Archive for the ‘studying’ 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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open_university

I just stumbled onto a free online course, Schubert’s Lieder: Settings of Goethe’s Poems.  It’s offered by OpenLearn, a website that hosts free online courses offered by The Open University.  I haven’t delved into the course yet, but it could be useful – here’s the course description:

Schubert’s Lieder: Settings of Goethe’s Poems

This unit looks at the short poems in German that were set to music by Franz Schubert (1797–1828) for a single voice with piano, a genre known as ‘Lieder’ (the German for ‘songs’). Once they became widely known, Schubert’s Lieder influenced generations of songwriters up to the present day.This unit then discusses a selection of Schubert’s settings of Goethe’s poems, and recordings of all of them are provided. You can find the poems, in German with parallel translations into English and the music scores of four of the song settings, on the unit home page. You are not expected to be able to read the music, but even if you are not very familiar with musical notation, you may well find the scores useful in identifying what is happening in the songs.

By the end of your work on this unit you should:

  • have learned about Schubert’s place as a composer in early nineteenth-century Vienna;
  • have learned about the place of Schubert in the history of German song and the development of Romanticism;
  • be able to follow the words of songs by Schubert while listening to a recording, using parallel German and English texts;
  • be able to comment on the relationship between words and music in Schubert’s song settings.

The course was created by Dr. Robert Philip.

Description of OpenLearn (from their website):

OpenLearn gives you free access to learning materials from The Open University.

We launched OpenLearn back in October 2006 thanks to a grant from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Our shared vision was free online education, open to anyone, anywhere in the world. OpenLearn is the result and we have since reached over 23 million people.

In the first two years, OpenLearn grew to include over 8000 study hours of learning materials from Open University courses. The website continues to grow with new course materials being published regularly in our OpenLearn ‘Try’ section.

Description of The Open University (from their website):

The Open University is a world leader in modern distance learning, the pioneer of teaching and learning methods which enable people to achieve their career and life goals studying at times and in places to suit them.

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This might be useful to you voice students and teachers out there.  I’ve posted before about the Vaccai vocal method book being available on IMSLP, but it didn’t dawn on me until recently that many more vocal methods/studies and related writings are available there.  Here are links to the relevant categories on the IMSLP website:

And here are some items that caught my eye from the pages above:

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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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Last Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting for coffee with Dan Molkentin, co-founder and co-artistic director of SingersBabel, the subscription-based website with lyric diction resources. He happened to be in town for the Music Library Association conference, so we took the opportunity to get together and talk shop. I knew at once that he was a kindred spirit when our conversation ranged from web technology stacks, media workflows, and website project management, to textual discrepancies in different composers’ setting of the same poems, Italianate vs. German Latin, and whether we should be rolling or vanishing our final R’s in German.

One piece of SingersBabel news that Dan shared was that they will be introducing Russian resources to the website in coming weeks. The resources will include multimedia guides for learning the basic sounds of the language, as well as guides for specific texts and repertoire. Speaking of repertoire, Dan tells me that the repertoire guides on the site will focus on choral works and oratorio, with a bit of art song to boot. (Although I REALLLLY hope – pretty please – that they’ll consider bringing some opera people on board to produce diction resources for the operatic repertoire and Italian. There’s an untapped market there, and even if they just did the arias from those ubiquitous Larsen anthologies, I bet they’d get business from a bunch of vocal performance majors and the like.)

We also talked about the recent SingersBabel website testing program, which I participated in.  One thing that I discovered in the course of testing is that the website has many more resources than I thought; it’s just that they’re hard to find (and the SingersBabel team is working to rectify that).  A sampling of notable resources:

Dan shared some other online music resources with me as well.  One of them, Peachnote, is something I’ve been meaning to check out for a while.  From what I’ve gathered, Peachnote is a provider of a number of interesting music technologies, but one that particularly attracted Dan’s interest was Peachnote’s platform for collaborative online multimedia annotation of music scores.  In plain English, that means that you can use Peachnote’s score viewer to annotate the score with your own text, audio, or video notes and also view annotations that others have added.  Here’s a screen capture of Peachnote’s score viewer with annotations:

peachnote_score_viewer

Peachnote also makes it possible to embed the score viewer in your own website, and in fact the viewer is already in use over at IMSLP with a number of scores.  For example, you can go to the IMSLP page for Le nozze di Figaro, navigate to the full score for the overture, and click the “View” button:

peachnote_viewer_on_imslp

The Peachnote viewer then displays the score, which someone has annotated with a YouTube video recording of a performance of the overture:

figaro_overture_in_peachnote

Dan also tipped me off to the Sparks and Wiry Cries blog and e-zine about art song.  (I can’t believe I’ve never stumbled upon this.)  From their masthead: “Our mission is to provide a virtual home for the art song community: performers, students, scholars and fans. We endeavor to provoke thoughtful discussion about the extraordinary art of song.”  One of their contributors is Emily Ezust, creator and maintainer of The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, and they have a number of other notable contributors as well.

sparks_and_wiry_cries

Lastly, Dan mentioned Medici TV, a French website which offers free live broadcasting of concerts, operas, and ballets along with video on demand from their catalog of concerts and classical music documentaries.

medici_tv

Thank you, Dan, for our engaging and enlightening conversation, and best of luck with the SingersBabel venture!

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SingersBabel is a website with learning tools for both general lyric diction study as well as for specific works in the vocal repertoire.  They are looking for tech-savvy or tech-curious singers/teachers/coaches/conductors to use their website and give them feedback as they prepare to do a major revamp of their site.  They are offering free six-month subscriptions to volunteer website testers – here are the details from Dan Molkentin, one of the site’s founders:

[We are interested in] having some musicians that follow your blog test the site. 20-25 people who would be willing to use [SingersBabel] for at least 15-20 minutes a week, speak with us for 5 minutes a week for one month, and complete a survey at the end of the four weeks. There are some more details we’d discuss before doing this but the participants would receive 6 months free access to the full site in exchange for their time and feedback.

We’ll be ready to have people start testing and meeting with us starting on February 1st. I’m not sure how feasible or open your users would be to this, but it would be very useful if they could use a free screen recording like BB Flashback to record their time on [SingersBabel]. This would allow us to see better how people are using the site.

If you’d like to sign up, contact Dan at daniel(at)singersbabel.com.

I’ll be participating as a tester, too.  I’ve been wanting to do a review of SingersBabel here on the blog; I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and give the site a thorough test drive.  So I’m looking forward to it.

Just to give you a taste of what’s currently available at SingersBabel, here are some screen captures from their site.  The spoken text recordings are done by native speakers who are credited here.

Multimedia pronunciation guides at SingersBabel lyric diction website

Multimedia pronunciation guides at SingersBabel lyric diction website

Text, IPA transcription, and translation at SingersBabel website

Text, IPA transcription, and translation at SingersBabel website

You can follow SingersBabel on Facebook and Twitter too.

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