eliminate a lot of misreads.

If you aren’t a Sibelius user and would prefer a palette-style interface for the numeric pad, go to Preferences > Editing > Output Window > Keypad Layout and click on the PhotoScore button.

Summary

With its familiar workflow for editing, direct file transfer and highly accurate recognition, PhotoScore is the app you should seriously consider if you are a Sibelius Ultimate user, especially with its interface and workflow similarities. If you’re not a Sibelius user, PhotoScore is still definitely worth a look, as the MusicXML output is excellent when opened in Finale or Dorico.


SmartScore 64 Pro

SmartScore 64 Pro
Official web site
Price: $399 (Pro); Finale users can upgrade for $199
Platforms: Mac (macOS 10.13 or higher); Windows 10

The final app is SmartScore 64 Professional Edition for Mac or Windows from Musitek.

SmartScore 64 Pro claims to recognize scores “without any restriction on the number of parts or pages. Notation, lyrics and text recognized with up to 99+% accuracy*. (*Accuracy can vary depending on print and scan quality.)”

It’s tough to quantify what exactly “99+% accuracy” means when measuring a diverse set of symbols and instructions in music notation — not to mention the potential outsized importance and impact of any 1% that might be inaccurate. Broadly speaking, though, in my testing I found that SmartScore lives up to its claims.

The user interface is clean and utilitarian. There are tabs for Input/Output, Note Editor, Tools, Playback, and Image Editor. In classic ribbon interface style, each tab presents you with icons to activate the choice of tools. Other operations are selected through the pulldown menus. On the left sidebar, you’ll find a palette with notational symbols for notes, rests, and many other necessary items. When you bring a scan into SmartScore, the main window presents a top pane (the original scan) and a bottom pane (the content read).

The SmartScore 64 Pro interface

You can scan directly from the app or open PDF or TIFF files. For export, your choices are MusicXML, MIDI, PDF or MP3.
A big plus is there are excellent tutorial videos on the Musitek website which are really helpful. The User Guide is well-written and very detailed; for this app you are going to need it.

Editing

SmartScore has editing at all phases.

When you open a scan or PDF, you can go to the Image Editor and delete unnecessary pages, crop, delete, change skew, and more. This helps you eliminate many pitfalls during the recognition step. Once you’ve cleaned up your image (if needed), it’s onto recognition. Once through that step, you are ready to go to the Note Editor.

Editing features are deep, deep, deep. I am not going to even try to list them all here. Suffice it to say that pretty much anything you want to edit you can. There are keyboard shortcuts for a majority of the operations, but you can also use the point-and-click method to select tools if you prefer. You can edit all aspects of notes, symbols and text in the Note Editor.

The SmartScore Note Editor tab

At this point in most apps, you’d be ready to export to your music notation software to clean up and finish your score. Not in SmartScore.

Moving onto the Tools tab, you can set systems, pages, score and parts formatting. This includes splitting out notes into separate voices.

The SmartScore Tools tab

For example, in a traditional SA and TB choir notation, you can split out the SA into separate voices, so you can split out into separate parts and assign different playback sounds. This is a great feature for educators and choir directors looking to convert scores into practice tools, as in this example video.

Once you’ve got the score looking and sounding the way you like it, you can export as PDF, MusicXML, MP3, and print.

Playback

Yes it does! And there are a lot of options in SmartScore, such as, tempo, swing, volume, and instrument change.

As with the other editing modes, it’s deep. There is also a piano roll, MIDI, and an event list view, similar to a DAW for detailed editing.

One really interesting feature is Karaoke mode, where you are presented with a bouncing ball that skips across the lyrics!

Notation content

SmartScore picks up all of my “Group 1,” “Group 2”, and more, including guitar TAB notation. The only symbols in my tests that are not recognized and cannot be added in SmartScore are slash notation and 2-bar repeat marks. (None of the other apps recognized these either.)

Impressions

The downside to the depth of editing and operations in SmartScore is this: the interface is not as intuitive as the other apps in this review. So the learning curve is steeper.

My experience was that I couldn’t just jump in and start editing without watching a few videos, poking around and then looking procedures up in the User Guide. This is a professional app, no doubt. A few hours spent learning the interface and method of operation will be well-rewarded by those serious about getting top-notch results from their scans.

Of all the apps in this review, SmartScore 64 Professional is only one, that, for most scores, you can go from scan or PDF all the way to a finished score and ready to print without exporting to a music notation software program. If you are going to be doing a lot of this type of work, you will have all the tools you need.

