Archive for the ‘iTunes’ Category

Sweet MIDI Player is a must-have app for any musician who uses MIDI practice tracks.  It lets you play MIDI files, change their tempo or key, and mute or adjust volume for individual parts (channels) within the MIDI file.

This blog post is about the iPad version of Sweet MIDI Player, but the app is also available for iPhone, Mac, and PC.

There’s a free trial version of Sweet MIDI Player for iOS which lets you try out all of the features, but only plays the first 75% of your MIDI file.  From there, you can purchase an in-app upgrade to the full version.  It’s a worthwhile purchase if you use MIDI practice tracks frequently.

Here’s an overview of the controls for MIDI playback, transposition, and tempo (tap “Mixer” button at the bottom to display this view):

Sweet MIDI Player

The transposition control (+/-24 semitones):

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The tempo control:

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The instrument selection menu:

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Note: If you change the key, tempo, or other settings, Sweet MIDI Player will prompt you and ask if you wish to save the changes.  If you choose “Yes”, it will overwrite your MIDI file with your changes – so if you care about having the original MIDI file, be sure to make a backup copy of it before you use it in Sweet MIDI Player!

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The “Files” view (tap “Files” button at the bottom) displays your library of MIDI files.  When you install the app, it comes with a few sample MIDI files to try out.  (More on how to import your own MIDI files later in this post.)

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You can create your own playlists:

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Here are screenshots of the app settings.  Click any image for a full-size view:

The app also has a help page, accessible from the “Help” button on the lower left.

Sweet MIDI Player also supports background audio, which means that you can start playing a file, switch over to a different app (for example, a PDF score viewing app like forScore), and the the MIDI file will continue to play while you are viewing the score in the other app.

Importing MIDI files into Sweet MIDI Player

There are several methods for importing your MIDI files into Sweet MIDI Player:

  1. Web browser
  2. Dropbox app
  3. Email
  4. iTunes

1. Importing MIDI files using the web browser

Open Safari on your iPad and navigate to a website with links to MIDI files, for example this one.  Tap on the MIDI file download link.  You should be taken to a page like the following.  Tap the “Open In…” button:

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Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

2. Importing MIDI files using the Dropbox app

As of this writing, the Sweet MIDI Player app does not have direct integration with Dropbox, but you can still use the Dropbox app to import MIDI files from your Dropbox account.

On your iPad, open the Dropbox app, navigate to your MIDI file, and tap on it.  It will download and then you’ll see a “Unable to view file” message, but don’t worry.  Tap the “Open in…” icon in the top right, then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

3. Importing MIDI files from email

On your iPad, open the email message containing the MIDI file(s).  Tap-and-hold on the MIDI file icon and you will get the screen below.  Tap the “Open in…” button:

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Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

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Once you’re back in the Sweet MIDI Player app, you should see your new file in the “Files” view.

4. Importing MIDI files using iTunes

The help page for the app provides instructions on how to import MIDI files using iTunes.  Personally, I find this method a bit of a hassle, unless I need to import a large number of MIDI files at one time.

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Alternative App: Learn My Part

There’s another app similar to Sweet MIDI Player called Learn My Part.  It’s specifically geared towards choral singers and also has the ability to repeat one section of a MIDI file and to import and view PDF scores.  However, I still prefer Sweet MIDI Player because I find the controls easier to use and I like having the ability to transpose.

What about MP3 accompaniment/practice tracks?

Sweet MIDI Player doesn’t support MP3 files, but there are other apps such as Amazing Slow Downer, Riffmaster Pro, Anytune, Tempo SloMo, and AudioStretch that play MP3 files and allow you to adjust tempo and/or pitch independently.  I plan to cover some of them in future blog posts.

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This is for you opera/theatrical types out there.  After being in an acting class this summer, I was curious if iTunes U had any courses on related topics. I discovered that the National Theatre has a collection of video clips on iTunes U on every aspect of theatre, including:

Also, I found these other iTunes U courses and podcasts:

Remember, even if you’re not an Apple user, you can still access iTunes U content for free on a PC or Android device.

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So one of the things that’s been sucking away at my time for blog-writing these last couple months is that I’ve been organizing and programming a benefit concert.  While hunting for pieces related to the concert themes, it occurred to me to share some of the Google-fu that I use for finding music.  I’m sure these tips are old hat to some of you tech-savvy singers, but others might find them useful.

