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News — From Paper to Pixel

What Do I Need to Get Started Reading Sheet Music Digitally?

Chapter 4 : Paper to Pixels by Hugh Sung

Let's get down to business. You are nervous, a little daunted, but nonetheless convinced that it’s time to go digital. Been there, done that, so I think I know what questions you’re probably asking right now.

– Which tablet, smart phone or computer is right for me?

– How do I get music into my device?

– What programs do I need?

– Besides a tablet, smartphone or computer, what other equipment will I need?

– Given the rate at which technology changes, how can I be sure that the equipment I invest in won’t be obsolete within a few years?

Let’s address the last question first. As of this writing, I will have been a “paperless pianist” for nearly 12 years. Even though the computers and equipment that I’ve used to store, read and annotate my digital sheet-music scores have changed many times over during that time period, it’s amazing to me that the very first digital-music files I scanned from my paper sources still look perfectly pristine, while the physical paper versions have already started to yellow and crumble. In other words, stop worrying.

We know that computer technology changes on almost a daily basis (for a quick reminder, re-read my headache-inducing analysis of the tablet market explosion at the end of chapter 3). The good news is this isn’t as important as you might think. If you know how to take care of a musical instrument (you know, not driving away with it on the roof of your car, changing out the valve pads on your horn, etc), you can apply that same level of understanding to maintaining your digital sheet-music-reading-computer for many years to come. And you’ll be better educated on the best computers to upgrade to when necessary.

And get this: You’ve heard of Internet cloud storage services like DropBox and iCloud, haven’t you? These are places out there in the wild blue (actually in cyberspace) that will store a copy of everything on your computer, so you really don’t even have to worry about being completely dependent on a single computer device anymore.

Here’s an easy way to remember the things you need to know – “four Cs,” the four categories you’ll need to get started.

  1. Computer
  2. Content
  3. Containers
  4. Controllers

Easy, yes (like laying a piano in C major)? So here we go.

  1. Computer (picking your plastic)

Ask yourself these questions:

– How much mobility do I need?

– How big does the screen need to be in order for me to see it?

– What is the meaning of life (just kidding … wanted to see if you were still awake)?

– How many accessories am I going to need to support my computer (containers, controllers and the like)? Of course, it’s too soon for you to really know that, but patience, dear person, we’ll get there.

While tablet computers such as the iPad might be great for many musicians due to their portability and ease of use, other musicians who don’t need to be mobile (like organists or teachers working in studios) might be better off with laptops, desktop computers connected to larger monitors, or even large touchscreen computers. We’ll drill down this topic in a while. Meanwhile, just think about it.

  1.  Content (other than your favorite comic books)

By content, I mean both the type of music you work with and the sources where your music can be found. For instance, classical musicians work with content based on traditional music notation containing staff lines, key signatures, notes and rests. Musicians in more popular genres work with content based mainly on text, such as lyrics, chord symbols and tablatures. Your preferred content will determine both where you find your music sources and how you get that content into your digital sheet-music computer, ranging from scans of physical books and binders to direct downloads from online sheet-music resources.

This will also determine which programs are best suited for your content needs, and what kind of interactivity you will need from your music – will you be using PDF files to draw annotations on your music? (If you don’t know, these are files that are more like photos. You can’t really go into them and change type, but you can mark them up.) Or will you use a text reader so that you can change your font sizes and transpose chord symbols on the fly? Or will you use a proprietary reader for computerized music notation from programs like Finale or Sibelius? Don’t panic … we’ll talk more about this.

  1.  Containers (How do I position this thing so it doesn’t crash to the floor in the middle of the quiet section of the music?)

By containers, I mean hardware accessories used to hold or mount your computer, turning it for all intents and purposes into a digital music stand. This may or may not be relevant to a classical pianist, who can usually count on a music rack built in to his instruments to hold his tablet or support his laptop. But guitarists or orchestral musicians will almost always need a way to safely mount their computers, especially if the oboist who sits in front of you weighs 300 lbs. Container options vary widely depending on the type of computer being used. We’ll explore some of the current options later.

  1.  Controllers (as in, “Hey fellers, watch this!”)

Controllers are hardware accessories that enable you to work with your digital sheet music in a variety of ways, ranging from digital pens for drawing annotations, to pedals and other switches that let you turn pages without using your hands. Some computer devices, like the iPad, don’t require digital pens to draw on the screen, whereas some tablets and tablet PCs already come bundled with such pens. Page-turning pedals and switches, on the other hand, are a relatively new accessory that most musicians don’t think of until they’re confronted with the stark experience of viewing their music one digital page at a time and have to consider how to get to the next digital “page” in ways that don’t necessitate finger swiping, mouse clicking, or puzzled head-scratching. We’ll look at some examples soon of various types of musicians and the 4-C configurations that best fit their needs.

