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You Should Definitely Use Digital Sheet Music and Modern Apps. Here’s Why:

The year 2020 has left us many things to remember and many others to forget. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and just one week after the first vaccination campaign started in England, the world celebrated the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most acclaimed composers in history. The works of Beethoven played throughout the year, and numerous virtual concerts were organized in memory of a man who many consider to have been one of the most important personalities in the classical music genre. Of the many news headlines Beethoven generated in 2020, one that particularly stood out had to do with sheet music.

In November 2020, an American woman became the highest bidder at an auction featuring a very special letter unequivocally signed by Beethoven. The auction winner paid $275K for the manuscript; of all the correspondence and documents related to the German composer, this was the one that fetched the most, and there are two reasons for its high value. First of all, and as previously mentioned, Beethoven was born 250 Decembers ago. Second, this letter was rare in the sense that its content was related to music. To be precise, Beethoven was making reference to the sheet music for a trio sonata he had composed; he was requesting for the sheets to be returned in exchange for new violin compositions he had been working on. More than likely, Beethoven was corresponding with one of his many wealthy patrons in Vienna.

Beethoven and Sheet Music

Sheet music scored by Beethoven has attracted million dollar bids in London. The prolific composer likely produced reams upon reams of sheet music in his lifetime, but he was reportedly very disorganized, which explains why sheet music of some of his most famous pieces was not discovered until years after his death; such is the case with Fur Elise, arguably the most famous bagatelle in the world. That Beethoven was careless about sheet music should not be surprising; history has taught us that geniuses have strong reasons for eschewing organization, but this does not mean that they do not crave it.

Can you imagine what Beethoven would have thought about digital sheet music and modern apps that facilitate music composition, notation, and writing? Chances are that he would have loved them. Historians who have researched Beethoven’s life have determined that he was into technology; they know this from his use of experimental metronomes, his interested in music boxes, and his penchant for checking out the latest pocket watches. Beethoven would have likely switched from traditional paper sheet music to digital versions and apps, and so should you.

Instant Organization

Beethoven was hardly the only musician whose approach to sheet music organization was chaotic. The stereotype of messy musicians rings true when we start to recognize certain traits such as carrying pages upon pages of not just sheet music but also other items such as:

  • Charts
  • Song lyrics
  • Set lists
  • Assorted notes

Performers tend to be notorious for their systems of disorganization; we just do not see them frantically shuffling through papers backstage before the gig. Those of us who become music educators and tutors tend to inherit this messiness because we see that it somehow worked for our instructors. Interestingly, if you were to grab the smartphones of even the messiest musicians, there is a good chance that you will find immaculately curated record collections and playlists, and this has a lot to do with the user interface and workflow of media apps.

Digital sheet music and its related software applications automatically inject organization because of the digital legacy followed by developers. File structures, directories, sorting, and search functions are inherent to the operating systems that software is designed for, which means that organization is implied in the digital world.

The Joys of Paperless Sheet Music

With the entire world going paperless, there is no good reason why musicians should skip the digital revolution. Tablets such as the Apple iPad are increasingly becoming all the rage among music performers, educators, and learners; if you need to know why this is happening, here are a few factors to consider:

  • Tablets weigh less than most instruments. Moreover, they are easy to carry because they are not bulky.
  • Once you get the hang of taking notes, writing notation, and editing music on tablets, you will find it cleaner and more efficient than paper.
  • Performers do not have to make a paper mess onstage. The same goes for educators and their desks.
  • Going paperless is good for environmental conservation.
  • With the right accessories such as Bluetooth pedals, you can go hands-free when turning pages.
  • There is a good chance that your students are already using tablets for learning.

Finally, you should know that adoption of tablets by the music world has been taking place over the last few years. In 2012, the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra ditched paper sheet music and switched to tablets not only because they wanted to go paperless; they also liked the idea of being able to synchronize the devices so that any changes made to scores would be acknowledged immediately by all musicians.

A Digital Revolution in Music-Making

The future of digital sheet music is unfolding at an exciting pace, and we have recording engineers, Jamaican dub reggae, and electronic music artists to thank for it. When sound engineer Osbourne Ruddock started remixing reggae hits at his Kingston studio in the 1960s, he pretty much wrote directly on audio tracks instead of sheet music. The German electronic music pioneers of Kraftwerk hardly used paper; they essentially used drum machines, synthesizers, and sequencers to write their music.

Over the last few years, team members of the Enote project have been quite busy collecting music scores and converting them into interactive digital formats. If you have previously worked with PDF versions of sheet music on touchscreens, you know that functionality is limited to tapping to turn pages plus “pinch and zoom” gestures. Since Enote uses AI constructs that perform optical scans of musical notation, additional functions will include the ability to transpose, switch measures, and change movements. Naturally, Enote will also include synchronization for orchestras.

To say that Enote has been a labor of love would be an understatement. The scanning process to build a library containing more than 150,000 scores has been exhausting, but this project is just getting started. Enote is currently undergoing a beta testing period, but it will likely be available for subscribers in less than a year from now. The transposition feature alone will change composition as we know it because it will allow experimental musicians to cut and paste sheet music sections for the purpose of editing them into new pieces. To a great extent, this is what electronic dance music artists have been doing for decades with remixing, and the same can be said about hip-hop producers who use samples to create new beats.

Should You Get an iPad?

Now that Enote is ushering a new era of intelligent sheet music, you are probably wondering if now is the time to get an Apple iPad. The truth about these devices is that they are wonderful for musicians, but they are not the only ones in the market. Apple has an excellent reputation among artists in the fields of music, film, graphic design, writing, and multimedia; however, many other tablets that are not made by Apple will be able to handle digital sheet music. The iPad will always be a good option for performers and educators, but you should not overlook tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy and the Microsoft Surface.

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