Adobe has just announced PSE 13, which is a pretty major update to Photoshop Elements, although the biggest changes are under the hood. There’s a 64-bit version for Windows (there’s still a 32-bit version if you need that), and finally Elements works correctly with high-resolution displays, like Apple’s retina display.
Other features: no more having to hassle around with adobe mail verification codes–you can use any email provider now. Content-aware fill, new crop tool, more effects and frames in Quick Edit, a new Refine Selection brush for tweaking selections, Photomerge Compose to help move stuff from one photo to another, a totally new slideshow (good and bad–now there’s feature parity on both OS X and Windows, it’s easier than the old slideshow, but much less customizable), a new Create project for building a facebook cover photo, a new view in the Organizer, a revision of the albums/folders tab from PSE 12 that puts each section into its own tab, some new guided edits, and Elements Live, which is kind of like Postano for PSE–a new tab in both the editor and the organizer that aggregates tutorials and inspirational stuff for PSE from all over the web, not just Adobe.
Missing features this time: no more photo mail (a small price to pay for sane emailing), and if you have a 64-bit version of Windows, no more TWAIN scanning (still available in the 32-bit Windows version and the Mac version).
Also, you need at least Windows 7 or OS X 10.8 for PSE 13. As always, I’d suggest downloading the trial and giving it a good hard workout.
A lot of folks have been asking me about which iPad they should get. The answer is that it depends. Only you can decide whether the extra expense of a data plan is worth it to you, so I can’t help much with that part.
As for whether to get the New iPad or the iPad 2, I have the original iPad and the New iPad. Everything they say about the new screen is true, but in most real life situations I don’t find that it makes all that much difference unless you’re a major pixel peeper. (Yes, I know lots of people disagree–I guess it depends on how you use it.) For music reading in particular, the only major advantage to the newer model is that the angle of view is much better–you can see what’s the screen more easily when it’s not dead on straight to you than you can with the original iPad, and it does get brighter, too. But for reading PDF sheet music, I can’t really say I see a lot of difference in the way things look on the better screen. I’ve read several articles saying that text is amazingly, hugely better, but I just don’t see that, honestly. Yes, there’s a difference, but it’s not as enormous a difference as the hype machine would have you believe.
I do find the color rendering is sometimes a bit peculiar with the new super screen, which can be over saturated and unrealistic looking at times. Night scenes in video are particularly noticeable–the highest budget film can look like the lighting budget was in the hundreds of dollars sometimes. I guess you could argue that it’s actually more realistic, since it looks like people acting under artificial lighting, which is just what it is, but it’s not always exactly pleasing.
It’s true that it gets a bit warm, but if you have a case this is pretty much of a non-issue. It seems like the battery life is less than on the older model, but in real life it’s pretty close.
I ran a test, running movies continuously at maximum brightness with the sound, push notifications, and bluetooth all turned off. I started at 10:17 AM, and the New iPad went to sleep at 6:05 pm and the iPad 1 at 6:22–pretty close considering how much more screen the new one is driving. Of course, it takes a lot longer to fully recharge the New iPad, not surprising considering the size of the battery.
So if you’re a musician, which one do I recommend? I think your best bang for the buck right now is to get a new iPad 2. Apple cut the price on this model so it would be a real bargain anyway, and there are several reports that it has hugely improved battery life in the current iteration. With a starting price of $399, you really can’t go wrong.
If you’re interested in making your photos look like paintings, of course the long-time standard for doing this is Corel Painter, and that’s still the best way to create something that really looks painted. However, it also requires some artistic ability and a high level of skill and has quite a learning curve.
For those who prefer to let the computer do the work, by far the best solution I’ve found is Dynamic Auto Painter from MediaChance. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Windows, which has been a big disappointment to lots of Mac folks.
However, there’s good news: They’ve just come out with a sort of a kind of a version for Mac, called AutoPainter Express, as well as a version of Express for iPhone/iPod. (There’s an iPad version on the way, but it’s not out yet.)
I’m so happy to finally see a Mac version of this program, but unfortunately this one has a long way to go to get to the level of the Windows version. In Windows you have many options for customizing and controlling the result, while the Mac version is limited to four presets. You choose one, and the only other choice you have is to stop it before it’s finished, if you like your painting where it’s at right now and don’t want more work done on it. It’s not a very Mac-like application, either. For example, closing the window closes the program, just like in Windows, and there’s no way to close an image without saving it except by quitting out of the whole thing.
