Tag Archives: technology

Hooray for Forscore


It’s taken me far too long to get the Forscore sheet music app: I can be very slow to adopt stuff. It’s at least a couple of years since my colleague Ho Wen Yang told me about Forscore, a sheet music app for the iPad. But then another colleague, Chris Hobson told me about it (because we were sharing footpedal stories – he with his bluetooth pedal to turn pages on the iPad (which in fact another colleague, Grant Kennedy, had told me in about 2012), and me with my USB footpedal for transcribing from audio).

Forscore sheet music app

Swan Lake on the iPad, in the Forscore sheet music app. You can just draw all over it like this, and no-one cares because you can rub it out again. I love it.

Then, as the time approached again for the annual Ballet Masterclasses in Prague, I remembered all those failed resolutions to use these two weeks to take and learn new rep, and I recognised my own stubborn resistance for what it was. If I’m really honest, of course an iPad with your scores on it is a good idea, and it would be a way of taking a load of stuff with me (including my 52 cards work) without weighing down my luggage. I could scan bits of stuff that I wanted, rather than having to bring the whole darn book.  I checked out the alternatives, and there seemed to be little competition – iPads are pretty good at what they do in that price range (though there is also mobilesheets for Android devices).

Learning to love the Forscore sheet music app

And, dear reader, after just one morning with my iPad and Forscore, I just love it. I got it partly because I recognised that the technology has made it possible for pianists to take libraries round with them, and that means there’s not really an excuse not to do the same. Part of my apprehension was because I prefer to play from memory for class. I still do, but actually the iPad’s pretty unobtrusive, in fact less so than a score. And, well, Jonathan, get over yourself and read from a score now and again.

  • The best bit was when I needed a bit of Swan Lake in a rehearsal, and I could just draw in a cut on the screen, without having to worry about rubbing it out.  Everything you write  on the score is non-destructive, and you can save different versions of the same thing with different cuts. Perfect for rehearsals.
  • It’s easy to read because it’s got light behind it.
  • You can find stuff quickly
  • You can bookmark bits of larger scores  – keep the whole of Swan Lake there, and bookmark the two pages you need.
  • You can be spend the time you save searching and setting up music on thinking about what else you’re going to play. It’s a matter of seconds, but it makes a huge difference.
  • Nothing is at the bottom of the pile any more. It’s all instantly findable.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a convert to the Kindle or iPad for reading books. I’ve tried both for years, and books win out every time for me (not least because most of the books I want aren’t available digitally). But for music? I’m sold. It’s times like this that I’m thankful to be around enough younger people to have my stubborn old brain have some sense kicked into it.

But before you buy it…

I had the chance to see someone’s installation of PiaScore and I liked the look of it.  I have been intending to review it for myself for 18 months now, but still haven’t got round to it. It’s free (with some in-app purchases) so if you’re considering your options, probably worth having a good look at it. 


It’s about two and a half years since I bought the iPad and ForScore, and my use of it has tailed off. I still take it with me if I can predict I’m going to be in one of those “Oh, while we’re waiting do you have Flames of Paris?” classes (every summer school going), but there’s something about reading off an iPad that I don’t like (leaving aside the obvious things like page turns, the iPad going into powersave mode while you’re playing, or not being able to find stuff quick enough, unless you’re prepared to go through your entire library and tag like crazy). 

I also found that it attracted unwanted attention—unless you know exactly what the pianist is doing, it looks like they’re bored and reading the news during class. 

Give yourself a break from multi-tasking


Just try it. Give this podcast from Headspace about the healthy use of technology 15 minutes of your time. Pause to reflect on the way you use technology, and the extent to which switching between one window and another, between email and document, text message and Facebook, music and video, might be knocking up toxic cerebral froth.

You’ll know from my anti-multi-tasking rants that I don’t have a lot of time for the idea that ‘multi-tasking’ is a good thing. Although this podcast doesn’t use the term ‘multi-tasking’, it does refer to the documented negative effects of overstimulating your brain by constant task-switching on digital technology. It’s an important message, because it’s not just kids that try to do ten things at once with technology, it’s all of us who have the means. We need, I believe, to stop buying into the idea that we have endless processing power. I might just sign up to Headspace and give myself a break.

In praise of the book…and the pencil


I think I could become a fan of Google’s new Think Quarterly. My favourite bit so far is from Guy Laurence,  CEO of Vodafone UK, telling a  cautionary joke about the value of simplicity:

I like simplicity in life. I heard this urban myth a long time ago and it 
stayed with me. When NASA first 
started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens wouldn’t work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on any surface and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300°C. The Russians used a pencil. [read full article here]

Ha! I was right: singletasking IS the new multi-tasking


You may remember that I posted about the natty little program called Freedom that turns off your internet access for a time designated by you, so you can get on with your work? And you may remember that I have a thing about multi-tasking: I think it’s a myth, and a rather dangerous and antisocial one at that.

Well now all those themes come together in a nice article from the Monitor column of The Economist called Stay on Target. It’s about programs like Freedom that help you to ‘clear your screen and clear your mind’, and concentrate on singletasking. That of course is tautologous, because concentrating means just that – focusing on a single task. It is central to  Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow (that being in a ‘flow’ state is by definition one in which you are ‘lost’ in the thing you’re doing).  So how ever did we come to think that multi-tasking was cool, socially acceptable, or even safe?

