Even if I am fond of “real” acoustic instruments,I have always been intrigued by “synthetic” wind instruments,be them sampled or synthesized. For example,I really like some flute patches that come with the Patchman Turbo VL upgrade chip for the Yamaha VL70-m,and I find them quite expressive and playable with my Akai EWI 4000s. Alas,I always failed at finding a decent implementation of a virtual sax.
Using a sampler rather than a synth – including synths that use physical modeling to replicate the sound characteristics of a real wind instrument,as is the case of the VL70-m – surely delivers a result closer to a natural sax sound,yet I have always been disappointed by the lack of playability and the inability of achieving the many timbre variations that only a real sax can offer.
When I decided to record music for sax quartet,the choice was between purchasing a real tenor and baritone (to be added to my alto and soprano) or trying again with a sampled instrument. This is how I got to Samplemodeling and its range of products,which includes brass (Trumpet,Trombone,and French Horn &Tuba) and woodwind instruments (Saxophones,Clarinets,Flutes,and Double Reeds).
Their list price ranges from 159 euros (about 200$) for products with two instruments (e.g. Trumpet,Trombone and Clarinets) up to 259 euros (330$) for packages with four instruments,such as Saxophones (which includes soprano,alto,tenor,and baritone) and Double Reeds (oboe,English horn,bassoon,and contrabassoon). These price tags make Samplemodeling products more expensive than libraries that offer hundreds instruments for a fraction of a dollar each,but this comparison is misleading,because none of the instruments in these libraries can really compete with Samplemodeling.
The company has been on the market for a while and gained a very high reputation among musicians,especially EWI players. The first line of their products is based on the Native Instruments’ Kontakt platform,and in fact they include the free Kontakt Player for users who don’t own the complete product. This holds true for brass instruments,but newer woodwind instruments – including The Saxophones – are based on a proprietary engine named SWAM (Synchronous Wavelength Acoustic Modeling). For more tech information about SWAM check this page,but for now it’s enough to say that this platform is a further step towards more realistic virtual woodwind instruments. SWAM instruments don’t require you to install the Kontakt player.
Installation,licensing and required hardware
The good news is Samplemodeling software needs no dongle key (e.g. the iLok dongle),which means you don’t have to give up to a USB port on your computer AND you don’t feel you are treated as a potential pirate. Instead,you get two license keys,which allow you to install their software on two different computers. If you buy a third computer you can have one key deactivated and reactivated on the new hardware. As is common with most vendors,a valid license gives you the ability to download future minor releases of the same product,without having to pay for a yearly subscription. My review is based on version 2.4,but I learned that version 2.5 is about to be made available (for free) to all registered users.
Samplemodeling instruments work on Windows XP and later and on Mac (OSX 10.6 and later). They are provided only as plug-ins in the VST2,AAX,and AudioUnit formats,therefore they require a plug-in host such as Cubase,Live,Logic,or ProTools. If you don’t have a host program,you can use a free one,such as Cantabile Lite. In all my tests I used the AudioUnit version loaded inside Apple MainStage 3.
Interestingly,Samplemodeling virtual instruments are built with the wind player in mind:unlike other software,you must use either a wind controller (such as the Akai EWI or Yamaha WX5),a MIDI keyboard with either a breath controller (such as the Yamaha BC3) or – at the very least – an expression pedal that emits CC11 messages. Without any of these MIDI controllers,SWAM instruments don’t sound at all!
Installing The Saxophones on my MacBook Pro was a breeze. I haven’t used by second serial key yet,therefore I don’t know how it works on a Windows system,but I don’t expect any trouble. I scanned the Samplemodeling forum before getting the software,and the satisfaction level among users is impressively high. This surely means something.
Quite opportunely,Samplemodeling provides three configurations to start with:for keyboard players with an expression pedal,for keyboard players with breath controller,and for wind controller players. Each configuration correctly initializes the program’s parameters to work properly with the corresponding MIDI controller,and in fact all the four instruments of The Saxophones worked “well enough” as soon as I loaded them in MainStage.
