Sunday, January 31, 2016

Henle Library - Urtext in an app, digital sheet music done right

And they are doing it right. This is the future of digital sheet music. Henle is doing so much more than just providing Urtext editions in a PDF reader with some basic annotation and bookmarking, they are truly embracing the potential of the digital format.

The app will include many options for customizing the text in ways that you just can't do with paper. You can resize staves and change how many appear on each page. You can add or remove the solo part or the piano part in chamber music.

Annotation options include not only text or ink, but the ability to add markings using a "comprehensive Henle character font." The biggest innovation here is that all markings are basically in separate layers. You can layer on fingerings and bowings done by a long list of performers, editors, and pedagogues, or you can just remove them all and start completely clean. Henle promises an elegant experience switching between these layers as well.

There will also be a full suite of practice/performance tools like foot pedal support, a "professional" metronome (whatever that means), and the ability to record yourself as you play.

Another really exciting practice/rehearsal tool will be the ability to easily switch between your part and the same passage in the score. No more frantically digging through the score or turning everyone's stands around when you want to see how something lines up.

Since they're not bound by how much paper is or isn't being used up, you can buy individual parts instead of having to buy the whole score with all parts if you want a quartet. They'll also write out A sections that repeat after a B section like in a Minuet and Trio, so you don't have to flip back to the Minuet after the Trio, the Minuet will be written out again.

The iOS app is coming on February 3rd and they're also promising an Android app in May. So I'll have to wait a little longer to see how it works on the giant HP Pro Slate, but iPad Pro users should be really happy really soon.

Full news from Henle here.

Sign up for information about the launch here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

HP Pro Slate 12 vs Paper Music

OMG, you guys! It's SO BIG!

On the left is the Peters edition of the Bach Solo Cello Suites for viola and on the right is the Virtual Sheet Music edition of the same piece on the HP Pro Slate 12. Yes, that's the whole page displayed, no lines cut off the bottom. The music is actually bigger on the tablet because it's designed to be printed on 8.5x11 paper and the Peters edition is in a slightly larger than 8.5x11 book. (The tablet is actually about the same thickness as the book too.)

In fact the tablet, minus the speaker grills at the top and bottom, is almost exactly 8.5x11. The bezels are about what you'd expect decent margins to be, so the resulting image should be just about the same size as if it were on 8.5x11 paper.

It's basically awesome.

The pen has some quirks, as does Android as a sheet music solution (more on that soon), but for now, I'm really enjoying this tablet.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Oops, I bought another tablet

Actually, I bought 2, so double oops. But probably not what you'd think based on my holiday posting spree.

I admit I've been spending way too much time reading tablet pc forums again, but the long thread about the surface book at has played a big role in keeping me away from trying one. Forums tend to turn into echo chambers of problems, but reading about what was going wrong was enough to keep me grounded in the fact that it wouldn't really fit my needs anyway. But someone else mentioned picking up an older tablet on ebay for cheap to get a good ink experience (Wacom EMR, which you don't see on anything new except Samsung's note line anymore) until the kinks get ironed out of all this new hardware/Windows 10. I was intrigued and headed over to ebay. Oops.

So, what did I get?

First tablets first: I found an hp 2760p with the core i7 on ebay for a stupidly low price, then I made a low ball offer, and it was accepted. I had a 2730p once upon a time and really liked it. The 2760p was the last update made on the 27xxp platform. It's a second gen core i7, but some benchmarks are faster than the core m I use regularly now. I'll be interested to see how that plays out.

These machines are coming off corporate lease, so there are actually a ton of them out there now for cheap, but many have had their vitals pulled for security. The one I got has no AC adapter, hard drive, or hard drive caddy, but the AC adapter and caddy were easy to come by and inexpensive. I have a 1TB drive sitting around that should work, and I can upgrade to an SSD if I end up really liking it. It only has 2GB of RAM, but that's also easy enough to upgrade. It supports up to 16GB. The important thing is that it's got the core i7 in it, as that can't be upgraded.

It's a fun project more than anything. It'll scratch that itch. If I like it, I've gotten a great deal on a good machine. And if not, I can put it right back on ebay, but as a ready-to-go machine with a hard drive and AC adapter, I'd likely profit. So it's a win either way.

But then.....I don't even remember how I found the next one. It apparently came out just about a year ago, when I was drowning in infant/toddler/lawsuit/PPD so I didn't really pay attention to it. Also, it was expensive and ran Android. At the time, I wasn't interested if it wasn't Windows, but now that OneNote on Android supports ink and I know I can work comfortably in Xodo docs, which is cross platform, I'm more interested in Android based tablets.

And it's got a giant 12.3" 4:3 screen with an active pen!

Meet the HP Pro Slate 12

Or at least, we'll meet it next week when it gets here. Again, I need to keep off ebay. The asking price of the tablet new is not completely unreasonable at $569. It's still a good deal better than the iPad Pro. But I'm cheap. And I found a refurb outlet on ebay that had a few left. In fact, they've got just one more if you're interested. (Disclaimer, mine hasn't even shipped yet since I bought it on Friday afternoon, so I have no idea if this seller is any good.)

