Archive for the ‘annotation’ Category

ThinkMusic Technology’s video about its upcoming music notation app created quite a splash, but now it’s getting some backblow due to assertions on the Sibelius Blog that the video is not a demo of a working app, but rather a simulation created using Sibelius and GoodReader. Related posts on the Sibelius Blog:

Makers of music handwriting app video used Sibelius and GoodReader to create dramatization
A new tablet app that recognizes handwritten music?

As usual, Chris Russell also has some good insights about the situation: Some thoughts regarding that “new” notation app by Think Music…

Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed. ThinkMusic Technology should have given full disclosure in the video that it was a simulation (kind of like those TV ads for phones and tablets that say “simulated display”) – and then asked for our support for their Kickstarter project (if there actually is one). By posting their video without any disclaimers or commentary, they succeeded at getting my attention initially, but now their credibility with me has eroded a bit. My day job experience here in Silicon Valley has taught me that it’s one thing for a tech start-up to come up with a good concept, but actually delivering on that concept is an entirely different matter. In fact I should probably know better than to take such a video at face value – anyone can put together a sexy “concept” video. In addition, it’s a bit sketchy that a company would use a competitor’s product to create marketing material for their own product that doesn’t exist yet.

Nonetheless, gauging from the response, ThinkMusic Technology hit the nail on the head when it comes to the concept itself – we are all drooling for an app that does what’s shown in the video. For my part, I’ll keep tabs on what they’re doing, though perhaps a bit more warily… There’s a good chance that I would support a Kickstarter project too, but first I would do some due diligence on who runs the company, their background and bona fides, and their track record in these sorts of ventures. (Side note: This made me curious about whether Kickstarter has safeguards to prevent project creators from simply absconding with the money, and the answer is, um, not really…so do your homework, people!)

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[UPDATED 1/8/13: This may have been a “concept” video, rather than an actual product demo.  See my follow-up post, Dear ThinkMusic Technology: Nice “concept” video, but can you deliver?]

ThinkMusic Technology will soon release a music notation iPad app that purportedly has handwriting recognition for music notation (and text too, e.g. chord symbols). The announcement has generated a lot of buzz on Twitter.

Chris Russell at Technology for Music Education has already posted a great breakdown of the app preview video on YouTube, plus info from Twitter on what’s known so far about the app. Read his post here: ThinkMusicGroup (thinkmusictechnology.com) Notation App Coming Soon

In the meantime, you can watch the app preview video, sign up for email updates on the ThinkMusic Technology website, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Now that my music performance commitments for the holidays and the fall are behind me, I’m coming up for air and for a report on how things went from a technology perspective:

1. Regular choir rehearsals & concerts

The process used by our de facto e-music librarian for scanning and distributing PDF scores has really become quite smooth and streamlined (thanks, Steve!!).  You can read about his scanning workflow in his guest post on my blog.  He makes the scores available for download on a private website in two formats: as a forScore .4sc file for iPad users in the choir (since we are all using forScore) and as a PDF file for non-iPad tablet users.  In the forScore version of the file, Steve packages the scores into a forScore setlist and adds metadata (mainly title and composer) and links (for handling repeats, D.S./D.C. etc.) before he sends them out.  This is a huge boon to us tablet users – our music is already organized when we import it into forScore, and when sight-reading, it only takes us one tap to navigate to the right spot in the score while everyone else is madly flipping paper pages and hunting for the repeat sign or the second ending (I especially love this perk).  I did learn, however, that I personally prefer to keep the printed page numbers in the PDF score rather than cropping them out with the margins to make the music notation display bigger and more readable.  (Ask me in 20 years if I feel the same.)

I was astonished to learn that 20% of our choir has adopted tablets for reading and performing music.  It helps that we are in Silicon Valley, and it also helps that Steve has been a low-key evangelist of sorts and has made the onboarding process very easy.  I like to think that my forScore tutorial series, which I have shared with fellow choristers, has also helped.

Our conductor owns an iPad, but so far he has not conducted from it yet.  I don’t blame him – when you need a musical “roadmap”, it’s not so great when you can only see one shrunken page at a time, and it’s even worse if you need to read anything more complicated than a simple vocal score with piano.  A larger-format iPad would help, or even (if you can afford it) two iPads showing two adjacent pages of the score, but with synchronized page turns (the unrealBook music reader app supports this scenario – wow!).

