Archive for May, 2012

I’d like to find a good and hopefully inexpensive portable scanning method.  I find a lot of scores and other useful reference materials at the university music library, but I can’t check them out since I’m not a student or staff member.  I’m also tired of feeding money into their copy machine and killing trees.  I’d rather go straight to digital and skip paper copies entirely.

I tried photographing whole pages with my Android smartphone, but since it has no flash (and the lighting conditions in the library were not great), the results were illegible.  I also think my phone’s camera resolution is not high enough – it’s a low-end smartphone.

If you have an iPhone or other smartphone with a better camera, you might try some of the scanning apps.  Courtesy of the Technology in Music Education blog, here is a good writeup about using TurboScan for iPhone to scan sheet music, with photos showing how the image quality of the score compares to a desktop scanner. Not too shabby!

Also, there are smartphone scanning stands that basically hold your camera phone at the right distance from a sheet of paper and keep everything steady as you snap a picture.  They seem pretty foldable/portable, too:

MODAHAUS Steady Stand 200

Here are do-it-yourself instructions for making an iPhone document scanner out of corrugated cardboard as shown below (or you can buy it pre-made from the person who designed it):

iPhone Document Scanner

The SCANDY smartphone scanning stand is a product in development: [UPDATE: SCANDY is now available for purchase through Amazon and other sellers!]

SCANDY Document Scanning Stand

Scanbox looks like an excellent portable iPhone/smartphone scanning stand. It folds down flat, and the latest model even contains small LED lights to ensure adequate lighting on your document. The main disadvantages are that the height is not adjustable (for scanning large sheets) and it seems difficult or impossible to place a large bound book in the scanning area.

As for the iPad: I haven’t tried photographing whole pages with my iPad yet, but here are some photos of another singer using the iPad to scan music and import it to forScore (Facebook login required to see the photo album). She got some blurring that wasn’t too bad for the music, but that really degraded the legibility of the text underlay.  Also, having a tripod or stand for the iPad camera might have helped reduce blurring. [UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have found more iPad scanning options – see iPad scanning stand / document camera products and iPad scanning stand / document camera DIY ideas]

For now, I am using using my trusty old CanoScan LiDE 50 flatbed scanner and hauling it to the library as needed:

CanoScan LiDE 50 Scanner

It is actually not too terrible.  This scanner fits in a laptop bag and is powered off of my laptop’s USB port (of course I then need to haul my laptop along too).  The price was right – I picked it up used at a bargain price from the local computer salvage store.  It also works well for bound books, which is an advantage over some of the portable handheld scanners I’ve seen that are sheet-feed only.  I did shop around for some of those portable scanners, but my impression was that they are expensive given the image quality they produce.

Related posts:

The Diction Police logo

The Diction Police podcast is, in my humble opinion, a must-have resource for every singer.  The host, Ellen Rissinger, is a coach on the music staff of the Semperoper in Dresden.  She invites native speakers who are singers, conductors, or coaches to read aloud the texts of arias or art songs in the standard repertoire (and sometimes not-so-standard repertoire).  Then they have a discussion about the basic pronunciation rules, the finer points of diction, the most common mistakes non-native speakers make, and diction issues where experts may have differing opinions.

The podcast covers the standard languages of Italian, German, and French and has also ventured into Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, and British and American English.

The podcast’s website has several useful indexes–you can browse episodes by language as well as by aria/song title, and there is an episode guide.  It’s really useful for both general language/diction learning as well as polishing specific arias.

One thing I really like about the podcast is that Ms. Rissinger starts off most episodes with a short segment featuring study tips and career/life advice for musicians.  It’s delivered in a friendly, non-preachy way and is usually accompanied by personal anecdotes of her own successes and screw-ups(!)–kind of like “things I wish I’d known when I started out.”

Also, her Seven Steps to Learn Music are my gold standard for learning repertoire.

The Diction Police podcast is an incredibly rich resource, and I think it speaks to Ms. Rissinger’s expertise, love of lifelong learning, and generosity of spirit that she produces it and makes it available for FREE.  It is a great gift to the world of singers.

You can subscribe to The Diction Police through iTunes or with your favorite podcatcher app  (I use DoggCatcher on my Android phone).

I came across an article by  composer and conductor Reginald Unterseher titled “Enhanced Music Scores: more than notes on paper could ever be…looking back on the ‘00’s from the near future.”  Written in January 2010, it’s a future history of sorts that describes the transition to digital scores, and, well, digital everything.  Some of it is already coming true:

My singers use digital displays rather than paper. The displays are very light, lighter than some of the paper scores they used to hold when we did large works with orchestra, surprisingly thin, and easy to hold for a whole concert.

Some of it sounds technologically feasible but I’m not sure I like it.  In this scenario, I’m not so keen on the idea of a conductor remote-controlling my score:

I tell the singers “let’s start here,” touch the spot where I want us to begin, and all their scores go to that place. It flashes a couple of times so they can see exactly where it is. I touched the 2nd soprano and baritone lines and the starting and end points, so they all know exactly which section we are doing. We work through that passage a few times, and it is still shaky, so I assign that spot to their personal rehearsal list. It will stay on that list until they check it off . I have an automatic record of what I assigned, and when they check it off, it appears that way on my list.

