Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Kindle DX and music

The Kindle DX and music - Here's a more recent article, by Gadgetell, on sheet music on the Kindle.

  I had looked at the new Kindle sheet-music feature when it was first announced.  While the emphasis by Freehand System's "Kindle the Muse" selection of 20,000 pieces of sheet music for the Kindle seemed to be on classical sheet music, the composer names were not on corresponding book images at first and the titles gave names of movements only, so there was no clue as to who the composer was.

Today, they have generic covers with the composer names on them.  However, a problem I wrote Freehand Systems about, via their feedback form, still exists.  On the first page, the catalog offers a Bach Sonata for gamba/cello in G but it's for Movement 1 only, out of 4 movements for the piece, and is priced at $1.56.  If the other movements are $1.56, the total cost for one sonata would be $6.24.

 The real problem is there is NO LINK to find/buy the other 3 movements.  I know no one who buys only one movement of a work that requires high-intermediate to advanced piano skils.  The company never responded to my question about this.

There ARE shorter pieces, of course.  And some popular music offerings should be fun to have in a Kindle edition.  Also, this is ideal for groups that follow lead sheets, as no page turns are involved.
  I've a few files of sheet music on my Kindle DX in PDF format and they look really nice.  At the bottom, I've placed a link to a couple of examples.

You can scan sheet music, that you already have, to images at about 150 dpi (dots per inch), as 300 dpi is not needed for this, and they'll load or give you faster page turns).  You can't take notes on the sheet music, on the Kindle, but you could learn pieces, write notes on them and then scan them for carrying around or always having with you.
  (I preface the sheet music filenames with 'sm-' for sheet music so that I can find them easily.)

Google "sheet music pdf" and you'll find many places that offer music in PDF format.  For classical, there is the IMSLP / Petrucci Music Library - "The free public domain sheet music library" with downloadable PDFs, and you can search by composer name, time period, genre, or instrumentation.  The full name of this amazing website is International Music Score Library Project, and the files are legal.  Here is their FAQ explaining the organization.

I would imagine Amazon's Kindle the Muse optimizes the sheet music files for the Kindle DX, and short pieces are affordable, but until they find a way of making all the movements of a basic sonata findable, I don't understand how they expect to sell sonatas.
  Freehand Systems also sells a larger, very expensive unit (not a Kindle) dedicated to displaying sheet music and which can be marked up and has various pedals for turning pages (one of them pages forward only -- not optimal for repeats).  They also have a number of music education tools and games.

I have a couple of photos of some sheet music (PDFs) on my DX, in vertical mode and rotated to landscape mode.  It's very clear, but the display is still somewhat smaller than an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper.  Best used when you've become acquainted with the notes.  And if the images are very high resolution it may take a few seconds for a page turn.  On the whole, the ones I have take about 2 seconds to turn.  For me, pressing the button (on the inside) is much easier than trying to do a page turn with paper.

  As for music in general on the Kindle, all the Kindles play mp3's.  
On the Kindle 2 and the DX, they play in the order in which they were placed in the "music" folder. (On the original Kindle, they play in random order.)  The features are minimal in that the music can play in the background while you're reading and you can rewind 30 seconds back or fast forward by the same, but you don't get information on what's playing.  If you want a specific mp3 to play you can put it in the "audible" folder and select it from the Home page, as it will look like a book title, but in that case you wouldn't be able to read a book at the same time.

  I should add that the 6" Kindle is too small for sheet music.  Also, with either Kindle you don't want to turn pages in a panic and knock the Kindle off the stand :-)

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  1. I just downloaded a random score from and it displays absolutely perfectly on the DX. Along with the DX screen timeout hack (set to 1 hour instead of 10 minutes), this really is more than a proof of concept.


  2. Elmo, good to hear.
    I wanted to add some good free sheet music places, but the last time I looked, the many ads for most of them had my adplus blocker going. I'll take another look at free-scores. Thanks!

    Definitely a good use for a longer time-out, I guess, though we don't usually stay on any page for even 5 minutes.

    - A

  3. Thanks for the very useful information, especially the link to IMSLP. I didn't know about that site but it looks great! I don't have a Kindle yet but am tempted by the sheet music abilities of the DX, and was dreading having to scan all my piano music. IMSLP may be the way to avoid some of this work.

  4. Mark,

    IMSLP is a Treasure. It recently was brought back, so I'd take advantage of it in case some publication group complains successfully about all that free public domain classical sheet music.

    I used to enjoy and then it went completely commercial. I did get their $20 CD- or DVD-ROM of thousands of piano works at some point and will go look for that here. I've no idea if they were in pdf format or not but I hope so.

    Re the DX, if you decide to try it, remember that they have a 30 day return policy for whatever reason -- just not liking it enough or the sheet music may look too small in vertical mode. I love having the scores to study on my DX though :-)

  5. Andrys,

    THANK YOU for alerting me to IMSLP. . . .I have a bunch of piano music from high school that I still like to play but which paper copies are really falling apart. . .But they're there! Way cool.

