Part-marking, scanners, software?

January 7, 2016 at 11:02 PM · I've just become the concertmaster for my community orchestra, which means that I'm now responsible for marking bowings for parts.

I'm considering the best way to do this in a way that maximizes legibility.

Often, parts come as IMSLP PDFs (which means they're often not great scans to start with), and then they are printed out, marked up, and then re-scanned, which means the final quality when players print them is less than stellar. Alternatively, we sometimes rent parts, so they are just marked and scanned once (but thus need to be scanned with something that handles A3).

Anyone have thoughts? And anyone have a recommendation for a reasonably inexpensive (preferably under $300) scanner that handles A3 well?

Replies (28)

January 7, 2016 at 11:34 PM · Congrats.

January 8, 2016 at 03:40 PM · I'm envisioning a paperless process. Do you have a Tablet PC? If so, maybe something like PDF Annotator?

Nobody in a community orchestra expects pristine parts. We get our parts, and yes, usually there are a few questionable markings per page, but we clear up all those ambiguities the first time the piece is rehearsed. Your section players know you're frightfully busy and they respect you all the more for it, believe me.

January 8, 2016 at 05:34 PM ·

January 8, 2016 at 06:23 PM · Liz, how faithful is the conversion process for the typical IMSLP score or part? Is there a lot of fixing up that you have to do? When you say "scan into the program" you mean some kind of software import, right? No physical scanner should be necessary.

January 8, 2016 at 06:59 PM ·

January 8, 2016 at 07:44 PM · If it's any help, the 2 music-annotating apps that I know some of my friends use are ForScore & MusicReader. MusicReader has a trial version & one friend (principal player)has been using it with her tablet in orchestra.

I'm currently in the market for a printer myself to use for printing music in booklet form (Merton Music uses this a lot) and enlarging music onto a3 for my mother. Currently have my eye on the Brother MFC J6920W but want to know how it handles 2-sided printing.

Congrats on getting yourself into the hot-seat.

January 9, 2016 at 06:36 AM · I tried out a trial version of Photoscore, scanning a very clean Baerenreiter part for Brandenburg 3 violin 1 (using an iPhone 5s camera) and it was munged a few different ways when it was read in. I'd spend too much time having to proofread parts, I think.

As a side note, I would love an A3-capable printer, but they're horribly expensive.

January 9, 2016 at 05:00 PM · Liz - do you upload the Sibelius files to IMSLP again? I am sure that would be much appreciated.

January 9, 2016 at 06:56 PM ·

January 10, 2016 at 11:58 AM ·

January 10, 2016 at 12:01 PM ·

January 10, 2016 at 12:38 PM · There is a bewildering array of conversion and annotation software out there with a large variation of prices tags to match. I want to talk a little bit about what to look for that might help to make the selection process less painful, but still no less time consuming. ;(

First, you want to get a program that takes a digital version of sheet music and converts it into something that annotation programs, like Sibelius or MuseScore, can use. The general name for such programs are OMRs, for Optical Music Recognition.

So your first decision point is, "Does the OMR convert the sheet music to something the annotation program can use?"

Many OMR's convert music to a proprietary format that only one annotation program can use (the one they happen to be selling).

By far the most useful format is MusicXML. Many commercial and freeware annotation programs accept this format. It very accurately encapsulates modern annotation practice.

Another popular format is MIDI. This is more a performance system rather than an annotation system. So in OMRs that I have tested, the MusicXML format does the overall better job of giving me something I can edit and distribute to musicians, while MIDI will frequently give a rather odd looking score that plays back with good accuracy for tempo and note time values.

Now that you know what output you want the OMR to support (MusicXML), the next decision point is what input it should accept.

For this there are three main sources of music that people wish to process:

- Scanned PDFs (most of IMSLP),

- Glyphed PDFs (what music annotation programs typically create when you export in PDF format),

- Actual sheet music.

I am going to focus on the first and third sources, since they are, by far, the most common formats one encounters.

Basically, you want an OMR that accepts scanned PDFs or bitmap files. This will cover most of what you encounter in electronic archives.

For sheet music, you will have to scan in the sheets and save them as bitmaps. Most scanning programs do this automatically. If your scanner has an option to save it directly to a scanned PDF format, then it usually more useful to save it like that.

Now that you have an OMR that accepts scanned PDFs/bitmaps and outputs MusicXML files, the final decision point is what tools the program has to allow you to quickly correct errors in the conversion.

Basically you start the OMR program and select the input file. An image of the file appears. Some let you select individual pages to process.

You then press the "recognize" button. After some time, symbols appear over the file image in a different color. These are the recognized notes, clefs, time signatures, etc.

You now use the tools to correct errors in the recognition.

The most common and annoying errors in OMR programs are:

- recognition of key signatures,

- recognition of time signatures,

- recognition of notes above and below the 5 line staves.

For the first two, you want a tool in the OMR that lets you quickly select and correct a key and time signature symbol, AND apply that correction to a range of other recognized symbols, or apply it to the entire document.

It is critical you get the key and time markings correct before saving as MusicXML and importing to your annotation program. Without them, the score will be horribly munged and will take a lot of time to correct.

