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August 02, 06

Tracy Hooten's Beginner's Guide to Tablet PC's

If you haven't guessed, i'm focusing this month's blogs on educational tech resources for students and parents getting ready for the new school year. Tracy Hooten has posted an excellent article on her site The Student Tablet PC that serves as a comprehensive primer for the student serious about utilizing the Tablet PC as an academic tool. Everything from hardware to software, accessories to notetaking and book scanning issues are covered, complete with links to archived blog articles from a plethora of sources (including yours truly for the music student!). Thanks, Tracy, for another tremendous resource!

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March 21, 06

Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 8: Free Digital Sheet Music

While online vendors offer an incredible breadth of digital sheet music offerings at prices that are much more reasonable than their paper counterparts, nothing really beats "free". Here are a number of sites that provide a surprising depth of free digital sheet music libraries:


I think i found the motherlode of free sheet music! Free-Scores.com is an amazing repository of hundreds of websites that offer free music in a dizzying array of formats ( GIF - PDF - EPS/ PS - TEF - ABC - TABRITE - SIBILIUS - CAPELLA - ENC - MUSICTEX - NOTEWORTHY - MUS / ETF - TAB / TXT - GUITAR PRO - SCORCH) as well as their own collection of free PDF scores. An amazing range of instrument repertoire (bagpipes? zithers? bouzouki?) is represented. The website offers its own source of PDF music scores, along with a disclaimer:
We are proud to participate to the transmission of free sheet music.
Our project is to distribute for free the most important choice of domain public free scores.
We feature 2337 piece of music to download in PDF format.

Their license page is all in French, and my French sucks - but it appears to talk about the differences between various forms of copyright (public domain, creative commons, standard copyrights, etc.) Tons of original music from what i can see being offered at many of the linked websites - the interface is nice and clean, easy to navigate - you can even search for websites that offer repertoire in your preferred format (like PDF or Sibelius).
If the search engine can't find a free version of your requested work, it will automatically pop up links and ads from commecial vendors that can sell you what they have in stock. Very nice service. I'll be spending plenty of time at this portal site exploring the vast network of contributing sites.

8Notes.com is another terrific multi-purpose site. They offer a small library of free public domain sheet music of the most popular works in Sibelius, MIDI and PDF formats for a wide variety of instruments and styles. They also have an indexed database linking an ecclectic collection of free sheet music found on outside websites. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of 8Notes.com is their extensive collection of dynamic music and theory lessons. This is one of the cleanest and best designed free-music websites by far - the sheet music offerings are perfect for the beginning and intermediate students, and the online lesson material alone would make a perfect compliment to any serious pedagogy studio.

SheetMusicArchive.net makes a reasonable set of pdf scans of public domain editions of public domain classical music available for free, or a full cd for $19.95. Again, the quality of the scans varies. Note that you are limited to 2 free downloads a day at this site.


ClassicalArchives.com is amazing - at the time of this writing, they have 37,213 full length classical music files by 2,002 composers. 5 free downloads a day for non-members, 1000 downloads a month for those who pay a $25 yearly membership fee. This is a massive collection of classical repertoire transcribed into MIDI formats and also avaialble as MP3's - basically what this means is that this is the computer equivalent of an electronic listening library. I'm listening to the Scherzo from Brahms' Sonata in F minor for Two pianos as i'm writing this, and the tempi are a pretty bizarre - the MIDI seems to have been keyed in note by note, rather than being a "live" performance, so the notes are perfectly clean, but the tempi are all rigidly mechanical. You won't find "artistic" interpretations of the classics here, but that's not what this resource is for - it's a great way to get an overview of a ton of repertoire quickly and affordably. Note, while you could technically open the MIDI files as "sheet music" from within a music notation program like Sibelius or Finale, it would only be a bare view of the notes, missing all of the performance instructions, dynamics and title/movement heading texts.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but i think they represent some of the larger and better known sites currently available. If you know of any others, please email me and i'll update this list accordingly.

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March 18, 06

Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 7: Building a Digital Music Library

We've spent a good deal talking about scanners and scanning techniques - i'm particularly excited about the potential for products like the Justice Visions Portable Camera Scanner (i'll be posting my personal experiences with it in a future article) - but let's face it: scanning is still a pain, no matter how fast it is. It certainly has its place in building a digital library taking full advantage of the Tablet PC's capabilities, but as several folks have already pointed out, there are some serious copyright issues that must be contended with. Freehand Systems, the makers of the MusicPad Pro system (it's a Linux-based music-reading "PDA", something i'm very interesting in exploring, but it is NOT a full Tablet PC and as a result has several shortcomings that i'll discuss in a future article) USED to have an interesting disclaimer page regarding the legality of scanning music, but it has since disappeared - if memory serves me, it said something along the lines of, "as long as you own your own paper versions of the music, you can make scanned copies for your personal use" - well, the lawyers at Freehand have obviously put their foot down and taken that disclaimer off their website. One great hope is that these antiquated copyright laws will be updated to work with the mediums of the 21st century and beyond - after all, something is really really wrong when you have to wait months for a French publication to be dug out of some European warehouse to be delivered by snail mail and then paid for at ludicrous prices that rival the cost of petrol at NASA! So what's a digital musician to do? Read on to explore the world of commercial online digital sheet music!
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March 13, 06

Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 6: Maintenance

Just as a violinist carries a humidor to keep their instrument from cracking, and a clarinetist carries a swab cloth to wipe out the inside of their clarinet after each practice session, there are some basic tools a musician will need to properly care for and maintain their Tablet PC. In fact, as i mentioned in an interview by an Italian online Tablet PC magazine, the more you are able to adopt the mindset of treating the Tablet PC as an artistic instrument, the more things will make sense in terms of its usage and care with relationship to your art.

