Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

Credit: Apple

Daniel Swirsky of Choir Pro Software seeks beta testers for an iPad app.  From his ChoralNet post:

I am developing an iPad app that is part notation app for beginners, part visual MIDI player, part audio recorder/player, and I am currently looking for beta testers to use it and provide feedback.  Please contact me here or at dan@choirpro.com.

Advertisements

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. (This is part 2 of a two-part post. Read part 1 here.)

3. Messiah duet + choral gig + more

My duet partner and my pianist colleague and I rehearsed and performed some duets for fall and winter shows, namely, the Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann and also “He shall feed his flock” from Handel’s Messiah. IMSLP was definitely my friend when it came to downloading sheet music for those pieces. During our rehearsals, I mused on how I might like to get a more compact portable music stand for my iPad. I like the combination of the CrisKenna Xclip2 mount and Mic Stand Concertino plus gooseneck extension, recommended by flutist Sharyn Byer when she was profiled on Going Digital for Musicians:

Credit: AirTurn

Here’s another photo from that blog post that shows a dramatic difference between the space taken up by Sharyn’s music stand, versus her colleague’s more traditional stand. To be fair, though, her colleague probably gets to view more pages of music at a time, and perhaps in a larger size, too!

TheGigEasy mic stand mount for iPad also looks good for my purposes, and a new, thinner, lighter version will be released in January 2013. The iKlip mic stand mount is worth a look too. Honestly, my current portable setup of a wire stand plus my iPad case with its securing strap is not bad, but I wouldn’t mind something with a sturdier build and slimmer profile. I’d feel less worried about knocking it over.

I also had a Messiah chorus gig this past Christmas. Unlike my regular choir, I was the only tablet-wielding singer there. The soprano seated beside me showed a great deal of interest in my iPad sheet music. She was considering a Kindle purchase and was wondering about using it for sheet music. Of course I directed her to this blog so she can check out a few different options 🙂 About the Kindle specifically, I am leery of it for sheet music at this time. A friend once showed me a music score on his Kindle DX e-reader. I liked the screen size and resolution, but we found the page loading and page turns to be slower than on my iPad, and I also thought the music was difficult to see on the non-backlit display. Perhaps the newer Kindle models perform better, though – I haven’t tried them so I don’t know.

Earlier I had asked the conductor for the Messiah performance whether it was ok for me to use my iPad for the music. Fortunately, she was cool with it (not all conductors are, so it’s not a bad idea to ask first). I used my black silicone iPad skin as the “black folder” for holding the music during the performance (same as I do with my regular choir) and no one voiced any concerns. But it did get me to thinking about having an iPad case that looks more like a traditional black choral folder for those times when a music director insists on it, or if I’m doing one of those Victorian period-costume caroling gigs where it would look anachronistic and silly to be obviously holding an iPad. And I’m tired of waiting for MUSICFOLDER.com to design such a case. Blog reader Loren F. recommends the DODOcase for this purpose, and blog reader Dick H. gave some tips on modding the DODOcase for use as a choral folder. However, the price of the DODOcase is a bit steep for me, so I’m probably going to roll my own and make an iPad choral folder out of an inexpensive folio case as a do-it-yourself project – stay tuned for details.

By the way, in the course of doing this Messiah chorus gig, I was informed that you can download PDFs of the choral movements from the Schirmer edition of the Messiah vocal score at this site (although I haven’t verified that all the page numbers, etc. match up with my printed Schirmer score, so caveat downloader). Schirmer is not the most scholarly edition of Messiah ever, but an awful lot of typical local Messiah performances use it, so it can be handy to have. (The Schirmer score on my iPad is one that I scanned previously from the printed score that I own.)

4. Preparing for the St. Matthew Passion

My choir is performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion this coming spring. I bought a score and had the spine sliced off and then our de facto e-music librarian, Steve, scanned it into a nice slim 7MB PDF file for use with forScore. I ordered a CD of one of the recordings that the conductor recommended (I couldn’t find it as a download or in streaming format) and I also procured a different recording on iTunes. I found some excellent free diction/IPA resources for the St. Matthew Passion online that will be a useful learning aid. I also want to check out SingersBabel to see what diction resources they have for this work. I just got a Belkin YourType Folio + Keyboard for my iPad (more on that later) and I think that its Bluetooth keyboard will come in handy for typing the translation into my score. The Great Books Tutorial website has the text and translation of the St. Matthew Passion in PDF format, laid out nicely for either printing or viewing on a tablet. There are also some interesting background pieces and listening guides online: Bach 101: St. Matthew Passion from the Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s website, an introduction and annotated text/translation from Minnesota Public Radio, and A Visitor’s Guide to the St. Matthew Passion by NPR.

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…)

Credit: Pamela Elrod / Chorus America

This oldie-but-goodie has been bouncing around Twitter lately:

The Choral Warm-Ups of Robert Shaw (includes explanations and notated examples)

In addition to bookmarking it, I saved it as a PDF file using my computer’s print-to-file feature so I can import it into forScore and have it handy on my iPad even when I don’t have a data connection.

Related Posts:

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.

Related Posts:

Credit: HomeClick.com

If you’re in a practice space with no mirror, you can use your tablet’s front-facing camera as a mirror in a pinch.  I did this just the other day.  I popped my iPad on the music stand, opened the Camera app, and tapped the the camera rotation icon in the bottom right corner in order to switch the view to the front-facing camera.

You’ll pretty much only see your face, unless you stand way back.  And unfortunately there is no zoom in/out for the image from the iPad’s front-facing camera (unless you use an app like Cam Mirror, which has zoom-in only and grainier image quality).  But sometimes a view of your face is all you need – like yesterday, when I was watching my jaw while singing.

I suppose you could try this trick with your smartphone too, but I don’t know how well it will work with the small screen…

Related Posts:

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.