Archive for the ‘smartphone’ 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):

Photo Sep 15, 10 16 39 AM

The tempo control:

Photo Sep 15, 1 25 28 PM

The instrument selection menu:

Photo Sep 15, 10 15 54 AM

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!

Photo Sep 15, 10 13 32 AM

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.)

Photo Sep 15, 10 09 33 AM

You can create your own playlists:

Photo Sep 15, 10 10 34 AM

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:

Photo Sep 15, 1 49 50 PM

Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

Photo Sep 15, 1 43 45 PM

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:

Photo Sep 15, 1 46 30 PM

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:

Photo Sep 15, 1 47 25 PM

Then tap the “Sweet MIDI” button:

Photo Sep 15, 1 48 46 PM

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.

Photo Sep 15, 3 41 27 PM

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.

Related Posts:

Advertisements

Photo Sep 03, 12 13 48 AM

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.

Related Posts:

Photo Aug 23, 9 22 17 PM

I’ve gotten on the Spotify wagon during the last few months.  People have been telling me about it (e.g. here’s an earlier blog post about one musician who uses it for audition prep).  But I was resistant to installing yet another desktop app and creating yet another online account, and I was also unclear whether it was free or paid.  But recently I’ve been looking for pieces to program for a concert, and I got sick of wading through so many low-quality recordings and performances on YouTube.  (To be sure, there is a lot of excellent stuff on YouTube, but for some kinds of music you can waste a lot of time sorting through poor recordings and coming up empty-handed.)  So I finally checked out Spotify and discovered that their free desktop offering is actually quite compelling – you can access tons of high-quality professional recordings of classical and other music and play songs on-demand.  They also have a paid service for $5-10/month with more features and no ads.

Using Spotify on a mobile device is a little different.  Unlike the desktop app, the Spotify mobile app limits you to Spotify Radio if you have a free account, and you need a paid premium account to select and play songs on-demand through the app.  However, I’m going to show you a method for accessing Spotify on-demand music streaming for free on your iPad.  (This might work for iPhones and Android devices too, I haven’t tried it out.)

First, visit the Spotify website and sign up for a free account.

Then download and install the Photon Browser app from the App Store.  (Ok, this part isn’t free – right now the app runs about $5.)  Open it and tap on the gear icon near the top right to access the browser settings:

Photo Aug 23, 9 16 27 PM

Under “Flash Advanced”, choose a value for the “Bandwidth” setting.  Use a higher value if you have a higher bandwidth connection, and a lower value for lower bandwidth.  If you have video playback problems in Photon Browser, try decreasing the “Bandwidth” setting.  I’ve been using 4 and it works ok for me.  Then scroll down in the browser settings window and find the “User Agent” button:

Photo Aug 23, 9 16 51 PM

Tap the “User Agent” button, select “Chrome”, and tap “Done”:

Photo Aug 23, 9 17 02 PM

Then navigate to https://play.spotify.com in the browser window:

Photo Aug 23, 9 17 44 PM

Click on the login link (at the bottom of the white box) and sign in.  You will be taken to the main Spotify screen, but you’ll get an error message that says “To enjoy Spotify, please install Adobe Flash. It’s free.”  Don’t worry – that’s why we’re using Photon Browser.  Click on the lightning icon near the top right to initiate a Flash browsing session:

Photo Aug 23, 9 18 32 PM (copy)

The main Spotify screen will reload without the error message and you will be able to access your playlists and search for songs and play them.  All for free – no premium subscription required.

Photo Aug 23, 9 19 36 PM

Using Spotify through Photon Browser does have its quirks.  For example, I sometimes have to tap rapidly and repeatedly on a song name in order to get it to start playing.  If this happens to you, just be persistent and keep tapping:

Photo Aug 23, 9 21 46 PM

Also, the main Spotify screen may be easier to view on your iPad in full-screen + landscape mode.  Tap the expander icon near the top right to enter full-screen mode:

Photo Aug 23, 9 21 46 PM (copy)

And here’s how the main Spotify screen looks in landscape mode on the iPad:

Photo Aug 23, 9 22 17 PM

A couple more tips:

  • Anytime Spotify give you a “Please install Adobe Flash” error message, just tap on the lightning icon.
  • In Photon Browser, if you ever get a strange website that doesn’t look like Spotify or any other website you’re attempting to visit, just quit and restart Photon Browser and the flash browsing session.  This happened to me once.

There are still some pretty good reasons to spring for Spotify Premium service on your mobile device, if you prefer:

  • Offline listening – you can download music on-demand and listen to it when you’re offline
  • Much easier to use Spotify mobile app interface than Spotify through Photon Browser
  • With the mobile app, you can listen to Spotify while using other apps (like your score-reading app, e.g. forScore).  I haven’t found any way to do so while using Spotify through Photon Browser – not even this trick works.  (However, Photon Browser does have an interesting split-screen browser feature, which makes me wonder if I could use Spotify in one browser pane while viewing a score in the other browser pane.)
  • Higher-quality audio option
  • No ads

But if you can live with the browser quirks and don’t mind being online in order to play Spotify music on-demand on your mobile device, this is a very useful, convenient, and no-cost way of doing so.

