Notes from Making Sense Out of Digital Scores

As I mentioned, I just attended the live webinar presented by George Litterst in collaboration with MTNA: Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.

Early in his presentation, George reminds us that “The best way you learn something for yourself is by teaching it to others.” I also tend to focus and learn a lot when I write about it, so I thought I would jot down some notes from the presentation to share with those of you who are interested in learning more about the current state and future of digital scores.

Why Electronic Scores?

We’ve all suffered from the OPBS (Overflowing Piano Bench Syndrome), right? Even my carefully planned system of organization eventually overflowed the file cabinets and I finally had to take drastic measures to reduce my collection of printed music. All of this becomes a non-issue with the use of digital scores, which are all contained in the form of bits (binary integers) on a single mobile device. Along those same lines, an iPad – or similarly-sized device – is easy to transport, and you don’t have to worry about printed scores getting damaged, stained, or yellowed over time.

Mr. Litterst also spent some time discussing various wireless page turning devices and demonstrating how they work via foot pedals. Some move the score up one stave at a time; others flip the top half, then the bottom half of the page; others function more like a full page being manually turned.

He makes a point to let us know that the buttons that supply functionality in many electronic scores are often hidden from view. It’s often necessary to tap or hold your finger on the screen to display additional features and functions. Using the app ForScore Mr. Litterst demonstrates selecting and using an annotation feature to jot down notes directly onto the score.

Drawbacks teachers might experience include unfamiliarity, inability to place stickers on the page, absence of that new book scent, and a smaller size page.

Types and Availability of Electronic Scores

Mr. Litterst continued his webinar with an overview of the types and of electronic scores and where to find them. You can scan them in yourself, converting printed scores to PDF files. You can download them for free from the Internet ( is a fabulous repository of public domain music available for free download!). You can print to PDF from a notation software. You can also purchase and download electronic scores either in PDF or using a proprietary program. He briefly discusses the challenge of organizing electronic scores once downloaded and mentions the app NextPage which allows you to drag and drop files using a computer window (using either iTunes or iMazing for your interface). One of the webinar attendees also recommends the app iMazing for iPad organization.

What to Look for in Electronic Scores

After a discussion of important considerations when acquiring electronic scores, Mr. Litterst goes into the more technical side of things, discussing the advent of Music XML. Music XML is a code designed to be both human-readable and machine-readable. A quick glimpse of the code behind an electronic file reveals lots of familiar terms indicating placement of clefs, symbols, and more. For practical use, a teacher could export an XML file of a composition in Finale, then import it onto an iPad via an app designed to read XML files and allow interaction on the user end. He reminds us that there is no substitute for exploring the options on your own, building familiarity, and determining what works best for you.

It’s truly fascinating to hear about the technology being developed in the music world and consider the possibilities for the future! Thanks to George Litterst for all the time he has spent not only learning and developing these possibilities, but also sharing them with the rest of us!

Mr. Litterst will also be presenting at the 2016 MTNA Conference in San Antonio, TX, so be sure to catch his session there if you want to learn more about this technology!

Making Sense Out of Digital Scores

Even though I love technology and am always up for trying out new things, the iPad mini that I acquired earlier this year has spent much of its time relegated to the top drawer of my night stand. (Doesn’t it look sad and neglected?) I know some of th neglect has been so to my shifting educational philosophies, but some of it is also because I haven’t taken the time to educate myself on the best and most efficient ways to utilize the latest technology. So, I’m excited to be signed up for a live webinar in less than an hour with George Litterst, a pioneer in music education technology, on “Making Sense Out of Digital Scores.” I’ll try to report back on what I learn and let you know if my iPad will be receiving a little more attention in the days ahead!

Free Music Fonts!

In working on curriculum for the Carnival of the Animals music camp in our studio next week, I realized that the Bach musicological font I used to use all the time on my PC was not rendering correctly on my Mac. With a little digging, I discovered a great new Rhythms font that works even better! Thanks to Matthew Hindson for doing the hard work and compiling a helpful list of free music fonts for both Windows and Mac!

Saving Money on Expensive Music Software – Guest Post by Chad Criswell

When you think about the music technology software that we use on a regular basis in the classroom you start to realize just how expensive it can be to upgrade to the newest versions.  Worse yet is if you don’t own the software to begin with and have to purchase a new license for Finale or some other program at prices well above $300 per copy even with a teacher’s discount.  There are some other options though for people that simply want to get their music down on paper without having to spend the big bucks for the big name titles.  Here are some suggestions for ways to find low cost music software alternatives.

