Using Adobe Acrobat Pro to Edit PDF Sheet Music

by | Jan 22, 2018

Acrobat is a PDF editing software created by Adobe, which allows users to arrange, edit and optimize PDF documents.

It is a powerful tool for the preparation of scanned content and is most useful for formatting tasks such as insert, split, rotate, crop, etc. More detailed edits require an image editor (software) such as Photoshop.

This review will focus on the features that are most relevant for music librarians. The version that we have reviewed is Acrobat Pro DC.

Before we get started, Katharina Hoetzenecker – Librarian of the Berliner Philharmoniker at the time she has been interviewed  (2017) – has kindly shared with us a few tips on using Adobe Acrobat.

  • I mainly use Acrobat for quick fixes and to “beautify” old string masters (that have been badly scanned), or for a quick scan & print out.
  • The better the original and the better the scan, the less postproduction you will actually have to do.
  • The Acrobat features I use most often are: Blackening out, Redact and Cropping.
  • With the Cropping tool, crop by millimeter and always keep in mind that you are cropping in relation to the basic layout of the page size you want to print out.
  • If you want to print the page in an A4 format, the longer side dimension will be 21:29.7
  • Try to stick to that dimension when cropping, so that the printing software will not (automatically) shrink the finished page for it to fit on an A4 page.
  • With some editions, there is an extra large margin where the binding is. To even this out you can simply crop page 1 to your satisfaction, then apply this to all uneven pages, and vice versa with page 2 and all even pages.

1) Arrangement Tools

Insert Pages

Tools > Organize Pages > Insert

The Insert Pages tool allows you to insert files from a library, a web page or a scanning software. This tool is useful to fix wrong page turns, allowing you to simply insert a blank page.

Replace Pages

Tools > Organize Pages > Replace

This tool allows you to replace pages in your PDF. It is mainly useful when you need to replace a group of pages from one file with a group of pages from another. The Replace window allows you to choose which file to take the new pages from, and set the page ranges for both files.

Split Files

Tools > Organize Pages > Split

The Split tool allows you to break apart files by the number of pages in the file, file size or by top-level bookmarks. In order to split each page into a different file, go to Tools > Organize Pages > Extract > Extract pages as separate files.

Add Bookmarks

Tools > Edit PDF > More > Add Bookmarks

To make your PDF easier to navigate, you can create bookmarks that link to specific pages in the file. For example, this feature makes it much easier to jump between different movements within the same piece.

2) Optimization Tools

Rotate Pages

Tools > Organize Pages

The Organize Pages tool allows you to rotate pages in intervals of 90 degrees. To Rotate multiple pages at once, either drag the mouse over the pages that you wish to rotate or select them from the drop-down menu based on their category (even, odd, landscape, portrait or all pages). Use the arrows in the toolbar to rotate the pages you have selected. If you only wish to rotate a single page, select that particular page and use the rotation arrows displayed on the page’s icon.

Straighten Pages

Tools > Edit PDF

By clicking on the Edit PDF tool, the system will instantly convert the scanned PDF into an editable document, automatically fixing any distortion.  If the distortion wasn’t automatically fixed it may be because the Deskew filter was turned off. To turn it on, go to:
Tools > Enhance Scans > Enhance > Scanned Document > Settings > Filters > Deskew On

Before straightening

After straightening

Remove Black Margins

Tools > Redact

Use the Redact tool to remove black margins and other imperfections. This tool allows users to mask undesirable markings by turning those areas white. Go to the Redaction Tool Properties, set the fill color to white, then apply the color to a selected area. Click “Apply” to save.

Before redaction

After redaction

Crop Pages

Tools > Edit PDF > Crop Pages

Another useful tool to avoid page margins and enlarge the content is the Crop tool. In the secondary toolbar, click on “Crop pages”, then simply drag a rectangle over the area of the page you wish to crop. To apply these settings to additional pages, set the page range or select all pages.

Before cropping

After cropping

Compare Files

Tools > Compare Files

The Compare Files tool allows users to check the edited file against the original one by providing a summary of all file differences. Differences can then be reviewed using a side-by-side view or a single-page view (to see the individual file with all the changes highlighted).

3) Edit Tools

Edit and Delete Symbols

Tools > Edit PDF

Acrobat’s optical character recognition (OCR) system enables the software to recognize character shapes in a scanned document. In the case of a music score, this means that Acrobat will automatically pick up on the different symbols and markings, allowing users to edit or delete them. It’s important to keep in mind that this system is guaranteed to work only with exported PDF from notation software. In the case of scanned PDF, recognition accuracy will depend on factors such as scan quality and content complexity.

Symbol recognition of a scanned piece

Symbol recognition of a PDF from a notation software

Insert Page Numbers

Tools > Edit PDF > Header & Footer > Add > Insert Page Number

The Header and Footer dialogue box allows users to add page numbers to a PDF document, with the option to set the size, font and position of the numbers.

Add Text

Tools > Edit PDF > Add Text

Users can also add new text to a PDF document. Change the formatting of the new text by using the settings under the “Format” menu in the right pane.  

Add Image

Tools > Edit PDF > Add Image

Add an image from a computer library to a PDF document, with the option of adjusting its size and rotation.


Tools > Edit PDF > Watermark

This tool can be particularly useful for librarians wishing to save content that is not in the public domain to the orchestra’s library. The “Add Watermark” dialogue box allows users to either manually type-in text or upload a file, with further options to adjust the watermark’s appearance and position.

Add Signature

Tools > Fill & Sign > Sign > Add Signature

The Add Signature feature allows users to type, draw or insert an image of a signature or logo.


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