Archive for July, 2012

Credit: forScore

The long-awaited forScore 4 has arrived!  Download it here.  Here is the official announcement, and the list of new features is below (see details on their website).

N.B.:  You might want to back up your forScore music library before upgrading!

New features:

  • Storefront
  • Large library handling
  • Menu multi-select
  • Recent items
  • Replace setlist items
  • Document icons
  • Dropbox 1.2.2
  • Custom category
  • Smarter sorting
  • Italian localization
  • Text annotation enhancements
  • Instant feedback
  • Banner reminders (make your own pop-up notes for each page)
  • Setlist Sharing
  • Audio track looping
  • Table of contents in PDF files
  • New page transition options
  • Multiple genres
  • Improved security for password-protected PDF files
  • Metadata panel
  • Metadata auto-suggest
  • Handles non-unique titles
  • Dropbox upload of multiple files
  • Streamlined editing
  • Simpler settings
  • More “Open in…” options
  • Advanced caching for faster page turns
  • 10-level undo-redo
  • Links navigation
  • Better backups
  • Slider precision
  • Page handling for landscape view
  • Setlist creation with top-level access to “All Scores”
  • Append and replace genres and keywords
  • Setlist indexing
  • Smart suffix detection in composer names
  • Interface updates in menu bar, links, and pages
  • Share more
  • Faster annotations
  • Page rotation for individual pages or all pages
  • Smaller 4SC files
  • Audio track metadata refresh
  • Numerical duplication of copied titles
  • Additive drawing
  • Localized layout
  • Better Dropbox organization
  • Annotation controls transparency
  • Fetching PDF metadata
  • Custom signatures
  • Easier setlist creation

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[UPDATE: forScore 4 has been released!]

As we breathlessly await the release of forScore 4.0 (any minute now), now’s a good time to back up your library of scores before installing the upgrade.  Below is a screenshot from the forScore 3.5 user guide with information on how to do backups. (To back up the PDF files themselves, I recommend getting a free Dropbox account, putting your PDFs there using your computer, and using forScore’s Dropbox import feature.  If you enjoy this blog, consider signing up for Dropbox here at my affiliate link and I get rewarded 500MB of additional space.)

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A while back, I was at a rehearsal of Aida, sitting around while the tenor was singing “Celeste Aida.”  Just for kicks, I fired up the free MeionSpector app on my iPad to watch the live spectrogram roll by as he sang.  When he hit the high B-flat at the end, I took the screenshot shown to the left.  I’m an engineer by training, so I love this kind of geeky stuff.

When I began studying solo classical voice, one of the most difficult concepts I had the most difficult wrapping my head around was “color” in the voice – referring, in this context, to the strong presence of certain overtones.  I didn’t understand the difference in sound between when those overtones were present and when they where absent.  I didn’t understand what overtones sounded like in other singers’ voice, and I definitely didn’t understand what they where supposed to sound like in my own voice.

I think that if I had had an app like this just to play around with, it would have given me a little bit of insight and helped me understand this concept a little faster.  In the screenshot above, the various fuzzy horizontal-ish black bands correspond to all the different frequencies that are present in the tenor’s voice when he’s singing high B-flat as the fundamental pitch.  The B-flat corresponds to a frequency of about 466 Hz (you can look up the frequency of a pitch with an app like Pitch Freq 2).  If you look for the approximate location of 466 Hz on the tick marks on the left edge of the image, there’s a lot of heavy black squiggle in that area, since it’s the fundamental.  The rest of the narrower horizontal black bands above it are the overtones, and they should appear in the locations determined by the overtone series.

Knowing this, I can use the app for real-time visualization of the overtones in my voice.  I can sing a note, see the overtones, and modify my vocal production until the upper bands disappear, leaving only the fundamental and resulting in what many teachers and singers refer to as a “white” sound, and then bring the overtones back again.  I can experiment with different things in vocal production and see how they strengthen or weaken the overtones, and which overtones are affected.  It’s certainly not a silver bullet for learning vocal technique, but it can be an interesting exploratory tool that might yield a few insights.  I wouldn’t view it as a precision instrument for scientific measurements either, as I don’t know the limitations of the app software or the iPad’s audio hardware for capturing everything in the singing human voice, but if you need something more scientific, there’s always VoceVista and the associated hardware.

MeionSpector is just one of several iOS apps that do this – search the App Store for “spectrogram” to find others.  For starters, SpectrumView is free and has an even nicer display than MeionSpector:

Voice Analyzer is geared towards singers and has a free Lite version and a Pro version:

Credit: Voice Analyzer Pro / Dexus

Visible Sound has a 3D display that I’m not sure is actually all that helpful for our purposes, but hey, it looks neat:

Credit: Visible Sound / Alexander Valys

If you don’t have a tablet, there are also options like VoceVista for Windows, which I believe has a free version available here (look for the “Download Voce Vista” link), Sing & See for Windows/Mac, Audacity which is free for Windows/Mac/Linux (see a YouTube video on Audacity spectrographs here), and others.  [UPDATE: Blog reader Katia H. reports: “I’ve used Praat [for Windows/Mac/Linux] in the past, which is super-geeky and about the worst interface I could imagine (I think it’s geared towards scientists who actually know what all the words mean), and it’s good to know there are simpler and prettier tools!”]

