Technology in the 21st century has opened all kinds of possibilities for classical musicians. Symphony music, solos, and new music from all over the globe can be bought or found for free on the Internet, and then downloaded in an instant. Stacks of music and books can be condensed into a single iPad that fits easily into a light backpack. Apps can teach students theory, rhythm and pitch.
But how do you get started? What kind of set-up do you need? Which are the best apps?
This was the topic of a lecture called "The Virtual Violist: Using Technology to Enhance Technique" by violists Nancy Buck and Kimberly Hankins in June at the American Viola Society Festival at the Colburn School.
"Technology is going so fast and in so many ways, I'll admit, I can't keep up," Buck said (certainly echoing my own thoughts on the subject!).
Fortunately, Buck and Hankin had assembled all kinds of information to help us do just that, and here is a roundup of their findings and advice. (The names of the apps are all hyperlinked so you can click on them and learn more.)
Using a Tablet for Music
With so much music available online and digitally, it makes sense to have a system for accessing it, then being able to use it without having to print dozens of sheets of paper.
First, it is important to know about IMSLP -- the International Music Score Library Project, which has been a major source of free music downloading for classical musicians since it was started in 2006. It has hundreds of thousands of public domain music scores.
If you wish to store music from IMSLP, or music you have downloaded from elsewhere, you might consider using a tablet, such as an iPad. Buck offered a cautionary tale for those who are thinking about using a tablet for reading music: holding up her iPad mini next to Kim Hankin's visibly larger 12-inch iPad Pro, she admitted, "The minute that Kim got this -- jealousy!"
The lesson: get a tablet that is as big as a piece of paper. "Especially when you are performing, you need it to be as big as possible," Buck said.
Hankin said that she keeps the music that she is actively using in the iPad but stores the rest of her library in the Cloud. With Google drive, "You can store thousands of sheets of music online," Hanks said, and so you don't need to get as much memory in your iPad.
Something that may come up when using an iPad to read music is the issue of turning pages. Of course, you can always swipe the pad to turn the page, but it is quite helpful to have a mechanism for turning the pages. Here are some options:
Airturn has a number of options for pedals that will turn the page. They recommended the AirTurn DUO, describing it as silent but tactile. Another option is the PageFlip Firefly, which is bluetooth-enabled and also has lights in the pedals so that you can see them in dim light.
Apps for Storing and Playing Music
When storing and using music on your tablet, you'll need an app for that. Here is the one that Hankin described:
"This is the basic app for reading music on your iPad," Hankins said. One big worry that people have, when using music on a computer tablet, is having the ability to write things in the music. Good news! With this app, you can write on the music, using your finger or a stylus pen (they recommended just getting a cheap one, which will work as well or better than the Apple pencil), or you can type words into a text box. You can also add things like trills, rests, mordents, etc. by clicking on an assortment of signs along the left side of the page. The app has a built-in metronome, tuner and pitchpipe. You can easily add scores from Dropbox or Google Drive. "I can go back and forth between my cloud and my iPad.
You can "scan" music into it using a function called "darkroom," and then you can take the document and crop it, listen it, title it, save it, she said.
You can block off different sections of the music in different colors. "If you start with a clean PDF, you can make different versions for different teachers or master classes." That means can create different versions of a piece: a clean copy, a copy with one teacher's fingerings and bowings, a copy with another teacher's markings, etc. When all is said and done, you can share any given version as a PDF, or an annotated PDF, and of course you can print it out.
Evernote Scannable (free)
This is simply a good app for scanning music and other documents.
Apps for Learning Theory, Rhythms and Pitch
Time Guru Metronome ($1.99)
Here is a metronome with all the regular functions, plus "you can actually create really complex rhythms on here," Hankin said. Another feature: you can add randomly muted beats to help you develop your internal rhythm. This particular app does not have a tuner.
Henle Library (free)
Something to try, to get your urtext editions. The app itself is free, but you might have to make some "in-app purchases" for music. Also, they reported some issues printing things out on non-Apple devices.
Symphony Pro - Music Notation ($14.99)
This is a notation app, allowing you to hear what you write . It has as built-in piano and a built-in guitar.
"I found this much easier to use than Finale," Hankins said. You can export something that you have composed as an mp3, pdf or midi file. You can use instrument categories. You start from scratch when it comes to instrumentation, or they have templates for, say, a string quartet.
"If you want a game to play on your phone to get good at ear training," Politonus is what to get.
Here's a highly addictive game that will help students with rhythms and is also just really fun.
Harmony Cloud ($9.99)
This helps with chords and chord progressions.
When the question came up of how to help young students with music theory, a teacher in the class actually volunteered that she likes a site called MusicTheory.net, which supports two related apps:
Theory Lessons ($2.99)
This features 39 music theory lessons from musictheory.net.
Tenuto is a collection of 24 customizable exercises designed to enhance musicality, including recognizing chords on a keyboard and identifying intervals by ear. It also includes six musical calculators for accidentals, intervals, scales, chords, analysis symbols, and twelve-tone matrices.
What apps and devices are most helpful and practical to you, for performing, teaching or learning? Please share your thoughts in the comments sections. I hope you find this helpful!
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Note: Hankins has described a number of these apps in more detail on her blog, click here to read more!
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