Missed notes can be added manually in the annotation program. I have not encountered OMRs that have tools that do an effective job of adding missed notes, although this would be much easier on the OMR rather than your music editing program. You are viewing the actual scanned sheet music in the OMR so the editing process would go much quicker at this stage.

Other things to look for in an OMR is recognition of:

- tuplets (these are extremely annoying to fix in an editing program),

- beams (for example, a common failure is to interpret a string of beamed eight notes as quarter notes)

- common articulations, such as staccato, sforzato, tenuto and trills.

January 10, 2016 at 04:06 PM ·

January 11, 2016 at 01:41 AM · FYI, at the moment I'm trying out ForScore on my iPad Mini. A little inconvenient but the annotation with my finger is surprisingly nice.

January 11, 2016 at 11:10 AM · "munge" is a computer geek term (pronounced as munj).

Munged data is either accidently or deliberately scrambled, but can still be useful with special effort.

January 11, 2016 at 11:33 AM · .

January 11, 2016 at 02:31 PM · I'm glad to know more about OMR. The main problems and glitches that Carmen enumerated are no surprise to me. Curiously the portions of the score that the software has trouble reading (key signatures, ledger lines, etc.)are the same things that a young student often finds the most difficult as well.

I'm sure that once you do get a PDF converted into a format where the score can be manipulated in proper software like MuseScore or Sibelius, there is no end to what you can do then.

But I also wonder whether the task facing the OP requires OMR at all. Lydia says she is using ForScore, which looks like it has annotation features that are probably quite similar to PDF Annotator but with tools that are optimized for marking up music. But from my 5-minute perusal of the ForScore website, I don't think this particular app does OMR. Is that correct?

Note also that ForScore does not seem to be available for Android. MobileSheets seems to be the equivalent. I think I may try it!

January 11, 2016 at 02:38 PM ·

January 11, 2016 at 04:23 PM · Correct. ForScore is basically a music-optimized PDF handler.

January 11, 2016 at 04:49 PM · As for A3 printing, that's about 11.7" x 16.5", that's a pretty big format. I can see why printers for that size would be expensive because demand is probably fairly low so only high-end specialty products may be available. Your local copy center might already have that capability though. Division of labor is the basis of civilization, after all.

I have found that decent 24-pound paper allows relatively little show-through for double-sided music-printing applications (that's what I use to distribute printed music to friends, etc.), but obviously 28-pound will be even more opaque.

The idea of printing something out so that you can mark it up with a pen and correction fluid and then scan it back in -- that just sounds really 90's.

January 11, 2016 at 06:08 PM ·

January 12, 2016 at 10:37 AM · My local Fedex Office locations have copiers that in theory could do A3, but they do not stock or support A3 paper. :-P

(If anyone in the DC area knows a copy shop that does, let me know.)

January 12, 2016 at 12:28 PM · I've brought my own paper into copy shops before. They should give you a little break on the price but don't count on it. My experience is that the smaller, independent copy shops work a little harder to satisfy the customer compared to the franchise shipping outlets that don't really need your business. Decent A3 paper is going to run you at least a dime a sheet. I priced 250 sheets of 24-pound A3 paper on Amazon at $36. And it wasn't on Amazon Prime either.

January 14, 2016 at 09:32 PM · Someone once said that "mung" is a recursive acronym which stands for "mung until no good". (This alternative spelling is pronounced with a hard G.)

If there was a format I'd like to see an OMR produce, it'd be the ASCII text format used by LilyPond. I've rewritten several scores from scratch using LilyPond; the results are beautiful, but it's a lot of work. But if an OMR could produce a decent LilyPond file, tweaking it would be easy, and the final result just as beautiful.

I've just done a bit of searching, and apparently you can import MIDI and MusicXML into Lilypond, so maybe it's possible to get what I'm after. One more project to do in my copious free time... (ha!).

September 11, 2016 at 05:57 PM · Any further thoughts on these after a half year's use-- especially the tablet software? If there were a decent way to turn pdfs (either commercial, or copies of my own parts) into a readable page on the large iPad Pro I might just bite. Is ForScore/Apple the preferred combo?

I do like working on paper when possible, but the prospect of being able to transport basic etudes, Bach, and whatever else I wanted to look at in a single tablet has some attraction right now.

September 11, 2016 at 07:51 PM · I am still using ForScore on my iPad Mini, and have found it super useful for distributing PDFs to the other string players in my orchestra. I can easily make multiple versions of a part -- for instance, one that has fingerings and one that doesn't.

October 25, 2016 at 02:08 AM · I'm trying to get my SugarSync to talk to my new iPad mini at the moment, which is its own problem. Assuming that works, that is the best way to flip pdfs into ForScore?

Also, an unrelated hypothetical problem (at the moment)-- if you get one of the new part/score packages electronically from Henle or Baerenreiter, can one convert those to pdf and then read that in ForScore? This would be to create something off of the cleanest possible part that can be scribbled on and used in performance along with everything else.

October 25, 2016 at 02:57 PM · Neither the Henle nor Baerenreiter app allow exports of the scores. They are usable only within their apps. However, there is annotation built into the apps. (At least this is true for the iPad version of those apps.)

Personally, I keep my raw scores in Google Drive, and my annotated music for export in Dropbox. Either works well with ForScore, which has import and export for both.

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