Printed notation is alive and well as a musical communications medium, even in today's world of MIDI sequencers and digital audio workstations. Whether it's for analyzing old Mozart pieces or arranging music for your church choir, powerful notation software can make your life much easier. Musitek's SmartScore Pro is just such a tool. Unlike most notation products, however, SmartScore is optimized to work with existing printed music. Although the program includes plenty of tools for composition, editing, and MIDI recording, SmartScore's real forte (pardon the pun) is working with scanned-in material.
Version 1.3 of SmartScore was reviewed in the March 2000 issue of EM, so in this review, I'll cover some basics and explore what's new in version 2.
I installed SmartScore on a variety of machines, ranging from an old laptop to a Pentium 4/1.5 GHz. The program generally works fine on Power Macs and on PCs running Windows 95 or later. Oddly enough, SmartScore appeared to install okay on my main studio computer (a fast Pentium 4 running Windows 2000) but wouldn't launch properly.
MAKE A NEW SCAN, STAN
SmartScore supports TWAIN-compatible scanners; the program worked admirably with the two scanners I tried. The program comes with its own scanning interface, but you can also use the interface that came with your scanner.
The built-in scanning interface provides everything you need for music, including previews and settings for resolution, brightness, and contrast. The program also supports multiple pages (as many as 24 in a single file) and scanners with automatic document feeders. What's more, SmartScore can automatically determine the optimum resolution setting, crop your image, and de-skew it.
Once your music is scanned, you can have it recognized as music notation. To improve the recognition accuracy, you may want first to adjust the scanned image with the program's built-in Image Editor. In the Image Editor, you can straighten or rotate the score or crop a specific area. You can also draw in elements, such as staff lines and brackets, that sometimes get cut off or don't scan well.
To get the program to recognize your music, you specify a few settings and set the software in motion. There are only a few choices to make: you can decide if text, triplets, and multiple endings should be recognized, and you can limit the number of voices that are recognized in each staff. Voices can be “joined” (aligned to the same point in time), and text can be spell-checked. Spell checking is only marginally useful in sheet music because multisyllabic lyrics are often separated with spaces and hyphens.
I especially like SmartScore's ability to arrange pages from multiple image files. If you botch the scanning job for one page out of a multipage file, you can easily rescan the offending page and replace it. Or if your score is separated into multiple image files, you can assemble the individual files in their proper order for recognition.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW
SmartScore's ability to recognize printed music is nothing short of amazing. Notes, slurs, ties, rests, and text are interpreted and regenerated as clean, editable notation elements. The score's structure is identified by the bar lines, brackets, and braces on the page. Key signatures, clefs, repeats, and dynamics appear in their proper places.
Even though SmartScore's notation recognition is impressive, it is understandably imperfect. Specks and spots in the image can get misinterpreted as notation, and poorly scanned notation can get misinterpreted as specks and spots. SmartScore didn't pick up some markings like trills and fermatas, and it sometimes identified triplets that weren't really there.
Some pages failed to recognize the music at all, but I could usually correct that with some quick and easy adjustments in the Image Editor. (De-skewing the image and cropping out everything but the music helped considerably.) In addition, SmartScore seemed to have trouble reading pages containing nonstandard elements. Staves with extremely wide or tight spacing, handwritten scores, scores with multiple columns, and even scores that included guitar tablature were not properly recognized.
In most cases, however, SmartScore can get you quite close to your final result. To finish the job, you use the program's comprehensive notation editing capabilities. SmartScore presents its notation in a two-paned window (see Fig. 1). The top pane contains the original scanned image; the bottom provides the notation-editing features. The two panes remain synchronized as you scroll, allowing you to see where your recognized notation differs from the original source.
THE TOOL BOX
SmartScore's editing procedures are intuitive and easy to use. You use the mouse for selecting, inserting, deleting, or changing the notation. Use the keyboard to determine which of those operations the mouse performs and to gain quick access to several palettes of notation elements. Operations on selected notes include voice splitting and joining, beam or stem direction changes, cutting, and copying. Each operation can be initiated with a single keystroke.