Still, it’s a nice start. Here are examples of what each preset came up with for this photo from a previous entry:
Using the Aquarell preset, described as “Running colors, water droplets, traces and scratches, it’s all there”:
With the Benson preset, described as “a sunny palette with Mediterranean tones”:
With the Cezanne preset, described as “warm reds and yellows with quick brush layers and chalk”:
And finally with the Van Gogh preset, “inspired by the Starry Night painting”:
There’s really quite a lot of detail in the full resolution images afterwards (WordPress won’t accept files that large), and it runs pretty quickly, even on my old C2D iMac.
Are any of these going to deceive people into thinking that you’re a brilliant painter? No, of course not, but they’re handy for created a quick illustrated look. The results vary a lot, depending on the source image, but with fussier, more detailed images you’ll often get better results if you run the photo through something like Topaz Simplify first.
While it’s a little disappointing that this app is so basic compared to the Windows version, hopefully this is just the beginning and it won’t be long before there’s parity between the two.
Apple released the iOS 4.3 update today for iPads, iPods, iPhones, so what difference does it make?
On the plus side, web browsing with Safari is much faster. The YouTube app finally behaves correctly (all during 4.2 it was way slower on the iPad than watching the same videos on my iMac). And for those who were annoyed by the change in the iPad side button from a rotation lock to a Mute button, now you can choose which you want.
On the minus side, still the “too much power” error when using the camera connection kit with peripherals like my Blue Yeti microphone.
(There are also beacoup new features for streaming and such, but these are the ones that affect me the most. There are several online lists of all the new stuff, like this one from Mashable.)
Although the iPad is really, really handy to have, turning pages while you play can be seriously annoying. Since the iPad only shows one page at a time, you have twice as many turns as you do with printed music and it takes some heavy-duty practice to get good this, especially if you’re a harpist and so can only use your left hand for page turns.
I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing until AirTurn came out with their BT-105 unit, which provides a Bluetooth foot pedal for turning pages. The actual BT-105 is just a tad larger than your car remote, and you can hook up one pedal or two (one for forward, one for back).
This makes all the difference in the world, let me tell you. You just tap the pedal to turn the page–no need to take your hands off the strings at all. They sell their own pedals (foot switches), which are very low profile and available in either black or clear. I have one of each, since I thought the clear one might be less obvious on a job but was worried that it might scratch more. I have to say that the black pedal isn’t really any more obtrusive, and so far neither has scratched, even on my sandy beach house floor.
They also sell a much more bulky pedal made by BOSS, which they say is better for surfaces like spongy carpet and grass, but I can’t say I have any trouble with the slimmer pedal on either. The only downsides are that the pedal can be a tad clickety on uneven tile sometimes, and the iPad sees the AirTurn as an external Bluetooth keyboard, so you can’t use the onscreen keyboard till you turn off the AirTurn or disable Bluetooth. Also, it only works with apps whose developers have taken steps to ensure that it does. So while it’s dandy with forScore, the Musicnotes app doesn’t even know it’s there, and you can’t use it to avoid touching your iPad with messy fingers while using your cookbook app either. There’s a list of compatible apps on the AirTurn website.
Although I have two pedals, I find that I mostly just use the one for forward turns and use in-score links for Da Capos and repeats rather than the back-turning pedal. If you’re a lever harpist the AirTurn is a complete no-brainer, but it’s considerably trickier if you play pedal harp. First of all, it’s hard to find a really good spot for it with all those pedals down there already, and it’s a good long reach to get to it, no matter where you put it. Personally, I find it extremely distracting when playing a complicated pedal piece I’ve known for years, but fine for things where my feet aren’t already completely set on what to do.
Battery life is excellent. You can forget and leave it on for a couple of days and it still works. Airturn says 100 hours of standby time, but I’ve never really measured it. It’s a lot, anyway. The downside is that it only charges via USB. They suggest that a cellphone charger may fit the mini-USB port on the BT-105, but they must have different devices than I do. I couldn’t find a single mini-USB cable that fit exactly right. Still, the fact that the charge lasts so long means it’s not as much of an issue as it might otherwise be.