But probably “well enough” isn’t enough for you,thus you need to read the manual to get the best out of these instruments;failing to do so means that you are leveraging a fraction of their potential. The documentation is short,clear and concise,and just takes a few minutes. Once I grasped the fundamental concepts,it took less than one hour to tweak the many available parameters until I got the sound and the responsiveness I expected. The parameters are grouped in three distinct sets:
basic sound parameters,in the main window
advanced sound parameters,in the Options window
MIDI CC mappings,also in the Options window
Let’s have a look at basic parameters first,even though they aren’t really “basic”,as you’ll see in a moment. In the top half of the window you can set the intonation (in Hertz or cents),the transposition (in semitones),the pitchbend up and down ranges,the volume,and the pan. You can also control reverb,even though I prefer MainStage’s own reverb plug-ins because they provide more options.
A rectangular area in the center of the main window shows a subset of the messages arriving from the MIDI controller,i.e. pitch bend,velocity,expression (CC11) or breach (CC2),and vibrato. It also provides a graph of the dynamic envelope and shows how the software is interpreting the way you articulate the phase (e.g. legato or staccato). These pieces of information are crucial,because The Saxophones – unlike traditional samplers – uses sophisticated algorithms to understand the musician’s intentions and generates slightly different sounds depending on the result of this analysis. If what you hear isn’t what you had in mind,you should keep an eye on these parameters to understand how the software is analyzing your playing style.
The quest for the perfect parameter value
In the bottom half of the main window you see more advanced controls that directly affect the resulting sound. Your first option is which instrument/microphone combination you want to use:each sax model (soprano,alto,tenor,and bari) provides between 8 and 10 variations,labeled with names such as “Sax 1 Dry” or “Sax 2 Bright”. Each variations results in a slightly different timbre,even though the differences aren’t always noticeable,at least to my ears. After some tests,I found myself focusing on two or three different variations for each sax model.
Except for a few sliders whose meaning is obvious – for example,the amount of growl,the compressor rate,and the release time – the controls in this area require a deep knowledge of acoustic principles and honestly I can’t really claim I could grasp the meaning of each of them. In some cases I managed to have interesting sound variations by moving a slider,in others I found no audible difference,probably because some controls must be adjusted in groups rather than individually.
For example,I found out that lowering the default value of the Dyn.Pitch parameter – which controls random pitch fluctuations in response to different breath intensity – allows me to articulate phases in a way that is closer to my playing style on the real instrument. Likewise,increasing the SubHarm value – which simulates the sub-harmonics that acoustic instruments create one octave below the played note – results in a “richer” sound.
Some parameters are meant to be controlled dynamically by sending CC messages from your MIDI controls. For example,the Growl and Flutter Tongue values should be set to zero because you don’t want these effects in allyour phrases:by mapping them to specific CC messages you can enable them on-the-fly and add expressiveness to your phrases.
A couple of sliders affect the noise produced by breath and keys;when playing at low volume,these two parameters add realism to the sound. You can control them using CC messages,too,but in practice their default value is OK for most circumstances.
As if all these options weren’t enough,the Options button (near the bottom-left corner) brings up a window with additional advanced parameters (see right portion of following figure). Here you can set the way portamento and vibrato work,the expression curve,under which circumstances the virtual sax “overblows”,etc. I haven’t played much with these values,because I was already satisfied with their default value,but it’s good to know that you have so many options to tailor the virtual instrument to your taste and style.
The SWAM engine also supports microtones and non-tempered tuning. In the Options window you can select the detuning value (in cents) for each of the twelve semitones,but this operation alone doesn’t change the intonation. Instead,you have to activate the microtuning feature either in the main window or by sending a specific CC message. In either case,you can decide which notes use the alternate tuning. Notice that you can detune any note by the desired amount of cents,but you still have “only” 12 notes available:this means,for example,that you can play non-tempered Indian ragas and other Eastern scales but you still can’t perform any sort of quarter-tone compositions,which would require up to 24 different keys.
