From Paper to Pixels…a book by AirTurn creator Hugh Sung

I had the pleasure to receive a review copy of Hugh Sung's new book, “From Paper to Pixels.” Mr. Sung is a classical pianist who has been dealing with digital music for the past twelve years. In the process of going digital, he longed for a device that would turn pages wirelessly for him (he explains this at the end of the book), and eventually developed his own page-turning device.

I own an AirTurn device, and I couldn't be happier with it. I originally owned a device from a competitor, and I bought that other device because it was cheaper. As with all things, you get what you pay for. The AirTurn is worth every penny–and truthfully, it isn't much more expensive than its main competitor. As a side note, if you need an AirTurn at a bargain price, there are occasionally a few reconditioned models available at a discount from the AirTurn website.

Hugh Sung is the world's leading expert on converting paper scores to electronic scores. His book details every step of that process–both his own conversion to digital scores, as well as every aspect to the process of your movement to the use of digital scores. Throughout the book, I found myself nodding in agreement to his conclusions–for example, using PDF as a platform for all your digital music, and scanning in black and white (or even better, text) at 300 dpi. Mr. Sung makes the point, again and again, that if you scan things correctly, they will be useable for years to come, regardless of the device of the day.

As AirTurn has a relationship with a lot of developers on every programming platform (Mac, PC, iOS, Android–not sure about Linux), it was important for Mr. Sung to remain diplomatic as he describes different devices and apps that can be used for digital sheet music, and he does this with class in the book. There is no doubt that the book is slighted towards the iPad, as the iPad has the most options for music readers–but he gives fair time to Windows, Mac, and Android as well. When he discusses various apps, he makes sure to point out a killer feature of each app. And the best part–in my opinion–is that he also devotes some time to describing his current set-up, naming the device, app, and accessories that he uses.

I have a hard time being “mean” about an app or a product–I dislike hurting feelings, because I respect that some people have different opinions than I do. I have had two run-ins with developers over the years when I wrote critical things about their app. App developers are highly sensitive about their apps, as they are usually personal creations that are an extension of the developer themselves–criticising an app can be like criticising their children. As a result of these conflicts, I have shied away from “true” app reviews and instead focus on sharing the comments from the developer–except in cases where I purchased the app myself and have a personal interest in the app (e.g. I want to use it in my job). Mr. Sung mangages to avoid any aspect of being “mean” in this book–he leaves the decision about computer platform, apps, and accessories firmly in the hands of the reader, while still expressing his personal choices. My only fear is that many readers will read the book and remain unclear of what path to follow; in that case, my suggestion would be to follow Mr. Sung's choices as a starting point (his choices would also be my choices).

I don't have any complaints about the content of the book, but I do see some areas that were left uncovered, a few products that should be mentioned, and I'd like to make the plea for an interactive iBook. First, the book doesn't cover the aspect of music education at all. This, of course, is my wheelhouse, but I think digital music has benefits for music education just as it does for any other area of music. Dealing with music from a group perspective (educational or otherwise) adds a few more twists and turns than dealing with your own individual music. Second, I want someone with a relationship with music publishers to bring the question of scanning and copyright to the forefront. Literal copyright law likely forbids the tranference of a product from one medium to another (many schools had to repurchase DVDs as videocassettes were phased out, and could not cover the videocassettes to DVD themselves), even for personal use (archiving does not mean that the archival copy can actually be used). When Mr. Sung discusses internet sources for digital music, he does talk a little about copyright. But it is time for someone to stand up and to ask music to make it possible to legally convert purchased music to digital music or to make it possible for schools to legally do so for a very minimal fee, and to make new copies of digital music significantly less expensive than printed music. Schools cannot afford to repurchase every copy of music in their libraries (as copyright is life plus 95 years) to go digital, and it is ridiculous that digital music usually costs the same as printed music (There is no printing and shipping, no storage, and composers are not getting paid any more than a printed copy)! Perhaps Mr. Sung has the voice that can bring this to the forefront; but I know it is on the minds of many music educators in 1:1 schools that want to go digital with their music, but are afraid to do so because of the potential repercussions of copyright law. Third, as a music educator, I often find that teachers also want to get music from a scanned score back into a notation program–and I would have liked for there to have been a chapter about that in the book. Finally, Mr. Sung discusses screen aspect ratio (e.g. 4:3 best shows paper on a screen, whereas most Androids and Windows devices are 16:10), but I think it is worth noting that an iPad has basically the same height as a 15″ MacBook. In other words, a 16:10 device has to be substantially larger than an iPad to make music larger than an iPad–and most devices (including laptops) are not. Even an external monitor, using Reflector, has to be substantially taller than an iPad, or the music really won't be any larger (see the picture below from the book–the mirrored image is actually smaller than the iPad):

Many musicians are secretly hoping that Apple will eventually release an XL-sized iPad.

