Software Review

Neuratron PhotoScore Ultimate 5.5

Sibelius music writing software already comes bundled with the basic PhotoScore Lite, which converts the scanned music into printed music format. Scanned music can then be edited as though it has been prepared by using Sibelius music-writing software.

The advanced version, Neuratron PhotoScore Ultimate 5.5, is purchased separately (on a hard disc) at £199.00, and offers many more features. For the veteran musician who owns cupboards full of old handwritten manuscript, Neuratron PhotoScore Ultimate 5.5 software sounds like a boon. 'PhotoScore Ultimate is the world's first handwritten music scanning programme,' says the advertising blurb.'

Can this software really read handwritten music? The short answer is: yes, but not very efficiently. The rescuing of old handwritten music can be attempted, but is not yet a realistic possibility.

As you probably know, no system is yet available that can read cursive handwritten text effectively from a scanned image. Similarly, recognition of handwritten music is equally difficult, being an incredibly demanding thing for a computer to do. I hate being critical about software which is in many ways wonderful and highly sophisticated, and clearly heading towards being an essential possession of composers, arrangers, librarians and publishers. But, in the words of the User Guide: 'It is currently optimised to read freshly written music, rather than old archives.' And with that sentence one's dream of rescuing all one's own old scores and parts recedes - for the present, at least. PhotoScore can scan and convert a page of printed music; this is where it will be at its most useful. It does this task superbly well. But with handwritten music the programme is less than impressive, primarily because of the demands it imposes on the way that scores should be written.

The instructions for writing for PhotoScore cover two pages! A pen or pencil of constant thickness is required. A whole paragraph of further suggestions is given. Very long or very short stems should be avoided, ledger lines should be drawn long enough to protrude on either side of any notched drawn upon them, and the centre hole in accidentals should be clear, not squashed and missing, and so on. Consequently, for the moment one must forget about digging out those old manuscript scores and parts from decades ago, particularly if they have stylistic quirks. You will work more speedily by entering your notes directly into Sibelius by hand, using a mouse or keyboard.

Putting aside any reservations about handwritten music, PhotoScore Ultimate 5.5 is a very fast way to scan printed music for transpositions, arrangements and editions. The software picks out virtually every detail and even recognizes 4- and 6-line guitar tablature, and 1-, 2- and 3-line percussion staves. As with traditional text scanning, a little editing will be required.

Loading PhotoScore Ultimate onto my HP Pavilion PC, and using it with a printer/scanner Epson Stylus SX405, and Sibelius writing software, the process was straightforward. A 74-page User Guide, well-written by Martin Dawe and Benn Finn, is provided.

John Robert Brown

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