If you’re going to use an iPad for music, you want one of these, no question. And that’s the only other problem: they can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand, so you may have to wait a while after placing your order before it arrives. The BT-105 by itself is $79. Pedals are $30 each, available from their website.
Now that you’ve got your iPad and your apps, you’ll definitely want a case to protect it while it’s on your stand. It’s a long way down if it should fall, and it’s a lot easier to handle the iPad when it’s in a case. There are literally thousands and thousands of cases/bags/skins/wraps, at just about any price point you want. A site like iLounge is a good place to get an idea of what all is out there. These are the two cases I have (a well-dressed iPad usually has a wardrobe, not just a single case), but you may well find something else that works better for you.
Nobody loves this case ($39), but a whole lot of people use it. I’ve looked at lots of other cases, and while I totally understand and agree with the unenthusiasm it creates, I wound up going back to it for use in the house.
Let’s start with the bad. The first thing that strikes most people about this case is that it feels pretty darned cheap for something from Apple. It’s true–it’s not at all the kind of quality I’d expect from them. The corners are sharp, which makes it kind of uncomfortable to hand hold until you figure out the technique. And the microfiberish surface attracts all sorts of gunk.
On the other hand, it’s definitely the slimmest case that includes a screen cover. It’s very lightweight and adds almost nothing to the thickness of the iPad (although it does make it taller and wider). It’s pretty easy to wipe the cover clean, too. So if you need to put the iPad on a stand along with printed music books or if you want to throw the iPad into your regular gig bag, this is a very decent, inexpensive way to do it. I use this cover all the time at home. (Yes, it’s extremely hard to get the iPad out of this case the first couple of times you try, but either the case gives a little or you get the technique down after you’ve done it a couple of times. It does get easier.)
In the first post in this series I mentioned how much I love just bringing one small clutch-sized bag on a job, so there’s no clutter to stow and no piles of stuff around the stand. In order to do that, there’s really only one case choice right now.
Shortly after the iPad was first announced Happy Owl Studio announced that they would be producing this case ($80), which is a combination of a case and a clutch purse. It looked like the dream gig case–just remove the shoulder strap, open up the clutch, put on the stand and away you go. Nothing lurking around to stow, and no more having to worry about the security of a purse parked in a drawer miles away from where you are.
Lots of people, including me, ordered them and waited for them to get into production. And waited. And waited. Finally, they began to trickle in just in the nick of time for Christmas. Was it worth the wait? Almost.
It’s a cute little purse (I get a lot of compliments on it from people who have no idea there’s an iPad in there, and you can see the closed clutch here), and it holds a lot of stuff, considering:
Here’s what’s in mine:
Credit cards and drivers license.
Cash for valet.
Antique cell phone (no reception where I live so it’s not worth having a smart phone).
Copy of signed contract. (I could scan it in, but I never have time.)
Microfiber lens cloth for cleaning iPad screen (these come in nice flat little cases).
That’s a lot of stuff in in a very slim little bag, but it takes careful arranging to get it all in there without stressing out the zipper (if you do overload it, it’s a self-healing zipper, so you can just run the pull back over the separated area and the teeth will get back together). The iPad lives in its own compartment, so you don’t have to worry about scratching the screen.
It’s almost the perfect case, but there are some flaws, some of them major. First of all, their quality control isn’t what it should be. I ordered two of these and the first one, a red limited edition with looser pleats which I gave away, was flawless. The second one, the blue one, has some issues. When I opened the box, instead of the nice new leather smell that accompanied the red one, there was an overpowering smell like auto paint. Fortunately this dissipated in a couple of days.
Also, the construction was shoddier. There was lots of extra glue everywhere, even on the cute little metal owl logo on the snap. And the corners of the purse section had been pulled too tight so they were already bending away from the iPad side, making it look kind of tired before it had ever been used. More importantly, this means that it’s easier for stuff to get into the iPad side and possibly scratch the screen.
The clips on the strap work very smoothly, so it’s not a chore to remove the strap when you put the iPad on your stand, but several people have reported having the D-rings on the case itself pull loose from the weight of the iPad because they’re not attached to anything stronger than the case leather. I haven’t had this problem, but then if I’m not on a job I usually take the strap off and treat the clutch as a big wallet and carry it in a purse. And I still see some minor stressing on the connection points.
