It’s about a year and a half since I bought a Digital Piano and finally started practicing daily. In that time I’ve progressed quite well and the pieces I’m able to play (albeit still at the late-elementary / early intermediate level) are finally starting to increase in length to a few pages.

This has brought about a problem I’d not considered up to this point that I’m sure plagues many pianists. How to turn the page without interrupting your playing. Given time I’m sure I could get used to reaching up and turning the page and make do with copying a few measures from the next page to get me to a suitable place to turn the page, but I’d rather not.

A product called the AirTurn provides a solution to this problem. However, as a hardware hobbiest I decided to roll my own. Using a Laptop or LCD monitor to display the scores in either Adobe Reader or Music Reader and a serial connected foot pedal to fire off a PG Down event.

Above is a picture of the final device and a screen shot of the pedal turner .NET application which monitors the serial port and sends out PAGE DOWN keyboard events to the activate application whenever the pedal is pushed down.

The application and documentation, which also includes brief instructions on how to build your own serial connector (it’s pretty simple!) can be downloaded here

As a side benefit to going digital, there’s no more printing out public domain scores or hunting through scores of well scores, to find the one I want to play. The downside however is getting scores into pdf format. Most digital stores sell protected music that can only be printed once and often they try to prevent printing to PDF. (whilst it can be done, why reward stores for such short sightedness with your business?) Scanning whilst an inconvenience is perhaps the best option at the moment and only needs to be done once.

With PDF Annotator or MusicReader1, it’s also possible to annotate the scores, adding fingering information and highlighting practice sections. Plus re-ordering pages so they’re out of sequence is great for handling all those jumps back and forth in a piece.

I’ve demo’d several other apps, but mostly they’re related to music notation rather than playing from a score. Theres some pretty cool OCR software available for music that’ll scan a score, convert it to various formats including MusicXML and allow you to play it back. Unfortunately, all the apps that include that kind of feature do not seem to offer any kind of library management nor are they as suited to playing from and annotating scores as MusicReader is.

From what little I’ve used of MusicReader so far, one feature I’d like to see added is a layer option. Having the ability to erase all annotations on a given layer whilst keeping marks made on other layers rather than having to be careful what you erase. Plus an option to toggle the visible layers.

I guess I can’t discuss paperless playing without mentioning Hugh Sung, who’s blog and youtube videos put me onto MusicReader and the pedal page turning idea in the first place. His company produce the Air Turn, which is a USB device that allows you to connect a set of pedals to your PC without wires. His site is also responsible for the expensive notion of buying a tablet PC that I now have stuck in my head, hopefully the idea will remain there and not make it to my credit card.

  1. A few years after writing this post I switched to using an iPad with ForScore. [return]