Some of it piques my skepticism but also my interest.  Like this example, where “phoning it in” could actually be a good thing:

For this rehearsal, I was missing a couple singers due to illness and one due to a business trip. The sick ones were able to watch and listen to the rehearsal on the live webcast, log in to their scores via the internet, and partially participate in the rehearsal without infecting other singers. We missed their voices, and it was not as good as people actually singing together in the same physical space (which I think that nothing will ever replace), but they did not miss out nearly as much as they would have otherwise. The singer out on the business trip logged in later and got to see the podcast version of the rehearsal.

And a big point that he hammers home is…

The transition from paper to digital scores was challenging for publishers and music retailers. It required a new way of thinking about their role and what it is that they sell.

Unterseher has envisioned an interesting future that is not at all implausible from a technological standpoint; in many cases the individual tools already exist.  As I see it, though, that future will not arrive without 1) funding, 2) a change in mindset within the musical culture as to how we  performers approach score distribution and the rehearsal process, and 3) major upheaval in the music publishing industry, or at least some revolutionary changes.

Read Unterseher’s full article here.

Ian Bullen of posts on ChoralNet:

For those who want to hold their iPad in a folder, we’ve responded to some custom requests, by riveting a trimmed version of the iPad Performance case INSIDE our lightest-weight music folder. We’ll post some prototype images in the next month. That way everyone in the choir looks the same, for those who are determined to use their iPad when there’s resistance to the different appearance of just using the performance case with handstrap as illustrated.

So stay tuned!

Related Posts:

Here’s how I’ve outfitted my iPad for rehearsals and performance:

Photo of iPad and accessories

  • iPad 3
  • Inexpensive black silicone skin (about $5 on Amazon)
  • Power Support HD Anti-Glare Film (to cut the glare from stage lighting)
  • Adonit Jot Pro stylus
  • forScore PDF music reader app
  • Black iPad hand strap that I made myself
  • Screen cleaning cloth (this one came with my eyeglasses)
  • Red cosmetics bag that I found at the thrift store for $4 – it happens to be iPad-sized and has a nice side pocket for storing the accessories above as well as useful little singer things like throat lozenges and breath mints

Detailed equipment reviews to come…

[UPDATE 9/5/12: I’ve posted a video tutorial that takes you step-by-step through the process of downloading and importing extra forScore stamps.]

If you use the forScore iPad app for reading and annotating music, you can download and import additional stamps for marking your music.  This website has several sets of downloadable forScore stamps including arrows, music notation symbols in different colors, and “watch the conductor” eyeglasses.  Of particular interest to singers: the website also has stamps for breath marks and IPA symbols for lyric diction.

Screenshot of forScore Stamps website

I like using stamps in forScore because I can make legible markings more quickly.  E.g., if I try to write in a comma/breath mark with a stylus or my finger, it takes me about five tries before it looks like something other than a random squiggle.

For instructions on how to import stamps into forScore, check out their user guide.

Related Posts:

After checking out all the different iPad/tablet cases and hand straps for singers (and their price tags), I decided to make my own.


I wanted something inexpensive, minimal, lightweight, and non-bulky (I had already bought and returned the Hand-e-Holder after deciding it felt too bulky in my hand).  I got my design inspiration from the HeloStrap and the Pad Strap.

Here’s what I used:

  • A 7″ length of 1″-wide black elastic
  • Two 7.5″ lengths of 3/8″-wide black nylon strap (salvaged from an old bag strap – you could also repurpose a flat black shoelace or the lanyard from an employee/conference badge for this)

I folded down the ends of each strap and sewed them (to prevent the ends from fraying – I also melted the ends of the nylon straps with a match, for the same reason).  Then I made a loop out of each nylon strap and sewed the loops to each end of the elastic strap.

Total cost: about two bucks, plus sewing time.

Check out this Pinterest pinboard – handy for any singer using an iPad or tablet in rehearsal or performance.

iPad/Tablet Cases & Holders for Choral Singers

Pinterest pinboard image of iPad/Tablet Cases & Holders for Choral Singers

Related Posts:

This is one of the earliest comparisons between the experience of using an iPad vs. printed sheet music, from a choral singer’s perspective:

Technology Review: iPad for Choral Singers

The comparison above is for iPad 1 (with postscript re: iPad 2), but a lot of the advantages/disadvantages still hold true.

Regarding tablet weight, which is important when you are holding your music for the duration of a rehearsal or concert, one of my colleagues posted this info to our choir’s Facebook group  (This was for iPad 2, which is noticeably lighter than iPad 1, and the music in question was for one of our concert programs):

A few people have asked whether the iPad is heavier than the paper music, so I finally broke down and weighed them. The results:

Paper music 12oz + black folder 16oz = 28oz
iPad 22oz + cover 5oz = 27oz

So no, the iPad is actually a hair lighter. But its weight is in a much smaller volume, so it can feel heavier even though it isn’t.

When I can get my hands on a scale, I’ll write up a weight comparison for iPad 3.  (According to specs, the weight of a bare iPad 3 is slightly heavier than iPad 2.)


Posted: May 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve started this blog to document and share how I’ve been using technology to study, rehearse, and perform (mostly) classical vocal music. Enjoy!