Photon Browser is available for both iOS and Android.  If you try this method out on your iPhone or Android device, let me know how it turns out.

Related Posts:

I was inspired to compile a list of streaming internet radio stations that are of interest to classical singers, after reading a thread on this topic on Facebook some weeks back.  You can listen to these audio streams on your computer using your web browser; on mobile devices, you can use an app like TuneIn to access most (not all) of these audio streams.  For some channels, e.g. Operavore, the player on their website provides more real-time information about the work, performers, and composer than you get through an app like TuneIn.  Other channels do display that information within the TuneIn interface.

If you have suggestions for streaming audio channels that belong in this list, let me know in the comments section.

VivaLaVoce (WETA, Washington DC)

Description from their website: “VivaLaVoce presents classical vocal music in all its forms, from the Middle Ages to the present, 24 hours per day. Featuring Opera, Choral Music, and Art Song, the station offers something for everyone who loves vocal classical music.”

Operavore (WQXR, New York City)

Click on the “Operavore” tab at the top of their website to listen to the streaming audio.  Description from their website: “Operavore is WQXR’s digital 24/7 audio stream, blog and weekly radio show devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Marion Lignana Rosenberg and Amanda Angel. The stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings. The show, which launches Jan. 19, 2013, features opera news bulletins from the around the globe, previews of new recordings, and interviews with the players and personalities on the scene.”

MPR Choral Stream (Minnesota Public Radio)

Listen from your web browser, TuneIn, or the MPR Radio App for iPhone.  Description from their website: “We’ve created our 24/7 choral stream for one reason: we love this music. We want to share our favorites and some beautiful surprises with you. What’ll you hear? A big range from Palestrina to Pärt, spirituals to Schubert, and new work by Whitacre, Lauridsen, Paulus, and more wonderful contemporaries. You’ll discover great professional choirs, college choirs, amateur choirs, church choirs… anytime you want!”

radio_opera_logo Rádio Ópera (São Paulo, Brazil)

Description from their website: “Full-length operas 24 hours a day.”

King FM Opera Channel (Seattle, WA)

Description from their website: “All Opera, all the time – only a mouseclick away! Featuring operas 24/7, hosted by Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins.”

King FM Choral Music Channel (Seattle, WA)

Description from their website: “Choral Channel in partnership with Chorus America”

NDR Kultur – Belcanto (NDR, Hamburg, Germany)

Listen to this stream at ndrkulturbelcanto.rad.io.  Description from their website: “NDR Kultur presents the most famous arias from the world of Italian opera. The stars of the international opera stage for an hour draw the listener into the realm of dreams and the ‘dolce vita’.”

http://www.swissradio.ch/menu/discography/klassik/opern/index.htm Swissradio.ch Opera (Switzerland)

Description from their website: “Opera and Operetta: Enjoy with swissradio Opera legendary and rare opera recordings in full length.”

GotRadio – Classical Voices

Description from their website: “Opera and choral music”

ottos_opera_house_logo 1.FM – Otto’s Opera House

Description from their website: “Listen to over 1000 complete and uninterrupted operas from the baroque era to modern days [sic] performances. You will be dazzled by the greatest singers and composers. A great collection of operatic music!”

rd_opera Diveky Radio – Opera (Budapest, Hungary)

Description from their website: “The premier opera recordings from Hungary and around the world”

rd_operetta Diveky Radio – Operetta (Budapest, Hungary)

Description from their website: “Famous operettas from Budapest and Vienna, augmented by well known French and English works”

Radio Caprice (Russia)

Their channels include OperaMass/Chorus/Cantata, and even a station devoted to popera, if that’s your cup of tea.  The TuneIn app was the most straightforward way for me to listen to these channels, since the web page required browser plug-ins that I was unsuccessful in installing.  If you do use the TuneIn app, you’ll need to search on the exact title of the channel in order to find it, due to the large number of Radio Caprice channels, so search for “Radio Caprice Opera” or “Radio Caprice Mass/Chorus/Cantata”.  Speaking of which, the Radio Caprice website lists a huge number of musical genres for which they have channels, 2/3rds of which I have no idea what they are (what is “funeral doom metal”?).

Related Posts:

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.)

Related Posts:

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…)

Our chorus is performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion this coming spring, and I just stumbled on an amazing free online resource to help us prepare:

Berkshire Choral Festival IPA Project

It has text (no translations though), IPA, and spoken audio recordings done by native speakers for the following works:

  • Matthäus-Passion (St. Matthew Passion) – J. S. Bach
  • Die Schöpfung (The Creation) – Haydn
  • Selected movements from various Brahms choral works

Berkshire Choral Festival IPA Project

It covers both the choral and solo movements, in case you’re preparing one or the other or both.

The website also has some general resources on learning IPA.

You’ll need a web browser with Flash support in order to use it.  iPad/iPhone people, this website won’t work on Safari for mobile, but it does work on the Puffin web browser which you can purchase from the App Store here.  In order to hear the audio, you’ll need to go into the Puffin web browser settings first and set “Ignore Mute Switch” to “on” and then turn up the volume on your iOS device:

Puffin web browser settings for audio

Related Posts: