I originally wrote this post on music scanning software as a result of being frequently asked whether it is possible and practical to scan your sheet music books. The answer then, and now, is yes. However, things have changed a bit. So, this updated post is a comparison of music scanning software currently available in 2019.
Alongside the original post, I also created a step-by-step video tutorial on how to scan sheet music, which you can watch below. In that video I was using Finale Notation Software. The principles used in that video apply to all the software to scan sheet music. They all broadly work in the same way. However you can no longer scan music directly into Finale, because MakeMusic made the decision to remove the scanning feature entirely. But if you are a Finale Music fan, then you can still get round this by purchasing SmartScore, and then importing the result.
Reasons To Scan Sheet Music
There are lots of exciting possibilities available if you can get access to a music scanner. You could do any or all of the following:
- Transpose music: You may have sheet music written in one key and want to easily transpose the music to another key. You can scan and convert the sheet music so you can then play it back or print it in a different key signature. It is easy to transpose scanned music at the click of a mouse in any notation software or DAW. (See the video below for a quick example).
- Convert sheet music to MIDI: If you already have a whole library of printed music, and want to work with it on your computer. Once you have scanned the music into electronic format, then by converting it to MIDI you can edit, play back, enhance the arrangement using any DAW or notation software package. Even change all the instruments!
- Play sheet music back on a digital piano: Another popular reason why you might want to scan music. So you can play it back on your digital piano or keyboard, choosing the tempo and other settings, maybe so you can learn how to play the music yourself, or play along with one hand or the other etc.
- Scan the piano part so you can play it back and accompany yourself on another instrument.
- Convert handwritten music into a publishable format: Some music scanning software will also work with handwritten scores.
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How To Scan Sheet Music
Anyone with a computer and a flat-bed scanner can get great results if they’re prepared to invest the time in learning the basics of music scanning. You can watch my how-to video on music scanning below, or read on for more detail. Bear in mind, this was made with an earlier version of Finale Notation Software,
Music Scanning Software Comparison
The most cost effective way to get started is to use notation software that already has music scanning capability built in. As Finale no longer has music scanning included, the most obvious contender is Sibelius. And the brilliant thing is it won’t cost you a penny in the first instance. With Sibelius First, you can start notation and scanning your music for free, and upgrade when you need to. The key limitation with Sibelius First is the number of staves (limited to 4). So if all you want to work with is piano music, or a 4-part choral arrangement or string quartet, then Sibelius First will do the job.
With Sibelius First you can easily scan music in or transcribe music audio files with PhotoScore First and AudioScore First. Yes, free editions of the popular PhotoScore Ultimate and AudioScore Ultimate are included for all Sibelius First. If you then choose to upgrade to either Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate, you’ll receive PhotoScore Lite and AudioScore Lite which will unlock the number of staves and pages of music you can scan.
(The nice thing about that upgrade is you also get NotateMe, which allows you to handwrite scores on a tablet with stylus, or on a laptop with trackpad, then send the result into Sibelius for further editing. This is perfect if you want to scribble down ideas on the train, or you prefer to work with ‘pen and paper.)
NB, the full version of Sibelius is a huge investment, however special prices for Sibelius are available for full time students and teachers.
Available either as a standalone application, or for seamless use with Sibelius, PhotoScore Ultimate is just that – the ultimate in very sophisticated music scanning software. You can scan and read fully detailed scores with the full verions of PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate. And not only can Ultimate recognise nearly all notes and musical markings, including slurs, dynamics, articulation marks, tuplets, lyrics, chord diagrams, and more, it also easily handles complex orchestral arrangements, with up to 64 staves per page. So you can scan full orchestral works.
In summary, the powerful combination and range of alternatives within each software range (from free to super-expensive!) makes the Sibelius + Photoscore option extremely attractive.
Back in the day, SmartScore was the scanning technology included with Finale Score-writing Software. Nowadays, although Finale no longer includes music scanning capability, it is perfectly possible to use SmartScore as a standalone music scanner application, then export the result into Finale via MusicXML. So if your favourite notation software is Finale, then SmartScore may well be for you.
Furthermore, SmartScore comes in a range of editions, so one will be perfect for you. For instance, you only want to scan piano music you don’t need to shell out for the Pro Edition.