I feel that four additional products that should have been mentioned in the book. One is an app, SeeScore, that turns MusicXML files into dynamic sheet music on your iPad. MusicXML is a wonderful standard that brings more and more accuracy between music notation apps with every new version. MIDI is great, but when it comes to music notation, more accuracy is needed than what MIDI can provide. Two products that were not mentioned were styluses–I think the Applydea Maglus is a fantastic stylus, and I love the fiber mesh tip of the Boxwave Evertouch. The price on the Boxwave is outstanding, too. Finally, as music notation apps are mentioned in the book, I feel that Notion deserves to be mentioned along with Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore; partially beause Notion works so well and is priced right ($99!), and partially because of its iPad app (the iPad app is mentioned in the book, but files between the Win/Mac and iPad versions can be exchanged–and the iPad app is improving at an unbelievable rate).

Most importantly, I would love to see “From Paper to Pixels” become an iBook in the iBookstore, with interactive videos. Many of the chapters of the book are dedicated to step-by-step processes that would be better served with a short video tutorial, videos that could be embedded in an iBook. Let's be honest, the majority of people with the capability to “go digital” are using iPads, so it would be very much worth the time to make an iBook version.

There are a few places where I highlighted the book…I thought I would share those quotes with you. First, Mr. Sung was discussing the difference between file structure on an iPad versus file structue on an Android tablet. This struck me, as I just finished scanning and reorganizing a choir library that was stored in thirteen 4 and 5 drawer file cabinets:

Unlike Apple iPads, which try to hide those rooms full of rusting filing cabinets filled with creaking drawers stuffed with mind-numbing stacks of dog-eared file folders behind clean, shiny icons, Android tablets keep the office storage door open for you to peruse the stacks and see what a glorious mess of data you accumulate over time.

Second, referring to the process of scanning being a marathon versus a sprint (it makes sense to scan a few pieces a day):

It's amazing how fast your music library will grow with just 15 minutes of scanning a day. As the proverbial saying goes, the way to eat an elephant is one small bite at a time.

And finally, in a discussion of the reliability of using digital music versus sheet music:

Nowadays I actually feel safer with my iPad sitting on my piano rack than with a wobbly piece of paper music that might have pages stuck together due to humidity on stage, or binding that's too stiff to keep the pages open, making them susceptible to being blown over by an errant draft.

On a related note, let me add that repeats, D.S. and D.C. markings, cuts, and score addendums also make digital music a far cry better than paper music.

There is a lot to love about this book; it is a clear guide on how–and why–to go from paper music to digital music. What I've failed to note is that Mr. Sung also brings a great deal of humor to the book, so it doesn't read as a dry academic text (not that all academic texts are dry–but we all know some that are). Quite the contrary–it seems as if Mr. Sung is having a conversation with the reader. He definitely seems like the type of person that would be a great friend and colleague–this comes through in the tone of the book. Also check out the checklist for using digital music at the end of the book–very practical advice from someone who is already on the journey.

As I present at conferences and workshops, two areas of concern crop up in every location–how to deal with wireless mirroring and scanning. I deal with these areas loosely in my upcoming book–but I will certainly refer readers of that book to Mr. Sung's book, and his book will also be recommended in my presentations that deal with moving from paper to digital music from this point forward.

So yes, I recommend the book to you–it was an enjoyable read for me even though I consider myself an expert in the field. I also enjoyed the chapter on the history of digital readers, the case studies of people using digital readers, and the background of the AirTurn pedal. The book goes on sale in paperback on August 1st for $19.99, and can be purchased at Amazon as a Kindle book or from AirTurn for $9.99 in an eBook format.


One thought on “From Paper to Pixels…a book by AirTurn creator Hugh Sung”

  1. Why does one need a $20 book on the subject? Insane.

    Look, it is EASY. You need a sheet feed scanner and a paper cutter. AND you really need to be willing to sacrifice your scores and books. You will have to cut the books up (bindings), and trim the books on the sides to get them to go through a standard scanner. If you have something BIGGER, then you don’t have a lot of options. You could take it to something like Kinkos and reduce it down to a smaller size.

    The thing that will help you a lot, but it is an investment, is a double sided scanner. Like the Fujitsu Scansnap series. These make absolutely the best scans, and does BOTH sides of the page, and collates them into a single PDF.

    When you scan, you want to scan AT LEAST 300dpi. You can scan higher than that, but my testing shows that on the screen, you don’t see any difference between the two, and you don’t see noticeable difference in printing. Though the file sizes are quite a bit bigger with 600dpi.

    When scanning, I scan to a TIFF. Not JPEGS. A format that does NOT compress the image.

    Good so far? Ok. The final, optional step, is to use Adobe Acrobat to do some OCR and image correction. Now, the Scansnap stuff sort of does it, but Acrobat is way better. So I generally run everything through Acrobat and have it compress the PDF more, and straighten pages, OCR, etc.

    Bingo. Done. Just saved you all $20. I scanned about 400 drum books, at least that many woodwind books, tons of sheet music, Modern Drummer magazines (like 5 boxes of them), all kinds of music magazines, etc. I could be here all day listing it. The investment of the ScanSnap made it simple. And the scans look great. It makes teaching and playing so much easier. I simply use iDocument and can search on a book, or a word or whatever.

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