High Tech Low Budget
The first, and highly recommended place to find alternative options to high priced software is an article over at MusicEdMagic called, simply enough, High Tech, Low Budget.  I put this together to accompany a presentation I made at the 2012 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and I keep it updated with new products as they come onto the market.  It’s packed with dozens of ideas for music notation software, audio recording and editing software, video editing software, music theory software, and many more as well.
For any music software programs that you can’t find on the High Tech Low Budget list check out the website known as  I use this one all the time for finding alternative software recommendations, both paid and free, for almost every product under the sun including lots of music related programs.  The only problem I have with them is that they make it confusing to find the link you need to actually go visit the website of the product you are looking at.  They like to keep you on the site as long as possible.  Other than that though it is a great little site with plenty of great low cost alternatives.
Open Source Alternatives is another useful site for those that are seeking other software options for common everyday tasks.  It’s not as friendly to use as AlternativeTo is and is not categorized like the HTLB article but it has one of the largest lists of alternative software programs available.  Plus many of them are open source and quite often free.

Between the three suggestions given above you can find just about any piece of software you might ever need.  Remember, for every high priced piece of software there are almost always some low cost or free alternatives.  Before shelling out hundreds of dollars for a commercial music program check these lists to find a more budget friendly alternative.

Chad Criswell is a noted music educator living and teaching in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa.  His articles have appeared in dozens of publications both online and in print.  He currently serves as the national music technology writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music Magazine and webmaster of

Finale – Essential Piano Studio Software

One of the first new software programs I ordered when I got my new computer system was Finale 2012. I had been using an older version on my last computer and knew I couldn’t live without it! We use Finale all the time in the studio for compositions, but especially this time of year when students are working on their Psalms Projects.

One of the great benefits of Finale is that students can download the free Finale Notepad to use at home to input their compositions, then send the files to the studio for final tweaking. Most of the time students prefer to work on their notation input here at the studio, but for those who want to familiarize themselves with the software and work on their own, this is a great option!

Back in Business!

After a couple of weeks with no computer I finally “bit the bullet” and forked over a big chunk of my hard-earned savings to do something I’ve been considering for years. I officially converted my studio to all Mac-based technology.


Having owned three Dell laptops and being fully invested in PC software, this was a huge step. But within 10 minutes of setting it up the night it arrived, I was completely in love! :-) This is quite possibly the best technology decision I’ve ever made. Here are some of the reasons why:

* As soon as I logged in with my Apple ID, the MacBook was synced with my other devices (iPod Touch and iPhone). That means all of my calendar and contact data, notes, and reminders were populated without me having to do anything!

* I can specify specific items/data to be stored in my iCloud account, thus making it accessible anywhere via the Internet while also providing an offsite backup.

* I’m using the Apple Mail program now rather than Outlook and I love how it organizes the inboxes and provides the option for mail folders to be either “On My Mac” or in “iCloud.”

* The design is sleek and beautiful!

* I can work on it for an entire afternoon and still have battery power to spare.

There’s so much more that I haven’t even tapped into yet! If you can’t tell, I’m thrilled to back in business technology-wise in the studio. And just in time for all the year-end projects that need to be wrapped up. I have lots of things I’m eager to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

[How to] Expand Your Teaching Practice Online – A Guest Post by Phil Amalong

It is now second nature to turn to search engines like Google and Bing to find just about anything. Guess what? Your potential students (and their parents) are searching for a music teacher online right this minute. There are over 1 million music-learning-related searches every month on Google alone!

There’s a growing wave of music teachers benefiting from this trend by moving their studios online: teaching students across the globe, filling slow hours with students from other time zones, building their rosters…and earning more income!

Is it for me? Can I actually do this?

You’re already a great teacher and that’s the most important thing! Here’s a checklist of considerations to begin teaching music online:

* Have you used your webcam for Skyping or other video chat applications?  This is your fundamental communication tool. Setup for live online music lessons is easy and generally just requires a laptop with a built in webcam. Here are some ideas on how to set up your online teaching studio.

* Do you have adequate high speed Internet? Great video quality needs at least 1 Mbps of ‘upload’ speed (test your connection speed here: If you consider that each online student spends at least $60 per month on lessons, upgrading your internet connection is well worth the investment.

* Are you active online?  Kudos to you if you’re already spending time building your online presence with a website, a blog, YouTube channel, or by participating in forums. Check out these 4 simple ways to build your online presence.

Does it really work?