The purse side of it is really tight on space. There’s really not room for anything wider than its own strap. Even the iPad wall charger is pushing it. I’d like it a lot more if there were even another half inch of selvage on the zipper so that there was a bit more slack so I wouldn’t have to be so meticulous about putting things into it. You won’t get a set of harp strings in this case, incidentally. For me, since I mostly gig on a lever harp with a case that has a string pocket, this isn’t a big deal, but for a pedal harpist, it’s a consideration. You also won’t get even the tiniest hairbrush into it, and if you’ve got a long day where your makeup requirements involve full field artillery, it’s not so hot there, either.
It comes in red, the blue that I have, and a nice musicianly black (which unfortunately is lined with a rather lurid purple, which is why I don’t have that one). During the long, long wait lots of us searched and searched for an alternative, but although there are thousands and thousands of different cases of all sizes and colors, this is the only one any of us could find that has a purse, a strap, and lets you leave the iPad in it while you use it. I’d love to see them refine the construction and get a better grip on their quality control for the iPad 2 version.
Although it’s not heavy, it does add quite a bit of bulk to the iPad, which is why I prefer the slimmer Apple case when I don’t need to have everything at right at hand.
If you’re a guy and you want something that won’t look like a murse, or if you just don’t like pleats, they also have a wallet which is the same thing in plain leather without the strap, but you can find a lot of alternatives if you forgo the strap.
There are innumerable other case options if you don’t need the all-in-one business. You can even find a case that makes your iPad look like a nice antique book.
Today’s post is about how to use the iPad as your electronic tuner, but before I get into that, people have been asking me how much space sheet music files take up. Mostly, they’re very small, but things like colored cover art can bump a single piece from a few hundred K up into the megabytes. Here’s a look at the current state of my iPad, with about a hundred gig tunes (average about 4 pages) on it:
So there’s plenty of room for a LOT of music.
One place the App Store really shines is in the number and variety of electronic tuners available there. There are dozens to choose from, including all sorts of specialized guitar tuners, cello tuners, violin tuners, etc. As a harpist, I need a full-range chromatic tuner, and these are my two favorites. They’re both really iPhone/iPod apps, but you can use pixel doubling to enlarge the display, if you want. Even at the 1x size they’re pretty easy to see.
If you like the microscopic accuracy of a strobe tuner, you’ll be in heaven with the iStrobosoft, which gives you a Peterson strobe for a measly ten dollars, and what’s more, a strobe with the strobe pattern instead of those annoying chasing lights found on the lower end standalone strobes. You can set your A from 340 Hz to 540 Hz, and you can calibrate to an external source–very handy if you want to set the A from, say, the piano in the hall.
As you can see in the image, it tells you the note it hears and just how exactly how many cents flat or sharp you are. The Noise Filter button helps eliminate background noise from the equation (although I will say that since I’ve had the iStrobosoft I now know the exact frequency of the hum from every appliance in my house), and the Input Boost amplifies a soft sound source.
At $9.99, this is one of the most incredible deals in the whole App Store.
On the other hand, if you like a match needle type tuner, this is the one. Bitcount’s Cleartune includes both a rotating wheel display and a fine-tuning meter at the top. With this one, you can tune to 22 different temperaments in addition to the standard equal temperament, and you can even add your own if you need something that’s not already there.
In addition to all the visual clues, you can also set up Cleartune to act as a pitchpipe if you prefer an audible reference pitch. Cleartune is $3.99 at the app store.
Which of these is better? That depends on what you want. Both are very accurate, and I will say that both suffer from the same major flaw–they’re too darned sensitive when tuning a harp. They respond immediately to sound decay, so you have to be fast to catch the attack. I find them both useful in different situations, but I’m not sure either is a good choice for a beginning student, who may find the higher tolerances of a dedicated tuner like a Korg easier to use.
The iPad has a built-in mic, and that’s fine for tuning in quiet conditions, but we all know that as soon as you get the cover off the harp, a brass player will appear from nowhere and start warming up. You can still use your old tuner pickup with the iPad. There are several different cables available that let you connect anything with a quarter-inch plug to the iPad via the headphone jack. I use this one, from Peterson:
It’s not the most deluxe by any means, but it does the job, and it only costs $12.99. (Incidentally, for those of you who’ve asked–the links on these pages aren’t sponsored. I don’t get anything if you click on them; they’re just for your convenience.)
