Jump to content

Convert dots to ABC? PDF to ABC?

Recommended Posts

19 minutes ago, lachenal74693 said:

What I really wanted to ask however, was "How do these scanners cope with hand-written scores?".

In my experience, not very well.  Here's an example using Scan Score, which resulted in a complete failure.  However a lot will depend on the quality of the original and the quality of the scan (this was taken on my phone).  Perhaps if I'd taken more time to align it exactly right and fuss over image quality I might have got a better result. I got a much better result from a printed score, almost completely accurate although it missed the key and time signatures.  I would then have to export this as XML and use other software to re-export it as ABC.  


The software is improving all the time, and some apparently give good results, especially if you're willing to pay a bit.  here's a useful summary of what's currently available:



Screenshot 2021-04-19 131249.jpg

Screenshot 2021-04-19 133319.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, David Colpitts said:


So far, I am getting  the sense there isn't what I asked about in the first post:  A cheap, simple "scan the sheet music (to PDF or?) and easy conversion to ABC files."


I've had considerable success with the PlayScore2 app (https://www.playscore.co/) in my iPad or iPhone (also available for Android). The original PlayScore had a free save option, but the current version is subscription only - the free version is worth a try for it to play a score image, but I think doesn't let you save the results. Subscription is about £20 a year. This sounds a lot at first pass, but such software would have cost you hundreds of pounds a few years ago.


However, it's recognition is very good - works for multiple parts, different clefs and keys, chords, etc. Works from JPG, PNG or PDF image. It exports to Midi or MusicXML, and reads and writes to cloud services like Dropbox. So I either take a photo on the iPad, or upload a PDF to Dropbox, run PlayScore (so I can hear the tune), then save the MusicXML to Dropbox. Then on my laptop I drag the XML from Dropbox onto EasyABC, which converts it to an ABC file I can edit further and save.


It's a bit annoying that there doesn't seem to be a good PC app, but smartphone and tablet apps are where the developments are happening. It would be even better if it exported abc directly, but EasyABC (with its underlying tools) is a good free intermediary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Paul_Hardy said:

the free version is worth a try for it to play a score image, but I think doesn't let you save the results.


This may be all David C needs. He doesn’t really need abc if this gives him the functionality to play from printed notation. There are many ways to capture the sound output and play it back at will without invoking the app every time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, lachenal74693 said:

"How do these scanners cope with hand-written scores?".


I worked on cataloguing / digitising a huge library of hand written scores and arrangements.


The answer is with extremely variable results, from spot on to absolute garbage. Photoscore gets it pretty well most of the time. It depends somewhat on how consistent and neat the writing is. Autograph scores from (most of) the great composers would have no chance, for example. They always need some tweaking, especially when there are multiple voices on one stave. 


If it gets the bare bones down, it can save some time. It's still often quicker to just cut the middle man and input it yourself.


Now with the dawning of the age of machine-learning and AI, I bet there are ways to make much more sophisticated and intelligent software.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, David Barnert said:


Beethoven Symphony No. 7, Movement 2


(I agree with the statement, but just sayin’...)


Wow, what a labour of love that must have been.


I've used abc for complex music in the past (not that complex though...) but I find it irritating to edit and change things in the code - just finding where you are is often a nightmare when you have several pages of polyphony. I started using musescore a while ago for more complicated stuff and I really appreciate being able to edit on the stave, rather than in the code. It's also pretty compatible with abc in that you can import abc code with a plugin, which on the whole works very well and a lot better than the pdf import function. (The only time the pdf import has failed me was just now when I tried to import the Beethoven 7 abc file - it does import it, but would require a lot of tweaking to make it look right.)


I really appreciate abc for being able to keep huge libraries and collections as single files, but I think the layout and editing of long and complex pieces in Musescore is a lot easier for the layman to deal with, and the end result is also a lot prettier.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

I use Musescore for more complex harmonic pieces (mostly for transcribing guitar tablature) and being able to edit the score itself (or the tab) is so much easier than trying to bracket harmonies together in ABC and get everything ilined up corectly.  However for the simple short unharmonised folk melodies which make up most of my repertoire I find it far quicker to use ABC than Musescore.  The complexity the latter offers can get in the way when you're doing something simple.  There are keyboard shortcuts, but I still find ABC simpler for that purpose.  Horses for courses - ABC is brilliant at what is was originally designed for.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, hjcjones said:

In my experience, not very well...



That's what I feared I would hear. It's 25+ years since I saw my first scanner which could scan

printed text and convert it to a simple text file. It was OK, but it completely lost the plot when 

presented with hand-written text. Looks as if the situation may be a bit the same now w.r.t.

more complex 'text' such as printed music. (though I see that some folks appear to be having

some success with whatever software they are using - that's encouraging)


It's 'relevant' because I recently came across a pretty large archive of tunes for (I think) Chemnitzer

concertina. They were all hand-written scores - no ABC in sight. It would be really nice if that

archive were converted to ABC, it would be even nicer if there were a tool/technique to do the 

job reliably and accurately...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, lachenal74693 said:

it would be even nicer if there were a tool/technique to do the 

job reliably and accurately...