Optimal MIDI and EWI settings
The fields in the left portion of the Options window allow you to customize how MIDI CC messages map to most of the parameters just described. The default mappings are reasonable,yet they assume that you have a large number of CC controllers available,such as a MIDI keyboard with a lot of sliders and knobs or – if you are an EWI player – a foot MIDI controller such as Behringer FBC1010 or McMillen SoftStep. Even if I have both these foot controllers,my goal was to achieve good results with the EWI alone,thus I spent some time to configure the software and the EWI for the highest expressiveness. Here’s the configuration I came up with.
In the SWAM Engine:
Trasposition: +3 semitones for alto and baritone,-2 semitones for soprano and tenor – this means that a given fingering delivers the same note that would produce on the real instrument,so for example the low Bb generates more or less the same characteristic tone you get from the saxophone. PitchBend Up: 0.0 semitones – this is necessary so that you can use the EWI pitchbend plate to send a specific CC message without affecting the pitch. PitchBend Down: 1.0 semitones – with an acoustic sax you typically don’t “bend” a note for more than a semitone;besides,using a small value allows you to achieve a “pitch vibrato” by rapidly moving the thumb on the EWI pitchbend plate. Expression: mapped to CC2 (breath controller),the standard setting if you select the wind instrument configuration. Vibrato Rate: mapped to CC1 (default),to allow you to apply vibrato using the modulation wheel (on a keyboard) or the pitchbend up plate on the EWI (by using the configuration described below). Portamento Time: mapped to CC5 (default) Growl: mapped to CC4,so that you can add growl effect by pressing an auxiliary key on the EWI (see below). Overblow: mapped to CC64,so that you can achieve this effect by pressing a key on the EWI (see below).
On the EWI:
You should configure the EWI to send note velocity and breath information (CC2) with each note,and not send volume (CC7) messages. Sending velocity doesn’t really change the note volume or timbre (which depends on CC2),but can affect other behaviors,for example the transition time from note to note during glissandos.
To match the SWAM settings described above,you should map pitchbend up values to the CC1 (modulation) message,which lets you easily have a variable degree of vibrato by simply sliding your right thumb up the pitchbend plate. The Glide plate should map to CC5,so that it controls the portamento in legato phrases.
The Hold key – i.e. the auxiliary key closer to the mouthpiece – should be mapped to CC64 and send the value 65 (or any value greater than 64) when pressed the first time,so that you can activate overblow mode by just pressing this EWI key. Pressing it again disables overblow.
The Octave auxiliary key should be mapped to CC4 so that you can achieve the growl effect by pressing a single key;in the setup you should specify a value between 30 and 127,depending on the amount of growl you desire. Unfortunately,the EWI can only send a single value,thus you can’t apply a varying degree of growl unless you use a MIDI foot controller. Pressing the key again returns to normal (non-growl) sound. Alternatively,you can give up to either overblow or growl,and instead use one of the EWI auxiliary keys to activate microtuning.
Finally,I strongly recommend that you reduce the delay that the EWI introduces between playing a fingered note;the default value for this parameter is 7 and you probably never edited it,but Samplemodeling tech support recommends adopting a lower value,say 3 or 4,to reduce the number of “ghost” MIDI notes that the instrument sometimes emits and that is sometimes responsible for spurious notes,clicks,etc.
It’s time to answer the questions that always come up when speaking about virtual instruments:do these instruments sound as good as the “real” ones? Can “The Saxophones” replace real,acoustic saxes?
Unfortunately,the only answer I can provide is:it depends. More precisely,it depends on why you want to use a virtual instrument in the first place and what are your expectations.
Let’s start saying that the quality of sound is fully satisfactory:if you play single notes or slow musical phrases,the saxes in “The Saxophones” can be hardly distinguished from acoustic instruments. Same consideration applies if you want to record a big band section:to get the idea,listen to the demos in this page. In the hands of a good EWI player,a virtual sax can be also used to play ballads and medium-tempo songs,as this video demonstrates.
