A new utility from Musitek claims to turn printed dots and lines into something non-score reading electronic musicians can get to grips with. Janet Harniman Cook gives it the once-over.
The facility to print out your song in score format is a standard feature of MIDI sequencers, but porting printed sheet music over to the computer is a much more specialist task. With the assistance of your computer scanner MIDIScan 2.51 does just this, enabling you to transfer up to 24 pages of printed score to your PC as a GM-ready standard MIDI file. Each page of score can have a maximum of 16 parts, and after processing each part is assigned to its own MIDI channel. MIDIScan recognises note pitch, note duration, chords, rests, ties, accidentals, clefs, key and time signature marks, to a claimed accuracy rate of between 90% and 98%. After processing and editing, files can be printed and saved as a standard MIDI file, as a NIFF file (see the 'Niffty' sidebar on page 216) or in the MIDIScan native MND format for MNOD -- more on this later.
PC requirements are modest -- even low-end Pentium PCs and older 386 or 486 systems should be adequate, and typical figures given in the MIDIScan documentation give average processing times per page of 30 seconds for Pentium 100 and three minutes for 386 SX-equipped PCs. Both TWAIN and non-TWAIN compatible scanners can be used but higher-quality, more reliable results will be obtained from flat-bed scanners -- hand-held scanners should be avoided if possible, and results may be variable if page scanners are used.
Easy to learn and use.
Faster than step input.
Works best with simple, undamaged scores.
Dated interface not completely Windows 95 compatible.
No undo in Editor.
Musitek MIDIScan v2.51 is simple to use and, despite a few minor quirks, does a very good job. If you need to scan printed scores and sheet music into your PC then check it out.
The MIDIScan package consists of a single floppy disk containing MIDIScan and a fully-licensed version of Lime NIFF notation software along with the user manual, an MNOD editor quick keys map, a brief guide to Lime and the registration documents. The 80-page spiral-bound user manual is clearly presented and contains tutorials, optimisation tips, scanning routines and a MIDIScan reference section covering icon and menu functions. Comprehensive Windows Help is available but Tool Tips are not implemented and, oddly, MIDIScan does not include an Undo function in its editor. The user interface is well laid out, if a little stark by Windows 95 standards, but the workspace is easy to navigate and contains icon-driven shortcuts for the principal file, scanning, recognition, MIDI- and image-editing functions. Keybinds provide shortcuts which are generally straightforward, despite keyboard and mouse routines that deviate from normal Windows usage.
I Think, Therefore I Scan
Installation was uneventful and, after defining the scanner and MIDI I/O ports, MIDIScan was ready to go. Any scanner can be used, but TWAIN-capable devices are faster as the scanned TIFF file image is automatically imported into MIDIScan. The most accurate results will be obtained from crisply printed, high-contrast scores, but MIDIScan is relatively tolerant of skewed, damaged or poorly printed sheet music.
Selecting the Begin Recognition icon from the MIDIScan toolbar opens the Recognition Setup dialogue. This is where the basic file characteristics are defined, such as whether the score is an ensemble or part score, and which part of its area will be processed. I ran into difficulties at this point, and was unable to get past this dialogue and load a scan. Consulting the user manual's Problem Solving chapter informed me that the probable cause of this was a 16-bit/32-bit Windows 95 conflict, and took me through a successful troubleshooting routine. I suspect that the source of the difficulty is that MIDIScan is not fully Windows 95-compatible. Be aware that you may encounter this problem, which is a little irritating but easily fixed.
Lime is the free fully-licensed NIFF notation software that is bundled with MIDIScan. At the time of writing, Lime is the only PC application that will print out NIFF files. However, using Lime for anything other than the most simple editing routines is best avoided, and more sophisticated score editing features can be obtained without over-stretching even the most limited budget. One good example is Cakewalk Home Studio 7 which, for £99, offers good basic MIDI staff editing and multi-port MIDI sequencing plus four tracks of hard disk audio recording with onboard DSP effects such as reverb and echo.
Editing And MIDI
The MNOD file editing features are limited to improving the appearance of the converted score and correcting any inaccuracies; more advanced routines such as structure editing are better performed in a more powerful dedicated sequencing application. There are two edit modes: Change mode allows the replacement of incorrectly recognised objects, and Insert modes allows new objects to be added.
The MIDI conversion process is simple and the new file can be played back from the MIDIScan MIDI Sequencer -- a rudimentary 16-track MIDI file player with single-port instrument definition and simple non-real-time playback parameter control including volume and transposition.
MIDIScan supports Notation Interchange File Format (NIFF) which is the recently introduced open, non-proprietary, cross-platform data format specifically for the exchange of music notation information between sequencer applications. NIFF files not only include score page layout but also MIDI performance information, and given sufficient sequencer support, it is possible that the NIFF format will in time replace the Standard MIDI file format as the preferred medium for the exchange of musical data.
Music scanning software is surprisingly rare. Overall, I found that MIDIScan performed well when converting simple printed scores, provided they were in good condition -- character recognition errors were more common from scores that were torn or creased. MIDIScan does not claim to be able convert handwritten manuscripts, and the results I obtained when I tried were unusable. I was disappointed that MIDIScan did not recognise codas, although it was a simple task to add the missing sections to the MIDI file in Cubase.
If you spend time transcribing and correcting simple printed scores of classical or pop music, or if you are a vocalist needing to create virtual accompaniments from sheet music, then MIDIScan will be a godsend to you, but don't expect miracles if you attempt to transcribe complex pieces -- an accurate and aesthetically satisfying transcription of a Mozart violin concerto is still beyond the scope of both MIDIScan and the MIDI file standard! This said, for educational purposes MIDIScan will be a useful learning aid, and advanced users will find it a handy complement to the professional scoring facilities of MIDI sequencers such as Cubase Score VST or Finale. If you are working with solo piano or organ pieces, or duet scores, and do not require multiple stave conversion, MIDIScan's less expensive little brother Piano Scan (£89) is worth considering, as it provides most of the key features of MIDIScan but limited to twin staves of conversion.