Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Taming The Sheet Music Tiger Part 3: Going Mobile!

When I started the “Taming The Sheet Music Tiger” project, I was partially inspired by a display I saw at a NAMM show a few years ago.  I had seen the FreeHand Systems (freehandsystems.com) Music Pad Pro being demoed:

Music Pad Pro

Click here for a YouTube video of a NAMM show demo

My colleague and I were instantly enamored with the idea of carrying a light tablet PC with our sheet music on it instead of a bag (or 2) of books and sheet music.

The cost however, felt a bit prohibitive.  The consumer was also buying into a dedicated, proprietary system.  So one would still have to lug their laptop in addition to the Music Pro Plus tablet.  And of course, my colleague pointed out that if it ever failed, you didn’t have a backup. I decided I would be happy to leave copies of my books in my car to ride from place to place, never to be unpacked unless there was a digital copy failure.  The Music Pad Pro could go into my workplace with me, with the books in the car as my backup.  However, the cost was still  prohibitive for me, starting at over $1000.  (The Music Pad Pro currently runs about $899 at SamAsh.com.)

It has been a few years since that first inspiration, and my desire for a paperless office has not died.    In “Taming The Sheet Music Tiger” part 1 and part 2, I’ve been finding a system to easily scan my music library “en masse”, and ways to create affordable storage and backup options.  The next step is getting all of this effort to translate into a portable digital “book” of sheet music, which is well within my budget.

I decided to use my current laptop to experiment with.  If this system works out, I will consider a tablet PC to take my laptop’s place.  (This would allow me to easily create on-screen annotations).  So I needed three things to make this work with my current laptop:

1) A foot switch to allow me to make page turns

2) Some kind of secure laptop podium or a secure method to attach a laptop to a music stand

3) A software package that would eventually allow me to make annotations to my music.

Since my digital music is all in PDF format, I decided to start the next phase of this project by locating a desirable foot switch.  I watched the Music Pad Plus video and noticed the keyboard style foot swtich they use.   I figured I needed a simple switch that had a USB connector.

After doing some of research, I found the Footime Page Turner on eBay, through a seller called ScorePerfect.

Footime Page Turner

I liked this foot switch much better than the keyboard style foot pedal the Music Pad Pro offered, simply because the Footime could light up.  This would be useful for playing in darker venues.  I had a very successful, stress free transaction on eBay and recently tried out the new pedal.  The foot switch was literally plug and play – no drivers to install.

Already my laptop is on it’s way to being a better music reading system.   Unfortunately, Adobe Acrobat won’t allow me to make annotations.  Since my laptop isn’t a tablet PC, writing annotations doesn’t really matter at this point.   It woudl be nice to be able to create a play list.  I can’t easily do that using Adobe.

The foot switch does allow me to test out my ideas cheaply in my home studio before committing fully to the paperless system.  I can see if  I would even use a system like this and if  this system feels comfortable.

I have found that my experiences so far have been very positive.  I am going to scan all of my personal practice materials into PDF format.  This will lighten my load  as I already bring a laptop to various studios.  The laptop will now hold all my personal practice materials, instead of a large messenger bag with two binders.

Stay tuned to see the next stage in this system’s evolution.

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6 Comments

  1. Hugh Sung

    What a terrific article, Brittany! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with using computers as music readers and the Footime page turning pedal! It sounds like you’ve put a lot a thought into your system and have come up with a great solution.
    If you’re interested, you might want to check out the AirTurn and MusicReader – you can find information on both of them at http://www.AirTurn.com
    The AirTurn is similar to the Footime as a plug and play page turner, with the difference being that it’s a wireless system and can actually be used with a variety of pedals. For instance, i use 2 Boss FS-5U pedals when i practice in order to be able to turn pages forwards and backwards, but in performance, i’ll remove the “backwards” pedal so that my foot doesn’t accidentally press it, ensuring that i only turn pages in the right direction 😉
    MusicReader is an excellent solution for using PC and Mac laptops for digital scores. You can easily import PDF’s into the MusicReader format to take advantage of its library, playlist, and search functions. You can annotate scores with ink “stamps” using just your mouse or touchpad, and if you want to use a digital pen to draw with color ink or highlights, you can easily add on a USB tablet like the Wacom Bamboo for only $79. Not quite the same as a Tablet PC, but surprisingly effective and very portable.
    One of my favorite features of MusicReader is its ability to view scores half a page at a time – regular PDF readers just cut the page in half regardless of where the staves are printed, but MusicReader actually recognizes the white space between staves so that each half of the music gets “centered” correctly and notes don’t get cut off. This has tremendous implications for solo instrumentalists playing from full scores as opposed to just their own solo parts!
    You can also look into laptop stands that are about the same size and portability as music stands. AirTurn will soon be offering stands made by insTand – you can check out pictures of them on our blog at http://airturn.com/blog
    An article i just wrote to help violinists get started with digital music reading systems can be found at http://airturn.com/blog/getting-started/getting-started-for-violinists

    I hope you find some of this material helpful – i’ve been working with computers as music readers for about 7 years now, and absolutely love the freedom from the perils of paper!
    Best wishes on your digital music ventures! Be sure to post another article on how things progress (and let me know if I can be of any help with music software or computer hardware questions!)
    -Hugh Sung

  2. Joe

    I wish cost was never an issue. I wouldn’t mind having a NAMM.

  3. Hugh Sung

    Joe, if you already have a laptop, you might be surprised at how affordable it can be to get started putting your own digital music reading systems together. AirTurn page turner pedal bundles start as low as $64.95, and the MusicReader program is only $99. Cheers!

  4. Sara

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Sara

    http://pianonotes.info

  5. stewart

    Brittany, great article! I hope I’m not coming to the party too late. I had a MusicPad Pro for about 4 years and it recently got stolen. Instead of rushing right out to replace it, I’ve decided to wait for the Apple “iSlate” or “iTablet” or whatever it will be called. In the meantime, I’ve butchered a 12″ iBook to fold flat on the music stand and operate it in portrait mode. I initially tried to install a touchsreen that I bought off ebay, but that didn’t work out too well for several reasons. I ended up getting a Wacom Bamboo and have been using that to navigate ( couldn’t find a way to get the ibook trackpad to rotate)
    Anyway, I’m having to redo all my digital music since it was all converted to Freehand format and I’m trying to get it to work with Apple’s Preview. That works fine for performing, but it doesn’t allow me to create sortable bookmarks or “playlists”
    I’d love to read parts 1&2 of “Taming the Sheet Music Tiger” but can’t find them. I’d also like to learn the steps you use in Acrobat to create a playlist or folder for your different gigs. Thanks

  6. Brittany

    Hey Stewart,

    Thanks for checking out my blogs. Sorry to hear about your stolen MusicPad. I hope insurance covered it.

    All of my MTH article are archived here on my website:

    http://www.ladybassmusic.net/archives.html

    Here is Part 1:
    http://blog.musicteachershelper.com/taming-the-sheet-music-tiger/

    Here is Part 2:
    http://blog.musicteachershelper.com/taming-the-sheet-music-tiger-part-2-diy-external-hard-drive/

    I’m still developing what I am going to use as an interface….stay tuned for part 4, and I’ll definitely answer more of your questions. Thanks for your patience.

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