Samplemodeling instruments were accurately recorded in an anechoic room with expensive mics and using first-class instruments played by professional musicians,thus a recording session based on these sampled instruments can often deliver better results that those you typically obtain in your home studio. If you don’t have four saxophonists at hand,“The Saxophones” is your next better option.
The sound of all the instruments provided in the package is equally good,yet I have my preferences. In my opinion,the baritone and the soprano delivers slightly better results,then comes the tenor and finally the alto. But again,this is my personal opinion and it probably depends on me being an alto sax player,which means that have higher expectations for that specific model.
Playing these virtual instruments in live gigs can be challenging. The detail that makes the biggest difference between a virtual or real sax isn’t the sound itself,rather it’s the playability of the virtual instrument:a sampled instrument just cannot render the countless timbre and articulation variations that you can achieve with an acoustic instrument,such as alternate fingerings and different tonguing techniques;you can sing in the instrument,use multiphonics,produce vibrato by using either the breath or the jaw,and so forth. You can’t reasonably expect that a virtual instrument can implement all these techniques,even though Samplemodeling offer some interesting possibilities,for example in the way they implement growl and flutter tonguing.
Just remember that every single detail of how these instruments sound can be controlled via CC messages:if you really want to get the best results you should read the manual,learn how to tweak the most important parameters,and maybe use an EWI with a MIDI foot controller (or a master MIDI keyboard with a breath controller and a lot of sliders and knobs).
I came acress this 75-minute seminar by Lenny Pickett,held at Broken Arrow Jazz Band facilities. The video was posted in July 2014 and has been watched to only a few hundred times,which is a pity because it is quite interesting.
For those who aren’t familiar with him:Lenny is sax,flute and clarinet player and is considered a master in altissimo register,alternate fingerings and all sort of tricks and interesting sounds you can get out of a wind instrument. He played with Tower of Power and the Saturday Night Live band.
The seminar has been split if five videos. During the seminar Lenny performs a few of his compositions for sax or clarinet solo,which are impressive and that demonstrate how to use harmonics,multiphonics,slap toungue and altissimo register notes in a very musical context. Happy watching!
I just uploaded edition 1.02 of The Scale Omnibus, which adds a few more scales,fixes minor mistakes and is still (and will always be) absolutely FREE. With 399 distinct scales and 1,030 scale synonyms,you can hardly find a better value at this price!
A big thank you goes to Bob Hartig,saxophonist,editor,and author of The Giant Steps Scratchpad,who kindly offered to edit and improve this book’s introduction as only a native language writer can do. If you are a jazz musician,do yourself a favor and check out Bob’s Stormhorn website. And if you need the assistance of a professional editor or writer,visit his CopyFox site
Every now and them I have a look at saxopedia stats,to learn what pages are viewed the most and which ones are less interesting for my fellow musicians.
For example,in a few days the free “The Scale Omnibus”book has been downloaded by more than 3,000 people,and the trend seems growing. The book raised a lot of interest,which makes me very happy. A great reward for the many evenings spent researching,typing and proofreading.
Not surprisingly,the most popular pages are those devoted to transcribed solos. In the last 30 days these pages were visited 40,000 times,with half of the visits going to the sax transcription pages. More than 50,000 solos have been downloaded,most of which are 2-3 pages long. Given that an average book with transcribed contains 120-150 pages,it is as if saxopedia were giving away one thousand transcription books each month. Not bad at all!
The Scale Omnibus is a FREE 430-page book that describes as many as 399 distinct scales in all 12 keys,with synonyms,historical notes,chords over which the scale sounds well,summary tables,and more. It took hours of researching,typing,read-proofing,and double-checking and might easily be the most complete book on this topic.
I am very glad to offer it to instrumentalists,vocalists,composers,improvisers,students,music amateurs and all saxopedia readers.
