Software to edit poorly scanned music?

Edited: February 2, 2021, 4:08 PM · For cleaning up poorly scanned music, what is the latest software made to do this? Photoshop is quite cumbersome, so I thought to ask you all! Thank you!

Replies (18)

Edited: February 2, 2021, 4:21 PM · I’m not absolutely sure but I wonder if the iPad and its pencil could be a solution. I’ve used it to write in some fingerings. More of a hardware solution.
February 2, 2021, 10:28 PM · I'd suggest using Forscore on an iPad, preferably with an Apple Pencil. You can easily erase things and use Forscore's drag-and-drop notes to paste in new, cleanly-written notes. (Or annotate with the Pencil, that works too.)

I occasionally do this to clean up unreadable sections of music.

February 3, 2021, 2:42 PM · I realize that this is probably not the response you wanted, but rescanning the music is a good solution.

In terms of software, it depends on the nature of your intended use, and the nature of the undesirable elements from scanning.

Low resolution scans can be difficult to fix.

Common artifacts are skewing of pages, and areas that are out of focus. Photo editing software makes easy work for correcting page skewing. There is also dedicated software such as scan tailor.

Bringing something into focus which was not, can be more of a challenge. You can try sharpening tools.

New ai based tools are being developed, but I do not know of any for music processing.

February 4, 2021, 7:42 AM · Could rewrite in Musescore.

I'd suggest you try using and then 'clean up' in musescore. I haven't personally tried this but I've been playing around with methods for doing optical character recognition (OCR_ on music.

Edited: February 5, 2021, 8:58 AM · Will, if you find ocr you can recommend, please share!!!
February 4, 2021, 3:59 PM · Thank you all for your wonderful replies and suggestions! Unfortunately, right now I don't own an ipad (my daughters do!) so using one may be down the road, although a road I'm definitely routed for.

William- Do you mean musescore pro? I have the free software and will look into the subscription based one.

Michael- I have used Paint, PDFescape, and will try out Photopea. Yes, I think I'm leaning towards sharpening tools. The pdfs I work with a lot are from IMSLP. My colleagues and I play the music for fun.

I have been also working with Readiris, but I haven't found it to be very useful with music.

Keep the ideas coming! Much thanks!

Edited: February 5, 2021, 10:27 AM · @Carla

~Depends what you want but most likely you'll need Musescore Pro if you're trying to do anything complex.~ From the comment below - looks like just Musescore alone can do the job.

Photoshop is semi viable depending on how bad the scan is. but this is non trivial.

@John I know playscore is semi-decent for consumers and I think you can import directly into Musescore. Honestly, most of my research on the topic is done for which means that I'm looking at code solutions that don't work for a consumer.

Edited: February 5, 2021, 8:42 AM · William, Musescore Pro is not a "professional" version of Musescore (web site Such a version does not exist. All of Musescore's capabilities are available open source and free of charge., on the other hand is their web site where users can post their scores. You can post 6 scores for free, for more than that(as many as you like) you need to pay for Musescore Pro ($6 a month I believe).

I would be unenthusiastic about OCR. The worse the score the worse the quality of the OCR output. I think it is less tedious to enter the score manually into Musescore than having to proofread the score afterwards--very tedious work. I volunteered to proof read scans for the Gutenberg project for some months. Even "normal" OCR on printed books is quite unreliable. Proof reading for these errors is extremely tedious work.

The problem of bad scans is actually widespread on IMSLP--rescanning not being an easy option. And some of the errors are simply unfixable (e.g. missing pages, part of the music outside the page) with access to the originals.

Edited: February 5, 2021, 9:04 AM · I should add that it is sometimes worth re-typesetting music because this allows you to make the music more readable. Especially in older editions (e.g. Dvorak piano quintet, Peters, 1. violin) so much music is squeezed onto one page that it becomes nearly unavoidable to either jump lines at the end of a line or else re-read the same line again. Fast passages are printed with the note heads almost touching each other, producing reading difficulties that add on to the violinistic difficulties of such passages (another good example: Beethoven op.59/1, Adagio, Peters, 2nd violin).

By spending some time on the presentation of the score you can often significantly improve those features. Check out any Henle edition for "role models".

February 5, 2021, 10:28 AM · You're quite right Albrecht about Musescore. Good catch.
February 5, 2021, 11:37 AM · Although you may not be able to rescan the books, someone may be able to do so. Put the word out.

In terms of photoshop, it can automate tasks, so if the pages have a certain kind of skew, you can automate the task of correcting it.

Experiment with reducing the color depth. At a certain point you want it to end up in black and white. How early you reduce the depth depends on the color of the artifacts.

If correcting the originals is too time consuming, do consider entering the work in a notation package. Most can use midi or audio input, if working with a keyboard and mouse is not your style.

February 22, 2021, 10:21 PM · My first thought would be to try histogram stretching and then adaptive thresholding. Do you have a link to an example of the type of scans you're trying to work on? I could see if I can find a way to do it.
Edited: February 23, 2021, 6:26 AM · I agree with Michael. There are various different types of corruption the original scan could have generated, and some of these types may be irreversible. I've seen OCR Greek that didn't recognise letters, just groups of letters, and the result looked like Cyrillic secret code. But if music software just gives you "noise" on top of the notes, you may be able to clean it up.
February 23, 2021, 8:27 AM · In the past I have used Smartscore with Finale, and now I use Photoscore with Sibelius both in "pro" versions.
Both "score-readers" have improved over the years. They can both produce *.musicxml files for either score writer, or for Musescore.
They do quite well with simple, clear originals, but they both make many surprising mistakes and omissions, requiring finicky corrections before transfer.
February 23, 2021, 8:35 AM · An advantage of manually re-typesetting, or even re-writing, a score is that you can get a better initial knowledge and understanding of the music than you might otherwise.
February 23, 2021, 11:38 AM · I've been using LilyPond ( in my music history classes to teach students about the history and art form of music engraving, and as a collaborative project we select handwritten manuscripts on IMSLP and create a modern engraved version of the work to contribute back to the archive.

The supporting tools for music engraving continue to improve, and my programming students who are also musicians are quite enthused about interfaces like those presented by HackLily and Frescobaldi.

February 23, 2021, 2:58 PM · Here's another vote for LilyPond. It's a bit laborious, but being a professional computer programmer I'm used to preparing source files, running them through a compiler, and testing the results. I've re-created a couple of scores down to the last tiny mark; I did one of them so that I could shift things around and get rid of some impossible page turns, while I did another so I could use LilyPond's ability to generate a MIDI file for the piano accompaniment.
Edited: February 23, 2021, 3:07 PM · I think PhotoScore & NotateMe First, from Sibelius (Avid), is what you're looking for.
But for photo editing, good and way simpler than photoshop, Windows Photos app is the best.

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