One other fun and educational thing you can do with this software is feed the voices of other singers into it.  Below is a screenshot of VoceVista being used to analyze the same B-flat in “Celeste Aida” sung by Domingo (top half) and Pavarotti (bottom half).  VoceVista’s website has a discussion of how to interpret the graph and use it to understand the difference between Domingo and Pavarotti’s resonance strategies.

Credit: VoceVista

Michelle Latour is soliciting input from voice teachers and students for an article for Classical Singer.  She wants to know how teachers use social media and the implications in their voice studio:

For voice teachers, how do you handle social media? Are you friends with your students on Facebook? Why/why not? […] How do you predominantly communicate with your students- text, phone or email? If you do text, do you have any parameters regarding texting?

For those of you currently studying voice, are you friends with your teachers on Facebook? Why/why not? Do you text your teachers? Do you even use email anymore? What are your thoughts about social media and your teachers?

To respond, you can leave a comment at the original blog post or email her directly.

Read the original post at the Auditions Plus blog.

Yesterday while practicing, it occurred to me that lately I’ve been lazy about recording myself and listening critically.  At that moment I was, sadly, too lazy even to go over to the next room and grab my phone from my desk (my phone has a recording app).  But I DID have my iPad in front of me, since I was reading music from forScore.  So I downloaded the iRecorder app for iPad/iPhone and it worked pretty well.

Credit: iRecorder / Simple Touch

The strength of iRecorder is that it is drop-dead simple.  One tap to record, one tap to stop, one tap to play, and all your recordings are listed right in front of you.  Using it will not interrupt the flow of your practice or rehearsal (or at least, not by much).  It also lets you email recordings, or transfer them to your computer via WiFi or iTunes.

Another really nice feature of iRecorder is that it can record in the background while you are using other apps.  So, for example, I can record while reading music off of forScore.

Also, the iPad’s built-in mic and speakers were good enough for recording and playing back a practice session.  Now, for you bigger-voiced Verdi-/Wagnerians, I don’t know how well or poorly the iPad’s hardware will do at capturing your voice.  Speaking as a lighter voice type, though, I can say it worked adequately for recording and replaying the things I need to hear when assessing my own practice session.

Credit: Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder / Yuku

On my Android phone, I use a different recording app, Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder.  Again, it’s got a very simple one-tap interface for recording, pause, and playback.  It does have some additional fancy settings, but they’re tucked away in a non-distracting location, and you don’t need them to get started with recording.

The same caveats apply regarding smartphone mic/speakers/earphones – they may or may not capture your individual voice adequately for your assessment needs.  But if it does, it’s a useful tool for the practice room.

Credit: Cleartune / Bitcount Ltd.

I recently fielded a great question on the New Forum for Classical Singers.  Forum member TRGareau posted:

I use an iPhone for languages/ear training/keyboards/metronome but scores don’t really carry over well. Are there any other things the smaller screen is good for that I’m forgetting?

Here’s what I posted in response:

  • Listen to recordings, watch YouTube clips of performances (says Captain Obvious)
  • Use WorldCat app or mobile website to locate scores at libraries and make interlibrary loan requests
  • YAP Tracker has an app (haven’t tried it myself)
  • Music theory apps (I haven’t checked these out either)
  • Practice with MP3 accompaniment tracks when you’re away from your pianist (you can get these from and other websites)
  • Store song texts and libretti to memorize on the go
  • Make a spoken recording of your lines/text and listen to it ad nauseum, as a memorization aid
  • Make recordings of lessons/coachings/rehearsals in a pinch, if you don’t have another recording device on hand
  • Quick and dirty audio/video recording of your performances, to evaluate later
  • Make a cheat sheet of staging notes
  • Scan scores and reference materials at the music library
  • Subscribe and listen to podcasts on opera, history, language, literature, diction, the biz, etc.
  • Protect your hearing – see TooLoud app
  • Visualize the overtones in your voice – e.g. see MeionSpector app
  • Use a flash card app with pre-made flash cards, or make your own cards, to study languages, IPA, theory, or any other topic. I’ve always thought that the OperaWorks attitude/gesture cards would be interesting to enter into a flash card app.
  • Cleartune is a cool app, mainly for instrumentalists but I found it too cool not to get…

Some of the app mentioned above are iOS-only, but many have Android versions (or close equivalents).