    Ann Von Hagel

  6. Ann, glad you like it too. I was there earlier today and read they had to be down for 9 months due to a law suit. But that one was squared away. And it's a beautifully programmed site, with sorting every which way. A lot of esoteric stuff there too.

  7. I'm a little late getting back to this, but I finally ordered a DX last night, despite its limitations in PDF handling. It was your pictures of it displaying the Schubert "Wanderer" Fantasy that pushed me over the edge. I figure I can use the device as a portable sheet music library for things I'm not actively working on; I'll still use paper for pieces I'm learning.

    It will be interesting to see how the DX handles PDF metadata, and whether the Author and Title fields show up when viewing Personal Docs on the home screen. It's not clear from the Amazon manual or from the various blogs and forums I've read what it will look like. I've been using pdftk to put meaningful values in the metadata in hopes that the DX will recognize them. Otherwise, I may have to use your file naming convention (the "sm-" prefix).

    Thanks again for all your helpful information; your blog is by far the most interesting Kindle-related one out there.

  8. Mark, that's delightful! Glad the 'Wanderer' was helpful :-)

    I think the author of an uploaded PDF is whatever was placed in that field by the PDF maker...

    And thanks for the nice words! I hope you get lots of music on there. I've been keen on the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet lately so must get on over to IMSLP to get it on the DX.

    Congratulations on the decision! I'll be interested to hear how you like it. By the way, it'll depend on how they scanned it as far as how fast a page will turn when you press the button.

    - Andrys

  9. You wrote, "I think the author of an uploaded PDF is whatever was placed in that field by the PDF maker... "

    That's true, but often that information is not very useful. The IMSLP files I've downloaded are good examples of this. Sometimes the author and title are entirely missing, or contain values that are meaningless. So I've been changing them, using the pdftk tool on Linux.

    I also have been scanning some of my own music and have been keeping the DPI down to 150 per your suggestion.

    I'm not familiar with Romeo and Juliet but I love Prokofiev's piano music. My particular obsession is Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande" and IMSLP has the piano/vocal score!

  10. I have the DX now and have discovered a few things about its PDF metadata support, which I wrote about here. The good news is that the Author metadata is fully supported; but Title is only partially supported.

  11. Mark A,

    You've been busy! That's a great blog, by the way. Bookmarked. I envy you that 7' grand. I'm making do with a Yamaha p80 digital.

    Is the pdfmeta a file that I can just put in the same directory along with pdftk and then I can run the dos-like commands? My main mail is still on a unix shell so I am more comfortable with that.

    I will want to point people to your comment and page. Many thanks!

    I hope you're enjoying the DX! I'm bringing it on a trip soon. Thanks for these pointers and also the cite on copy-paste the other day :-)

    - Andrys

  12. I was checking into this Kindle DX. Specifically, I'm interested to know if this unit could be used for musicians in live performance? Let's say if you're a jazz keyboardist, and have whole bunch of pdf chord charts. Can I load my personal pdf charts and use them in a live performance? Can I navigate and get to the desired song on the fly? Can I turn the page easily?

  13. Anonymous,
    For charts it should be no problem, since you don't usually have to change the page on that.

    Since there are no folders, the only way I can organize mine (with no Kindle-notes possible for PDFs currently) is to preface the PDF filename with 'sm-' which means you can go straight to sheet music titles when sorting the Home screen by titles. You'd then go to sheet music and then look by your titles in alpha order.

    The titles are not so easy to change reliably but the author one is, though you should use either the method used by Mark Alexander, which I wrote about yesterday after getting his comment, or use the Calibre program. The links to these are in yesterday's blog article.

    Getting to the desired song on the fly, during performance, is not easy. I'd recommend one of the PDF utilities (I made some notes on free ones with good ratings and will write about this soon) that allow you to make a PDF out of some documents and then combine the pdfs, so you could combine a set of music sheets that way -- but if your set isn't done in the sequence of that combined PDF set, then it would be very difficult.

    Also, you'd want to think about lights above and glare, and then positioning of the Kindle.

    Turning the page can take a second to 5 seconds depending on how the PDF was done. One can make the PDF with less density to save time and highest-density isn't needed for that size a screen.

    I'd want to have most of my stuff memorized before I'd use this for performance.

    Will have more info later...

    - Andrys

  14. Oh thank you Andrys for all the info,

    You know, now that I think about it, I don't think if this is the most efficient way to go. I've been checking onto "MusicPad Pro" for a while now, but when I saw DX kindle, I thought it might work for me just as well and it's a lot cheaper. Most of the chord charts are one page only, but on some I definitely need to turn the page, and some times go back to the first page again if there's repeat or what have you...I'm not going to buy any thing from the internet to load it into the machine. It would be all my personal customized pdf charts. Looks like Kindle is about 2 inches smaller than MusicPad Pro. Since kindle is mostly designed for reading books, I wonder how good the visibility would be in terms of the musician-note stand .... Also, is it possible to have the second page displayed on the main page in a smaller scale? Would it be easy to toggle between the two, or that's the same concept of turning the page (5 second or so)?