I have to confess that I got the link to the article via the Guardian’s tech-feed on Twitter which linked to this technology blog. But now I’ve read it, I’ll be turning on Freedom. Goodbye.

Happiness is a USB foot control


The Infinity USB Foot Control

I don’t think I have loved a piece of technology more than I currently love my new Infinity USB foot control.  I’m  transcribing hours of interviews for my dissertation, and although I type fast, it’s been a very slow process, because the transport controls on iTunes have little finesse, and you need to keep switching focus on the screen, move your hands to stop and start and so on.  Oh for the days of transcription machines which had foot pedals (I used to temp as an audio typist between music jobs, and I loved them).

Searching around the net on Saturday, I read an article about a poor bloke who had spent 40 hours transcribing one hour of audio because he didn’t know about digital transcribing machines (i.e., these days, foot pedal + software).  That’s me I thought, and read on.

Within minutes, I’d ordered an Infinity USB foot control (£47) from Amazon, and downloaded the free transcription software Express Scribe. The pedal arrived yesterday, and the results are amazing. If you’ve ever had to do it, you’ll share my enthusiasm: I transcribed about 15 minutes of audio/3,000 words in well under an hour and a half, and I was getting faster all the time. I’ve also now downloaded the open source QDA software TAMS analyser , which is one of the few programs of its type to work with Mac, and it’s free. (Mentioning no names, but how can you charge $800 dollars for a Windows only program these days? Bloody hell.)

For me, interfaces are much more interesting than the technology behind them. We’re already at a stage where computers can do stuff quickly, and have been for a long time. The challenge now is to find the interfaces which enable us to interact with the technology efficiently and in meaningful human ways.  Frankly, whoever conceived a computer without a foot-control was an idiot: what missed opportunities. Laugh if you like, but I’m saving myself hours and hours that I shall spend doing something more interesting than pointing and clicking at a screen.

For the record, my transcription toolkit, which works brilliantly

  • Apple iPhone voice memo recorder for interviews (+ iTunes to import audio)
  • Macbook
  • Logic Studio (to enhance audio, though there are easier options)
  • Express Scribe transcription Software
  • Microsoft word
  • Infinity USB foot control

The future through the back door


OK, I have found it, possibly the coolest thing ever to hit my corner of the internet. The Backdoor Broadcasting Company go around recording your event, and broadcasting it on the web when it happens, with an archive to listen to if you missed it.

It came my way via an ad for a forthcoming lecture by Andrew Bowie on philosophy and improvisation. He’s given the lecture elsewhere before, so if you can’t go, you can listen to the broadcast (Here it is: called Background Capabilities and Prereflexive Awareness).

There’s an elegant and beautifully reasonsed apologia for the audio medium on the impact page with which I wholeheartedly agree. Youtube has its moments, but moments are what they are. This kind of guerrilla radio captures the big thinking from the margins and distributes it from another centre. Not for everyone I know,  but for me, this is what the web and digital techology are for.

1984 comes to 2010 – schools, IT and BETT


BETT 2010 at Olympia

Spent the afternoon at BETT yesterday, a trade show for educational technology. One reason for going was to drop in on Andrew Holdsworth’s Percy Parker’s Flying Bathtub, just published by Scholastic, and very nice it looks and sounds too.

But most of BETT I found profoundly worrying. I don’t have figures, but it seemed to be predominantly men touting software packages and ‘solutions’ for schools. Every other stand seemed to be about protecting, preventing, surveillance, policing, managing, storing, and even ‘performance managing’. This program will automatically text all your truants and their parents; this fingerprinting device will register your child (“biometric multilesson registration and cashless catering” was one of the more 1984-ish captions), this will keep your children safe from unsuitable internet sites, this hardware will back up all your data and provide a network for your school. Online assessment, online registration, automatic this, multi-that.

With a very, very few exceptions, I had almost no sense of teaching, learning, teachers and pupils, intellectual curiosity, or  any of the rich human interaction that goes on in learning.  Instead, it seemed I was at a trade fair selling expensive ‘solutions’ that appeared to criminalize an entire generation of children, or treat them as a workforce that needed managing, assessing and controlling. An image began to emerge of a child tightly bound in a technological network of biometric data, they and their families summoned and communicated with by text, every online transaction prescribed or prevented, stored and tracked electronically by an emergent army  of male IT personnel, every academic subject reduced to an onscreen interaction with predigested, generic content.  Media-rich, yes, but piss-poor as human interaction.

I’m not usually prone to technological determinism, the idea that society is helpless in the face of the ‘power’ of technology to shape and control it, but I came away from BETT wondering whether we do all this stuff to kids because we can, not because we must. And in any case,  there were plenty of technological determinists touting their wares at BETT: this software will help you build an online global learning community. Really? Anyone who’s tried to run an online forum knows that it’s people and people alone who build communities, all the software in the world can’t do that for you.  Nobody buys a bassoon thinking it will make music for them, but people seem to fall over themselves to buy into technology that needs staff, time, expertise and commitment, not just a power supply.

My final rant? As I was walking around seeing all this stuff about protection, walled-gardens, security, safety and so-on, I had my barcoded badge scanned aggressively and without my permission by at least two staff on the stands, data-mugging in broad daylight.