Most emphatically, yes!  Many teachers report that students exhibit higher levels of concentration and faster progress when focused on a screen. Wayne Land, a saxophone teacher with 40+ years experience had this to say of online music instruction:

There’s no guarantee that any method of taking lessons will work unless the student is committed to practicing.  That commitment needs to come from a profound desire to learn.  When one has that kind of internal need to make music, the practice time is something the student looks forward to and enjoys.  Likewise, the lesson time should be something looked forward to and enjoyed.  With everything in music learning, lesson time and practice time, I strongly believe that if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing you aren’t improving.  Conversely, if you are enjoying your effort you “are” improving.  It makes little difference whether the teacher is sitting in the room next to you or speaking to you via online video chat unless there is a difference in the level of enjoyment.  Considering the advantages of taking your lessons right in the comfort of your own home, the online experience may actually improve the level of enjoyment and that is a very good thing indeed.

Yes, it works.  In fact, if the student has a more enjoyable experience, is less apprehensive and more enthusiastic, it can and will work “better” than in person.

How do I get started?

So you’re ready to start building your online teaching studio. Now what? The web is a massive space and…chock full of great ways to waste your money and valuable time!

If you plan on going it alone on a platform like Skype, you’ll need to split your time between teaching and marketing. That’s a tall order when you consider that a website, blog, ads, and a Facebook page (among others) are essential to getting the word out about your service.

If that sounds like too much of a distraction from the teaching itself, consider joining an online music lessons platform like The ZOEN. Let the professionals make a daily habit of using their marketing tools to attract students so you can focus on what you makes you special and valuable: teaching music!

However you choose to slice it, online music lessons are a great opportunity for teachers, and the possibilities for online music instruction are endless.

Phil Amalong is a teacher, composer, performer, entrepreneur and VP of Community and Content at The ZOEN. For more insights into online music teaching and best practices, visit Phil’s Blog. To start teaching for The ZOEN, apply now.

The ZOEN is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

Evernote: A Fabulous Free App for Lesson Planning

Ever since I started teaching almost 15 years ago I feel like I’ve been searching for ways to organize and streamline lesson planning. From endless lists, to spreadsheets, to binders, to paper files, I’ve tried dozens of different ideas. None of them have accomplished what I really want in the way of planning repertoire and collecting ideas specific to each student. Nothing, that is, until I spent some time over Christmas break exploring the fabulous (and free!) Evernote app!

This is one more reason why I can’t imagine teaching without my iPod Touch at my fingertips. Evernote is optimal for lesson planning purposes because you can create a folder for each student and then create notes within the folder. Notes can include text, photos, links, audio clips, etc. This is a super cool way to record different repertoire excerpts for students that you can play back for them when they’re at the lesson. You can also e-mail the notes, so you could easily use this to record lesson assignments and then send it to the student. There is also a version that you can use on a desktop/laptop computer and sync with your mobile version.

Another cool feature is the ability to create tags. For example, I can create a tag called “music to buy.” Then, whenever I create a note that includes a book or resource that I need to buy for a particular student, I just assign it that tag. On the home screen of Evernote I can select the “Tag” area and all the tags will be sorted alphabetically, quickly allowing me to access the “music to buy” category and see an overview of all the notes containing purchases I need to make. Isn’t that cool? I’m sure there are even more capabilities that I haven’t discovered yet. There are so many possibilities! Is anyone else using the Evernote app for lesson planning? I’d love to hear your ideas on how you’ve used it!

Got Music Apps?

Are you trying to keep up with the mobile technology age, but drowning in the virtual sea of all-things-apps? I’m raising my hand! Well, now you can cast your fears aside because there is a fabulous website that promises to be a sanity-preserver for teachers like us: Musicians With Apps.

All the apps are organized by category, including: Rhythm Apps, Note Reading Apps, Composition Apps, Gadget Apps, and Explore Music Apps. Each review is extensive, with an assigned score, what the reviewers liked best, what they wish it had, and a summary of how the app functions. I just subscribed to the blog feed, and you can also sign up for an e-newsletter that will send you the latest reviews. I am so excited to find this “one-stop shop” for figuring out what music education apps are out there and which ones are worth purchasing and using or recommending to students!

HT: Kay Lowry Piano

Create Your Own Music Worksheets Using Music Fonts

Have you ever wished you could just whip up a quick worksheet to use with one of your students that would address a particular concept? Joy, of the Color in My Piano blog, has put together a wonderful guide to using music fonts to create your own music worksheets! Like Joy, I use Finale to create and export graphics into worksheets, but I have rarely used music fonts for this purpose. I am thrilled to have this handy step-by-step guide and will definitely be referring back to it often!