There are many more great features in SmartScore, and it would take a much longer review to cover them all. But one I’d like to mention is the free SmartScore Player app which can be downloaded by members of your ensemble to playback any SmartScore score in its native ENF format. This could be a great practice tool as long as people are willing to use it on their computer. The downside is that it’s only for Mac and PC, and not available for any mobile platform.

The SmartScore Player (image from Musitek’s web site)

SmartScore’s MusicXML export is great, except for one issue. In my tests, other than lyrics and chord symbols, all of the other text was exported as technique (or staff-attached text). Even though I had gone into the Text style window and, for example, defined text as “Title”, when the MusicXML was opened in my music notation software, it came through as a staff-attached text, not title text. Later, I discovered, there is an Insert Title as Header feature in the Edit tab. Had I done this prior to export, it would have led to better results. If you don’t finesse these items, it can lead to some post-export cleanup in the area of text management in your music notation software, as mentioned earlier.

Tips

As with all of the apps, learn the keyboard shortcuts. SmartScore’s secret weapon is the Properties tool, which allows you to click on any item and edit it. If you hold down the Shift key, you can move any item.

When editing text, you need to use the Lyric tool for lyrics and Text tool for everything else. If you are finding you can’t select a piece of text with the tool you assume you is needed, just switch tools. It may be the case the text was recognized as a lyric when it was really a chord symbol, etc.

One other important detail about text is what text style it is defined as. If you click into a piece of text and right-click, you are presented with the Text style window.

Here you can define what text style it is within SmartScore. The defaults are Lyric, Title, Composer, Part names, and Rehearsal Marks. All others are Recognition with a number. What I suggest is this: if the text you are in is not one of the defaults, add a style. Click Add style… and select your font, style, size, etc. Then name it something sensible like “Footer Left”, “Technique” etc. Then save that style. Now when you come up on the next piece of technique text in the score you can quickly define it. Once you have saved it, in future scores you can select Load Styles… and have your defined text styles ready to go.

Summary

SmartScore 64 has a very high accuracy of recognition. If you are going to do a lot of this type of work, this app should be on your list to consider. This is a fully featured pro app with all the tools to take you from scan to clean complete scores, parts and playback all in one app.

For export of MusicXML to music notation software, SmartScore does an excellent job with notes, lyrics, chord and formatting. Other than the above-mentioned text issue, I would highly recommend SmartScore as a partner app to your music notation software.


Output roundup and source files

If you are interested in any of these OMR apps, read on. Rather than displaying all of the images here, I’ve prepared a folder for you to download and have a look at the results for yourself.

Then, I would recommend that you go to the web sites for each of the products, download their user guides, watch the videos, and, if possible, download demo versions. See which one feels best for your situation. Bear in mind, these kind of apps can feel frustrating at first. But if you take the time to learn how to use them, you will be rewarded with a valuable tool.

There are many more resources if you’d like to learn more about the field of optical music recognition. One excellent resource is the OMR Research site.

Sample files to download

The best way to get an idea of how each of these programs does the recognition and output of my three samples is for you to have a look for yourself. To that end, I’ve prepared folders of

  • My source test files (00 Source PDFs)
  • The output before and after editing in the OMR (01 OMR Proofs)
  • and the resulting music notation software files (Finale, Dorico, and Sibelius) generated from the edited OMR files (02 Music notation software files).

Everything is contained in a master folder, which you can download.

00 Source PDFs

  1. “NCL Celebrates-Rock”, a three page piano vocal score I created in Sibelius several years ago;
  2. “We Don’t Get Fooled Again”, a single page of a trumpet part I created in Dorico;
  3. The first page of “I Waited For The Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn, which is a PDF of a scan that has some schmutz on it (that is the technical term).

01 OMR Proofs

This folder, each with subfolders corresponding to each of the four apps reviewed here, has PDF and MusicXML files of each example as it appears with no editing after the recognition step. These are the “RAW” files.

Then I cleaned up each file with the edit tools in each app. These are the “Cleaned” PDF files. All of the PDFs are generated out of the scanning apps themselves. (The exception is PlayScore 2 files, as PDF export is not an option. For those files I opened them in Sibelius and generated PDFs as they opened without editing.)

02 Music notation software files

This folder, each with subfolders corresponding Finale, Dorico and Sibelius files, contained music notation software files generated from the the cleaned MusicXML files. I have included native music notation software files and PDFs. The exception here are the Sibelius files from PhotoScore Ultimate which were transferred via the send to Sibelius option in PhotoScore Ultimate rather than MusicXML, since that provides the best output from that program.

