Converting MIDI to traditional music score - A comparison of music notation software
What software converter best translates from MIDI format to traditional notation? After wading through 24 different programs, that's what I set out to discover, and sum up on this very web page. It's clear that most of them do not do a very good job, especially when working with multiple 'voices'. This article was created on the 14/08/2004.
"But why not just create the music directly in the notation editor?"
The reason I'm looking for a decent MIDI converter is because I don't particularly like the operating environments of most (all?) music notation programs. Instead, I create my music in what's called a 'tracker' - where music is shown as a 'grid' of notes. I find this style suits my way of composing (and is probably more efficient too once you get used to it). You will no doubt have your own reasons to convert from MIDI to traditional music score, so this article should be of interest to many.
Here's a quick rundown of the conversion features I'm looking for:
How neat is the presentation of the score? Are there instrument names next to each staff? Are quavers and semi quavers tied properly?
Does it intelligently convert the various MIDI presets (instruments) to the right instrument and treble/bass clefs, and can it support multiple staves for a whole ensemble of instruments?
How does it handle the situation where there are notes of different time durations running in parallel on a stave? Are note stems and note heads handled intelligently (using both up and down stems when appropriate), or does it resort to (an overuse of) ties in this situation?
Are quavers and semiquavers properly beamed to ensure readability?
For more complex MIDI conversions, how much musical information is lost?
Is the time and key signature automatically recognised? If not, then is it relatively easy to transpose, compress/expand scores and change them to the correct signatures?
So that's the primary purpose of this article. However, there are a few other factors which I'll bear in mind:
Does the package export out MIDI for free, or do you need to pay for the software? How much does it cost?
How easy is the editing of notes for minor adjustments to the score?
Is it possible to add dynamics, accents, ornaments, articulations and other music symbols afterwards?
The Acid Test.
I am mainly looking to see how the software handles 'overlapping' notes with potentially many voices on a stave. For that purpose I have used this MIDI. Compare diagram A, B and C (see right). A is how it should be done. B portrays the same information, albeit with some awkward ties (well they don't look too bad now, but wait until you have four or more overlapping voices!). But diagram C cops out by changing the note durations to match the note underneath. Does the software go for the best diagram A type? The below mini-reviews will take this and much more into consideration.
Note: The below judgements (best at top) are in respect to the program's ability to transcribe MIDIs to readable notation, and are not necessarily an indication of the program's maximum ability to create a decent music transcription internally from scratch.
MidiNotate Musician (now called "Notation Musician")
(Beta 0.937): Type A style of course. There's little to choose between this and MidiIllustrator in terms of note transcription as they both have their little advantages and disadvantages. But overall, MidiNotate Musician comes out on top thanks to its superior editing and extra music symbols. One problem however is that sometimes you'll find that [dotted quaver - quaver - dotted quaver], gets turned into a triplet, but maybe that bug will be fixed once it's out of beta. MidiNotate Musician is an upgrade from MidiNotate 4. Click here to buy MidiNotate (now called "Notation Musician") directly. See example score
2nd:MidiIllustrator (v1.02): Type A. Excellent transcription of notes on the whole - like MidiNotate Musician, it just needs a few tweaks needed here and there. Of particular interest is the ability to set 5+ degrees of 'strictness' for MIDI conversion (MidiNotate Musician only has about three 'levels' for this). See example score
3rd: Sibelius (v3.1.1):
Type A. Technically, Sibelius has one of the most strict MIDI conversion engines under review. Though it's a pity it doesn't have the option to simplify a score (like MidiNotate Musician and MidiIllustrator can). On the whole, it's quite accurate, but there are times when the presentation of the notes could be improved, as stems and rests often obscure notes. Also, it tends to mix up the bass/treble clef notes on conversion, and sometimes it'll use the extra voice even when it doesn't need to (see diagram Z). Finally, the demo version of Sibelius can print sheet music, but has the name 'Sibelius' splattered in the background. At around $400 dollars, Sibelius isn't cheap, although there is the Sibelius Education Edition (around $300), and Sibelius Student Edition at $100, but you must prove you're a student to purchase those. Download the demo of Sibelius here. See example score
4: Turandot (v18.104.22.168): Notes are treated like diagram B. Instead of using two or more 'voices' in a channel by using up/down stems, Turandot uses loads of ties instead! Additionally, notes aren't ever tied across bars.
5: Vivaldi Gold (v22.214.171.124): Very much like Turnadot, notes are treated like diagram B. But often, notes are obscuring sharps, and notes aren't always beamed together in beats (see the first group of notes in the treble clef of bar 5 for an example - it's quaver-semiquaver-quaver - which is 1.25 beats). So, not the most readable of translations, but it could be worse.
6: NotationMachine (v126.96.36.199), or Play Music (v188.8.131.52): Both of these near-identical programs are probably done by the same people who created Vivaldi Gold, and therefore also feature a very similar MIDI conversion engine too.
