Converting PDF to MIDI (Optical Music Recognition)

Optical Music Recognition (OMR) allows for the computers to read through PDF files of sheet music and convert them to MIDI files (or alternatively MusicXML format)

This is essentially like OCR software for music. There are some free options for this kind of software out there, but they are often quite limited compared to the premium options.

In this article, we’re going to show you some of the top OMR programs, how they work, and how much you have to pay for them in order to get them.

Note: the prices quoted below were accurate at the time of publication.

SmartScore by Musitek

Screenshot of www.musitek.com

Go to Musitek

SmartScore is quite a reliable and usable OMR application. You can choose from several different SmartScore versions, depending on what your needs are.

If you’re looking for a full notation writing, scanning, and OMR reading software, then SmartScore 64 Pro is your pick. It brings on all of the features this company has to offer and the best quality as well. The price for this is $399. 

If you’re looking for a somewhat simpler program just for scanning and converting PDF to MIDI, you can always choose SmartScore 64 MIDI.

This is a smaller program with two-way notation-to-MIDI-to-notation editing and a MIDI Sequencer through which you can output the MIDI to your DAW. It costs only $49.

The demo is available for every version, with a limitation that no scanned files can be saved or printed.

Sibelius

Screenshot of www.avid.com

Go to Avid

Sibelius is probably the best-known software for notation writing and composing. It has many different features, in three different versions.

Options for OMR are available in paid versions of the software, which work on a subscription basis – $9.99 or $19.99 per month, depending on the version you’ve picked to buy.

Also, it’s worth noting that these packages include PhotoScore and NotateMe Lite for free.

PhotoScore allows you to scan the sheet music with your phone using its camera, while NotateMe allows for you to write the notation on your tablet using a stylus, while the software automatically turns it into a usable version for different formats.

Audiveris (Free)

Screenshot of audiveris.github.io

Go to Audiveris

Audiveris is an open-source endeavor to help people to scan their sheet music and convert them to something usable on the computer.

The results from this can be a bit mixed, but it’s certainly worth a shot if you’re looking for something free!

It also can’t convert directly to MIDI, but it can convert your PDF to MusicXML, which you can use through a separate converter to transfer it to MIDI.

ScanScore

Screenshot of scan-score.com

Go to ScanScore

ScanScore is an easy to use sheet scanner, that has all of the advanced features one might need when working with sheet music.

It comes in three paid versions – Melody, Ensamble, and Professional, which cost $39, $99, and $179 respectively. 

With all of them, you can import PDF music or scan it from paper, transpose or edit sheets while in the program and then export it to MIDI or other types of files to your pleasure. It’s really a great program for this kind of work.

You can also try it out through a 14-day trial with full access to all of the program’s features, but you won’t be able to export anything you did.

SharpEye

Screenshot of www.visiv.co.uk

Go to Visiv

SharpEye is an older version of OMR programs but is great for work if you have the older OS on your computer. This is a basic PDF to MIDI software, that does its job easily and doesn’t have many fancy features around it.

As for the price, it costs 169$ as a one-off payment and there is no demo or trial version.

Playscore

Go to Playscore

If you’re looking for a mobile device app to use on the go on your mobile device, PlayScore should be one to look into.

Since the development of mobile devices allowed them to have high-res cameras and high computational power, developers have been able to develop direct photo scanning apps that convert sheet music into MIDI or MusicXML.

This app has a built-in editor for sheet music, so you can easily edit everything you’ve read into it. It works with both camera and PDF files.

This is still a relatively new app, so don’t expect it to work perfectly 100% of the time, but if you’re using it the way the developers have suggested, you shouldn’t have any problems.

It’s free to download but to be used properly you have to pay for a premium subscription that ranges from $5 to $20 per month.

What is Optical Music Recognition

Optical Music Recognition is a technology that enables computers to read through sheet music. This is similar to OCR, where people have been scanning books and documents for decades now into machine-readable documents, in an attempt to digitalize archives and make their life easier.

OMR helps with that kind of manual labor and reads through PDF files transcribing notes that are written on the paper. It can convert them to MusicXML, the standard digital music notation code, which is an equivalent of .doc files for music.

OMR can be very useful but you connect expect full accuracy of automatic transcription. Results can vary greatly!

From there, technology has made it available in the past years to convert it straight to MIDI, so you can actually hear a melody that is written using virtual instruments such as Synths. Although this often with some shortcomings, such as lack of full accuracy, and limitations of what information MIDI can hold.

Summary

We hope that this article has helped you learn new things about OMR and converting your PDF sheet music straight into MIDI.

Even though this technology still has a way to go to becoming a standard practice, it’s in a really good way and has become useful for many composers and arrangers. 

It may be a bit of an investment to get some good OMR software at this point, but if you have a large amount of sheet music that you want to digitize, then it’s certainly an option worth considering.

Featured Image (Right) by: “Ableton Live” by Robert Gourley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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