So what does “Cleaned” mean?

The cleaned versions were revised to the point that I felt all editing best done in the scanning app had been done. The remaining notational elements either could not be produced in the scanning apps or could be created much more quickly in the music notation software.

My philosophy on tools is this: use the best one for the job. For example, lyric input is faster and more efficient in any of the music notation software apps than in the scanning apps, even though it can be done.

What is always best done in the scanning apps is to correct key signatures, time signatures, clefs, and to rhythmically complete all measures. Then, if you can define staves (what instrument), define text styles, make sure text is attached to the correct staff, and correct the tempo markings, you’ll be in good shape.

In PlayScore 2, other than the masking tool, there are no editing tools, so the RAW and Cleaned files are the same file.

In ScanScore Pro and PhotoScore Ultimate I cleaned up for the elements listed above.

In SmartScore 64 I took cleanup further and did my best to exactly replicate the source file because the editing features are so comprehensive. The only items I could not replicate were 2-bar repeat signs and slash notation.

Try it yourself

Download the files, including the source PDFs and the folder with the proofs, try them in the music notation software of your choice and see what you think.

What to look for

NCL Celebrates – Rock

None of the apps could do the diamond and slash noteheads on page 3. The 2-note tremolos on page 3 were only correctly picked up in PlayScore 2, although I was able in replicate them in SmartScore 64 Pro.

We Don’t Get Fooled Again

This PDF generated the most errors in all of the apps. That’s not entirely surprising, as  there were certainly a lot of land mines to find: X noteheads, cue notes, Segno, to Coda, technique text, text with lines, 2-bar repeats, ending brackets, footers, etc.

None of the multimeasure rests were picked up correctly in any of the apps. However, you can fix those in PhotoScore Ultimate and SmartScore 64 Pro. None of the apps could read or output the 2-bar repeat signs.

I Waited For the Lord

The first system is piano-only, and then on system two a vocal line is added. This caused problems in PlayScore 2 and ScanScore. PhotoScore Ultimate and SmartScore 64 Pro allow you to correctly identify each staff in each system so they are correctly translated in the MusicXMLs.

Another element to notice in this piece is the cross-staff beaming. I was able to create those in SmartScore 64 Pro for PDF output from the app, but that did not carry through in the MusicXML when opened in the music notation software.

Comments

  1. Juan Marulanda

    Great article! This is pure gold! Even though this might not be substantial, is there something that could be said in this regard about the OMR of handwritten scores? Thank you very much!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Juan! John talks some more about working with handwritten scores in our podcast, just released: https://www.scoringnotes.com/podcast/scanning-the-music-scanning-apps/

    2. John Hinchey

      Only PhotoScore Ultimate will read handwritten scores and then only a very particular hand writing style. I do have many pencil and pen and ink scores and it doesn’t read my handwriting. I’d like to archive but the technology is not there yet.

      1. Heinz Roggenkemper

        This is a good example for how small the developer community in OMR is: Anthony Wilkes (the developer of Play Score 2) developed handwriting recognition for PhotoScore more than 10 years ago. I doubt that it has substantially improved since then.
        I know about a number of research projects using machine-learning for handwriting recognition, but I am not confident that any of that will be available in the near future.

    3. John Monro

      Thank you for a very useful review. I have been using PhotoScore light for years, mainly to get choral scores in to Sibelius to be able to export parts as MP3s for the voices to learn their parts. I think I sent you an email about how to approach music recognition, as applies to PhotoScore but I’ll repeat here. For my use, I don’t think upgrading to the Pro version would be worth it .You’ve basically covered the most important points, that before sending to Sibelius, check and correct time signatures in the score, the key, the clefs and the timing of each bar. Correct accidentals and as much as you can, then correct note pitch. However if you do the first four things, that’s the most important, and you can do the rest in Sibelius just as easily. PhotoScore light does not recognise markings, notation, lyrics, accidentals, grace notes or if it does, it misreads them etc. It recognises triplets, but not quadruplets etc. So you can’t get those wrong, you have to do this manually. One thing that I would very strongly recommend, just scan and do the music recognition on each page of a score separately, send to Sibelius separately as a single page, and copy and paste each succeeding scan from that page to an empty score that you’ve started with the correct title, composer and key and time signature. . I can tell you from bitter experience that the most serious errors that can be so hard to correct are getting pages out of order or being “missed” by the software , or finding that there are varying numbers of staves in the systems, eg, the choir singing a cappella in part of the score, PhotoScore will make serious mistakes. It takes minimally longer to do this, but can save hours of work when you find your twenty page file is out of order or the tenor part is now in the piano stave and the left hand piano is being attempted by the sopranos, in the wrong place – which will mean the whole score following will also be in the wrong place!! The other thing is to be realistic, a nice fresh pdf / TIFF that was printed in the last few years, probably using a notation programme is one thing, but trying to scan a IMSLP scanned page of an old Beethoven score (eg Beethoven folk songs) is truly another – the first can take a few minutes, the latter many, many hours. And before you start, ensure with a Google search, that some others haven’t already done this work for you – a lot of classical music is now available in music notation files, xml or MIDI. Now that really does save time!!

