New Year, New Tech: Music Resources to Boost Virtual Learning in 2021!

New Year, New Tech: Music Resources to Boost Virtual Learning in 2021!

by Robert Fisher, Catoctin School of Music

With the start of a new year and the first anniversary since the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic, most of us have been forced to embrace new norms in virtual teaching, rehearsing, and performing music online. Whether it be through Zoom or any number of teleconferencing applications and technologies, most educators have embraced (albeit, forced to embrace) a new way to connect, instruct and interact with students – via camera and microphone. The following are digital resources perfect for boosting your virtual lessons, rehearsals and performance experience online in 2021!

Find NEW and FREE Sheet Music: (SHEET MUSIC | Website): FREE sheet music arrangements, accompaniment tracks and practice tools for ALL instruments!
This website, owned and operated by composer David Bruce’s Red Balloon Technology Ltd. In St. Albans, England, offers an incredible digital library of arranged, transcribed and original sheet music (around 90% of the library is FREE according to 8notes) of varying difficulties on all instruments and voice! Since launching in 2001, has served as a solid resource online for both budding and seasoned musicians alike, looking for arrangements and transcriptions in a variety of genres. Many arrangements include midi/.mp3 accompaniment files for rehearsal and serve as an easy way for students to hear a song before downloading for study. This is an excellent resource for students looking to explore new music on their own or for instructors looking to quickly share leveled repertoire virtually online. Though mostly free, does offer a fantastically affordable $20/year membership allowing subscribers access to the entire 8notes library, unlimited downloads, unlimited MIDI conversion usage, and an ad-free experience. For what you get in terms of ease of access and value in library for the range of instruments, this website is must-visit! (FREE SHEET MUSIC & RECORDINGS): FREE music scores for all with internet access!
Owned by “Project Petrucci LLC”, the “International Music Score Library Project” or “Petrucci Music Library”, was launched in 2006 with the goal of collecting and housing all public domain music online and allowing FREE access to this database of music. As most of the pieces in this library tend to be historically available, you’ll find a naturally heavy emphasis and concentration of “classical” literature on this site. Contributors include public and private libraries and publishers and all music on this site is been authorized for public use either by public domain laws or for use by composer/estates who have chosen to release their music free for public use. According to IMSLP’s homepage, their databases of 12 January 2021 included 550,000 scores, 172,000 individual works or parts, 21,000 composers. If you are looking for an endless database of free, digital ready, downloadable scores or sheet music, this website will keep you running…for years! The beauty of this site is that musicians often have access to multiple editions and versions of works that have been released by various publishers over the years. Within a few clicks, you have access to scans of original, or near-original manuscripts, offering the astute musician the ability to cross-reference repertoire editions to verify composer markings or correct the occasional publishing mistake in specific editions. This also offers musicians the ability to find the “best” published edition of a piece for the sake of ease of reading and can serve as a “backup” digital copy of a treasured work. Often, IMSLP also includes performance recordings (audio and occasionally video) of works that serve as an incredible resource for research or study. The website also offers great resources for students diving into musicology and historical research into a work, offering a centralized, pooled location to compare and analyze various editions of a work along with tracking the history and popularity of a piece. Whether the casual performer browsing for something new to play or the season professional looking to dive deeper into performance repertoire, IMSLP offers an amazing library of easily accessible and free music for all!

Brush Up on Music Theory: (MUSIC THEORY): FREE music theory lessons resources and training! continues to offer an excellent one-stop-shop for music theory training and resources. Divided into “Lessons”, “Exercises” and “Tools”, this FREE website offers teachers and students alike a quick and easy way to go over basic and intermediate music fundamentals such as identifying symbols, notation, rhythm, meter, scales, intervals, chords, progressions and more. Also included is an entire comprehensive “Exercise” section with a full complement of digital exercise drills for students to practice theory concepts and each exercise can be further customized to accommodate specific levels and varying degrees of difficulty. Teachers can also create customized exercises with links which can be easily emailed, or screen shared live in a virtual lesson! All of these features are offered free via web browser, however, also offers a couple convenient for-pay apps (“Theory Lessons” & “Tenuto”) for iOS devices which allow for offline use/access on Apple devices.

Compose a song and share resources with other song-writers! & (COMPOSITION, SONG-WRITING, THEORY & SHEET MUSIC): FREE web browser-based music composition software and FREE sheet music arrangements!
Both websites featured offer first and foremost the ability to notate, transcribe and publish digital arrangements. Both offer free and paid versions (Noteflight “Premium” and MuseScore “Pro”), with paid versions offering more features/tools and the ability to publish more compositions in an ad-free experience. Online notation software offers the benefit of being able to notate and transcribe music digitally without being tied down to one device – you can sign-in to your account via web browser on any online device. Mobile apps are available for both applications for on-the-go notating and a playback feature is available in both applications allowing users to listen to or rehearse with audio playback of compositions. Compositions are able to be easily exported into multiple formats, including MIDI, and sheet music can be easily printed or shared on screen to make for a seamless virtual sightreading session. Noteflight’s mobile app offers an intuitive “touch and place” notation system while MuseScore’s playback app offers useful “practice mode” features (think of selecting a targeted section or measure to rehearse in a loop with accompaniment).

