Improved Note / Accidental Layout In MuseScore 2.0

My involvement with the MuseScore (open source notation software) project continues to deepen.  At first I just helped with documentation and support.  Then I dusted off my programming chops and wrote some plugins, and then started bug fixing.  Last summer I went further and implemented a whole new flexible chord symbol parsing and rendering system, and I’ve continued with bug fixing since in preparation for the big 2.0 release, which is getting closer and closer (no, there is no official date to announce).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone in and overhauled the basic note layout algorithms.  I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but more importantly, I’m excited for what it will mean for users of MuseScore 2.0 – better looking scores with much less need for manual adjustment of notes, chords, dots, ties, or accidentals.  You can read more here:

Improved Note / Accidental Layout In MuseScore 2.0

Solving an iPhone battery life problem

I’ve been a happy iPhone user for several months now. Last weekend my battery suddenly started draining much faster than usual. I normally can make it through the day with plenty to spare, and the meter shows the battery depleting at a rate of just a few percent per hour. But for the last week it was draining at more like 20%/hour and I needed to recharge by afternoon. Searching the web, I found that this is not an uncommon problem, but not one with a single cause or a single solution, and there isn’t a lot of good information out there on tracking these problems down. Well, I managed to solve mine through a fairly thorough process of analysis, hypothesis, trial and error, and in the end a bit of good luck. The specific cause of my problem is unlikely to be the same as yours, but still, it may help to see how I worked through this, so I am posting about my experience in hopes that someone will find it useful.

Understand the problem

Some of the first things you will find when you search for information is generic advice like turn off WiFi and Bluetooth when not using them, or turn off the iOS parallax effect. I’m not saying these have no effect on battery life, but I had been using my phone for months, and had never found the need to mess with these before. Admittedly, iOS 7 was newish, but it had been working fine for weeks. Something changed on my phone, and I needed to find out what changed, not get generic battery saving advice.

Avoid jumping to conclusions

I had taken my phone off the charger and been away from my home for just a few hours when I saw my battery down to 20%. Obviously something was wrong. And right next to the battery icon was the VPN icon, which I had never seen before. 1+1=2, and obviously this VPN thing was what was killing my battery, right? I quickly realized the VPN had been set up by an app i had installed earlier that is supposed to reduce data consumption by compressing everything. Since that was the only significant change i had made on my phone that weekend, it sure seemed a natural assumption that this app was somehow killing my battery. So i uninstalled the app, and the profile it had made me install to go with it. No more VPN, but the battery problem persisted. I kept trying to reinstall and uninstall the app and otherwise solve the problem in terms of this app, but it turned out I was barking up the wrong tree. I wasted a lot of time on this wild goose.

Find the variables

After one my attempts the next day to solve the problem by uninstalling the data compression app, I thought for a while I had succeeded. First couple of hours off the charger and i was still in the 90′s. But that was still at home. As soon as I left for work, it started dropping like a rock again. The difference could have been a question of what tower I was closest to, or anything really, but since I was fixated on assuming it had to do with data access, I hypothesized this was a case of being on WiFi versus not. This time I didn’t just assume, though, When I got home I tested this theory by turning WiFi on and off and checking battery drain rates. I was right: on Wifi drain was 3-4%/hour, off WiFi it was 20%/hour. I also double checked by turning data off completely – no WiFi, no cell data. drain was back to normal. So clearly, the issue had to do with data access. Had this turned out not to be the case, I would have done more experimentation to get a handle on what was triggering the drain (or perhaps I might have found nothing prevented it, which also would have been good information).

Be patient

There is goong to be a lot of trial and error in this process. And unfortunately, it takes time to perform each trial. For example, if I want to see the effect of turning off cellular data, that means turning it off, noting the battery level, then waiting at least a half hour to check again to be sure you aren’t seeing random fluctuations. A 2% drop in 10 minutes can happen even with your battery behaving normally, or it might mean things are bad – you won’t know until you let it run longer. So realize you may only get to run a handful of tests per day. Get through the rest of the day by turning off data or whatever your variable turns out to be.

Try the standard suggestions

You’re reading this, so obviosuly you are looking for suggestions. So was I, but because i was fixated on the idea that the issue had to do with one particular app that wasn’t even installed any more, I rejected a bunch of suggestions I should have tried. In hindsight, I should not have been so dismissive. One suggestion in particular would have led me to a solution sooner: try turning off iCloud. I’m not saying this will turn out to be your problem too, but the standard suggestions exist for a reason.