  2. Engela Fullard

    Thank you for this brilliant article.

    As a Sibelius user, I use Photoscore Ultimate of course. Thank you for the tips, I certainly learnt a couple of things. I must say, I normally delete lyrics, as it is usually quicker to type in the lyrics into Sibelius than to edit them, i.e. because of hyphens, and sometimes the words are not interpreted correctly.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Engela! Yes, John has mentioned that in our podcast today as well: https://www.scoringnotes.com/podcast/scanning-the-music-scanning-apps/

  3. Mike Rosen

    I use SmartScore64, having upgraded from the previous version. I would not be without it. I’ve done well over 100 scores, from lead sheets to multi-staff choral work.

    I’m only interested in getting the notes; everything else is done in Finale. I recognize without text. Once I’m back in Finale, text and lyrics are an easy addition.

  4. Benny Rietveld

    Agreed with Juan Marulanda, well done article! Also concerning handwritten scores, would be very interested in that. I think many composers may have lots of archival pieces they’d like to get into a modern notation program format!

    Thank you!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Benny! Thanks. See my comment above.

      1. Benny Rietveld

        Cheers, Phillip!

  5. Nino Mangini

    I’m with Juan Marulanda and Benny Rietveld. I have a number of scores that were copied by hand and that I’d love to get into Finale. They are all scanned into Acrobat but before I consider investing, I need to know whether this can work.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Nino! Thanks. See my comment above.

  6. Kevin Gibbs

    I didn’t notice any mention of accessibility of any of these products. How would a blind or visually impaired user know whether a title was scanned as technique text, for example? an accessible scanning program would be very useful for any number of reasons. I am a Sibelius user who has never had occasion to use PhotoScore. I might if I had confidence in the accessibility of the program.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Kevin! John didn’t test specifically with accessibility in mind, I’m afraid, although he does mention that having keyboard shortcuts makes the software better for all users, and certain products are better than others in that regard. But as far as getting a readout of what is scanned and selected, I’m not sure how the programs fare there.

  7. Ed Roberts

    I have been using PhotoScore (with most recent updates) for many years and have been learning more all the time (I’m impatient so often jump in too quickly). My biggest issue is with reading lyrics of songs and choral music. I totally understand the need to make sure that the text is properly identified, but outside of music, OCR of text is so commonplace and generally amazingly accurate that it boggles my mind how bad PhotoScore–and, I gather, other music OCR software as well–is. There’s obviously no check as to whether it’s a word or not: common words are totally screwed up and interpreted as total nonsense, capital letters abound in the middle of words, just ugly all around. I now use Dorico, and it’s far easier to input lyrics than relying on PhotoScore. Dorico also somewhat reliably interprets hyphens correctly. I’m curious if there is a technical reason for such bad performance on text, or if they just don’t care.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Just a guess, but if you are scanning text and only text, you know that you are limited to a certain universe of characters that are set in a very predictable way. With music, it’s a lot more information to try to analyze, and it’s all over the map, literally and figuratively. Not to mention, with lyrics you are also dealing with syllables of words broken in unpredictable places, not to mention trying sort out if something is a lyric, expression, title, etc. With music in “the grid” of five staff lines and barlines you can get some regularity, but text in music appears in all sorts of places and contexts, and with far less regularity than text in a book or magazine.