Now that you’ve got the basic equipment, it’s time to consider how to carry it to the gig. Next time: The Happy Owl Clutch.
If you ever buy sheet music via download, you know Musicnotes.com, which is pretty much the only authorized source for a lot of the more current tunes. They do provide a free app for use with your purchases, which is fairly handy for you as the musician (no need to waste time scanning and saving as PDF), and handier still for the publishers (no unauthorized copying going on, no sir).
I want to love the Musicnotes app. It has one completely killer feature (transposition), but on the whole, I just don’t like it except for the PDF-creation time it saves. It has a lot of features that seem to be nice but aren’t that well thought out. For instance, when you open the app, you get this nifty coverflow-style view:
The problem is that every time you open the app, you get the nifty coverflow-style view. It can’t remember where you were last time, and there’s not even an option to open to a simple list view, so it’s scroll city every time.
Since Musicnotes wants you to use a unique app for their tunes, it ought at a bare minimum to stay where you left it the last time you closed it, since they’re making you switch apps to use other scores. For example, if I have a wedding where the bridesmaids are coming in to the Vivaldi Largo from ‘Winter’, that’s in forScore. But then if the bride is coming in to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by the Verve, that’s in the Musicnotes app, or at least they’d like it to be.
Now that wouldn’t be a really big nuisance if I could get to it quickly enough (tap Home button, tap Musicnotes icon), but instead it’s tap Home button, tap Musicnotes app, scroll madly to find tune, tap tune. That’s a panic-inducing number of taps when you want a quick, smooth transition.
The Musicnotes app does include a set list feature, but I haven’t ever been able to get it to work without crashing and you can’t make the app open directly to a setlist, so I avoid it entirely. Also, once you’re in a tune, there’s no default magnification available for the scores. They come in small and you have to pinch each page to enlarge it to fill the whole screen, and do that again if you turn back while you’re playing. Page navigation is okay, but not great. You see the page numbers arrayed along the bottom of the page and you can jump to a page by tapping its number. (You can see this in the graphic below, if you look carefully.)
Despite all these drawbacks, there’s one feature that makes the Musicnotes app a must-have for anyone who buys sheet music from them. You can download your tune transposed to a number of different keys (but not print them–there’s no printing from this app, unlike forScore):
You just tap the Menu button when you have an internet connection and you can choose to download any or all of the alternative key versions for a particular tune. Once they’re on the iPad you can still use them without a connection. If you play lever harp, as I mostly do, this is a wonderfully helpful feature, and it’s also great if you have to accompany soloists, no matter what instrument you play.
Another very nice feature is that the first time you fire up the app and tell it to sync your tunes, it will automatically find every song you’ve ever bought from them. And in my case, some tunes I never did buy. As a harpist I’m 99.995% sure I never had occasion to purchase “Big Rock Candy Mountain” from them (or anyone else) for any reason whatever, but there it is in my song list, along with a few others I know I never bought.
They also send out free tunes each month, a feature about which I’m kind of ambivalent. Mostly they’re not things I have much use for, at least not in their arrangements, but it’s a nice idea and once in a while there is something. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prune those from your main library. It’s show all or nothing for free tunes, which makes the main window even scrollier. And each time you purchase a new song and sync it to the iPad, the free ones all come back again.
When you have an active internet connection you can purchase tunes right from within the app, which is nice, too, but overall I’d prefer they either fixed the app to make it more usable on a gig or else offered the option of downloading a PDF in the first place.
Once you have your iPad, the next thing is to decide what app(s) you want to use for storing and organizing your sheet music. For the most part you want to have your music in PDF format, and a lot of people bumble along with one of the generic PDF readers like GoodReader or iBooks, but you’re really missing out on a lot of useful musician’s tools if you do that.
(If you missed the earlier posts, you can go to Part 1 or Part 2 of this series to get caught up.)
