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 and moved on a bit. So, this updated post is a comparison of music scanning software and apps for mobile devices currently available in 2021.
Music Scanning Software Tutorial: 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 used Photoscore and Sibelius Notation Software. I also used a flatbed scanner. Now, with the improvement of cameras on mobile devices, there are more ways than ever to capture sheet music to edit, rearrange, or play back.
Music Scanner App Tutorial: More recently, I have created a complete video review and tutorial of the Playscore 2 App. This marvellous little app – for android and iOS – allows you to photograph sheet music and instantly play it back. Plus a whole host of other features. Do check out the tutorial video and overview of Playscore 2 below:
Sheet Music Scanning – quick links
- Reasons To Scan Sheet Music
- Music Scanning App: Step-by-Step Video Tutorial and Review of Playscore 2
- How To Scan Sheet Music Step by Step – Video Tutorial with Sibelius and Photoscore
- Music Scanning Software Comparison
- Dedicated Music Scanning Software
- Dedicated Sheet Music Scanner Apps
- Best Selling Computer Music Software
- Further Reading and More Information
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.
- Self Accompaniment and music minus one: 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.
- Create rehearsal parts: for example make the alto part in a multi-part choral piece stand out so you can learn it easily
- Export as MusicXML: convert your scores to musicXML then you can import directly into notation software like Sibelius, Finale or Musescore for further arrangement and editing
Music Scanning App: Step-by-Step Video Tutorial and Review of Playscore 2
There is so much you can do with the Playscore 2 App! Import photos of sheet music, or snap within the app. Import PDFs, created playback files, export Music XML.
Love it? Get the Playscore 2 app for iOS or Android here: https://www.playscore.co/
Playscore 2 Video Tutorial Contents and Time Stamps
- 2:00 Photograph a score from within Playscore 2
- 2:32 Demonstration of photographing and playback of score
- 2:50 Tempo adjustment
- 3:14 Adding multiple pages from sheet music
- 3:29 Staff settings – change instrument sounds, volume of each stave, transpose score
- 4:00 Demo of violin sound (!)
- 4:27 Playback of score with woodwind sound and piano
- 4:43 Create self-accompaniment file
- 5:08 Looping a section of score
- 5:31 Document and playback settings
- 6:29 Crop and mask *
- 7:02 Import sheet music from photographs
- 7:30 How to share Playscore 2 docs via email
- 7:59 Free version of Playscore 2 on Android – receiving score via email
- 8:57 Photographing a more complex multi-part score 9:50 Playback of multi-part sheet music with multiple instrument sounds
- 10:10 Create a rehearsal file for different vocal parts in a choral score
- 10:54 Share rehearsal files with different voice sections in a choir
- 11:24 Import sheet music from PDF
- 13:11 Playback of articulation within the sheet music
- 13:41 Staff voices and barber shop quartet music (two parts on one stave)
- 14:39 Sheet music to MIDI 14:58 Sheet music to MusicXML for Musescore, Finale, Sibelius
- 15:44 Comparison of Playscore 2 versions – Free, Productivity, and Professional
* one thing I did not pick up on in the video. What the masking is intended for is to let you mask out unwanted music, eg when the song you want starts half way down the page. That way you can export only the music you actually want.
How To Scan Sheet Music Step by Step – Video Tutorial with Sibelius and Photoscore
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. This tutorial shows you how to use Photoscore and Sibelius to scan sheet music, step-by-step
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Music Scanning Software Comparison
Sibelius Notation Software Includes Sheet Music Scanning Capability
One 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 (it is 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 with PhotoScore and NotateMe Lite (NotateMe will transcribe your handwritten scores). If you then choose to upgrade to either Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate, you’ll unlock the number of staves and pages of music you can scan.
Photoscore Lite now includes NotateMe Lite, 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.)
Dedicated Music Scanning Software
ScanScore Music Scanning App and Software
ScanScore is a system that allows you to use your smartphone, tablet or a conventional scanner to scan your sheet music and have it played back to you. And you can just as easily transpose your score, or export your notes to almost any music program and edit them further.
There is a built-in editor so you can easily correct any scanning errors quickly and easily. ScanScore is the newest Music Scanning software available, and offers excellent value for money. Plus they have incorporate the use of your tablet or phone from the ground up. The app is superb if you want to quickly playback or transpose your sheet music.
Depending on how many staves you need to scan at once, you can choose between Professional (unlimited number of staves), Ensemble and Melody Edition at different price points. However, beware that this software is currently WINDOWS only – so although you can use your iPad or iPhone to install the app and photograph your scores, to fully benefit from the software you need a PC.
For more functionality, use ScanScore it in combination with Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore or other notation software. ScanScore 2 can export scores as a MusicXML file or MIDI file. Both modules have been improved and allow the import into other notation and music programs such as: Dorico, Sibelius, Finale, Capella, FORTE and also DAWs. The video below will tell you more. (note although Finale does not have built in scanning capability, it can read MusicXML)
ScanScore Music Scanning Software in Action
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 versions 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.
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.
Dedicated Sheet Music Scanner Apps
PlayScore – Music Scanning Mobile App
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).
I have had a lot of success with PlayScore, it is easy to use and works very well. You can read multiple staves, mute individual instrument lines (or solo them), change the voices in the app, and, even more, you can save the file as MIDI or MusicXML. The files I have created have then imported really well into MuseScore, for further editing (nb you need to use the paid version of MuseScore for this feature, but it is very inexpensive).
In short, PlayScore is a versatile and very powerful music scanning app.
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. I have found it works perfectly with my iPad Pro (2017 edition)
New! Do have a look at my complete video review and tutorial for Playscore above.
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
- Read bass and treble clef
- Recognise key signature
- Distinguish accidentals – sharps, flats and naturals
- Handles multiple voices
- Sorts out beams
- Reads dotted notes
- Recognises rests
- Understands note flags
Read more at http://www.iseenotes.com/
ScanScore is a sheet music capture app, which is designed to work alongside the desktop software. If you have a Windows computer, as well as a smartphone, or tablet, then you may find this the perfect solution to your music scanning needs. However, it is not a standalone app like PlayScore.
Best Selling Computer Music Software
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Last updated on 2021-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images via Amazon Product Advertising API
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 2021, listed below.
Further Reading and More Information
You may find our other posts on home recording studio setup helpful. And if you want to dig deeper, then you will find a whole host of courses on Udemy and LinkedIn Learning. There is so much to choose from, there will be an audio production course that is just right for you.