Music Recognition Software
People who’ve worked with a scanner and an optical character recognition (OCR) program know how difficult it can be for computers to accurately recognize the printed word. That problem is compounded in OCR applications for scores (musical notation). The program must not only recognize text in the form of lyrics, titles, and dynamic markings, but also determine a note’s pitch by its position on a musical staff, rhythmic value, or accidental sign (sharp, flat, or natural).
Two programs—Musitek’s SmartScore 3.2 Professional and Neuratron’s PhotoScore Professional 3—are designed to surmount these challenges with a minimum of mistakes. Their success at doing so depends a great deal on the quality of the original score and scan. Beyond that, the programs differ in their ease of use and depth of editing tools.
The Scan’s the Thing
Standard OCR programs are fairly tolerant of less-than-perfect original source material, but SmartScore and PhotoScore are not. Each program requires a TWAIN scanner driver, neither is intended to work with handwritten scores, and scanning photocopied scores is not recommended. When presented with a score with small staves—for example, a full orchestral score reduced to fit on an 8.5-by-11-inch page—both programs generated pages filled with an unusable mishmash of notes. From standard-size scores, the programs were able to generate usable scans.
SmartScore immediately distinguished itself by automatically configuring the scanner settings to produce the best scan. Conversely, PhotoScore launched the scanner’s interface and left us the more difficult task of creating an optimal scan. Despite making numerous adjustments within PhotoScore’s scanning interface, I was unable to create scans that produced results as good as those automatically created by SmartScore.
Specifically, PhotoScore had more difficulty with accidentals than SmartScore did: it recognized these symbols as notes, and therefore created measures that exceeded the number of beats they should hold. Similarly, PhotoScore recognized the dot characters of dotted notes as notes more often than SmartScore did. To PhotoScore’s credit, that program routinely recognized text—lyrics, titles, and composer information—far more accurately than SmartScore did.
Editing and Interface
Neither program produced a mistake-free score, so I tried out the editing tools. Both programs split the main window into two panes—the top shows a picture of the original score, and the bottom displays the program’s interpretation of that score. This split-screen scheme lets you easily compare the scanned score to the original.
PhotoScore takes the prize for ease of use and intuitiveness. With an interface that mimics Sibelius’s professional notation program ( ; July 2004), PhotoScore makes it easy to select notes and musical symbols and correct them. Just click on the on-screen keypad featuring common musical characters (or press the corresponding keys on your keyboard’s numeric keypad).
PhotoScore automatically marks measures that have an incorrect number of beats, so you can zero in on less-obvious mistakes, such as a 16th note recognized as a 32nd. SmartScore can also detect these mistakes, but it doesn’t do so automatically, nor does it mark all the problem measures on the score.
SmartScore’s interface offers a couple of toolbars with a host of less-than-intuitive, roughly drawn icons. Thankfully, the version 3.2 update adds tool tips, which describe the purpose of each icon. To edit notes, you use your keyboard’s Z, X, and C keys for toggling between functions. You can select, delete, or change any object, such as single notes or clusters of notes, dotted rhythms, or dynamic markings. Alternatively, you can select notes by clicking on the sometimes-confounding icons in the toolbars. Neither method is terribly intuitive.
SmartScore’s poorly organized manual makes the program even more difficult to use. PhotoScore has sparse (50 pages) but well-organized documentation.
PhotoScore’s manual is thin because the program has comparatively few features. PhotoScore is intended for quickly cleaning up a scanned score that will be exported to a full-blown notation program (the program includes a button that exports the score to Sibelius). Although SmartScore can also export scores to programs such as Sibelius and MakeMusic’s Finale ( ; July 2004), its editing capabilities are complete enough for creating a good-looking score from scratch.
SmartScore 3 comes in several versions, including separate Songbook, MIDI, Piano, and Guitar editions. They range in price from $99 to $199, so it’s wise to do some research and find exactly the product you need.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If I ruled the world, I’d bring together the bright minds at Musitek and Neuratron and suggest that they create one program combining SmartScore 3.2 Professional’s OCR capabilities and more-advanced editing features with PhotoScore Professional 3’s interface. If you’re willing to accept more mistakes as long as they’re easy to correct, consider PhotoScore. If you choose SmartScore, the time you save with better recognition may be lost in struggling with the interface—plus, its professional version is considerably more expensive than PhotoScore’s.
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