      1. Ed Roberts

        Appreciate your comment, Philip! I totally get it; it’s a really hard problem. I guess what I don’t understand, though, is that lyrics are in most cases in one location and quite linear across the page. A big step would be to have some creative (e.g., easy to use) ways to instruct the OMR program on what to look for. In PhotoScore I can do quite extensive correction of misplaced/misread music staves, but that’s a rare problem and only comes up with very poor quality originals. It would be nice to have a way to identify lines of lyrics in the same way…click and a horizontal line tells the program that these are OCR and not OMR. I’d be very happy to add that to the preflight checklist!

        Cheers!

        Ed

        1. Philip Rothman

          Yes indeed! That sounds like it would be a useful feature.

  8. Heinz Roggenkemper

    This is the most thorough review of OMR software that I have seen, especially since it includes valuable information about cleaning up and use of the result in notation software.
    There is a couple of things that I would like to point out:
    – The scanning of images to produce symbolic music is very hard. Only PlayScore 2 is a relatively new product, all the other ones have been around for a long time.
    – Only the third PDF really required scanning of images: the first two PDFs include SVG (scalable vector graphics), that can be used to produce almost perfect MusicXML. An indication is that the NCL PDF is smaller than the ‘I waited for’, despite including three pages. (PDFtoMusic is a specialized tool for this.)
    – OMR is a small market, and most vendor do not invest much in improving their product. Again, PlayScore 2 is the expection.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks Heinz, and thanks for all of your efforts and research in this area. We really appreciate it!

  9. Terence Kelly

    I found this article both enlightening and disheartening. Many years ago, when Michael Goodman first introduced musicxml, I incorporated it into my own scoring software. Although I could accurately import the musicxml files that Michael provided, I was perturbed that musicxml from other sources was nothing like the sample files and usually resulted in an exception (bomb). The xml files from the article all share one characteristic.. they are pitifully inaccurate and lack the information necessary to recreate a complete score. Using the Mendelssohn example, the file from Scan Score looks as though the programmers never even examined the sample files that Mr. Goodman provided. It will take a robust import routine to make anything of them. The files from Smartscore and Photoscore use musicxml 1.0. That is only good for notes and rhythm. No placement information for slurs/rests etc is provided; the Photoscore example doesn’t even contain the direction of the slur. Musicxml 1.0 cannot deal with cross-staff chords either. If you examine each file, you’ll see that each of the programs handles the change of score design in the second system completely differently. The only one close to correct is Smartscore. Musicxml, while a good idea, is poorly implemented industry wide and contains a number of serious design flaws that affect it’s ability to describe keyboard music in an intelligible manor. I believe that is why none of these companies have put any real time into their xml output. If your scoring software does not import their files directly, DO NOT BUY THEM. If you are relying on their xml, you can create your score just as fast by hand.

    With regard to text, I found that Graham Johnson’s SharpEye was pretty reliable if the scan was good. Even though Photoscore uses his Liszt OMR engine, the demo version seems to be less reliable producing lyrics. I’m not sure why that is. The primary use for scanning software is to produce transposable scores of vocal music. Failure to deal well with lyrics, doubles the amount of time it takes to create a transposable vocal score.

    If anyone is interested, I have begun work on a new front end for the Liszt engine. Below is a link to a pdf of the Mendelssohn example after editing it in that front end and importing into my scoring package. Only two small timing errors were corrected and the right margin was adjusted to be closer to the original. The rest is as imported – certainly not perfect, but reasonably close. This kind of result is possible with musicxml, but the importing program must support a number of features. As it stands, no one has any idea if a particular piece of software could use it.

    https://1drv.ms/b/s!As3CPvLOvFrzgfcK6vasVu8rfoeegA?e=kz0IUq

    1. Ed Roberts

      Excellent post with great points, Terence!

      I tend to expect much more from promised new technologies like xml, and am continually disappointed. Xml screws up lyrics all the time. Other things are not passed along properly. I work on harp music with a composer; she writes in Sibelius and I use xml to put the music into Dorico for engraving (too hard for her to learn Dorico, but it makes great looking scores). Xml transfers arprggios only for the top staff of the grand staff, and totally ignores glissandos and harp pedaling. Also, you hit the nail on the head about creating “transposable scores of vocal music”; it’s why I got into engraving in the first place.

      Cheers!

      Ed

  10. Heinz Roggenkemper

    According on the XML DOCTYPE SmartScore use 1.1, ScanScore and PhotoScore 2.0, and PlayScore 2 is on 3.0.
    For piano scores I found that PhotoScore most of the time would create two parts with one stave, instead of one part with two staves. (I submitted a case with Neuratron close to two years ago, and the response was ‘Our development team is aware of this.’ It has not changed with PhotoScore 9.