One suggestion I did try, with some trepidation but believing it would help rid my system of whatever evil this data compression app had left behind, was a complete backup, complete factory reset (restore) of my phone, and restore from backup. I was concerned that I might not get everything back, but I was wrong about that – my phone was pretty much exactly back to where it had been (just a couple of apps needed me to logback in or whatever). I was also concerned that the problem would get backed up too, and restoring from backup would reatore the problem. Unfortunately, I was right about this.

Be willing to try extreme measures

Once I realized I could completely restore my phone from backup, but that this brought the problem back, I hadn’t taken the step of verifying that a factory reset without a restore from backup would have worked. I was sure it would – nothing any app did to my phone could possibly survive a factory reset – but I knew this would be something I should verify anyhow. Plus I made a genius bar appointment at this point and figured they might want me to try this.

So I did the factory reset (restore) of my phone, and instead of restoring it from backup, I chose to set it up as a new phone, confident i could reset again and restore from backup later. After setting it up as a new phone I did two things and two thongs only to make the phone usable: I set up my Google account from mail/contacts/calendars, and I set up iCloud. I was confident the battery problem would have gone away, and that I could conceivably not restore from backup and instead simply reinstall all my apps and have a working phone again. Most of my data was stored in the cloud anyhow, so I wasn’t worried about that. I was totally prepared to go that route.

However, I was shocked to discover the problem had not gone away. Had it really been anything to do with any third party app, there is no way the problem could still exist. So it had to be either a hardware problem – but not the battery itself, since all continued to work fine on WiFi – or else some form of data access problem that was occurring despite not having installed any third party apps at all. In hindsight, it should have become obvious to me the issue must either be in my Google sync or else iCloud, since that was all that I had set up.

Know your limitations

Some of the online suggestions I found involved checking diagnostic & usage logs. I tried that. Needless to say if you’ve tried this, they were Greek to me. I wasted only a little time looking for clues there before realizing I had no concept of what good logs would look like, so my chances of identifying bad logs was basically nil. So even though this might have yielded an answer to somene who understands these logs, it was not looking like a productive option for me.

Be receptive to clues

Anything that is killing your battery is probably having other bad effects, some of which might provide clues. Battery is generally killed by excessive CPU use. This will generlly also result in the phone getting unusually warm. if it does not get warm, then maybe it isn’t CPU but something else. In my case, phone was definitely warm a lot, so no surprise. But one surprise was when I got a warnng from my service provider that i was nearing my data limit for the month. Odd, in that i was only half way there just a couple of days before. So obviously, whatever was using my CPU was also using data. I tried to get information about which apps were using CPU, and which were using data, but wasn’t finding what I needed to find. Apple does not make it possible to get per process CPU info, it seems. Data use, yes, in settings. And had it literally been a single app using all that data, I could have found that via phone settings, but in my case, it wasn’t showing that way. I did see that my phone itself was reporting much less data usage than my service provider was (I reset my usage statistics every month to make it easier to check on this), so I could see that it wasn’t “normal” data usage. I guess that much was obvious anyhow, but in hindsight that too was a clue.

Be thorough

At this point, had it not been for a stroke of luck, I probably would have turned off my Google account sync to see if it solved the problem (it wouldn’t have in my case), and then tried the same with iCloud (which would have solved it for me). Then I could have broken it down further – setting up my Google account sync with mail only but not contacts or calendars, then add contacts, then calendars. And similarly with iCloud, gradually adding back individual aspects of iCloud. Through process of elimination, I think I would have found the problem eventually.

However, I got lucky at this point. During this same week (!), I was noticing another apparently unrelated problem: the Internet Explorer bookmarks on my PC were misbehaving as were the Safari bookmarks on my iPad. Around the time all this had started, I had gone through and done some bookmark cleanup – IE was showing some duplicates, plus i had inadvertently placed on bookmark directly on my bookmarks bar rather than in a folder. In doing so, I had also installed the new iCloud bookmarks syncing facility for Chrome on my PC. Everything appeared to be working correctly, excerpt for one detail: in one of my bookmark folders, every time i tried rearranging the order of the bookmarks, they kept reverting to their former position. This was a minor nuisance but nothing more.

However, after watching these bookmarks rearrange themselves in front of my eyes for about the fifteenth time that week, it finally dawned on me: even though I rarely use my phone for web browsing, it too syncs bookmarks with my other devices. And if bookmarks were magically rearranging themselves on my PC and on my iPad, then they were surely doing so on my phone too. And it could for all be know be doing that constantly. I started to wonder if my phone and other devices were getting into some sort of bookmark syncing war, and if this was what was using up my data and running ,y CPU constantly. This was easy enough to test: I turned off Safari in my iCloud options.