So, one of my objectives was to find vocal solo or small ensemble pieces from the opera, art song, musical theater, or popular genres on the theme of “gold” or “golden”, since the concert benefits an organization celebrating its golden anniversary season.  I did this by using keyword searches on the following websites:

Several of these sites contain texts in various translations, so I made sure to search for translated versions of my keywords, too.  E.g., in addition to searching for “gold” I would also search for terms “oro”, “d’or”, etc.  (It had to be “d’or” for French since “or” would yield too many search results in English texts!)  Translating the search terms is less necessary for some of the sites, like The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive and  Aria Database because they have English translations of many texts, so my keyword search for “gold” will still yield songs in other languages.  Other sites like Opernführer might only have the libretto in the original language or in German, for example, so translating the search keywords is a definite help there.

As for search engines – some of the sites above have a very good site search feature, e.g. The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive and AllMusicals.com, so you can just go directly to their website and enter the keywords into the search form there.  But sometimes a website doesn’t have a site search feature (e.g. OperaGlass), the site search feature is too specialized for a general text search (Aria Database), or the site search does not return results of sufficient quantity or quality.  In this case, you can do a Google search with the following syntax in order to narrow your search results to a particular site – just include “site:” followed by the domain name of the website to search, with no space in-between:

gold site:opera.stanford.edu

google_search_syntax_example

Once I found song texts that fit my programming theme, I was able to track down scores for songs through online sheet music sellers, IMSLP, CPDL, or by using WorldCat to find scores in libraries local to me.

8/26/13 UPDATE 1: Fellow techie singer Katia H. has created a search tool that searches all of the websites mentioned above, in one fell swoop!  It’s over at classicalsongsearch.com – check it out!

8/26/13 UPDATE 2: Glendower Jones contributed this very useful info in the comments for this post:

This is great advice. Many folks may not know of the many massive reference books on vocal repertoire that were written by Sergius Kagen, Noni Espina, Michael Pilkington, Judith Carman, Graham Johnson, Shirley Emmons and Carol Kimball. A very useful reference is Pazdirek, the BBC Song Catalogue and Classical Vocal Music in Print and of course Groves and MGG. I don’t know, but possibly some of these books may now be on Google books.

These are some of the major references but still only a drop in the bucket. Pazdirek, Universal-Handbuch der Musikliteratur was produced in Vienna from 1904-1910 and contained the compilation of practically every music publisher active at the time. This was reprinted in 1967 in the Netherlands and is now free online. Few musicians know of this amazing work. http://archive.org/details/universalhandboo01pazd

Also, in a Facebook comment, Nicholas Perna adds:

As a shameless plug, I can also recommend readers search for Britten’s entire output using The Comprehensive Britten Song Database! www.brittensongdatabase.com

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Credit: iTunes U / Apple

Credit: iTunes U / Apple

I’m starting to explore iTunes U as a learning resource for all of those subjects relevant to the music I perform: art, literature, poetry, history, mythology, language, etc. etc.  The wealth of free course videos, notes, and audio lectures from respected universities is impressive.

This is all well and good on my iPad.  However, by choice, I live in a mixed ecosystem when it comes to tech (iPad, Android phone, laptop running Ubuntu Linux with Windows courtesy of VirtualBox), and I really prefer to listen to audio tracks and podcasts on my phone as opposed to the tablet.  So how to access iTunes U resources on my Android phone?

Enter TunesViewer.  TunesViewer is free software that lets you browse and download iTunes U course resources on the Android and Linux platforms.  Last I checked, the Android version is not available from the Google Play store, but you can follow these instructions to install the Android app (and you’ll want the latest version of the actual .apk file here – scroll to the “Installation” section at the bottom, click on the “.apk” link and save the downloaded file to your Android device).  I am liking TunesViewer so far.

Note that if you’re using TunesViewer and want to subscribe to iTunes U podcasts, you’ll need to install a full-fledged podcast manager app too.  (My preferred podcast app on Android is DoggCatcher.)

