Monday, April 26, 2010

On Being a Paperless Pianist

Today's guest post is written by Hugh Sung, faculty Collaborative Pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music and tireless advocate of technology for both performance and learning. One of the coming revolutions in music performance and education will be happening in the next few years with the increased use of tablet devices for reading music.  If you're interested in investing in an AirTurn Professional Package for your tablet or laptop-based music reading needs, be sure to check out the awesome deal for Collaborative Piano Blog readers listed at the end of the article...

Something amazing happens when a collaborative pianist is freed from the common constraints of physical paper. You begin to realize that you are no longer limited to the size of your duffle bag or the strength of your shoulder muscles when it comes to how many music scores you can carry with you. You're not wasting hours hunting for that obscure encore you played 9 months ago buried in that mountain of music stacked on top of your piano. And, most gloriously, you can lay your hand calmly on the sweaty shoulder of that trembling page turner and reassure them that their services will not be needed for tonight's performance. All the piano works of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, all your Schubert Lieder and Opera scores, all your violin concerti and cello sonatas and flute transcriptions - in short, your entire sheet music library - fits snugly in a single neoprene-wrapped laptop. And since your hands never need to leave the keyboard to turn the page, your audiences are left to wonder, "How in the world did he memorize that entire program?"

Who would ever guess that a small, discreet pedal and a wireless transmitter could render page turns effortless and solve the stress of repeat signs, or worse - the dreaded Da capo? Who could imagine that any piece within a collection of thousands of scores could be instantly recalled and displayed with just a few keystrokes and a simple search bar?

This is the world of the paperless pianist, working with scores in digital format. When physical hindrances are removed, learning and making music simply becomes freer and more effective. To that end, the AirTurn was designed with musicians in mind, offering a simple, plug-and-play hands-free solution for the age-old problem of page turns. The companion program MusicReader enables Mac and PC users to easily convert scanned paper scores, as well as Finale or Sibelius files and downloaded PDFs, into digital sheet music files that can be accessed, read, and annotated in myriads of ways.

To help the readers of The Collaborative Piano Blog experience the freedom of being a paperless musician, we'd like to offer a special 10% discount off of our AirTurn Professional Package, which includes the AirTurn AT-104 page turner transmitter, the MusicReader program, and 2 silent pedals for bi-directional page turns, when purchased from our web store. Upon checkout, apply the coupon code CP10 to apply your discount (coupon expires April 30, 2010).

If trees could clap, I'm sure the ovation would be thunderous!

(Thanks, Hugh!)


  1. Can anyone recommend a tablet style computer for this purpose? I don't think a laptop would work for me because much of the time I'm using uprights.


  2. My work as a page-turner is being threatened! I shall be obsolete to my brothers! Already Jamie said I wasn't required as he used this gadget for Constantinople.


  3. I recently purchased a Lenovo X200 Tablet PC with Windows 7 and I have to say, it's the best tablet pc I've worked with in my 8 years of being a paperless pianist. It features a dual touchscreen and digitizer pen, and a matte wide angle display that performs brilliantly under concert lighting. I used it in a recent TV broadcast taping in Korea under bright spotlights and had no trouble reading the music clearly. It's also one of the quietest computers I've ever used - even at high capacity, you can barely hear any fan noise.

    I'll try to post a video review of the Lenovo in an upcoming episode of our podcast. You can find us in iTunes listed as "AirTurn's Tips and Tricks for Modern Musicians"

  4. Fabulous! I've just been using Preview on my mac to view PDF files, but it doesn't turn the pages for you automatically. Lately, I've been using my Ipad, which has a few great sheet music readers, but again, none that will turn pages for you (without flicking your finger across the screen). I'd love to see something like this for the iPad, or other tablet devices, which would be much easier to set up on the piano than a big laptop. (Hint: Maybe you could even do away with the pedal if you could find a way for the program to listen to you play and determine where you were in the music and turn for you when you get to a certain spot).

  5. I am almost ready to embrace the AirTurn/MusicReader concept myself - it's just a question of about a thousand dollars in hardware investment (that I don't have - sob!).

    Two years ago, I had a chance to use a Freehand MusicPad Pro for two weeks, and was frustrated beyond belief that it was large, clunky, heavy, generally unwieldy, with a faulty charging design, and finally based on ten- or fifteen-year-old Mac technology which couldn't be updated. In addition, tech support was completely unhelpful and accusatory. If only they had been smart and seen fit to adapt to newer CPU and screen designs...

    I wish to direct a question to Hugh. Have you ever had any hesitation in your MusicReader software, whether in page "drawing" or in page switching? I ask because in typical Adobe Reader use, I usually expect to get a hesitation somewhere when scrolling down by pages, even if the document is completely resident in memory.

  6. Hi Toto - great question! One of MusicReader's strengths is its page turning speed. It pre-caches the page images so that page turns are instantaneous, faster than any PDF reader or image document program I've ever worked with. The only hesitation occurs when you first open a file in MusicReader, as the pages are being pre-loaded into the memory buffer, but afterwards performance is consistently zippy.

  7. Hugh, thanks for your reply. (Thanks also for the candor in your profile, which discloses your association with AirTurn. ;-) If I might be allowed two followup questions....

    1) Do you keep hardcopy backups with you in case of crash?

    2) Off-topic: did you ever study one summer in Banff during the late-80's?

  8. @Toto
    1) The great thing about digital sheet music is that it's very easy to make multiple backup copies in a variety of formats. I own about 12 computers and have my library copied to about 10 of them - if one of my machines breaks down, it's really no hassle to just pick up another one and keep going. I also use external hard drives and USB thumb drives (my entire library can fit in a 16 GB thumb drive). When I go on tour, I typically email the program to myself, so that in a worst case scenario I can just download the scores and borrow another computer to read them. Having been completely paperless for almost 10 years, I actually get paranoid with paper scores - too easy to mangle, lose, or misplace for me!

    2) Yup! Worked with Marek Jablonski and Claude Frank that summer in Banff - what an amazing time! Were you there?

  9. Twelve computers! I should have known. I suppose this means you could afford an assistant to manually scan all the scores that weren't already in digital form. ;-)

    Yes, I suppose this is the only safe way to go - with multiple redundancy. Maybe I should sniff around for some government funding...

    Yes, I was in Banff - possibly it was 1986. I do vaguely remember a young Oriental man with a mile-wide grin... Kathy Chi was also there.

  10. LOL - Kathy Chi was the one who got me to go to Banff that year! And yes, I think I've gotten complimented on having a "mile-wide grin" many times in my life :D

  11. Hugh - check your Gmail?