Feel free to share this material with your fellow musicians. However,instead of passing a copy of the PDF,please point them to THE SCALE OMNIBUS home page,so that they can download the most recent edition.
it has been a while since the last site update in January. Sorry,I have been busy with my daily job and many other things. But above all I realized that taking care of both the English and Italian versions of saxopedia is just too much for me and my scarce spare time. I need to keep this task to a manageable size.
With much regret I decided to “freeze”the Italian edition of saxopedia:the site will continue to exist but it won’t be updated in parallel with the English version. For example,all solo pages will just point to the pages on www.saxopedia.com. Also,I decided to trim down the iOS section of this site,which now is reduced to a single page (with over one hundred links,though). There are so many sites entirely devoted to making music on the iPhone and iPad,and I am sure no one will miss this section.
I am putting all the saved time to good use,as you’ll see soon.
To begin with,I just added over 100 new solo transcriptions to the sax,trumpet,bass,guitar and piano pages.
The NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony &Concert will be webcast at 7:30 pm EST on January 13,2014,from The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As we honor Jamey Aebersold,Anthony Braxton,Richard Davis and Keith Jarrett with the nation’s highest jazz award,we will hear incredible performances by past honorees and the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters themselves.
I am glad for all these great musicians,all of them deserve this award but –indirectly and a bit paradoxically –the one in the group who did more for jazz diffusion is also the less popular one among the “average”jazz lover. My sincerest wishes to James Aebersold,to whom several generations of jazz musicians owe so much.
I finally got some spare time to have a look at a few music books that are stacking on my desk. The one on the top is Slick Licks That Stick,by saxophonist Bobby Stern.
Some (or many) of you might already be familiar with Bobby,him being the author of The Minor Melodic Handbook:A Jazz Player’s Perspective,published in 2006 by James Aebersold. More recently he turned to self-publishing,and the e-book I am reviewing here is his first work. (There is also Slick Licks That Sticks,volume II,that was released some days ago.)
Slick Licks That Stick contains 167 pages of exercises and etudes,plus an index and some notes. However the book uses the landscape orientation,pages are smaller than the standard A4 and each page contains only 4 staves. Broadly and large,it therefore corresponds to an 80-page book in standard layout.
Unlike most exercise books,it doesn’t attempt to cover every single chord progression or scale. Instead,it contains 10 specific (and partially unrelated) sections,that analyze topics on which the author believes he can provide a better insight,and rightly so. While the quality of the material is high,on the average,there are sections that I like very much and other that I don’t find particularly exciting. Let’s see each section in detail.
Chapter 1:Pentatonic Modes is arguably the least interesting of the entire book. It covers the classic Major Pentatonic (e.g. CDEGA),the Pentatonic b3 scale (derived from the Melodic Minor scale),the Pentatonic b6 scale,and the Pentatonic b2 scale (derived from the Diminished scale). For each scale it displays straight runs over its five modes. I assume that any average player will not even look at these pages once he or she understands the obvious pattern used to build the exercise.
Chapter 2:Augmented Scale Patterns is where the interesting stuff begins. It shows how to use arpeggios and intervals over this often-neglected scale and in this case I do welcome the fact that each pattern is repeated for each key (more precisely,for each of the 4 distinct versions of this symmetrical scale).
Chapter 3:Coltrane Changes shows how to use basic 4-note patterns over a Coltrane change chord sequence. You will find this chapter very useful if you are new to this sequence,yet it might be a bit too basic if you are already familiar with it. At the end of the chapter you can also find some interesting patterns built using the Augmented scale.
Chapter 4:Triad Pairs shows how to alternate a Major triad with a Minor triad a 3rd minor above it. Rather than leading you into creating musical ideas on this sequence,the chapter includes just one series of ascending arpeggios,repeated in all 12 keys. As it is the case with chapter 1,I found that transposing these arpeggios in your mind is a better exercise than reading them on a book.
