Electronic Music Readers – An Update


So, I’ve been using my Samsung Chromebook Pro as an electronic music reader for the past several months, and I thought a bit of an update from my original post was in order for those of you that may be curious or considering making the switch for yourself.

Advantages

Handy Music

One the best things about using the Chromebook is the ease of carrying around music – lots of music – that can be brought up at the touch of a button (or finger).

It’s nice to be able to have all sorts of etudes, orchestral excerpts, chamber music as well as music that I’m currently preparing always on hand. Last month I had was preparing a chamber music concert, and had a last minute student cancellation in the middle of a long string of lessons. Having the music handy (I used the Chromebook to play off of in the concert) made those 30 minutes productive rather than wasted.

Additionally, sometimes random conversations or tangents in the middle of lessons can lead down some interesting paths when I have a wide variety of music available. An idle question about transposition, solo music, jazz, or orchestral excerpts can be more immediately answered, instead of putting off to the following week when I can bring in the correct materials (if I remember).

Music Preservation

When I get new music, the first thing that I do now is scan it – so that I always have an unmarked, clean copy available. I meant to do this with paper music, but for whatever reason (laziness, most likely) I rarely did it. So lots of my older music is heavily marked up.

With the Chromebook and MobileSheets Pro, though, I can make digital copies of the music I’m using, and then make annotations on those copies. I can then either export the marked copies (if I want to save my markings) or delete the marked-up copy and keep the clean, original copy for next time. This is great for orchestra auditions, also, since the measures used for one audition may not be the same as the measures for the next one. Lots of the parts in my Thompson Edition book are looking pretty warn, and I hope that this will save both wear and tear on music and paper.

Performance Advantages

This is, maybe, the most unexpected part (at least for me). I originally got the Chromebook for teaching, but it has been a pleasure to find out that it works so well for performing also.

Probably the most obvious advantage for performing is the foot pedal. There are several choices for foot pedals, but I got the AirTurn Duo. Mainly because it’s about the same thickness as my Chromebook, and so it packs in my bag easily. I am curious about trying out some of the PageFlip pedals (especially the PageFlip Firefly and the PageFlip Dragonfly pedals) and I may do that someday.

I got on for a bit tapping the screen to turn pages (which is faster than actual page turning, but the horn really does require two hands). The pedal makes it very easy to turn back or forward while playing, and after a little adjustment, it’s fairly natural to go back and forwards easily.

I was worried about marking on the music, but since the Samsung Chromebook comes with an included stylus, it’s actually been relatively easy. The stylus tucks away into the body of the Chromebook, so it won’t get lost or left behind. I wish the MobileSheets Pro app was a bit easier to use to make annotations, but it seems to be the best you’ll find on Android, and it’s not anything deal-breaking.

One unexpectedly nice way of marking up the music that I had not done before the Chromebook was highlighting. I recently played a chamber music concert that had a piece that had lots of tempo changes and was pretty tricky to put together. Being able to highlight in different colors for different tempos, whether to lead or follow, which instrument(s) to coordinate with, etc. made it much easier.

Disadvantages

Cost

Even though the Samsung Pro is cheaper than a comparably-sized iPad (plus all the accessories the iPad would need), it’s still not cheap. Plus, carrying it around has made me (more) paranoid about making sure to not leave it alone or in a precarious position.

Additionally, although it’s not terribly heavy, if you put it on a music stand where the desk might tip forward, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to play. Since it’s a laptop form-factor, there also aren’t any cases that would provide much protection from the screen hitting the floor if it were to fall. This is something that I am investigating – maybe a tablet stand mount or something.

The foot pedal, additionally, is an additional cost. It’s probably not necessary for all instruments (my wife, a pianist, gets by fine without one), but if you have a two-handed instrument, it’s very useful.

Distractions

Although it’s not really a big distraction for me, I am always hesitant to pull this out during lessons, since it seems like lots of students get distracted by the gadget-factor rather than focusing on music or whatever we’re talking about.

Additionally, there’s a bit of a “what’s that” factor when I pull it out for the first time in larger ensemble rehearsals. I’m happy to talk about it – after rehearsals – but sometimes people will interrupt my warm-up or rehearsal preparations to talk, and that’s a bit annoying.

Scanning

While I have lots of music already digitized, sometimes scanning the music can be a bit tricky.

The biggest problem is probably scanning software itself. We have a great Brother laser printer, but it only has an average scanner (and the scanner software is just bad). We bought an inexpensive Epson scanner that’s easy to switch from my computer to my wife’s, but that software is only a little bit better. And we still have to do one sheet at a time.

I’ve contemplated buying a compact, ADF-capable network printer that could scan lots of loose paper and send it straight to the cloud, but I’m not sure about that yet. It would be nice to just drop in 10-40 sheets and have them automatically appear in my Google Drive, instead of needing to align individual sheets, but we’ll see how this smaller scanner works. I also talked with a friend and colleague that has a big business-sized copier/scanner that he bought for a decent price on Craigslist, but I don’t know if carving out space for that in our home would be worthwhile.

Conclusion

In the end, though, this is certainly been a great purchase. Not only has it worked great for music, but I’ve used it quite a bit in my web development work, and I’m writing this blog entry on it right now!

If you’re curious about making the switch to electronic sheet music, ask any question that you may have in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer anything I can!


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!