Bingo! Instantly my battery returned to normal. That is, after turning off Safari sync, I turned off WiFi, checked the battery meter, waited half an hour, and when I checked the meter again it hadn’t moved. I then disabled the iCloud bookmark sync with Chrome on my PC, re-enabled iCloud sync with Safari on my phone, and again verified the problem remained fixed.

Follow up

I spent a week with a phone that could only last a few hours off charger. It was enormously frustrating to me, and I have to assume it is to you to. I am posting this in hopes of helping you. Pay it forward and help others too if you discover anything you think could be useful.

Also, a but of common courtesy: if you’ve contacted anyone’s customer support looking for help, followup up and tell them you’ve figured it out. In my case, I had contacted the company behind the data compression app I incorrectly blamed for the problem at first, and I had also set up a Genius Bar appointment at the local Apple store. I followed up with both to let them know I had solved the problem on my own, and I also apologized to the app developers for assuming the problem was their fault.

I suppose at this point I should try reinstalling the data compression app to see if it really does work. But I don’t normally use more than my allotment anyhow. I should probably also see if I can figure out what went wrong in the first place – if the iCloud bookmark sync extension for Chrome was really to blame or if that too was just a coincidence. I tried turning it back on but couldn’t get it to work at all. That’s OK; I don’t use Chrome for anything but Google Docs anyhow. And right now I’m happy to have a working phone again and am not ready to rock the boat :-).

The Accessible Music Notation Project

An important announcement!

Some of you may know that I have been working on and off over the past few years on tools and methodology to support blind musicians as well as educators working with them.  I have managed to put this work to good use in my own teaching, but so far, I have not developed anything really polished enough to be ready to share it with the rest of the world.  Recently, I became inspired to try to change that.  After engaging in discussions with some blind musicians and educators – including some of the experts in the field – I have come to believe strongly that that there are some real needs here and some real opportunities to address them.  While I am sure there are any number of people more qualified than I to be dealing with these issues, the universe seems to be telling me that I need to take the initiative to start making some things happen.  So, I have launched The Accessible Music Notation Project:

http://accessiblemusicnotation.wordpress.com/

Right now, the “we” referred to throughout the site is the “royal we” – that is, it’s really just me speaking for myself (albeit with the support of some people I respect).  But I hope to see the project grow over time.  I hope to find musicians and educator willing to share their ideas regarding what is needed, programmers willing to help address these needs, and perhaps people and organizations willing to help fund these efforts.

I honestly do not know where all this might lead, but I have ideas of what I think is possible, and I intend to be setting forth as time permits.  Please feel free to share this and if you have ideas for me, please let me know.  Replies on the site itself would probably be best for any substantial comments.  One of the whole reasons for creating the site was to make sure there was a permanent record of some of the ideas being tossed around via email over the past few weeks.

Colorado Plein Air

The impending end of summer means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for Denver-area artists, one thing that many of us look forward to is the Colorado Plein Air Festival (formerly the Denver Plein Air Festival). It’s an organized but increasingly broad event in which artists paint outdoors throughout the area, culminating in a juried show and competition in the fall. I have participated only peripherally in past years, but have been dedicated to bei more involved this year. So far I’ve been painting at the Capitol, on Lookout Mountain, at Red Rocks, in Leadville, and at the buffalo herd overlook at Genesee Park. I have eleven paintings to show for it – all on iPad, all using Paper by 53. With school starting next week, it’s going to be hard to maintain that pace, but I’m happy to be where I am and already have a few worthy of submitting for the competition. Here are some of my favorites.

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Solo Piano Concert at the Denver Public Library

This Thursday – June 13 – I will be performing a solo piano concert for the new “brown bag” lunch series at the Denver Public Library. I will be playing a numch of my original compositions that I think work especially well for solo piano. Maybe a standard or two as well. It’s a great space on the 7th floor. See http://denverlibrary.org/event/brown-bag-music-series-marc-sabatella for more information.

Gift of Jazz Presents Graduation Concert for Jazz Education Courses

The students of the Gift of Jazz spring courses are proud to present their graduation concert at Dazzle (http://.dazzlejazz.com/) on Wednesday, June 12, at 7 PM. The concert will be hosted by the instructor for these courses: professional pianist, composer, and educator Marc Sabatella (http://www.outsideshore.com/music/) . Tickets are $10 and you are encouraged to buy them online (http://www.modtickets.com/Mod/Tickets/Tickets.aspx?id=417) .

The theme for this series of courses has been Latin Jazz. We have been working on the rhythms and styles of Afro-Cuban music, and I think you’ll be impressed be how deeply we have gotten inside this music. In addition to performances by the Gift of Jazz ensemble and improvisation students – in which you’ll hear classics like Manteca, Mambo Inn, Afro Blue, and El Manisero – a professional ensemble will be premiering original pieces by the composition students.