  15. Anonymous,
    No, the DX is not the most efficient way to go at all, if you're a performing musician.

    I know there's a popular model, but their standard pedal doesn't go backwards for repeats (!) so as long as you have one that does, it's definitely the way to go (and with a foot pedal to do it).

    Also, the Kindle is smaller than a sheet of paper, so you could be squinting. Rotated on its side, it's very good, but has less showing.

    The visibility or clarity is excellent but I use it only at the piano where I am close. Also, my preference would be that it were LARGER, which it isn't. Because it's smaller, if the scan is smaller and doesn't fill the page, it might be hard to make out accidentals.

    You've seen my photos?

    Page turns are actually 1 to 5 seconds depending on the PDF density. You can actually do your PDFs to have two pages on a page of course. When doing something for mp3 recording I play from half-sized sheets because I know the piece pretty well, but then I spread those out so there is seldom a page turn.
    On the Kindle you could fit only two like that and still see enough if you know th epiece.

    I don't recommend the DX for your purposes.

    But if you wanted to try it for yourself, you can always order it and Amazon has a 30-day return policy, no questions asked. Shipping is paid by them for the return. If you don't like it you don't keep it. Within 30 days.

    HOWEVER, if I were a performing musician, I'd get something else for the actual performances, for sure. And you can write it off anyway.

    Good luck on this. I think a good set up will cost you about $1300 with a good pedal etc.
    AND you can *write* on those.

    - Andrys

  16. Dear Andrys,
    I think you wrapped it up for me pretty much from a musician point of view. Looks like the DX is not the answer for my question. I checked out your photos, and you're right. It's gonna be hard for me to make use out of this. I totally understand this wasn't designed for music performance.I guess I need to look for other alternatives. I know music pod pro is a popular one. On youtube, I saw people using pc tablets..etc .They're pretty costly too. I'll try to find out if Music pod pro has any local dealers in california, or if they have a return policy available like amazon does. Thanks for providing detailed and right to the point info...

  17. I have an option to "follow" my blog and have a number of people who do. I also allow people to subscribe to my various blogger blogs. I am interested in what you are doing here with the kindle but would hope you make it easier to follow your blog. One of my blogs in you can see what I mean there If was not clear. :)

  18. Andy,

    But the top left of the page, right next to the searchbox, is a line of options. The first option is "Follow."

    For others reading wondering what's specific "Follow" does (it differs from RSS feeds and the Kindle-edition of a blog), see What does "Follow" mean?

    Side note:
    I also highlight, in the right hand column, the Kindle-blog edition that Amazon offers, in that they download the latest copy of the blog onto subscribers' Kindles -- the current edition at any time holding the last 25 blog articles.

    While Amazon charges 99c per month for that almost daily delivery, a lot of people have found it worthwhile to have that to read at leisure away from the computer, and the support for the blog (time) is appreciated, for sure.

    There are also free RSS feeds available on the net but they're not formatted as well for easy browsing. Direct delivery to the Kindle at about 3.3 cents a day then isn't bad, considering that personal docs emailed by us direct to our Kindles will cost 15c per megabyte per file post a day.

    Still, most of us can't justify subscribing this way to many Kindle-edition blogs even at that rate.

  19. I'm trying to scan music into my Kindle, but am not having very good results or the file size is simply too large. Do you have any ideas on how to do this?

  20. Mikey,
    For the Kindle 2 or Kindle 3, don't scan using the 300 dpi printing norm.

    The screen is 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi - so make it no larger than 600x800 and if you can specific 167 pixels per inch do that.

    You might want to use a size -slightly- smaller than 600x800 since the full screen may not be used for it, but I don't remember.

    Most used to scan at 150 dpi rather than 300 to get a similar smaller file with enough clarity.

    If given the option, go for 16 shades of gray and no more.

    Sheet music is hard to read in vertical format when it's that small and would be used more like the little yellow Schirmer miniature scores. BUT, if you use the manual rotation available with Aa-text-key, the notes should be large enough for study but the page too short for use in playing.

    Now, if you have a DX, then the numbers are
    1200 x 824 pixel resolution at 150 ppi so modify for this what was said above.

    Let me know how it goes.

  21. How do I record myself reading a children's story book and then synchronizing that audio with the book pages as the Kindle displays page by page the story? The intent is to have my voice recorded for my grandchild, who lives remotely.

  22. Anonymous,
    The Kindle autopage turning with the "Nuance" company voices is for text pages (not for audio) and the software program's voice reads the text -- so you wouldn't be heard.

    If you want to record a story for your grandchild, I'd just record it and have her parent(s) sit and turn pages with the grandchild who is hearing you tell the story. The human element is no small thing.

    Good luck!


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