Scanning music into Mozart

Scanning music into Mozart using third party software.

The scanning process

A scanner will take an image from a piece of paper and store it electronically as a graphics image - for example in "tiff" or "Windows bitmap" format.    Even if it is a page of music, this is just a picture: the computer knows nothing of the staves, notes, rests, ... which are shown in the picture.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software has been available for a number of years now to convert "pictures of text" obtained in this way to actual text files which you can edit with a word processor.

The equivalent software (music OCR software) to convert pictures of music into music files is now also available and has very much "come of age".    Optical Character Recognition is a complex, specialist problem and, just as  text OCR methods were developed independently of text editors and word processors, music OCR software has been developed independently of Mozart and other music notation editors, by specialist developers.

MusicXML and NIFF

MusicXML and NIFF are both public domain music notation formats, designed for exchanging data between music notation programs.

NIFF ("Notation Interchange File Format") was designed in the early 1990s. The format was published, but never supported or maintained. A number of programs support it, and in particular scanning (music OCR) programs often export NIFF.

MusicXML is a more modern format with the same objectives, but in this case there has been significant support from its authors for those of us trying to master it, and the format has undergone considerable development.

Mozart will import files in both NIFF and MusicXML format, but results are likely to be better from MusicXML. Furthermore, for the reasons outlined above, Mozart's MusicXML import module is more likely to be developed and maintained. Therefore if your scanning (music OCR) software can export both of these formats, MusicXML is preferred.

Mozart can work with any third party music OCR software which can store its results either in MusicXML or NIFF format. 

The procedure is then

  1. Scan the image into the desired graphics image file format
  2. Apply the music OCR software to the image file and output a MusicXML or NIFF file.
  3. Import the MusicXML or NIFF file into Mozart
  4. Save a Mozart (.mz) file.

From there onwards you can use the full power of Mozart to edit the music.

Caveat: OCR is a difficult process and prone to error, especially if the original image is not absolutely sharp and clear.   Fortunately OCR software usually allows you to make amendments by hand to the scanned image to correct any errors.  If using OCR software with Mozart, you should do this assiduously before saving the MusicXML or NIFF file.  [Mozart checks the number of beats in bars for you as you type music in and will not allow you to have the wrong number of beats in a bar.  The disadvantage of this manifests itself when importing MusicXML or NIFF files: if the time signature is unclear of if the notes in bars do not respect it, Mozart may reject the entire bar.]

Available Music OCR Software

These days a number of music OCR packages are available. Some which export MusicXML and/or NIFF files which can then be imported into Mozart are:

Just as in the case of Mozart itself, downloadable evaluation versions of these are available from their respective web sites.  Prices and user-interfaces vary considerably and we recommend you try them out and import their results into Mozart if you need a music scanning capability.

Using Music OCR Software

Some tips and tracks for getting the best out of music OCR software are given in a detailed study of scanning using SharpEye.   Some of the points made there are specific to SharpEye, but the general principles apply to using any music OCR software.



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