The iRecorder app for iPad came in handy during one choir rehearsal when we had to learn a traditional African song by ear.  I used my iPad to record a live performance of the song by our guest artists who came to rehearse with us, and then I uploaded and shared the recording with fellow choir members for later review.

2. Working on art songs & arias in voice lessons and coachings

One of my big projects this fall was to get Claude Debussy’s song cycle, Ariettes oubliées, under my belt in its entirety (it’s still in rough form, as my coach will attest).  I bring my iPad with my music on it to lessons and coachings (and a normal binder with paper copies for my pianist, of course).  Despite my complaints in a previous post, I’m facile enough with annotating music on my iPad that I can keep up with the notes I’m being given during a coaching or lesson.  Sometimes I’ll go back through the score later and make things more legible by replacing my messy stylus scrawl with forScore stamp markings.

I prepared my own translations and diction notes, getting the source text from The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, looking up word translations and IPA on the French-English dictionary at WordReference.com (they have many other languages too), and referencing information from one of my diction textbooks that I scanned and transferred to my iPad.  I put this information into a Word document which I then added to my Dropbox folder.  From there, I can access it anytime from either my iPad or my Android phone for study.  I usually also convert the document into a PDF so I can import it into my forScore library together with the actual score. What I’d really like to do is to be able to edit the Word document on my iPad with automatic Dropbox sync so I can work on translations, etc. on the go, but my current Office suite editor app, Quickoffice, isn’t up to the task yet.  When I edit my .docx Word file in Quickoffice and sync it to Dropbox, the document sometimes gets temporarily corrupted and become unreadable in Quickoffice.  Fortunately, opening and saving the document on my laptop fixes it.  I really really hope Quickoffice fixes this issue, but for now I only edit my document on my laptop and use my iPad and phone just for reading it without editing.  Finally, I write my translation into the score using forScore’s text annotation feature:

Photo Dec 19, 1 00 26 AM

I went to the university music library and used my iPad camera, makeshift scanning stand, and Scanner Pro app to scan the chapter on Ariettes oubliées from Pierre Bernac’s book, The Interpretation of French Song.  (Side note: When using my iPad scanning setup, it’s a lot faster and easier to scan multiple pages from a smaller book like this, versus the big, bulky Castel libretto books.)  It was really handy to have the book pages with me on my iPad at coachings.  I checked to see if the Bernac is available as an e-book, but no dice – if I want to have the whole enchilada on my iPad, I’ll need to buy a physical book and then scan it myself.  The Bernac also suggests metronome markings for the various songs, and Chris R. from Technology in Music Education reminded me that forScore’s virtual metronome will remember settings for individual songs or forScore bookmarks, so I’ll have to try plugging Bernac’s suggested tempi into forScore as a way to remind myself of the approximate tempo.

I also bought and listened to multiple recordings of songs from Ariettes oubliées on iTunes on my iPad.  I used forScore’s feature for assigning song tracks to scores, which lets me listen to the track while reading the score.  I wish forScore had a way of assigning multiple songs or a playlist to the same score.  That would make it easier for me to do comparative listening of different artists performing the same song.  Also, I purchased piano accompaniment tracks for Ariettes oubliées from Your Accompanist and mp3accompanist.com for practicing when there’s no pianist available.  As for basic learning & note-bashing of the vocal line–my iPad, forScore’s virtual piano, and a pair of headphones let me do that anywhere, and it’s been useful for turning my occasional train commute into productive music-learning time.

I’ve also been using forScore setlists as virtual binders for lessons and coachings – I can quickly swap pieces of music in and out depending on what I want to work on during a particular session.  (I set up “virtual binders” for a lot of other things too – audition rep, concert/recital programs, new musical projects that I’m working on, etc.)

And speaking of teaching studios, those of you who have one might like to check out the online service, Music Teacher’s Helper (description on their website: “Designed by music teachers, for music teachers, to help you manage the business aspects of running a private music teaching studio”).  I recently scheduled a lesson with a teacher who uses it, and it sent me a helpful little automated reminder email before my lesson.  It also does other useful administrative tasks, and I’ve heard other teachers recommend it.

(I have more to share, but it’s time to call it a night…to be continued in part 2…)

Breaking news!!  MobileSheets, the PDF music reader app for Android, has just released version 3.5 with annotation.  As far as I know, this is the first Android PDF app that is specifically for reading sheet music and has support for annotation.