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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:

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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…)

Credit: Amazon.com

MP3 accompaniment tracks are a really handy thing to have loaded up on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.  They are useful as a mobile practice aid when you’re away from your pianist, especially in conjunction with a music score reading app like forScore or unrealBook that lets you link an audio track to a score for easy playback during study.  MP3 accompaniment tracks will even do in a pinch for  performance situations where live accompaniment is not an option (but see the note below about performance licenses).

Many of the websites that sell accompaniment tracks have audio samples so you can judge the quality of the sound and the pianist.  They may also sell spoken-text diction audio tracks in which a coach or native speaker runs through the pronunciation of the aria or song text.  In fact, some sites offer whole packages of learning tracks for full opera roles that include diction tracks and accompaniment tracks with and without the vocal line and vocal/orchestral cues.

If you want to use your MP3 track for live performance or on YouTube or other recordings, you will probably be required to get a license.  Some of the websites make this very easy – you can add a license to your shopping cart the same way you add an MP3 track you’re purchasing.

Here are some websites that offer accompaniment tracks:

MP3 Accompaniment Tracks

Your Accompanist – MP3 piano accompaniment tracks of songs and arias, with or without the vocal line.  In addition to their broad catalog, they handle custom requests.  (I’ve purchased tracks and custom orders from them with good results.)

MP3Accompanist.com – MP3 piano accompaniment tracks of songs and arias.  Some tracks are available in different tempi or different keys.  They have a sizable catalog and also accept custom requests.  In addition, they offer spoken text tracks for selected songs and arias.  (I’ve had a decent experience purchasing from them as well.)

Opera Karaoke – MP3 piano accompaniment tracks for arias, vocal line tracks, and diction tracks.  They also sell video tracks that display the aria text as the music plays.  The video tracks are supposed to be compatible with iPhones and Android in addition to Windows/Mac/Linux.  They accept custom requests.  Also, they provide a useful tutorial on using Audacity to change the pitch and or tempo of an MP3 accompaniment track (this method works on any MP3 track, not just theirs).

Karaoke Opera – MP3 orchestral accompaniment tracks (using a real orchestra) for greatest-hits arias and duets from opera, Gilbert & Sullivan, Messiah/oratorio, and Broadway.  Available from Amazon and iTunes.

CANTOLOPERA – Orchestral accompaniment tracks (using a real orchestra) for greatest-hits arias and a couple of full operas, plus some Italian songs.  They sell the tracks on CD (which you can probably rip) but also as MP3 albums and individual MP3 tracks on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play Store.

Opera Practice Perfect – MP3 and CD piano accompaniment tracks of roles, complete operas, and accompagnato recits.  They also have a couple of the major concert works, e.g. Messiah and Verdi Requiem.

Pocket Coach – MP3 piano and orchestral accompaniment tracks, diction tracks, scores, and libretto/translation booklets.  Repertoire is pretty diverse and includes opera, oratorio/concert works, art song, religious solo, vocal method books/student repertoire, songs for children, and Gilbert & Sullivan.  Many languages are represented, including Czech and Spanish.  They have a separate storefront for MP3 downloads.

I sometimes run into random one-off collections of MP3 accompaniment tracks, for example this Schubert: Lieder without Singer album on Amazon.

Accompaniment CDs

(You can probably rip these to MP3 for use on your mobile device)

Coach Me – CDs with piano accompaniment tracks for full roles (with and without vocal line) plus spoken-text tracks by native speakers and a libretto/translation booklet.  They also have assorted lieder and some major concert works, e.g. Messiah, St. Matthew Passion, Mozart/Verdi Requiems.

Music Minus One – Piano and orchestral accompaniment tracks for arias, songs, and other styles (e.g. Broadway) on CD.

Classical Karaoke – An umbrella site that showcases accompaniment CDs from different publishers.  One nice thing about this site is that you can browse by album, composer, opera, role, or aria.

Aria and song anthology books often have corresponding accompaniment CDs, for example the art song anthologies from Hal Leonard.

MIDI Tracks

Classical MIDI with Words – A modest selection of free MIDI tracks for arias and songs.  The sounds are a bit cheesy, but hey, it’s free.

Classical Archives: MIDI – Large collection of classical MIDI tracks, and not just for vocalists.  This is a pay site and I’m not sure if it’s subscription-based or pay-by-the-track.  They do have a free trial period and they may also offer a free download or two of your choosing.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Snider who started the thread on the New Forum for Classical Singers that helped me to write this post.

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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.