7: Encore (v4.5.5): Mostly like diagram C. But at least notes are beamed properly.
8: SmartScore Pro (v3.2.3): Style A-ish. Lots of notes are obscured though thanks to the clumsy formatting. It also missed out important rests so the timing looks a bit dodgy, but at least notes are beamed in groups properly. Just don't use too many overlapping voices!
11: NoteWorthy Composer (v1.75b): No. Notes treated like diagram C. Unfortunately, NoteWorthy doesn't reformat the tying of notes after changing time signature or alter the appropriate naturals, sharps and flats after changing key signature. But at least the program's (almost) free.
12: Capella 2002 (v184.108.40.206): Notes treated like diagram C. Ties are only used across beats for beaming purposes. Also had problems with transposition.
13: Overture (v3.6): Diagram C style. On my PC, most of the notes were thick horizontal lines in the bass clef. Otherwise not bad.
15: Music Master (5.60): Style C. Also mixed up treble/bass note data in the conversion. Not to be confused with "Music MasterWorks", or "Music Works Personal" which are separate programs.
16: Music MasterWorks (v3.8): Initially, this one looks okay, though on closer inspection, quavers and semi-quavers are not 'beamed' in beats, making it harder for the performer to play. Also, adjacent notes played together (say E, and F) aren't distanced slightly. Finally, there's a distinct lack of ties and rests, forcing the performer to often rely on the horizontal spacing between notes to determine the timing.
17: Anvil Studio (v2004.05.01): Fairly similar to Music MasterWorks' style of notation. Again, there's a distinct lack of ties and rests, but it's quite easy for a performer to read. It may be unfair to judge this though seeing as I wasn't able to print it out, instead relying on grabbing the screens.
18: MagicScore Maestro (v3.8): Not really style A. Each channel is treated separately, so the notes on the same stave (but in initially separate channels) are haphazardly 'plonked' on with no thought given to the stem direction etc.
19: Harmony Assistant (v9.0.2): Almost as bad as Music Works Personal, except it makes somewhat of an effort to use up/down stems. Unfortunately, just like Music Works, it almost always refuses opportunities to 'beam' together collections of notes. Also, sharps, flats and rests tend to obscure notes.
20: Musicator (v4.01): Unfortunately, I couldn't convert the music to two staves, as Musicator insisted on creating four instead (two bass and two treble - where the middle two staves are (almost) empty). Other than that though, the conversion was quite good, at least until it reached bar 5+ where tons of notes are obscuring each other.
21: Lime (v8.00): Notes treated like diagram C. Proper beaming of notes, but I was unable to assign the other voice to the bass clef. Everything was in the treble.
22: Music Works Personal (v2.2): Notes are just plonked on (2 semiquavers can easily look like a demisemi quaver). Plus no tying or beaming of notes, and I had trouble transposing correctly.
23: ScoreRight (v3.1.7): A lot of notes are missing, and the timing is often skewed.
Showdown: MidiNotate Musician versus MidiIllustrator versus Sibelius.
Note: This comparison was made on the 14th of August 2004, with MidiIllustrator version 1.02 ($35), and MidiNotate Musician Beta release 0.937 ($35-$50 when released). If you can find any program which rivals any of these for MIDI conversion accuracy, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Okay, we've whittled them down to three: MidiIllustrator, MidiNotate Musician and Sibelius. Sibelius costs around 600 pounds though, and doesn't handle conversion as well as the other two. That's not surprising though since MidiIllustrator and MidiNotate Musician are programs dedicated to MIDI conversion (they don't offer standard note input as such, only manipulation (note: MidiNotate Composer which is basically MidiNotate Musician, but with added composing functionality)). But anyway, for the time being, Sibelius is left out of this comparison.
MidiNotate Musician's advantages over MidiIllustrator:
MidiNotate Musician's MIDI conversion wizard
Unlike MidiIllustrator, MidiNotate automatically adjusts the bar when you change direction of a note's stem. MidiNotate also has better facilities for editing note ties and beams.
Changing a note's duration or position is quicker (processor time wise) in MidiNotate than MidiIllustrator.
Ability to change Instrument on the fly while the tune is playing. MidiIllustrator can also do this, but you need to click each instrument name, and then click 'apply'. Also, with MidiNotate, you can even apply an instrument to another track - all in one window.
Converts and properly transcribes grace notes.
Can automatically transpose key for non-concert pitch instruments.
Unlike MidiIillustrator, MidiNotate includes braces, and the various kinds of bar lines etc.
Support for adding dynamics, accents, ornaments, articulations and other music symbols.
Slightly better handling of beaming.
Converting of triplets and quintuplets is better recognised in MidiNotate than MidiIllustrator.
In MidiNotate, you are able to select any note regardless of its position in a tied group. With MidiIllustrator, you need to select the first note of the tied group.
Fuller control over printing, borders, page breaks, line breaks, system spacing etc.
Can select/edit notes in page view mode as well as window mode (MidiIllustrator only handles window mode).