    SharpEye was a brilliant piece of work, but has not seen any improvement since 2006 (I think). That it is still a competitive product, shows the lack of investment in this type of software.

    In general, MusicXML is great, but it is a rather permissive standard in some areas. Voices for instance can be implemented very differently, and unfortunately there is no way to determine the best representation by looking at the score.

    1. Terence Kelly

      Heinz, you are probably correct in saying that Photoscore purports to be using music xml 2.0, but the Xml file from Photoscore in the article does not contain any data beyond what was defined in 1.0. The Musicxml 1.1 specification allowed for enough positioning description to get a reasonably close recreation of a score. Based on this file, Photoscore hasn’t implemented 1.1. There is nothing preventing Neuraton from saying they use 2.0, since 2.0 is a superset of 1.0. Capella’s Capella Scan does exactly the same thing.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on the efficacy of Musicxml. There is absolutely nothing wrong with its representation of standard musical elements, so it works well with with single voice parts with simple dynamics. When it comes to keyboard music, musicxml’s organization of time is completely removed from the way music notation is written or read. Any single keyboard measure can be represented in an infinite number of ways in musicxml. In music notation, once you have chosen the beat unit, there is really only one way to represent a measure of keyboard music. An exchange format that takes a single possibility and encodes it using a plethora of possibilities is a failure. Having invested a lot of time in musicxml, I could go on and on, but the writing was on the wall in 2007 when I decided to abandon it for my own work. I found the article disheartening because it demonstrates that the state of Musicxml remains unchanged from 2007. We still have no exchange format that works well for complex art songs. Each prominent piece of scoring software now has scanning software that only works well with it. Had musicxml been designed more thoughtfully, that might not have happened.

      1. Heinz Roggenkemper

        Yes, we will probably disagree on MusicXML. I have worked with and on standards in my past life, and think that what Michael Good achieved is close to a miracle: it is very difficult subject are – music notation itself allows a lot of things, and a standard can’t possibly fix this. An interesting read is chapter on MuseData in the book
        ‘Beyond MIDI: The Handbook of Musical Codes’. It is avalailable as a PDF at http://beyondmidi.ccarh.org/beyondmidi-600dpi.pdf

        The interesting question is how can the situation improve? In my view the ball is first in the court of the publishers of OMR software. They listen to their customers (hopefully), and I am quite sure that better support for MusicXML is not high on the list of requests they receive – their customers have other priorities.

        As for OMR software, I personally would prefer them to focus on the core engine, not on editing. I would rather see a stand-alone tool that focuses on editing MusicXML output. But that is just me…

  11. Matthew

    I purchased ScanScore and was quickly frustrated. Everything you mentioned above was true. I am a Product Designer in my real life and really tried to write up some good notes to the folks at ScanScore, but it fell on deaf ears. They ended up refunding me, but I didnt ask for that. I wanted to help them make it better.

    The biggest issue I had honestly was the MusicXML export. There were all sorts of issues with their method. Importing the MusicXML to Dorico was a huge fail. I just errored and didn’t really work at all. It did import into MuseScore, but it still wasn’t really right. So I tried fixing the issues in MuseScore, then move it to Dorico and it still was having issues.

    After spending almost 15 hours on one piece of music, just trying to get it right and then not even being able to get it export into MusicXML it just felt like a waist of time.

    I do think there was potential but it just seemed like the company didn’t want the help.

    1. John Hinchey

      I would say, don’t give up on the concept, try one of the other candidates in this article.

    2. Heinz Roggenkemper

      Matthew,

      I can’t say much about ScanScore beyond that I installed the trial, which did not allow me to do anything interesting (MusicXML export is limited to 4 measures), and that my first impression was not good, since there were 5 errors in the first 4 measures.

      I have communicated with the makers of PhotoScore, SmartScore, and PlayScore 2. The (by far) most responsive was Anthony Wilkes (PlayScore 2). The application is updated through Apple’s App Store/Google’s Play Store, and that happens – I have seen noticable improvements over the last 18 months.

      I have not used Dorico (only Finale and MuseScore). If you still have a MusicXML and/or the original PDF file around, I would be happy to have a look at it. (My email is heinz@roggenekmper.net.)