It uses Qualcomm's ultrasonic pen technology, which they showed off at CES in 2014, but hasn't really shown up in consumer hardware much. The pen emits an ultrasonic pulse that is tracked by microphones in the tablet. It looks good enough in reviews for handwritten notes and annotating PDFs, although it's not liked for art applications. The neat thing is, the microphones can track the pen outside of the tablet's screen, so you can write on a pad of paper next to the tablet (using the ink side of the reversible nib in the stylus) and have it digitized as you go. Not that I'm likely to use that feature, but, neat!

Details are sparse as it's marketed as a business tablet, so it hasn't seen many reviews and there aren't 200+ page threads about it on forums. But techradar has an interesting review and Lisa Gade of mobiltechreview has a nice long video with the tablet.

But I've been enjoying playing with OneNote and Xodo docs with the active stylus on a Samsung Note 8 and I'm very interested to see how it works with the Qualcomm pen on this much larger screen. And at just under $300 (even with stupid CA sales tax), it's the kind of tablet I can haul around to any gig and not have to worry about. I haven't had a 12" 4:3 screen since I got to test a Motion LE1600 forever ago. This should be the perfect size.

Now I just wait. Both tablets should arrive late this week.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Toshiba DynaPad - an inexpensive, lightweight, big screened, Wacom based slab of potential

The DynaPad is basically a netbook in the Surface Pro form factor, with a Wacom pen. Which is basically the ideal sheet music reader (for my workflow at least). I really like the size of the Surface Pro 3 and the workflow with Xodo docs on Windows 10, but even the i3 is really overkill for just reading/annotating PDFs (and checking Facebook in the break).

Toshiba's DynaPad won't win any benchmark awards with it's Atom x5, and 64GB of eMMC storage isn't spectacular, but at least they went with 4GB of RAM. I'm hoping this is a general trend in the race to the bottom specs - 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM is really just not going to cut it anymore. Although I have no experience with the latest generation Atom x-series chips, I'd imagine they'd be up to the task of PDF display, unless you have some crazy high DPI scans with layers and layers of markup.

The big plus to trimming back the specs to bare minimum is that you get a crazy thin and light slab for a good price. It's the same thickness as the iPad Pro (6.9mm) while coming in lighter (1.25lbs vs 1.57lbs for the wifi only iPad Pro).

The screen is the same size and aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 3 (12" 3:2), just a lower resolution, 1920x1280. The IPS display has an anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coating and should be just find for music at that resolution. Remember, I started with the original iPad at 1024x768 (after a brief stint with the TC1100, also 1024x768), and while it wasn't the most beautiful screen in the world, it was plenty readable.

Initial news reports mentioned an asking price of $570, which would have been great, but it looks like they've chosen to bundle the keyboard, driving the price up to $650, still not bad at all. Less than an iPad Pro, a little less than the discounted Surface Pro 3, and just a bit more than the 64GB iPad Air 2.

The Wacom AES pen should deliver a writing experience as good as any of the higher end tablets and comparable to grabbing a pencil off the stand to mark up sheet music.

There aren't really many reviews out yet, but there are some hands on videos from CES. It's shipping now though, so I'll be keeping an eye out for actual user reviews.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My newest oldest gadget/toy

After all that wondering if I should consider this tablet or that tablet, I found something I liked. It's old. In fact, it takes the cake for the oldest thing I have now. It's estimated to be from the later 1800s, German, and it has clearly lived an interesting life. It must have been smashed at one point because it's got seams and lines all over it. It's full of cleats and all the cracks seem well repaired from what I can tell. I took it to another shop for a second opinion (while also dropping off plenty of work for them) and they agreed the repairs are solid. They'll need to be because I'm not going easy on this little guy. 

It's a petite 15" viola with the most comfortable neck I think I've ever played on. It's so lightweight too. The sound isn't huge, commensurate with the size of the body, but I think it'll be enough for my purposes. It's got Thomastic Visions on it right now and they've felt cold to me on other instruments. I think it's a good candidate to benefit from the new Evah Pirazzi Gold strings, which supposedly offer a good balance of power and warmth, so I'll put a set of those on when my business account has had a chance to recover from the shock of this purchase. 

The most important thing is that it's petite, lightweight, has a string length similar to my primary instrument (which is actually short for it's size), and puts out enough sound to balance in the groups I play in. My previous "little viola" which I traded for this one didn't put out enough sound to be useful for anything other than the amplified gigs. It always had the pickup on. This new one I enjoy playing on it's own. And it's just so easy to play. It's really sparked a new energy for playing. 

I'm not ready to let go of my "big" viola just yet, although I very nearly had it for sale after my back issues flared up. But, I finally dragged myself into a chiropractor and several adjustments later, I can play the big one again without pain. But this little one will let me play more with less effort so I don't risk more injury.

I also took advantage of the holiday break to haul all my stuff down to the shop for adjustments. I also had three bows that needed new hair. It's amazing how all that stuff can pile up until you realize you need to get your business deductions in before the new year. Anyway, it turned out that my big viola had an open seam. Oops. That explained my feeling that it was starting to sound like it was full of cotton balls. 

Mine's a 1980 Erdasz and it turns out the shop had an Erdasz of their own, one with the cut away shoulder. I couldn't resist giving it a try. It was fun playing that one. It really plays a lot like mine, it's just a bit easier to get the sound out since the cut away is a 16.75" and mine's only 16.25".