Once I got the hang of it, I found myself using SmartScore's editing methods really quickly. All of the various editing operations have menu equivalents, but the keyboard equivalents are the way to go. For the most part, I could leave one hand on the mouse and the other hand on the keyboard while editing.
New in version 2 is the Edit Shapes tool. When it is enabled, you can reposition any notation element by simply dragging it with the mouse. What's more, “handles” appear on note beams, slurs, ties, and dynamic markings. The handles let you change beam angles, the length and arc of phrase markings, and the length and width of crescendo and decrescendo wedges.
Version 2 also introduces intelligent lyric editing. SmartScore allows multiple lyric lines in your scores, and it aligns the syllables in your lyrics to their associated notes. You can insert dashes to break words into syllables or use underscores to stretch one syllable out over several notes. SmartScore provides complete control over the lyric fonts, and you can reposition cramped lyrics with the Edit Shapes tool.
Transposition couldn't be easier. You simply pick the new key signature, and SmartScore does the rest. Notes and chord symbols are adjusted, and key changes within your music are automatically converted to an equivalent change in the new key. Furthermore, you can limit transposition to specific measures, parts, or voices. Transpositions can also be executed harmonically or enharmonically within the existing key signature.
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM
SmartScore includes a capable set of MIDI recording, playback, and editing features. Unlike many notation programs, SmartScore plays the notation you see, including tempo changes, dynamics, repeats, and multiple endings. Articulations such as staccato, legato, and accents are also played as written.
Changes in notation are easily rendered into MIDI, but the reverse is not always true. You can generate notation from MIDI, but you can't update existing notation by changing things in the MIDI realm. Phrase and dynamic markings, ornaments, text, and custom formatting are all lost each time you generate notation from MIDI.
However, SmartScore offers considerable control over MIDI performances from within the notation itself. For example, you can choose the Instrument (MIDI program) that each voice plays, and when you activate the Velocity tool, SmartScore draws vertical lines over each note in the score (see Fig. 2). You can then resize the lines to change note Velocities for more expressiveness. A similar tool allows you to draw in tempo changes.
If creating notation is your goal, then you'll find SmartScore's MIDI capabilities to be more than adequate. You can record in real or step time and edit your music in an Event List, a Piano Roll (see Fig. 3), or an Overview (track sheet) screen. There are also tools for graphically editing MIDI controller data and for inserting messages, such as MIDI Program Changes.
However, if you're looking for an extensive MIDI sequencing and editing environment, SmartScore may not fit the bill. It offers no support for SysEx messages, and there are no advanced MIDI processing tools like humanization and groove quantization. I like manipulating groups and phrases of related MIDI events as a single entity (called Clips in Sonar). That capability is not available in SmartScore.
THE FINAL SCORE
SmartScore is easy to use, but I don't recommend bypassing the manual. If you do, you'll miss out on tips for optimizing your music scans. Furthermore, some of the concepts aren't obvious. (The relationship between notation and MIDI views is one example.)
The well-written manual and on-line help system are excellent. The help system isn't context-sensitive, but I could usually find what I needed with relative ease.
I did encounter a few bugs and program crashes during the review period, and I made Musitek aware of them. Some of the problems may be fixed by the time you read this.
All in all, SmartScore is an excellent tool for working with written music, whether it's scanned in, moused in, or recorded with MIDI. I found it quite easy to convert a page from a church hymnal into four separate parts (one each for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). If you regularly work with musical ensembles, or if you're a performer who just wants to hear what a piece of written music sounds like, SmartScore is a tool worth buying.
Allan Mettsis an Atlanta-based musician, software and systems designer, and consultant.
Minimum System Requirements
MAC: Power Mac 6100/60; 32 MB RAM;
OS 8.2; QuickTime 3.0
PC: Pentium/120; 24 MB RAM;
SmartScore Pro 2.0.2 (Mac/Win)
FEATURES3.0EASE OF USE4.0DOCUMENTATION4.5VALUE3.5RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent recognition of scanned music. Capable MIDI editing. Powerful notation editing and arranging.
CONS: MIDI environment is not comprehensive. Recognition fails with nonstandard scores. A few bugs and program crashes.