      1. Heinz Roggenkemper

        I thought I knew how to spell my name… Email is heinz@roggenkemper.net

  12. Stephen Pegler

    I use Photoscore Ultimate with Sibelius a great deal for renaissance music. I does not recognise breves (double whole notes) or breve rests – which is irritating. The main downside is the hyphens in lyrics being attached to the syllable. This was fixed by a plugin in Sibelius ‘Fix Photoscore lyrics’ that stopped working some years ago. I reported this to both Sibelius and Photoscore and fixed my copy but the plugin has been removed from the Sibelius library, so I don’t know how other people manage?

    1. John Hinchey

      Another feature in PhotoScore Ultimate, I forgot to mention. You can do this type of find and replace in PhotoScore before export. Go to Edit>Find and Replace and set it to find – in Lyrics and replace with space (hit the spacebar) -.
      This will correct those and they will display correctly in Sibelius.

  13. John Hinchey

    One work around for the hyphen in lyrics is to use either the plug-in “Find and Replace Text” or “Find and Replace Multifilter” Set it to find – and replace with – and this will correct the hyphens. Another problem I don’t have a solution to is to fix the lyric extensions.

    1. John Hinchey

      What didn’t show in the above comment, the replace is spacebar – to be clear in the replace box, when you have the blinking cursor, press the spacebar the cursor will move one space then type -.

      1. John Hinchey

        Another feature in PhotoScore Ultimate, I forgot to mention. You can do this type of find and replace in PhotoScore before export. Go to Edit>Find and Replace and set it to find – in Lyrics and replace with space (hit the spacebar) -.
        This will correct those and they will display correctly in Sibelius.

        1. Stephen Pegler

          Hi John, My problem is not the underline character (if that is what you are suggesting). Photoscore puts in hyphens, but these are attached to the end of each syllable, so when it is imported into Sibelius the hyphens are not spaced correctly between the syllables. The solution, I have now worked out, is to export to xml and import into Sibelius (rather than open a photoscore file in Sibelius or use CTRL D) – that seems to work OK.

          1. John Hinchey

            H Stephan, Hyphen is what I am talking about. For example singing = sing – ing. Photo produces sing- ing. Use the Find and replace filter in PhotoScore or Sibelius, set it to
            Find – anywhere in the word and replace with (press spacebar) -. Now you will have sing – ing.

  14. Stephen Pegler

    Ingenious, but in fact it does not work for me: the hyphen is still attached to the syllable when you export to Sibelius, allbeit with a space now, rather than being positioned halfway to the next syllable, etc.. The xml export does work, though you still need to add continuation lines on melismas, if you want them, which the plugin does. Thanks you your suggestions though.

  15. Robrecht H. Paternoster

    Hello John, well written review, thank you.
    I’m using capella scan (rev. 8.25, English) since many years, and am comparing regularly other OMR softwares, mainly for converting existing (old) scores of orchestral music into Finale (previously) and Dorico Pro (currently).
    I found, until now, capella scan quite strong in reading vectorized pdf’s, and generating fairly useable XML output, that Dorico would import reasonably well. Problem: if the OMR contains an error (for example: a speckle on in the original which is wrongly interpreted as a dot), the XML import in Dorico generates errors, which are not easy to correct afterwards. So you better check and recheck the result in capella scan before exporting. (But: the Dorico development team recognises that their XML import module is far from perfect, and needs enhancement…)
    Capella scan has released a version 9 in German last October, change the user interface quite dramatically (for the better), but apparently the OMR engine was not changed fundamentally, as far as I can judge it. The English version 9 should be released shortly (it was promised for the end of 2020…).
    I did comparative tests in 2020 of 19th century originals (such as those you frequently find in Dover Editions reprints). Here are a few findings:
    – PlayScore 2: i did not test, because I don’t want to waste time trying to recognize orchestral scores with 20 or more instruments and 100+ pages on a telephone or tablet.
    – ScanScore: discouraging: many, many errors, resulting in struggling in more than 2 hours editing on a single orchestra page with 30 music staffs, and still not having a useable result. The lack of keyboard shortcuts makes it all the more fatiguing, and speckles being misinterpreted as dots make it exacerbating, as you have to delete all those notes, and input them again. (I did test with 20 (!) different settings of scanning dpi, contrast and brightness settings, etc., all to no avail; very frustrating.)
    – PhotoScore Ultimate: the demo version has saving disabled, so testing is not possible in a realistic setting.
    – SmartScore 64 Professional Edition: I did not test this version. The older version (I don’t remember which one) yielded poor results and I gave up. I shall do a new test with this version.
    – capella scan 8.25 (English) and 9.0 (German): turned out to be the solution yielding fewer recognition errors, but still: a lot of editing work before you get a usable XML output file. Currently the solution I’m still using on a regular basis for old originals, and certainly for vectorized pdf originals.
    I’ll write a post here after tests with SmartScore 64 Professional Edition. As a former Finale user, I hope that the learning curve will be less steep…

  16. Nate Tronerud

    Hi Phil. Have you ever tried PDF2Music Pro? It is something I have considered occasionally. Its selling point is the ability to import PDFs straight out of a notation program and interpret the font information, though of course in most cases that’s not an option.