Chapter 5:Chromatic Finger Busters is exactly what the title implies,that is a series of fast exercises built over the chromatic scale that aim at improving your chops rather than providing complete musical ideas. If played at up tempos these exercises can be truly challenging,and I like them a lot.
Chapter 6:Intervalic ii-Vs includes a couple of ii-V patterns built over fourth intervals and pentatonic scales,and shows how to momentarily play “outside” and then back inside at the end of the pattern. Good stuff that doesn’t sound as “already-heard-of.”
Chapter 7:Melodic Minor Bebop Scales includes runs of the little-used Melodic Minor Bebop scale (e.g. CDEbFGG#AB). Nothing else but straight runs up and down the seven modes of this scale. The same considerations I gave for Chapter 1 apply here as well.
Chapter 8:Melodic Minor 4th Stacks contains non-obvious arpeggio patterns built over the Melodic Minor scale,which can be useful if you are tired of playing using plain thirds.
Chapter 9:Melodic Minor Polymodal ii-V7 explains how to cleverly use modes of the Melodic Minor scales over the classic ii-V7 progression. It contains 15 different patterns (in all keys),all of which sound quite intriguing to me.
Chapter 10:Melodic Minor Etudes contains three etudes on the minor scale. It’s a good departure from the usual all-eight-notes exercises.
The bottom line:Slick Licks That Stick contains some great sections and some less useful ones. The chapters on the Melodic Minor scale (7-8-9) are surely the most interesting one,and they justify the $9.99 price tag,unless you believe that you already master this topic.
I haven’t had a look at the just published Slick Licks That Stick volume II, so I can’t really recommend it. This second volume is twice as thick (369 pages) and sells for $13.99,thus you might find it convenient to get the Volume I and II bundle for $19.99.
One of the good reasons for jazz players to own an iPad is the ability of using it as a score reader. Unfortunately,finding a score reader app that satisfies all your needs might not be as simple as you might imagine. Before diving into a more detailed review,let me briefly outline the features that,in my opinion,the ideal music reader app should have to appeal a demanding jazz/rock/pop/fusion player.
The primary goal for such an app is replacing tons of fake books and paper scores,therefore the most obvious feature is ability to store,browse,search,annotate,and bookmark large PDF files,such as the many editions of the Real Book and other fake books you can find on the Internet. If you play original compositions or songs that aren’t included in those fake books,adding your own PDF should be a very quick and simple process.
Secondly,I want the ability to associate one audio file to each score,so that I don’t have to switch to the iPad music player to listen to the original song or practice over a play-along version of the tune (e.g. Aebersold or Hal Leonard CDs). Ideally,I’d like to associate a given score to multiple audio files,so that I can quickly reach different versions of the same song,or play-along tunes with different tempo or harmonization.
Another important feature is the ability to quickly e-mail my scores to other musicians,backup them on the desktop computer (or the cloud,Dropbox,etc.),move scores and associated audio files to another iPad,create song subsets (great for creating the song list for a gig),and print them when necessary. Additionally,a perfect score reader should automatically turn pages,or at least give you the ability to do that with a foot controller.
There are a few other,less critical features I’d like to see in a music reader app:a metronome,a tuner,a virtual keyboard (very useful if you are a singer or a choir director). Being an alto and soprano sax player,I’d also like the capability to store multiple versions of the same song,one transposed in Eb and one in Bb.
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As I anticipated,finding the music reader app that fulfills all my needs hasn’t been simple.
The first one I tried was forScore. It features an elegant and simple user interface,an integrated music player,the ability to turn half-pages (i.e. displaying the upper half of next page while you read the bottom half of current page),and an impressive arsenal of tools and music symbols for annotating a PDF score. Unfortunately,forScore doesn’t provide indexes for the most popular fake books,therefore you have to create such indexes manually. (Alas,the app occasionally crashed when trying to organize and re-arrange large PDFs.) All in all,forScore is a good app that addresses the needs of classical music players,yet it is less useful for jazz and rock musicians.