The Gift of Jazz ensemble consists of David Atkinson, Bill Germain, David Nelson, Tom Germain, Gayle Mace, Jeff Tomlan, Jack McCutchan, and Robert Lipscombe. The improvisation students are David Land, Gayle Mace, Casey Barnett, Alan Rogowski, Thomas Windham, Lee Ann Gott, Tom Germain, Bill Germain, and Cindy Williams. The composition students are David Land, Charlie Vavra, Gayle Mace, Thomas Windham, Bob Wesley, Alan Rogowski, and Nili Abrahamsson. The professional ensemble that will perform the composition students’ pieces will consist of Tim Libby (trumpet), Sam Bittner-Baird (trombone), Marc Sabatella (piano), Jon Cullison (bass), Manuel Lopez (drums), and Eric Trujillo (percussion).

Other Scale-Based Voicings

There are other logical ways of constructing voicings; too many to describe individually here.  Most approaches are similar in that they they associate a scale with each chord and construct the voicing from notes in that scale. By using a scale approach, you can devise your own patterns for voicings. For instance, a second with a third stacked on top is a somewhat dissonant but not too cluttered sound that many pianists use extensively.  For a chord such as Fmaj7, you can apply this format at any position in the associated F lydian or F major scale.  Since the F major scale contains an avoid note (Bb) in this context, one would normally opt for the lydian scale and the B natural, so that none of the generated voicings would contain any avoid notes.  The particular pattern described above yields “F G B”, “G A C”, “A B D”, “B C E”, “C D F”, “D E G”, and “E F A” over the F lydian scale.

Most of these voicings are very ambiguous, in the sense that they do not readily identify the chord.  As with the 3/7 and quartal voicings, however, you will find that the presence of a bass player, or just the context of the chord progression being played, will allow almost any combination of notes from a given scale to make an acceptable voicing for the associated chord.

You may wish to experiment with different patterns and different scales to see if you can find any voicings you particularly like.  Often, the goal is not to find a voicing that completely describes a given chord, but rather to find a voicing that conveys a particular sound without seriously corrupting the chord.  You may find that at a given point in the music, you may wish to hear the characteristic authority of a perfect fifth, or the characteristic dissonance of a minor ninth or of a cluster of several notes a second apart, but without the characteristic wrong note sound of a completely random selection of notes.  Thinking of the associated scale and putting your sound into that context gives you a logical and reliable way to get the sound you want without compromising the harmony.

Close Position and Drop Voicings

The simplest voicing for a four note chord is the close position voicing, in which all the notes in the chord are arranged as close together as possible.  For example, a C7 chord might be voiced in close position as “C E G Bb”.  This is referred to as root position, since the root, C, is at the bottom.  The chord might also be voiced in close position as “E G Bb C”, which is also called the first inversion, since the bottom note has been inverted to the top.  The second inversion is “G Bb C E” and the third “Bb C E G”.

A drop voicing is created from a close position voicing by dropping one of the notes down an octave.  If the second note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 2 voicing; if the third note from the top is dropped, the voicing is called a drop 3 voicing.  For a C7 chord in root position, “C E G Bb”, the corresponding drop 2 voicing is “G C E Bb”.  The second note from the top, G, has been dropped down an octave.  The corresponding drop 3 voicing would be “E C G Bb”.  Drop 2 and drop 3 voicings can be constructed from any of the inversions of the chord as well.  On the piano, the dropped note must normally be played in the left hand, so these are almost always two handed voicings.  The intervals in these voicings make them perfectly suited for guitar.

Close position and drop voicings are effective when used to harmonize a melody, particularly in a solo setting.  Each melody note may be harmonized by a different drop voicing, with the melody note on top.  Pianists and guitarists often use this type of approach in their own solos.  A phrase in which every note is accompanied by close position or drop voicings is said to be harmonized with block chords.  Red Garland, Dave Brubeck, and Wes Montgomery all regularly played block chord solos.

Polychord and Upper Structure Voicings

The basis of a polychord voicing is to play two different chords at the same time, such as one in the left hand and one in the right on a piano. The relationship between the two chords determines the quality of the resultant chord.  These are always two handed voicings on a piano, or five or six string voicings on the guitar.  They produce a very rich, complex sound compared to the voicings presented so far.

The simplest style of polychord voicing is to play two triads; for instance, a C major triad in the left hand on a piano, and a D major triad in the right.  This will be notated D/C.  This notation is overloaded in that it is usually interpreted as meaning a D triad over the single note C in the bass; it is not always clear when a polychord is intended. Polychords are seldom explicitly called for in written music, so there is no standard way to notate them.  You must normally find your own opportunities to play polychords.