You’ll find a slew of dedicated music readers in the App Store. My favorite is forScore ($4.99), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here, but there are others with somewhat similar feature sets, including Music Reader (free) and Unreal Book ($4.99). What’s great about these apps is that they are designed and built by musicians who created them for their own use, so a lot of thought has gone into making them work well, and development on them is continuing at a blazing rate–there were something like twenty updates to forScore last year, and the iPad didn’t even appear until April.
If you buy music from musicnotes.com, they also have an app that makes it easy to get your purchases onto your iPad. More about that one in my next post.
This is absolutely my all-time favorite iPad app. It’s a wonderfully competent organizer and reader for sheet music PDFs. You can organize your music in various ways (organizer, title, genre) and also create setlists of the tunes you plan to play on a particular job, if you like. You can add keywords and ratings and use those as search terms.
You get all kinds of things, like a web browser, so you can just download a new tune right into forScore when someone requests it during the gig, as long as you can find it in PDF someplace on the internet (if you have a connection, of course). Normally you can add scores by emailing them or just by dropping them into forScore in iTunes on your computer.
There’s a metronome which can be a regular click metronome, or you can set it to pulse the edges of the page if you want a visual guide. You can even set it to turn the pages of the score for you as you practice. You can share your scores with other musicians in your group via Bluetooth, if they also have forScore.
And yes, you can mark up your music. You can write with your finger or a stylus, or there are what forScore calls “stamps” which let you put in things like fingering numbers just by touching where you want them to go. (But I have to admit I can never get those stupid numbers right where I want them.)
It would take pages and pages to go into everything that you can do in forScore, but here are some of my favorite things:
You can set it to go from one tune in your setlist to the next just by turning the page, so you don’t have to go back into the menus again to get to the next piece.
Da capos, repeats, etc. are a dream with forScore. You can set up links in your score which appear as a transparent blue button. Tap that button and wham! you’re right back where you wanted to be, no matter how many pages back it was. The score even flashes orange twice in the exact spot so you can find it quickly. I LOVE this! I’ll try to get a video put up showing how it works, but in the meantime here’s a screenshot of the blue button:
Margin adjustment. Use a slider to expand the view of a file so that the notes fill the available screen space. You can also pinch a page to enlarge it, but when you use the margin slider, forScore remembers them and keeps the score at that size. forScore also remembers where you left off last time, so the next time you launch forScore or the next time you go to a particular piece, you’re right where you were.
It’s not absolutely perfect. Since the last major operating system update, iOS 4, page turns on really large PDF files can be slow sometimes. It’s mostly very reliable, but I have had forScore quit on me two or three times, which is really disconcerting in mid-piece, even though it’s only a couple of taps to get back to where you were. (Tip: It’s a very good idea to power cycle your iPad after a forScore update or even after adding a large number of new files. That pretty much avoids the quitting.)
There are still a few features that it doesn’t have. You can’t adjust the margins independently instead of globally enlarging a score, which would be useful for scans of printed music since they usually have uneven margins. (This is evidently pretty hard to include, according to the developer, and there’s a workaround on the forscore website but it’s a pain and not worth the effort it requires, in my opinion.)
My main want, though, is a Bride button. By this, I mean a button something like the one used for an in-score link (shown above), only this one would float over all the pieces in a set, so that at any moment you can jump to a particular tune in the set. I’d like this for those situations where you’re playing the prelude, the wedding coordinator comes out and says it will be ten more minutes, and you look up 30 seconds later and there are bridesmaids on the horizon. (Yeah, that’s no biggie if it’s Pachelbel, but when the bride requests something like Noel Coward’s “Zigeuner,” it would be very, very handy.)
Finally, the documentation never quite keeps up with the app itself. Given how quickly features are being added it’s not surprising, but it is sometimes annoying. forScore is far from unique in this, though, and it does have the best manual of any of the music reading apps I’ve found.
To me, forScore is the single best app for sheet music viewing. There’s a lot of feature copying going on among all these competing apps, and this is a good thing for iPad owners, but to me the interface and organizational features of forScore make it the one to get. On the other hand, given how cheap the apps are, you should probably download several and see which one works best for you. You won’t go far wrong with any of them.
Harpist, arranger, and music publisher, Barbara is also a Mac fan and the author of the Missing Manual books for Photoshop Elements.
Because of spam attacks I've had to disable the contact form, but if you want to reach me, email me at barbATbarbarabrundage.com, only substitute @ for the AT in the address.