My next attempt was iGigBook,which claims to be the perfect replacement for jazz and rock fake books:it comes with the index of 70+ popular fake books (including many editions of the Real Book,with Bb and Eb versions),plus over the chord progressions of 1,000+ jazz tunes that can be transposed to any key. While these indexes are theoretically very useful,in practice they work flawlessly only if you own exactly the same PDF used to create the index,which isn’t often the case:iGigBook provides a way to define a page offset and compensate for missing pages near the beginning of the PDF,but if your PDF lacks one or more pages in the middle or if own a PDF of a different version of the fake book used to create the index,the iGigBook index is useless. (Needless to say,the iGigBook documentation can’t include links to the PDFs used the create the index,because it would infringe copyright laws.)
In practice,only few of the PDFs I own perfectly match iGigBook indexes,thus I had to create my own indexes. Unfortunately,creating a custom index is a slow and an (unnecessarily) contorted process:you must upload the PDF to the iGigBook website (after creating an account),then enter information about individual songs (title,start page,number of page,etc.),one by one. If your Internet connection isn’t optimal,the workflow can take a lot of time. There is the option to upload a text file in comma-delimited format,containing data of multiple songs,but quite absurdly this simplified procedure can be used only for PDFs with 50 or more songs. This threshold prevents me from using the simplified upload method for many of my scores (e.g.,none the Aebersold booklets can be uploaded in this way). Once you have (painfully) created your indexes,you must download them from the iGigBook site to your device,which happens automatically the next time you launch the app.
On the plus side,iGigBook (as well as forScore) allows you to bookmark any page in the score,can import bookmarks scored in PDSs,and can search your music library for music tracks that match the name of the song title that you are current viewing with the option to automatically play the track and repeat it. (Thank you Phil for correct me on these points)
iGigBook has other shortcomings too:its interface isn’t user friendly,it doesn’t offer context-sensitive help and,more importantly,it lacks many other features which I consider as essential. For example,it has limited sorting capabilities,no integrated tuner or metronome. Conclusion:after wasting a lot of time for my tests,I decided to delete iGigBook from my iPad. For sure,it isn’t worth the $15 I paid for it.
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There are a few other score reader programs in the App Store,but their feature list was too short and/or readers’ comments were negative,thus I was about to abandon my search for the ideal iPad score reader when I finally bumped into Calypso Score.
Calypso has an impressive set of features,which almost perfectly matches my wish list. For example,it can handle large PDFs and associate any number of audio files to any song. In addition to setlists,you can create “books”,i.e. collections of scores that you can then share using iTunes,iCloud,Bluetooth,Dropbox or email. A song can belong to zero,one or more books,and all of them are automatically inserted in the special “All my songs” book (see figure). You can remove a song from a book,but it will be deleted from the device only if you delete it from the main “All my songs” book.
The book list in Calypso
You can assign a color label to a song for your own purposes. For example,I might use a red label for songs I play on alto and yellow label for those I play on soprano,but you can find other interesting uses. You can sort the songs in a book by their title,composer,poet (i.e. lyrics’ author),genre,color label,or creation date.
Calypso comes with indexes for many popular fake books in PDF format and,as it happens for iGigBook,you have to create the index manually if you don’t own the same PDF file used to create the index that comes with the app. However,the workflow to extract a song from a large PDF is much simpler than in iGigBook:you open the PDF (which you must have copied to the device using iTunes sharing),move to the page where the song begins,and press the “Add Page” button once for each page in the song. It took me a relatively short time to index a couple hundred songs from my Real Books. As a bonus,you can quickly create a page from a photo taken with the iPad camera,which is very useful during jam sessions.
Unlike forScore and iGigBook,Calypso doesn’t really create an index into PDF files. Instead,it allows you to browse a PDF and then take “snapshots” of one or more pages,which don’t have to be consecutive. This approach has so many benefits that it surprises me that other apps fail to adopt it. For example,individual pages can be resized,tilted and cropped to better fit the iPad display. These snapshots are stored in a single database and you can later remove the original PDF,so you don’t actually waste any memory on the device. In addition to pages and songs,the database includes books,song information and annotation:you can backup this database to your computer or copy it to another iPad. Even more important,a score can be formed by pages taken from different PDFs,thus I can combine the Eb and Bb version of a song (taken from different Real Book editions) in a single score,so I can switch between these versions by simply swiping to the next or previous page.
