Do you miss the days of grabbing a pencil jotting down notes quickly on paper but you realize we live and work in a world of computer generated notation? Do you wish there was a way do both, draw notes on a staff by hand and have the notes magically appear in Sibelius or Finale? Then this is the app for you!
I’m really excited about a new notation app that has recently become available for iOS (iPhone 4/5 and iPad 2/3) and Android phones and tablet. It’s called NotateMe and it’s from the talented folks at Neuratron. The best place to get a full overview of NotateMe is to click on this hyperlink to the Neuratron website. There are also several reviews online for this app already including this one from my friend Philip Rothman over at the Sibelusblog. Click on this hyperlink to read his review “NotateMe music handwriting app out of beta; v 1.0 released.” If you want to do some in depth reading about NotateMe and it’s features please review both of this links.
Let me sum up NotateMe in a nutshell and then I’ll move on to some tips because I JUST LOVE THIS APP and can’t wait to show you how to get more out of it.
NotateMe enables you to use your finger or a stylus to draw notes and an essential list of other music symbols onto a staff on the screen of an iOS or Android tablet or phone. That notation is then translated into a computer notation file (MusicXML) which you can then open in Sibelius or Finale or any other app that will open MusicXML files. It will also export scores as PDF or MIDI files.
Yes really! NotateMe was in public beta for several months and during that time I played around with it and soon started to use it to get work done. I use it primarily on my iPhone 5s because I always have my iPhone with me. That is the beauty of this app, I always have it with me. Downtime at a recording session or gig, downtime waiting for my daughters at their various lessons and school activites. My car broke down a few weeks ago. I had to wait 2 hours for a tow truck, I got some transcribing done that I needed for a project that had a deadline looming.
1. Use a stylus and not just any stylus. I highly recommend the Jot Pro by Andonit. I tried another stylus that had a rubber tip and it wasn’t much better than using my finger. Yes, you can use your finger but you will get much better results with the Jot Pro. It is the difference between writing a on staff paper with a magic marker or a nice wooden pencil sharpened to a crisp point. The Jot Pro has a little plastic disc on the tip that is the key. You can see what you are doing and make fine marks. Just be careful to keep that disc clean so you don’t get any debris on that disc that might scratch your screen.
2. Noodle and Doodle! Don’t open this app for the first time and try to write a complicated piano piece with lots of cross staff beaming, septuplets and hundreds of accidentals. Start with a single staff write some scales and simple melodies to get the hang of it. Then write a simple quartet of some kind get comfortable with quarter notes and eights and work your way up. NotateMe learns your handwriting style over time and to this end, doodle all the different symbols it supports. Read the list of supported symbols in the “How To Use NotateMe” guide and write them. Play, have fun! There is a certain charm to writing notes by hand enjoy it.
3. Adjust and don’t obsess You may find that you have to slightly adjust your handwriting style. Everyone’s handwriting is different. As you write in the input area pay attention to the print area and see what you are doing that gets quickly recognized and what you have redo. You’ll get a feel for it. You generally may have to make some symbols smaller than you are used to and a bit further apart. Another thing you may find is, you may do a few quick strokes that look sloppy in the input area but NotateMe knows what you mean and the correct symbol appear in the print area. Don’t obsess with getting the input cleaned up, if it shows in the print area, you’ve got it! Move on.
4. Take advantage of copy and paste! It’s easy to get lulled back into the writing music by hand feeling and start writing out everything. This is a hybrid process, organic writing by hand, coupled with all the advantages of working on a computer. If you have a figure just right, lasso it (it turns blue) tap and hold for the copy icon, now tap and paste it in as needed. You will really gain some speed of input this way.
5. Use Dropbox! The notation files for NotateMe are stored on your device but it also gives you the option to link to a Dropbox account. If you don’t have a Dropbox account get one, they are free. This way you will have your files backed up. Also when you export as a MusicXML file, the file will be in your computer’s Dropbox folder which you can easily get to open your file in Sibelius or Finale.
Thoughts about workflow
Is NotateMe a fully featured notation program? No it’s not but it is a great tool and bridge app for notating by hand and getting that notation into Sibelius or Finale. It has all the notation symbols I need to get the vast majority of my sketching and ideas down, notes, simple dynamics, lyrics and chord symbols. The rest of the details and formatting I can do in Sibelius or Finale. For sketching and notating ideas on the run, it’s perfect and it transfers to Sibelius or Finale much faster than notes on a scrap of manuscript paper or a bar napkin!
Check back, there are more NotateMe tutorials to come!