I’m still planning my project to build a portable iPad scanning stand for scanning scores and books from the music library.  But first, I wanted to know if there are products out there for this.

These are my desired criteria for an iPad scanning stand:

  • Portable – disassembles or folds flat and fits in my backpack
  • Can fit a whole US-standard letter-sized page in the iPad camera’s image (see the required measurements from Preliminary experiments for do-it-yourself iPad scanning stand / document camera)
  • Can accommodate different page sizes larger or smaller than US letter
  • Can accommodate bound books – even large ones (e.g. orchestral scores)
  • Won’t break the bank

I had a stroke of inspiration the other week and realized that instead of Googling “iPad scanning stand” to find such products, I should search for “iPad document camera stand” instead.  I’ve posted the results of my product research on Pinterest.  It’s still a nascent industry with just a handful of standout products (that still don’t meet 100% of my criteria).  Also, with one exception, all of the products currently available will set you back anywhere from $30-$200.  In light of this, I’m going to follow up with a post on some existing do-it-yourself approaches to building an iPad document camera / scanning stand.

Here is the pinboard I created on Pinterest:

iPad Scanning Stand / iPad Document Camera Stand: Products

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Today, Chris Russell from Technology in Music Education brings us two posts of note (thanks, Chris!).

The first post relates his chat with Matt Sandler, Co-Founder and CEO of Chromatik, a new music reader app for iPad and browser-based platforms that’s planning to release this fall.  Chris reports that  Chromatik will have a number of features not available from music reader apps currently on the market, such as support for more file formats, internal tracking of page/measure/rehearsal numbers and codas/repeats, built-in music distribution to your ensemble, and the ability to record while simultaneously playing a reference recording (useful for individual/group practice or student assessment).  Chromatik has also attracted $1.1m in funding and some high-profile beta testers, like American Idol.  This music app/platform is worth keeping tabs on – sign up for the beta here.

The second post is a review of some favorite styluses, plus a link to an even longer stylus review list.  A stylus can be very useful for a musician in the digital age.  Apps like forScore allow for annotation stamps and typed-in text annotations, but sometimes you just have to write things in, and if your finger isn’t accurate enough, a stylus can help.  I’m using an Adonit Jot Pro, it’s pretty good so far but it’s my first stylus and I need to spend more time with it to form a solid opinion.  I’ve also heard good things about the iFaraday for smooth, accurate writing.  Palm rejection, or lack thereof, is one of the annoyances about using a stylus on a tablet, and I was tickled to find this solution:

Credit: SmudgeGuard

The top glove is the Hand Glider and the bottom one is the SmudgeGuard.  Or, as other stylus users have done with satisfactory results, you can go the DIY route and cut fingers off of a gardening glove or stretch knit glove.  Personally, I’m waiting until the gloves above are available in Silver Glitter.

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Credit: Acer

My singer colleague Adrienne P. posted some Facebook comments about her Android tablet which she graciously allowed me to quote here.

I use an Android tablet (Acer Iconia Tab A500) running ezPDF Reader, Pro Version. It was about $200 cheaper [than an iPad]. ezPDF Reader is not quite as music-centric as forScore, but it works for what I need to do. After a couple of rehearsals, I had it down to a science. I definitely recommend finding a tablet whose display is the 4:3 ratio, instead of [16:10] like mine is. The 4:3 is a little closer to paper dimensions, so you maximize your readable display. All in all I’m happy with my Android and the freedoms it offers, but for the technophobic, the iPad is probably a better choice if you can afford it.

Thanks for your insights, Adrienne!

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I’m thinking of building my own portable iPad scanning stand (which could also be used as an iPad document camera). As I mentioned in the earlier post Portable scanning of scores & reference materials: smartphones, iPad, scanners, it would be great for taking to the music library. My blog stats also indicate that there is a lot of reader interest in the topic, so I want to share what I learn.

As a first step, I want to figure out where the iPad must be positioned in order to photograph a US-standard letter-sized sheet of paper and maximize its size in the screen.

To do this, I turned the iPad’s camera on, then grabbed some random household items and used them to elevate the iPad above a page from a music score. Here’s how my setup looked:

Top view:

I then took some test photos of the music. You can click on them to view at full size and get a sense of the image quality (this is from an iPad 3). Here is a photo of the entire page, including margins:

And here is one where I lowered the iPad a little so that the margins are left out:

Image quality is quite good, even though I gave no special attention to the lighting (it’s a mixture of daylight and room light). I could totally read music off of this image.

Finally, I measured the position of the iPad relative to the page. Turns out it needs to be offset roughly 5.75″ down and 2″ to the left of the sheet of paper, and it needs to be raised about 9.3″-10.5″ above the paper in order to capture most or all of the page.   (Click on the images to view at full size and see the measurements.)

These measurements should help me choose, position, and assemble the components of my iPad scanning stand.

(Side note: I used Skitch to annotate the photos above.)

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