If you'd like to just test out what the proper software can do, I'd be totally happy to just take a random page, and shove it in to the program. See what you think.


I genuinely think photoscore is pretty darn fantastic for what it is. Unless it's been written by someone with a neurological condition, or the scan quality is so poor that the ledger lines can't be seen, I bet it can transcribe it fairly well for you. Alongside the supervision and intervention of a trained musician.  


If successful, let me know and I can do the lot for you. 


God knows I need more to do in this current climate.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi David,


I believe you can scan any written piece of music to MusicXML and go from there, eg here:




Edit: There are many commercial and "free" software packets out there that appear to do what you want, you might want to search the net for music +ocr . From what I've heard, some of these have become really good at deciphering handwritten scores, sorry I can't pinpoint a particular one.


Edited by RAc
Supplemental info added
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, Paul H.! What a difference a day makes!


I was busy last evening, and came back to look this morning....so many more, and thoughtful comments.  Not to mention:


A HOME RUN!  Paul, particular thanks to you for the tip on PlayScore2!  It took about 1 minute to download to the iPad, and worked the first time I tried it, on a tune I know well.  Absolutely exactly what I had hoped for, and as David B. so astutely noted, I don't care about editing or transcribing or any of that....I simply want to shoot a picture of sheet music and see how it sounds.  PlayScore2 does that, elegantly!  The "ABC" part of my original post was, it turns out, unnecessary and unintentional clutter on my part.  All I knew 'til this morning was that I could play an ABC file as sound, to hear the tune.  PlayScore2 lets me do just that playing, without the ABC part.  Tres Elegant!


So thanks to you all, and especially to you, Paul.  



Link to comment
Share on other sites

And, an early update:  Used PlayScore2 for a song in a hundred-year-old book, basement-stained and faded, yellowed, partly crumbled.  It was almost instant (10 seconds processing, maybe) and perfectly read the 2-staff, multi-part tune.  Mind boggling, as a free app!  Of course, 3-staff would require a subscription, and so on, but this does what I had hoped for.  And, it also plays the file with a moving red line, which will (collateral benefit) even help me learn the sounds when sight-reading!  I can turn off multiple voice, so can learn one part or another "solo" and even has a few "OK" sounding instruments, so the accordion evokes concertina, etc.  Wow!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

if  your old-tunebook tunes are not very obscure there is a good chance that someone else has already put them into MuseScore library. 

Although MuseScore is free, you do have to pay for access to the library, but once you are there there are a LOT of tunes in it,  organised for a wide variety of instruments. It is not expensive.

You can then output the tunes  them from MuseScore  to ABC or MIDI files to learn. Or play along with the soundtrack with the notes you are playing highlighted on the score at the same time, which will probably mean that you are learning to read a score anyway. You can change the tempo easily, which means you can learn tunes slowly and then speed up once you know them. 



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I spent some time today experimenting with Playscore 2 on an Android device.


I found that it performs really well on scores that have been typeset, for example it seemed flawless in interpreting some of Gary Coover's books.  It was also amazingly fast.


However, it was pretty bad at interpreting some songbooks that I have that were hand-written rather than typeset.  These books were well-produced and the scores were written very clearly in a consistent style that I thought should have been recognisable by an OMR scanner.


I suspect that the speed comes because the scanner knows about most typefaces (fonts) used to produce music - once it figures out which font is in use then it can decode the rest of the score very quickly. 


Anyway, this is what they say on their web-site:


Please note that PlayScore 2 does not support handwritten music, or printed music made to look like handwritten music such as Real Books.  Small old-style hymnbooks not recommended. 


I expected Playscore 2 to let me see what it thought the score was, but it does not do that - it just plays the score back using a midi player.  A problem with this approach is that unless you already know the tune then you cannot be sure that Playscore's interpretation is correct.  If you buy the Professional subscription (about $40 per year) then you can export a Playscore 2 score as MusicXML which can be imported into a music notation program (including EasyABC) and you can look at the score there.


The other thing I found is that there is no way of editiing a captured score so, for example, if it gets the key signature wrong then the result sounds terrible and you cannot correct it.


In conclusion, if the scores that you want to hear are typeset, especially by a recent score notation program, then this is a really useful program.  If you want to hear some hand-written scores - even professionally written scores - then it is probably not going to help at all.



Edited by Don Taylor
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I've also used Sheet Music Scanner for iOS with reasonable success.  It's not perfect - it doesn't read in / interpret chord symbols and sometimes misses notes (occasional half notes due to them being "hollow") during the OCR from a photo - but for a one-time charge of $3.99, it allows for unlimited exports to MusicXML which I can then import into EasyABC.  It saves a lot of time just having to make minor tweaks / additions rather than keying in an entire fake book song.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

I have to second the recommendation for the iPhone app Sheet Music Scanner. In my experience it's about 99% accurate, and super easy to export as XML and then import into Finale. And this is from just taking a picture of the original, works much better than other programs that import from my flatbed scanner. Very little touch-up required.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...