A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Go go gadget score!

It's been a while (again, sorry) and what's more this entry will be purely functional rather than deeply philosophical. You'll have to wait until next week for something deeper, but I promise it's coming (spoiler: it'll be about auditions).

This post has been a long time coming, as I've been using my iPad for the bulk of my singing work for 5 years now. I was finally nudged to post it after being yet again asked how I get my scores onto the tablet, and why I bother.

It all started in 2011 in Banff, where I saw a tenor colleague taking his iPad into a coaching... It was an instant case of 'I want one!'. And while I do, of course, use my tablet for all the usual browsing, email, video consumption, games, etc, it has actually become my musical workhorse, to the point where I can't really remember how I used to function as a singer without it. I did function, and I probably could again, but it really has become an essential tool in my workflow. And I'll tell you why ;)

First of all, the Apple naysayers will ask why an iPad? Well, there are 2 reasons. The first is the 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen (not widescreen), which means that when you view sheet music on it, it corresponds to the dimensions of a standard sheet of paper. The second takes me into a list of all the apps I use, said list being the main reason behind this post.

Only available on iOS, this app is what I fire up 99% of the time I work on any music. It's a pdf-viewer first and foremost. You scan in music, download it from IMSLP, buy digital copies, or get pdfs any number of other ways (straight from a composer's laptop), and forScore displays them on your iPad. What sets it apart from other pdf-viewers are the various things you can now do:
- Annotate - you can write on your score! Both with the ipad keyboard and with your finger/stylus. You can scribble, draw, in any colour you like, and also highlight. You can save a version of your score with your singery notes, and then write in staging notes on another version, etc.
- Share - you can send scores from your iPad by email, either with or without your scribblings
- Listen - you can assign recordings from your music library (the Music app, including the wealth of Apple Music) to a score and listen back to them while perusing the score. You can even slow them down (while preserving pitch) and loop sections.
- Play - forScore has a built in piano instrument, so you can play an onscreen keyboard
- Record - there's also an audio recorder, so you can record lessons, rehearsals, practice sessions, and these are attached to whatever score you are performing

Avid Scorch 
Simply put, this app plays back Sibelius files as you read the score. The sounds it uses for playback are horrible and always metronomically precise, but if you're learning contemporary music and your piano chops aren't quite up to the task of giving yourself an idea of how the thing is meant to sound, Scorch comes to the rescue. You can adjust the tempo to practise and also change the volume of parts in the score. It's fiddly and certainly not perfect, but it is useful.

To answer the question of how I get scores into forScore, I always ask my employers if they happen to have access to pdf files of the music. More and more often they do, which is great news for e-musicians (or should that be iMusicians?), providing you treat these as hired scores if they're in copyright: delete them after your contract is up. If the employer doesn't have a pdf score, I will try IMSLP, which I'm sure most musicians are familiar with. Failing that, I scan in hard copy scores I already own as and when I need them, for which I use TurboScan on my phone. It lets me take photos of each page and converts them to pdf. If you take 3 photos of each page, the app cleverly focuses on different areas, so you're guaranteed a high quality scan. I did own a conventional scanner, but have found this method is actually quicker for me, and lets me send the pdfs to my iPad over AirDrop very conveniently. I scan at a rate of around 100 pages per hour, so yes, getting an entire score over to pdf is a time investment, but I've found it to be very much worth it.

I also own and sometimes use music notation apps Notion and NotateMe, the latter having a useful feature called PhotoScore, which lets you take a photo of a page of music and have the app play it back. Besides that it's always handy to have a free piano app and whatever dictaphone app your tablet/phone comes with. Spotify also deserves a mention, though it isn't compatible with forScore in the way that Apple Music is.

With all these goodies loaded onto your iPad you can be productive practically anywhere you go, as long as you have headphones and don't mind the occasional weird glance from people around you as you hum or sotto voce falsetto your way through an opera in public. If you're doing a contract where you rehearse 3-4 operas, frequently more than 1 a day, you'll save yourself some back-ache by only carrying a tablet rather than 600 pages worth of scores. You'll always have copies of your audition pieces to hand, ready to print (with or without your scribbled annotations, for which pianists will be grateful). The battery generally lasts a full day of music use with no problems (just be professional and don't play games during rehearsals) and forScore is a very stable app, I've even performed from it on occasion (though I try to avoid it just in case something did go wrong). For lessons, coachings, music learning and rehearsals the iPad can be a wonderful tool, so if you already own one, why not give it a go? And I'm pretty sure there are Android equivalents to the apps listed above just a quick google away for those who don't buy into the Apple hype ;)

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