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10 Reasons Why Pixels Are Better Than Paper

10 Reasons Why Pixels Are Better Than Paper

10 Reasons Why Pixels Are Better Than Paper

Ten Reasons Why Pixels Are Better Than Paper
Cutting-edge display technologies aside, here are 10 reasons why using computers and tablets to read music is better than paper by Hugh Sung
 
1. Eliminate bulk
A single 1.2-pound, 16-gig iPad (the smallest and cheapest model available) can hold the equivalent of 60,000 pages of paper. That’s comes out to 600 pounds of physical paper! Next time you lug around your heavy binders and gig books, I promise that your aching muscles will remember that fact (I’ll give you the names of my massage therapist and chiropractor). 
 
2. Never lose music
Classical composers wrote works that ranged in length from 1-2 page miniatures to massive symphonies filling hundreds of pages. If we average each work of a classical composer to be 20 pages each, a single 16-gigabyte iPad would contain all the compositions of Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, with room to spare. Imagine, all that genius in an approximately 9.5x7.5x.37-inch tablet! With that kind of storage, it becomes easy to simply carry your entire music library with you wherever you go, and never worry about misplacing your music or remembering to bring a part. 
 
3. Find music instantly
I used to have these huge wall units to house my paper sheet-music collection, with all the works catalogued in boxes alphabetized by composer. Even then, it would take a considerable investment in time and effort to find all the pieces I needed for the day’s rehearsals, lessons and performances. By the end of the school year, I’d have to search through a ridiculous mountain of music stacked on top of my piano.
A friend of mine watched a phenomenal jazz set come to a screeching halt as the drummer scrambled for five minutes through a stack of sheet music the size of a New York City phone book looking for the next number. With digital music, you just type a few keystrokes and, voilà, instantly there’s any piece in your collection you need. We’ll talk more later about ways to organize your digital collection. You can pull up all your works by the name of a song, the composer name, or even the key signature, tempo, genre/style, and other descriptions practically before everyone else is done wetting their finger. 
 
4. Make automatic set lists
Ever have your set list (that list of the songs or pieces to be performed in order at a gig or concert) blow away in a strong breeze? Or spill your drink on it, making it read like recently unearthed hieroglyphics? That’s so yesterday. Now, rather than having to shuffle books or physically re-order pages in a binder, you can easily search and select your set list songs on your digital device, change their order on the fly, and have the songs appear automatically in order during the show as if they were part of a single book. All you need is a digital music-reading app. We’ll go into more detail about setting up set lists with various apps in chapter 24.
 
5. Transpose music instantly
One of my biggest fears as an accompanist was to have the singer I was working with come down with a cold and ask to transpose down a couple of keys right on the spot. With certain types of music (text-based lyrics and chord charts) and reading apps designed around dynamic music notation (Sibelius, Finale, etc.), changing keys on the fly is as simple as a few taps on the screen. You’ll come off a genius. Chapter 30 will cover apps for reading text-based sheet-music; chapter 27 will cover proprietary sheet-music reader apps, many with the ability to transpose music purchased from online publishers; and chapter 33 will go over music notation software and their accompanying reader apps.
 
6. Mark up your music with rainbow colors
Brain scientists point out that the use of bright, contrasting colors contributes to faster learning and better memory retention. Digital music makes it easy to add brightly colored “ink” and transparent highlights to your music. And it can be easily erased. Ready to throw out your collection of color sharpies, White-Out, and lead pencils with worn-out erasers? Jump to the start of the digital rainbow in chapter 20
 
7. Eliminate blind spots
If you are reading music that requires at least one page turn, you have a “blind spot” – you can’t see what comes next until you turn the page. With certain apps, you can set up the page turns so that the screen shows the bottom half of the previous page and the top half of the next page, creating a continuous “look-ahead” view. How much better would that be for learning music, and keeping a smooth sense of flow and phrasing? For a sneak peak ahead, go to chapter 21.
 
8. Enlarge your music
Have the wrinkles around your eyes become as deep as desert arroyos from squinting at your sheet music under a low-wattage light? When your music is in a digital format, your view of the music is only limited by the size of your screen and the application used to display it. Some programs even give you the option to see zoomed views of your music half a page at a time (this works particularly well for screens that are horizontal, such as laptops or desktop monitors). Other apps can work with music that has been digitally cropped to show even larger views of your music – as little as one or two measures at a time. Text-based music readers give you the option to change font size and properties. Sound like a godsend, Mr. Magoo? Start your musical growth spurt in chapter 19, and then for more giant goodness, look at appendices A, B, and C.
 
9. Turn everyone else’s pages
With the iPad, there are several apps that enable a master iPad to control any number of slave iPads, so that the master can open the same song on every slave, and in some cases even turn pages for everyone. Talk about keeping everyone on the same page! Talk about power! Just think of how you could mess with their heads! For the super-secret skinny on megalomaniacal musical control, jump to the evil laugh in chapter 24
 
10. Turn pages hands free
Ever wish you had a third hand? If you use both hands to play an instrument, you have – for all intents and purposes – a disability when it comes to turning pages. With digital sheet music, not only do you have a wide variety of software options for viewing and working with your music, but you can get hardware for turning your pages hands free, either with wireless digital page-turning pedals, or even other controllers such as bite and tongue switches – rather like eating the score! Now you can keep your hands on your instrument and your focus on the music. And, yes, we’ll get into more detail about setting up hands-free page-turning options in chapter 35.
 

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