There are daily, weekly/monthly, and occasional tasks that need to be done to keep your Tablet PC music system in tip-top shape. Rather than think of these things as a being "too technical", think of the daily, weekly and occasional tasks a violinist needs to constantly keep in mind. For example:

  • Daily: need to wipe off the rosin carefully from the bridge area and the affected fingerboard

  • Weekly/Monthly: Need to get bow(s) rehaired, strings replaced; bridge adjustments

  • Occasional: Need to get cracks and splits sealed; sound post adjustments
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    New "Getting Started" Series Topical Page

    To make it easier to navigate the growing "Getting Started" series of articles, i've created a dedicated page that will group them by topic. The current topic is "Putting Together a Tablet PC System for Musicians". Feel free to email me if you have any questions or suggestions for the current or possible future "getting started" articles.

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    February 20, 06

    Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 5: Music Readers and Annotators continued

    I forgot to mention in my previous article the results of high resolution scans. When I first thought about using a Tablet PC as a music reader, I was concerned about image quality on a smaller screen – even with a 12.1 inch display on my Toshiba M205-S810, it still meant a slight shrinkage in visual real estate, so I wanted my music to be as clear as possible.

    My first scan was of my old Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 score – if I remember correctly, I used the Color Photograph (24 bit color) setting and got the following result:

  • Beethoven Hi Res Example


  • The image quality was much, much better than I had anticipated – almost too good, as I saw every paper crease, pencil smudge and tear mark on the page!

    Unfortunately, high image quality comes at a cost: speed. I don’t have benchmark numbers, but it seems that high res scanned images tend to take at least 3-4 times longer to change pages, and that gets compounded depending on the size of the score. It might not make much difference if you’re only dealing with 3 or 4 pages in a given music file, but if you’re talking about a typical sonata or piano concerto with 50 pages or more, then the page turn delay can be even more significant.

    Contrast (the difference between the dark and light portions of an image) can also be a factor – as pretty as that Beethoven score looks, it can be a bit problematic when reading from a tablet pc screen that has glare issues, due to the photographic ‘paper-like’ image quality that picks up the shadows from crease and fold marks. In a practice room or lesson studio, you might not notice any problems, but on stage with direct lighting you would want your score to have a reasonably good contrast to cut through the glare that affects any reflective material. (more) No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 4: Music Readers and Annotators

    In our last article, we looked at scan and image settings for getting your paper music into a digital format. Before we talk about the various programs for opening and annotating these files, let's compare some different image types from both downloaded and scanned files.

    First, here are some sample pages from CD-based and online libraries that seem to scan in low resolution Black and White/fax compatible settings. Note that these two links will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open them.

  • CD Sheet Music


  • Everynote.com


  • Not too bad, eh? I tried to select examples that showed high density activity with lots of notation - when you open them in Acrobat, these files are very legible. The problem is, how can you notate them like pencil to paper?

    ***UPDATE (10/18/07) At the time of this article's writing, PDF Annotator was not really up to speed as a viable PDF reader/inker program. Now, however, the current version of PDF Annotator is hands down the best program for image quality, reading, annotating in digital ink AND text, and speedy page turns. I no longer use Windows Journal due to its inherent graphic limitations (you can read about them after the break). As most online vendors and libraries offer their scores in PDF formats, no conversion is necessary to read the files natively (although you will occasionally run into editing restrictions which will not allow you to save your ink markings on top of the original files). (more) No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    February 17, 06

    Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 3: Scanning Music

    I've got a few minutes before i have to play the Liszt Totentanz, so i wanted to share a few thoughts about scanning music.

    After two years of experimenting with scan settings, here are my magic results:
  • Greyscale

  • 200 dpi


  • Most scanners will give you a variety of image outputs. Full color scans are going to be the largest files, usually the best looking, but at a cost: the larger the image size, the slower the page turns will be. This can be pretty terrifying if you're sight reading something in performance and you're praying that you actually pressed the pedal correctly while waiting for the page to sloooooooowwly bleeeeeed past....The lowest resolution settings - usually Black and White text or Fax-friendly settings - will result in super zippy page turns, but they're going to have problems picking up all those parallel lines from music staves. Greyscale 200 dpi (dots per inch) seems - at least to me - to be the best compromise between image quality and file size.
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    Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 2: Software

    This next section on software gets more involved - i think the best way to approach it would be to begin with an overview of what's needed, then work our way through the specifics broken down into more detailed articles.

    I made a mind map diagram to organize the different categories of software we need to discuss:



    These categories are:
  • Music

  • Device Drivers

  • Maintenance

  • Pedagogy

  • Performance


  • In this article, we'll give a general overview of the types of Music-related software involved in this Tablet PC system. They can be broadly classified in three areas:
  • Music Input - programs for getting music into the Tablet PC

  • Music Readers and Annotators - programs that enable us to view music and to annotate/edit them

  • Music Notation - programs for creating music


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    February 16, 06

    Putting a Tablet PC System together for Musicians, Part 1: Hardware

    We'll look at what hardware components you need to put a basic Tablet PC music system together. You can actually see all of the elements posted in the side menu bar under "My Toolbox", which shows all of the main tech tools i currently use.
    There are 3 basic things you need:

    1. a Tablet PC
    2. a programmable Footswitch
    3. a Scanner

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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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