There are more zoom levels, and low zoom levels (where everything is small) looks nicer than what MidiIllustrator does.
MidiIllustrator's advantages over MidiNotate Musician:
MidiIllustrator's MIDI conversion wizard
MidiIllustrator has a slightly higher degree of control over the conversion 'strictness' of a MIDI (see right diagram). You can balance between 'easy to read', and a strict, but authentic MIDI conversion with all note lengths intact. All of them do a great job, and you can even change type after you've loaded in the MIDI to easily compare. MidiNotate Musician also has something similar, but fewer settings.
A left click can position the 'cursor' on the score so you can start playing at any point in the music. You can do the same with MidiNotate, but it means pressing left mouse button and pressing 'P'.
You can select all notes in a score. You can't easily do that with MidiNotate.
Zooming in or out is quicker than MidiNotate (or rather, there's a 1 second pause after each zoom in MidiNotate).
In aforementioned midi, I can't change certain note durations in MidiIllustrator. For example, take bar 113. Usually, I would press "d" and cursor down to make the note shorter, but it doesn't work (press "d" and cursor up making it longer works though). MidiNotate on the other hand works perfectly.
MidiIllustrator tends to use up almost all of the CPU processor speed when playing a MIDI tune (just look at the Windows task manager!). I'm not sure how slower PCs would cope, though I guess not too bad, since I forced my Windows XP PC down to 600Mhz without any real noticeable difference in playback quality.
MidiNotate Musician (Beta 0.937):
MidiIllustrator will sometimes transcribe sequences like dotted quaver - quaver - dotted quaver as a triplet. Other note patterns get wrongly transcribed into quintuplets.
Occasionally, unwanted double flats, double sharps, or Fb, Cb, B#, or E#) will be transcribed.
Sometimes, it's impossible to move a note up a stave. For example, in this tune, try moving the note C in the bass clef from bar 1/2 up to the treble clef by pressing Shift and arrow up.
To me, it's fairly clear which the winner is. Originally this comparison was between MidiNotate 4.0 (which is MidiNotate Musician's younger brother) and MidiIllustrator. These two were more balanced. But as soon as I tried MidiNotate Musician out, it was clear that many of the advantages that MidiIllustrator once had now don't exist or are less significant. It goes without saying that both MidiNotate Musician and MidiIllustrator both support multiple tracks (for large orchestras etc.), and many, many other features I won't mention.
The new version of MidiIllustrator version 2.00 is out. We will endevaour to review it as soon as possible, so as to compare with MidiNotate Musician.
The interesting thing is; neither get the notation transcription perfect. They both could learn a little from each other in this respect. For example, loading in this MIDI file, we can see that the upper C on bar 5 in MidiNotate lasts 1.5 beats (as it should), while in MidiIllustrator, it only lasts half a beat. On the other hand, if we look at the end of bar 4, this time, MidiIllustrator gets it right. The notes C and E last a full beat (with a quaver rest on top to show that the note D comes in immediately afterwards). In MidiNotate, the E only lasts a quaver's worth. If we look throughout the whole score, we can see little inconsistencies like this all over the place.
Other features that both programs need:
If I change a minim to a quaver in a score, I still hear the minim. This is a shame, because I want to hear how a real orchestra would play exactly what's in front of me.
They don't handle MIDI slides properly. If a note goes up in pitch, in the score, it will remain unchanged.
The ability to split a few bars (rather than the whole score) into 2 or more staves would be useful.
No option to save in a standard music notation file format such as are NIFF, MusicXML, abc or SCORE (only MIDI and its own custom format are supported). However, MidiNotate Musician can save in Karaoke too.
Both seems to have problems importing midi type 1 (at least the Midi Type 1 from what the program I use (SoundStudio) exports out), as everything and the kitchen sink goes into one stave. To solve this, I first need to convert the midi into type 0 midi format using this program (Midi Converter). Then it's okay.
The ability to transpose an individual stave (instead of the whole tune).
Waveform to MIDI Conversion Software Roundup - Although the human brain can easily distinguish between instruments and notes in a piece of music, getting a computer to perform the same feat is a very tricky artificial intelligence problem. This article reviews and rates the top four programs and provides five music examples so you can hear how science is progressing in this curious field of research. MIDI Transform - A simple web applet to edit MIDI music files. Upload a file and change the volume, speed, instruments, key, and especially interesting and unique to this software - the scale's mode. Listen to Paul McCartney's 'Yesterday' or Mozart's 'Eine Kleine Nacht Music' in a minor key! A crash course on the standard MIDI specification - A quick start to programming and manipulating raw MIDI data (at the byte level)
All pictures and text on this page are copyright 2002 onwards Daniel White.
If you wish to use any images from this page, please contact me for permission.
For the curious, this page was updated with affiliate links to notation.com on the 10th November 2004.
Before, it was just an ordinary link. However, if other software overtakes MidiNotate in transcription quality, I
will make sure I update this page to reflect that.