  17. John Hinchey

    Yes I have tried PDF2Music Pro. As you say, the PDF must be exported from a music notation program with embedded fonts. It works quite well in those cases. But it will not work on scans.

  18. Beth Ertz

    I have the same issue as John Munro (May 21, 2021)…”………… there are varying numbers of staves in the systems, eg, the choir singing a cappella in part of the score, PhotoScore will make serious mistakes. …….. the tenor part is now in the piano stave and the left hand piano is being attempted by the sopranos, in the wrong place – which will mean the whole score following will also be in the wrong place!!…….” I have a complex 235-page score with 3 singers and piano. Some pages feature only one singer, some two and some all three. And the piano varies…..mostly 2 clefs, but often enough three. So every other page has a varying number of staves. I could rename and number each stave, but for 235 pages??? Can’t Photoscore just read what’s there? That probably shows that I’m clueless about how things work. But I can’t imagine that John and I are the only ones with this challenge.

    1. John Hinchey

      Hi Beth, What you seeing is, in a cutaway style score in Photoscore, as the staves included in each system change, Photoscore has no way of knowing what staff is what until you define your instruments (Edit instruments) so PS knows what instruments are in the score. Next you need to check each staff on each system to make sure it is assigned to the correct instrument. I have 3 tutorial videos on the Neuratron YouTube channel and this also covered in the user’s guide.

  19. Robrecht Paternoster

    Hello Beth,
    If you send me two pages of your score, scanned in 300 dpi grayscale, I can do a test with Capella scan, to see if that works. (You can also try capella scan free for a month). Success!

  20. Mat

    As a beginner in the field of OMR, I find the article extremely interesting, as well as all the comments. THANK YOU ALL!

  21. Dick Saunders

    “… this type of software does not have it’s place in your tool kit….”

    “Its”, the possessive, not the contraction. Even the humans slip up on occasion.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Well-spotted and fixed! Thanks.

  22. Anthony Wilkes

    Just to let folks know that PlayScore 2 now habdles lyrics, text, guitar chords and multi-measure rests. That it it fits into group 1 in John’s excellent sutvey.
    Anthony Wilkes
    PlayScore

  23. Gerard Lardner

    Has anyone compared OMeR (from Myriad Software – myriad-online.com) with the various applications mentioned above?

    I am not a sophisticated OMR user; I am looking for something useful for OMR-ing choral music so I can transpose it.

  24. Robrecht Paternoster

    Hello Gerard,
    I did not, but I’m interested to know what other users’ experiences are.
    So far, our experience with the four products you mentioned, and with Capella Scan is: Capella Scan 9 does the best job for complex scores (we use it for orchestral scores of frequently poor quality). There is a test version available, that you may wish to try.
    Kind greetings, Robrecht

  25. Heinz Roggenkemper

    I installed it, but found that it only handles BMP, PICT and TIFF files (no JPEG or PDF), that the engine does not seem to have been updated since 2004, and that there is no MusicXML support. At that point I gave up and uninstalled it.

  26. Robrecht Paternoster

    Thanks Heinz, saves me work and frustration!

  27. Gerard Lardner

    Hello Robrecht,
    Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll give it a try.

    Heinz, OMeR was updated in January last year. Still only imports BMP, PICT and TIFF images. But it does find all the scanners on my network immediately.

  28. Heinz Roggenkemper

    Gerard,
    yes, it was updated a few times over the last years. The updates addressed technical capabilities (support for new Windows/MAC versions, move to 64 bit etc), not the core functionality.
    Best wishes, Heinz

  29. Gerard Lardner

    Ah. Thanks for clarifying that. It’s a pity that did not address the core capability. TBH, I haven’t used it since the newer version came out, so I hadn’t noticed the lack of core improvement.

    The older version was virtually unusable on my new (2020) laptop with 4k display; it did not scale properly and as a result the icons were tiny. The developers told me the new version addresses the scaling issues as they used a new version of the display library.

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