For many people, Smartscore is considered the most effective musical OCR/editor on the market. Often Smartscore is cited as having the world’s most accurate music-scanning engine at its core. SmartScore X2 Pro recognises scores without any restriction on the number of parts. So you can process band arrangements, operas, hymns, musicals, instrumental and solo parts as well as full conductor’s scores. It also includes a selection of Garritan band and orchestral instrument sounds so your music will sound really good.
SmartScore allows you to scan, playback and edit (where necessary). As a competitor to PhotoScore it is definitely worth downloading the demo to establish which music scanning software works for you.
Sheet Music Scanner Apps
Sibelius, SmartScore and PhotoScore are all excellent music scanning solutions, especially if you want to use them as the basis for further arranging and editing on your mac or PC. But what if you just want a quick way to scan scores so that you can play back parts to help you learn new pieces or to accompany yourself? This is where your phone, iPad or tablet comes into play. The PlayScore App, which is available for both iOS and Android is a sheet music scanner that takes traditional sheet music scanning to the next level and it uses the latest techniques in Optical Music Recognition (OCR).
If you just want to scan piano music (ie 2 staves) then the Lite version is completely free, and better still ad-free too. I just tried the Lite version and was really impressed straight away … I just scanned some piano music and it played it back almost perfectly. It was possible to adjust the tempo. The Pro version is just £8.99 and obviously can do more. For example, you can read more staves, mute individual instrument lines (or solo them) and, even better, you can save the file as MIDI or MusicXML. That makes this app incredibly powerful.
The most common gripe in the reviews seems to relate to the quality of your camera. So do try the free version first to make sure your phone or tablet camera is up to the job. It is also very important to take pictures square on.
Read more at https://www.playscore.co/
Similar to PlayScore, but at a quarter the price, iSeeNotes is an alternative app that can scan musical notes, automatically recognise them, and then play the music back.
There is no ‘Lite’ version of PlayScore, although you can try for 72 hours before you buy with their trial download. Currently you cannot save files in that all-important MusicXML format, but you can save the MIDI. Using “musical OCR” (OMR) iSeeNotes can sight read sheet music.
Again available for both Android and iOS, iSeeNotes does have a caveat on their site. It admits that music recognition is a difficult problem. So there are some features that this app does not support. For example, whole notes and the alto clef are not recognised. This may or may not be a serious limitation for you.
Again depending on the quality of the photo (which boils down to your skills and also the camera you have built in to your device) the app may have trouble recognising notes and symbols correctly – do not expect perfect results every time.
Here are a list of the things this app can do:
- Reads multiple staffs
- Save as MIDI
- Recognises bass and treble clef
- Recognises key signature
- Recognises accidentals – sharps, flats and naturals
- Handles multiple voices
- Recognises beams
- Recognises dotted notes
- Recognises rests
- Recognises note flags
Read more at http://www.iseenotes.com/
Best Selling Computer Music Software
If you want to get even further into the world of music production computer, then do have a look at some of the best-selling composition software in 2019, listed below.
- Perfect Compatibility: Compatible with iPhone 8 Plus (2017) / iPhone 7 Plus (2016),it supports wireless charging without taking off your case.
- Shock Absorbing Technology: Survived a 6 ft. high drop test on concrete floors without a scratch on the device.
- Dual Layer Protection: An inner shock absorption TPU layer and a scratchproof outer PC cover keeps your iPhone protected and secure.
- Softcover with Online Audio
- 32 pages
- Size: 12 x 9 in.
- Easily edit music and audio tracks with one of the many music editing tools available.
- Adjust levels with envelope, equalize, and other leveling options for optimal sound.
- Make your music more interesting with special effects, speed, duration, and voice adjustments.
- Powerful mixing and automation
- The best Piano Roll in the business
- Flexible Browser and workflow features
- Powerful mixing and automation
- Powerful MIDI editing and recording
- Flexible Browser and workflow features
- Your professional sound studio for recording, editing and playing all common audio files.
- Create live recordings, digitalize your cassettes and records
- Comprehensive range of tools, mix any number of tracks and add sound effects
Over To You …
Have you got any questions about sheet music scanning and editing? Did you find the above helpful or do you want to know more? If so, then do make sure you sign up for our newsletter below. Every week I will send you recording hints and tips, new videos, free guides and other resources.