Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Better Workflow

I have been trying to find a good program for managing my PDF sheet music library.  I need a program with easy scrolling using PgUp and PgDn (for use with a USB foot pedal) and good inking for making notations in the music.  The closer to free the better.  I have tried several programs and finally settled on one that I think will work well for my personal performance and practice library.


First, the things that didn’t work:


Minuet 3One Note

OneNote is great for inking, making clear and smooth notations in the music.  The problem is that it is terrible for scrolling.  It doesn’t seem to see the jog dial on the side at all for smooth scrolling through an imported PDF.  It will see commands from PgUp and PgDn, but it seems to want to move through imaginary text fields to the side of the music and keeps pushing the actual sheet music part of the document off center.  OneNote just leaves too much space around an imported document.  Great for taking notes, but terrible for keeping the music front and center.  OneNote will be spectacular for taking notes on the imported Suzuki books when I’m at the institute, but it will not work for real world playback.



Minvet3 Foxit

Foxit is a fabulous lightweight and free PDF reader.  It has a great full screen mode which lets the music fill all the available screen space.  The jog dial can then be used to turn pages forwards and backwards really easily.  It could also be easily controlled by a foot pedal sending PgUp and PgDn. Where Foxit falls short is in the notation department.  It has annotation tools, which is great for a free program.  The problems come in the way it handles smoothing the inked input.  For some reason, it seems to want to cut off the first chunk of any line I draw.  An up bow V turns into more of a check mark.  A tiny 1 for a fingering disappears almost entirely.  There is little customization for the pencil tool also.  I was able to change the color and thickness, but no matter what I tried, it cut off the first part of any stroke.  This rules it out for being a useful tool to track markings for performance.



My favorite program for Linux on a Tablet, xournal is great for marking up PDFs.  Sadly it is out for the simple fact that PDF rendering in Windows is terrible.  The staff lines are jagged making it harder to read.  If I were running linux on the tablet, it would be my program of choice.  But as it is, the SSD is only big enough for one OS right now, and Windows is needed for some of the hardware functions.



And the winner is:

Windows Journal


Surprise!  The free program that is included in all the tablet accessories turns out to be ideal.  When you first open it, it offers to install a printer for importing anything you can print into Journal.  It’s the only way to get a PDF in.  I open the PDF in Foxit, choose print, then choose the Journal Printer.  That creates a very nice file in Windows journal that fills the screen while being only the size of the music.  That means navigation is as easy as telling it to fit to width and then using PgUp and PgDn.  The inking is on par with OneNote as this is also a Microsoft product geared towards the active pen input of a tablet.  As a nice bonus, Windows Journal comes with many templates, one of which is staff paper!  Now I can draw out scales or new little exercises for my students without having to remember to bring my own staff paper!  I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to write out a little exercise or a new scale, but I didn’t have blank staff paper with me. 

Minuet 3 Journal

The only drawback I found to Windows Journal, is that it doesn’t export to PDF.  I found a neat free Print to PDF program, called doPDF, that just installs itself as a printer and allows you to create a PDF through the print dialogue.  Now I’m wondering if Windows Journal and some good folder organization would be enough to keep my student notes in addition to keeping a music library.

Monday, May 24, 2010


scrshot_main  qr_market_pub_cohortor

I found a great free chromatic tuner in the Android Market called gstrings.  It’s accurate, has a really smooth moving needle, and a digital readout of your exact hertz.  There are million other useful looking settings.  This app has tons of potential beyond just telling you what you’re playing.  I’m looking forward to playing with it more and seeing what all it can do. I tested it side by side against my Korg and it consistently gave me the same read-outs through a full scale, with much smoother needle motion than the Korg.  It’s very responsive to changing notes on auto mode.  Just to see what it would do, I pulled it out before a concert today, to see if it could hear me while other musicians were also warming up.  No dice there, but I’m sure if I played around with the mic sensitivity settings, I could have gotten better results.  It works great in a quiet room.

As I was drafting this, during intermission at an afternoon concert, I noticed some of the guys singing into iPhones.  Turns out they were playing with iPhone tuners, so I got some recommendations for things to try on the iPhone platform as well. 


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Smart Music on the Tablet!

The last I tested Smart Music, it was pretty dismal on the tablet.  There was tons of popping and static in the playback, indicating that the machine was not up to the task of running the audio out while listening to the audio in and all the signal processing that goes with that.  At that point, the machine was still in the state it came to me in – slow hard drive near death, only 1Gig RAM, and tons of stuff installed by the previous owner.  Since then, I have upgraded to 2Gig RAM, a nice fast SSD, and done a clean install of Windows 7.  I figured I would give it another go and see if it made a difference.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

TC1100 vs. iPad

2010-05-14 19.21.08

Last night, I had the opportunity to compare my tc1100 to a friend’s iPad.  Both devices have the same resolution (1024x768) and very similar sized screens.  The tc1100 screen is only slightly bigger.  Brightness and clarity are better on the iPad, with its IPS display and clear capacitive screen.  It’s these direct comparisons that show the age on the CFL backlit, active digitizer covered screen of the tc1100.  It’s just a bit fuzzier or grainy compared to the screen on the iPad.  The extra bit of size on the tc1100 is really nice (I probably could have zoomed into the music a bit more on each device though).  I think the ideal music slate would be 12” or 13”.  Next time I have access to an iPad, I’ll try to get all around size comparisions.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TC1100 vs Real Sheet Music

2010-05-09 22.25.27
This is the same page displayed in physical form and as a full screen One Note note.  The tc1100 is only slightly smaller than the page of music.  The main drawback is that you only get one page, not two.  The main advantage is that the entire bookshelf of music behind the stand can fit on the tablet.  Until I can move my entire studio to my home, having my full library be mobile will be invaluable.  While I get back to the scanning marathon, enjoy some more shots of the various ways to display music on the tc1100.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My “new” HP TC1100

I had totally intended to list my current devices and how I’m using them and how I hope to improve on my current set-up (read – how I can justify an iPad as a business expense), when I stumbled on a great deal on craigslist.  The device just had so much potential, and at 1/3 the cost of the iPad, it looked like a much better way to test my ideas than dropping cash on the iPad.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

OK, so now what?

Smart Music

It seems that the most important component in the studio is Smart Music.  I have used it more this past week and to my surprise, the students were more into it than I had remembered.  So, no matter how neat a sheet music tablet may be, if it doesn’t run Smart Music, I will still have to carry the laptop for Smart Music. 


Sheet Music Tablet

A good PDF reader is all that is necessary here.  Even an Android tablet could do that.  I’ve tried on the Droid and it works fine, just really tiny.  The only thing is that there are currently no Android tablets bigger than 7”, and even those are just announcements but not yet released products.  The iPad is a bit pricey for just this purpose.  I did more performing this week and while I’m not sure I could use one for performance just yet, it would be handy for practice as I create PDF practice parts to email to the section for the SPCO.  I would also love to have access to the Suzuki music and duet reading books without having to open Smart Music or carry the physical books.  I’ll be on the lookout for an Android tablet with a big enough screen.


Electronic Lesson Notes

This one is a bit trickier as it is dependant on the students to actually use an electronically delivered set of lesson notes.  I will be trying some options this summer, but I’m thinking the best thing for the older ones would be to have them keep their own notebook.  I think they would really remember things better if they wrote it themselves.  For the younger students, I can have the parents keep a notebook in the lesson and follow up with email notes.  Either way, it would still be good for my own reference to keep notes on the students either in Evernote or with the Music Teacher’s Helper system.  The main benefit of Evernote is that it can be done offline.