I’ve played with it just a little bit, but so far I see a freehand drawing tool, shapes, text annotations, highlighter, and stamps.

Yes, I know there are a bazillion PDF music readers for iOS and that Android still has lots of catching up to do, but I’m excited to see MobileSheets reach this significant milestone and I’m all for healthy competition and lots of options in the music-reading app/tablet market!

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I’ve mentioned in several previous posts that the ezPDF Reader app is an option for musicians with Android tablets to be able read – and mark – their PDF scores.  I know more than one musician who has been able to work productively with ezPDF Reader on Android – but I have not tried it myself.  Well, Chris Russell at Technology in Music Education bring us this musician-oriented review of ezPDF Reader, if you want to know what it’s like.  Thanks, Chris!

Read the review: EZ PDF Reader Pro (for Android!)

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This message arrived in my inbox a couple of weeks ago regarding loaner scores from our organization’s music library. Despite my recent frustrations with annotating digital scores, it reminded me of why I am so done with paper scores. Well, mostly. (No slight is intended to our music librarians – I am appreciative of their hard work and stewardship.)

And now regarding music marking, some do’s and don’ts reminders.

Please:
– Use pencil only.
– No high-lighter.
– It is OK to hole punch […] library copies, providing all notes can still be read.
– You may remove staples, but please re-staple copies in page order before return.
– Mark music corrections, even those for other voice parts.
– Feel free to make whatever notes you need to perform the music as [the conductor] would like to interpret it, but please erase those special, personalized notes, such as “[singer’s name], look at [conductor’s name] here!” before returning music, along with grocery lists, call times, pages you need to practice, phone numbers, etc.
– Use paper clips, post it’s, tabs, NOT folded corners, as needed, but remove them before returning music as they leave sticky residue or rust during storage.

Bullet point #5 and the first part of #6 are interesting to ponder in an ensemble setting where some members are on paper and some are not. The model for preserving and recirculating that kind of information is different in the two cases because currently there’s no digital equivalent of “returning” the scores for reuse in their edited form.

On the whole, though, instead of restrictions, I’d rather have rainbows, as the Going Digital for Musicians blog so poetically puts it.  Color annotation is such an incredibly useful tool, as their screenshot shows.

Credit: Going Digital for Musicians

Here is what my score looks like now. I’m sure it breaks all the music library rules.

Oh wait, not quite…

There. That’s better.

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Credit: forScore

So I just finished my first rehearsal in which I used the iPad for an initial reading of the works on the choir concert program.  I acquired my iPad in the spring during the tail end of the last performance season, so at the time I began using it for reading music, most of the notes had already been given for the various shows I was rehearsing, and I could transfer these from my paper score to my iPad at my leisure outside of rehearsal.  I realized that a rehearsal like tonight’s is an entirely different kettle of fish when it comes to using digital scores.  You’re blasting through a bunch of pieces at one shot, sight-reading while taking notes left and right from the maestro and also making your own notes.  This is the kind of situation where you’re using a music app’s annotation feature heavily and really putting it through its paces.

Some thoughts I had while trying to wrangle forScore‘s annotation tools into submission tonight:

  • It takes a good amount of practice and repetition to be able to make annotations at anything approaching an acceptable speed.
  • Score prep before arriving at rehearsal is a good thing.
  • Ninja tricks for speeding up annotation are a good thing.  (See iOS keyboard shortcuts, gesture shortcuts, and custom stamp methods #1 and #2 for starters.)
  • It was hard to take notes quickly enough to be able to keep up with the rehearsal.  Even with all of the iPad practice, score prep, and ninja tricks I brought to bear.
  • It still takes way too many taps and swipes to switch between annotation tools.  Also, you don’t get great cues from the user interface about which tool is currently active, so I was constantly using the black pen when I meant to use the red pen, or I’d leave a trail of random stamps when I meant to draw a line.
  • forScore’s annotation tool is still a little bit buggy.  A couple of times it got into a state where it would not make marks on the page, even though all the correct settings were enabled.  I saw this happen on my colleague’s iPad too.
  • I wish the forScore development team would do extensive usability testing in real-world situations.  Get into the trenches with different musicians in an intense, fast-paced rehearsal environment, observe and videorecord how they use the annotation tools, interview them afterwards about what worked well and what didn’t.  Then redesign the user interface to make it really fast and efficient.
  • The Holy Grail is to make digital score annotation as instant as pencil and paper.  We’re not there yet.