Proprietary systems like FreeHand’s awkwardly-named MusicPad Pro Plus (Pro Plus, eh?) have offered digital manuscript paper for some time. But the idea there is you buy dedicated hardware; the MusicPad Pro Plus is US$899. With tablet PCs starting at about the same price, and the convenience of having your mobile computer also be your music notation, it seems like the convergence of the manuscript page and the computer isn’t far off.
Enter MusicReader for Windows XP and Vista. It runs just US$69-99; bring your own laptop. Better yet, bring your own tablet PC and you have a form factor that fits naturally on a music stand and can be marked up with digital ink. Turn pages with a tap or foot pedal.
With the ultra-thin machine on its way (witness new ultra-thin laptops from Apple and Lenovo, and upcoming low-power, tiny chips from Intel), the future looks even better. Here’s a video of the system in action, lest you think this would never appear in the real world (suggestion: you may want to mute the sound, as the background score is a bit …unnecessary):
Mac users, looks like you’re booting into Boot Camp for now. Too bad Apple still doesn’t think we want a tablet.
Reading notation is good fun, but what if you could write it, too? A little-noticed, open-source tool from researchers at Brown University does just that on Windows Tablet PCs, and even made a brief, official appearance as a Microsoft PowerToy. The recognition is surprisingly satisfying once you learn the shortcuts, which resemble Palm Graffiti strokes. Finally, in 2005 the developers added MIDI export, making this a potentially useful tool. If there’s someone out there with a newish Vista tablet, I’d be curious to know if this still works on modern machines.
To me, the ability to write as well as read makes things far more interesting. But for about a hundred bucks — well, plus whatever your tablet PC cost — you’ve got digital music paper right now.
Does any of this actually matter to you? Blogger Tom Whitwell asked that of his readers, and found the answer is, well, sorta:
Can Music Thing readers read music? [Music Thing]