In addition to notation, both applications feature robust online composer communities allowing budding song-writers to share songs for feedback in addition to providing users access to community pieces in return. Noteflight seems to draw more classically inspired and cinematic-inspired transcriptions whereas MuseScore tends to a healthy selection of transcriptions of modern/contemporary pieces and songs inspired from video games. Between both websites, musicians should have a better chance at finding repertoire of unpublished or “hard-to-find” arrangements from an obscure source. Take note: as both websites and libraries are “community-centered”, many arrangements are not professionally arranged, though some publishers and professional composers do release original works on these platforms.

View your music with ease! The “ForScore” App (MUSIC VIEWING): Digitize, organize and view your music library! [Please note: ForScore is only available on Mac OS Computers and Apple iOS devices only]
Let’s face it – we’ve been forced to embrace some form of digital life during the pandemic and most musicians (and instructors) have faced the inevitable question of how to discover or view sheet music in the age of virtual music lessons and rehearsals. The easiest answer it to view digital scans (most likely .pdf files) of pieces, either purchased digitally or scanned from a user’s personal hard-copy library. The challenge then, as with a library of hard-copy sheet music and books, is how to organize your music so you can efficiently and conveniently access your music and store it, whether it be sightreading new music in a lesson or organizing your repertoire in a list for performances. Organizing .pdfs and files in folders on your computer can go so far, but often every system and device has its own unique (and often proprietary) way to organize and store files which doesn’t always make things convenient or practical for regular rehearsal and performance. Usually, for lessons, rehearsals or performances, you want access to a specific set of songs quickly and conveniently – it can be a challenge to organize digitally! Worse yet, if your files aren’t stored in some form of cloud server and a device with your library is lost or damaged, the potential for total loss and disaster can ride high.

Cue ForScore!

ForScore is a for-pay app available for any Mac or iOS device (Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone) that according to their website, allows musicians to “go paperless, get organized, download and play something new in seconds.”

Some folks might be deterred by the $20 price tag, however, ForScore offers great value for those invested in digitizing their music. You can import all your .pdf scans and downloads of sheet music and quickly label/categorize each selection by genre, style, bpms and so on. Set lists can be created without moving files, allowing for you to pull up a “set” of songs, displayed on screen one after another, in the order you choose. No more clicking open and closing files or folders! Additional editing options (zoom, color, clarity) are available for each page of music. ForScore is cross-compatible across Mac OS/iOS devices (scan/organize on your computer and view on your iPad), however, it is evident that this app seems to be most optimized and function best on iPad. This makes sense as most musicians looking to digitize music are looking to carry a device that can simply display the hundreds or thousands of pieces of music at moment’s notice in their library.

The power of using ForScore comes into play more so, however, when rehearsing or performing. ForScore allows iPad users with an Apple Pencil to easily notate and mark their music quickly and easily like they would on any hard-copy music. Better yet, users can also change color, highlight, and add a host of other customizable notes in their music for reference. ForScore stores notes made on each digital “page” and even allows you to later print hard copies of music with or without the notes you’ve made, making for a versatile way to store notes without permanently marking manuscripts. Audio playback features are offered on some scores, allowing the user to view and rehearse their music, reading along while also hearing background recordings. Features such as “gesture page flipping” allow users to “flip” pages by “looking off to the side” (uses the camera facing the user) or connecting page-turn foot controllers via Bluetooth! In a recent software update, ForScore added the ability for users to connect AirPod Pro headphones, allowing them to “flip” pages by simply tilting their head! No more awkwardly reaching to flip a page or pausing play in order to move pm to the next section. ForScore offers musicians a nearly seamless way to play through an entire excerpt or set-list without lifting a hand! To wrap it all up, the added benefit of using a digital screen means that long gone are the days of gigging musicians needing to carry around large folders or bags of repertoire to rehearsals or forgetting to bring along a stand light for pit rehearsal. There is a reason why so many professional orchestra musicians have begun recommending and using ForScore as their go-to digital music library app! The only downside is that it is only offered on Apple devices at this time. Hopefully other OS editions will be released in the future or other competitors emerge as ForScore innovates away with their industry-leading music reading application. This is music reading for 2021!

Catoctin School of Music
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