If you take all the notes in this D/C voicing and lay them in a row, you will see that this describes either the C lydian or C lydian dominant scales.  Therefore, this voicing can be used over any chord for which those scales are appropriate.  If you experiment with other triads over a C major triad, you will find several combinations that sound good and describe well known scales.  However, many of these combinations involve doubled notes, which can be avoided as described below.  Among the polychords that do not involve doubled notes are Gb/C, which produces a C HW diminished scale, Bb/C, which produces a C mixolydian scale, Dm/C, which produces a C major or C mixolydian scale, Ebm/C, which produces a C HW diminished scale, F#m/C, which also produces a C HW diminished scale, and Bm/C, which produces a C lydian scale.  These polychords may be used as voicings for any chords that fit the corresponding scales.

You may have noticed that Db/C, Abm/C, Bbm/C, and B/C also involve no doubled notes and sound very interesting, although they do not obviously describe any standard scales.  There are no rules for when these polychords may be played as voicings.  When your ear becomes accustomed to the particular nuances and dissonances of each, you may find situations in which you can use them.  For example, the last polychord listed, B/C, sounds good when used as a substitute for Cmaj7, particularly in the context of a ii-V-I progression, and especially at the end of a song.  You may resolve it to a normal Cmaj7 voicing if you wish.

You can construct similar polychords with a minor triad at the bottom. Db/Cm produces a C phrygian scale; F/Cm produces a C dorian scale; Fm/Cm produces a C minor scale; A/Cm produces a C HW diminished scale; Bb/Cm produces a C dorian scale; and Bbm/Cm produces a C phrygian scale.  In addition, D/Cm produces an interesting, bluesy sounding scale.

I mentioned before the desire to avoid doubled notes.  One way to construct polychords that avoid doubled notes is to replace the triad at the bottom with either the third and seventh, the root and seventh, or the root and third of a dominant chord.  Voicings constructed in this fashion are also called upper structures.  They always imply some sort of dominant chord.

For example, there are several possible C7 upper structures.  A Dbm triad over “C Bb” yields a C7b9#5 chord.  A D triad over “E Bb” yields a C7#11 chord.  An Eb triad over “C E” yields a C7#9 chord.  An F# triad over “C E” yields a C7b9b5 chord.  An F#m triad over “E Bb” yields a C7b9b5 chord.  An Ab triad over “E Bb” yields a C7#9#5 chord.  An A triad over “C Bb” yields a C7b9 chord.

You will find it takes a lot of practice to become familiar enough with these voicings to be able to play them on demand.  You may wish to choose a few tunes and plan ahead of time where you will use these voicings.  It is well worth the effort.  The richness and variety introduced by these voicings can add a lot to your harmonic vocabulary.

Quartal Voicings

A style of voicing made popular by McCoy Tyner is based on the interval of the fourth.  This type of voicing is used most often in modal music.  To construct a quartal voicing, simply take any note in the scale associated with the chord, and add the note a fourth above, and a fourth above that. Use perfect fourths or augmented fourths depending on which note is in the scale.  For instance, quartal voicings for Cm7 are “C F Bb”, “D G C”, “Eb A D” (note the augmented fourth), “F Bb Eb”, “G C F”, “A D G”, and “Bb Eb A”. This type of voicing seems to work especially well for minor chords (dorian mode), or dominant chords where a suspended or pentatonic sound is being used.

These voicings are even more ambiguous, in that a given three note quartal voicing can sound like a voicing for any number of different chords.  There is nothing wrong with this.  However, if you wish to reinforce the particular chord/scale you are playing, one way to do this is to move the voicing around the scale in parallel motion.  If there are eight beats of a given chord, you may play one of these voicings for the first few beats, then move it up a step for a few more beats.  The technique of alternating the voicing with the root in the bass, or the root and fifth, works well here, too.  On a long Cm7 chord, for instance, you might play “C G” on the first beat, then play some quartal voicings in parallel motion for the duration of the chord.

As with the 3/7 voicings, these voicings are convenient left hand voicings on the piano or three or four string voicings on the guitar. They can also be made into two handed or five or six string voicings by stacking more fourths, fifths or octaves on top.  For instance, the Cm7 chord can be voiced as “D G C” in the left hand and “F Bb Eb” in the right, or “Eb A D” in the left and “G C G” in the right.  The tune “So What” from the album Kind Of Blue used voicings consisting of three fourths and a major third. On a Dm7 chord, the voicings used were “E A D G B” and “D G C F A”.