Calypso can associate a song with one or more audio files from the iPad music library,a feature that I consider as essential when practicing. These audio files aren’t stored in the database,yet an option allows you to show them in the iTunes folder,so that you can easily backup them and move them to another iPad. By the way,you can also record an audio file yourself using the iPad mic,a feature that might be used to music teachers to monitor their students. Calypso lets you to slow down an audio file and/or modify its pitch,a feature that can be very useful when practicing over a though piece of music. There are other iPad apps that offer this feature alone (and honestly do a better job than Calypso),but having it embedded in the score reader app is a real bonus.
Calypso lets you associate one or more songs to each score
One of the most intriguing features is automatic page layout,i.e. the ability to create jumps and bookmarks inside a song,and synchronize them with the associated audio file,so that Calypso can automatically turn pages for you. The process to associate a measure in the score to a position in the audio file is simple and effective:you just tap an area in the score while the tune is playing (see figure below). Calypso can interpolate between the bookmarks you defined,therefore you only need to tap when there is a repetition or a-capo,or when the tempo gets faster or slower. All in all,automatic page layout puts Calypso ahead of its competitors,even though – admittedly – preparing a score for it requires a good degree of manual labor.
An example of automatic page layoyut (taken from Calypso's user manual)
Calypso includes a simple metronome and the ability to annotate the score with text and markers,even though it isn’t as flexible as forScore in this respect. It lacks a tuner,a virtual keyboard,and a few other frills. It does have the ability to turn pages using a Bluetooth foot controller such as Air Turn BT-105.,yet I would also like to see the same half-page turn feature seen in forScore,that would be useful with scores that haven’t been prepared for automatic page layout.
All in all,Calypso is very robust and can be used with confidence both at home and during gigs. To tell the truth,the program crashed a few times during my tests,but I was impressed by how quickly the offending bugs were found and fixed. Not only that:Siegfried Koester,the developer behind Calypso,was nice enough to share with me some details about future development plans,which are very interesting.
Like any piece of software,Calypso isn’t perfect,even though it gets quite close. Some users have complained that the program didn’t behave as they expected,and wrote somewhat negative reviews on the App Store. In many cases,however,the workflow makes sense once you understand that Calypso stores PDF scores using snapshots rather than indexes. It is essential that you read its manual before trying to use it in a real environment. Calypso’s most recent release offers a more detailed context-sensitive help and introductory screens,thus this is going to be less of a problem.
Context-sensitive help,with links to the relevant section in the manual
Calypso shares with iGigBook the limitation of pre-built,non-flexible indexes for popular fake books. However,the author told me that a future release will make much simpler to modify existing indexes to adapt to PDFs with missing pages or taken from different editions of a given fake book.
There are a few other features I’d like to see in Calypso,for example additional fields for song metadata and the ability to filter the song list by these fields;the capability to loop between two positions in the audio files,that would be useful to practice the most difficult sections of a song;an integrated tuner and virtual keyboard (as in forScore);the ability to turn page using the new IK Multimedia’s iRig Blueboard or other MIDI foot controllers (in addition to dedicated Bluetooth page turner foot controllers). These are minor improvements,though,and the author told me that some of them (and many others) are planned for future versions of Calypso.
The bottom line:if you own an iPad,Calypso Score is a must-have! It changed the way I study and play with my band. At just $6 it’s a bargain you can’t miss.
P.S. If you aren’t sure yet,try Calypso Jam:it’s a free version that comes with indexes for 25 popular fake books and allows you to add a limited number of personal scores,so you can see whether Calypso Score is your ideal music score reader app without spending a dime.