1. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
A report for LIS-435, Music Librarianship, at
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
2. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
To enhance an existing digital music library by creating sound files to accompany
the sheet music files, and synchronizing these two file formats so that they can be
simultaneously viewed and listened to in a single computer window.
The Digital Library
The Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection is a digital library of
“approximately 50 pieces of sheet music owned by the Lewis Music Library” at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (“Description”, par. 2). Established in
1997, the collection presents “popular songs and piano compositions that portray
technologies… as revealed through song texts and/or cover art,” published in the U.S.
between approximately 1890 and 1920 (“Description”, par. 1).
With the exception of 4 sound files, the collection consists exclusively of scanned
images in PDF format of the original sheet music. The 4 sound files are in mp3 format
and were taken from a live recording of a concert presented by MIT Music and Theater
Arts Faculty. The web site contains an index that lists the song titles in alphabetical order
(see Fig. 2), with links to individual records that contain a thumbnail image of the cover
art, some brief metadata, and a link to the sheet music in PDF format. Each of the 4
records with sound files also contains a link to the sound recording in mp3 format (see
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3. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
Fig. 1. Home page of the Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection web site.
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4. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
Fig. 2. Title Index of the Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection web site.
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5. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
Fig. 3. Individual record from the Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection web site.
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6. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
Users of the Collection
Not much is known about the users of the Inventions of Note Sheet Music
Collection. For instance, although it is thought that the collection is used more by the
general public than by researchers, there is no data to prove this (Munstedt). It is also
unknown whether or not the majority of users of this collection can read music.
The Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection and its web site provide an
important glimpse into the reactions of American society to the inventions of the time,
which range from “excitement and delight to anxiety and scorn” (“Description”, par. 1).
This, in turn, sheds light on the music and culture of America in the early 20 century.
By means of the music, lyrics and/or cover art, each song makes some statement about
the technology of the time.
However, in its present state, the digital library does present a limitation to the
general user of the collection. For instance, for users who cannot read music, a vital
aspect of the collection – the sound of the music itself – is inaccessible. Such users are
limited to the cover art and lyrics (where lyrics are present). Even for users of the
collection that can read music, it is difficult to aurally perceive the full effect of the music
without the direct experience of listening to a performance.
This limitation is underscored when comparing the songs with sounds recordings
(of which there are four in the collection) to the songs without sound recordings. The
user will find a notably richer, more informative and enjoyable experience when able to
both view the sheet music and listen to a performance of the piece.
Enhancing the Functionality
The first goal of the author was to create sound files to accompany the sheet
music files. However, the simple addition of sound files to the collection does not
completely address this particular limitation. For the four pieces that presently contain
both sound and sheet music files, the user must open each file separately in order to listen
and view the music simultaneously. This poses two problems for the user. One is that
the user has to toggle back and forth between two windows, which is cumbersome. The
other problem is that the user is forced to scroll through the sheet music file and manually
turn its pages, which detracts from the experience of listening and viewing music.
Equipped with a single window that synchronizes the sheet music with the performance,
the user is allowed “freer concentration on music cognition” (Dunn, Davidson, Holloway,
and Bernbom 5). Thus, a system for simultaneously viewing the sheet music and
listening to the performance must be developed for users to take full advantage of the two
musical formats found on the Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection web site.
Creating and implementing such a system was the second goal of the author.
Such a sound-score synchronization application has already been created by
Indiana University’s Variation2 Digital Library Project1. This truly innovative and
Variations2: The Indiana University Digital Music Library.
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7. Enhancing a Digital Sheet Music Collection
inspiring project has developed, among many other components, a tool that not only
plays and displays the music in a single computer window, automatically turning the
pages of the score to follow the performance, but also provides random access – the
ability to “turn to a specific page in the score or enter a specific measure number and
have the sound recording move to that same point” (Dunn, Davidson, Holloway, and
Unfortunately, the sound-score synchronization tool of Variations2 required
resources beyond the scope of this project: custom application development and
deployment within the existing digital library system. As a result, widely used software
applications were explored, in the hopes that one or a combination of these programs
could provide similar capabilities.
Such a combination of software applications was indeed identified, and a
workflow was developed to provide a somewhat similar, although considerably more
limited, sound-score synchronization tool. The workflow and software applications are
described in Table 1 below.
Table 1. Workflow and Software List for Sound-Score Synchronization
General Function Software Program(s) Used
Convert multi-page PDF file to a Scansoft PDF Converter (to convert PDF file to
series of page images in JPEG Word document),
format (1 page = 1 image) to be Microsoft Word (to arrange the resulting images in
imported into slideshow one folder – done by selecting the “Save As Web
Synchronize the sound file with the Microsoft PowerPoint (to create slides for each
slides of sheet music page of music and record timings for slide changes
that are synchronized with the imported sound file)
This workflow requires, of course, that the sheet music and sound files have
already been created. The existing web site of the Inventions of Note Sheet Music
Collection already contained all of the sheet music files in PDF format. However, as
mentioned before, only four of the songs in the collection contained sound files.
Therefore, it was necessary to create sound files for the rest of the collection.
Due to the scope of the project, sound files for only five pieces from the collection
could be created. Finale, a widely-used commercial music notation software, was used to
create the sound files . Finale was chosen due primarily to the fact that it is owned by the
author, and because there were no resources available to purchase any other notation
program. If such resources were available, the author might have chosen the Sibelius
commercial notation software, due to its Scorch web plug-in, which allows users to
“view, play, customize and print Sibelius scores on the Internet” (“Scorch”).
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Notation software was chosen due to the ease and speed in which music can be
entered using the computer’s keyboard. The resulting notation file can then be exported
as an audio file. One might wonder how manual input into a notation program could be
more efficient than simply recording a musical performance. A recording requires
finding appropriate musicians to perform the music and giving them adequate time to
prepare for the recording. Needless to say, such resources and time were not available
for this project. Also, certain notation files, such as those created in Finale or Sibelius,
provide both a graphical and audio representation of the music. Although there is no
widely accepted standard notation file format, in the future perhaps the Scorch web plug-
in will achieve widespread use, and thus encourage the practice of posting notation files
on the Internet. It is certainly promising that the renowned Grove Music Online has
adopted the Scorch web plug-in as its tool for interactive musical examples (“Product
Using the workflow and software applications described above, 5 instrumental
piano pieces were entered into notation files (in Finale’s .mus file format) and then
exported as audio files (in mp3 format). The 5 resulting sound files were then imported
into PowerPoint and synchronized with the slide images. The resulting 5 PowerPoint
slideshows were then saved in the PowerPoint Show file format (.pps), which can be
viewed (but not altered) with the free PowerPoint Viewer . Synchronized slideshows
were then created for the 4 existing sound files. The results are summarized in Table 2.
PowerPoint Viewer 2003. <http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/
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Table 2. Resulting Project Files.
Source Material Resulting Files
5 solo piano pieces in PDF 5 audio files in MPEG-1 layer III
format: (.mp3) format
(1) Auto Race
(2) The Bell Telephone Girl
(3) Live Wires Rag
(4) Musical Souvenir of the
Cyclists National Grand March
(5) The Speed Kings
5 synchronized slideshows in
PowerPoint Show (.pps) format
4 songs (piano and voice
with lyrics) in PDF and mp3 4 synchronized slideshows in
formats: PowerPoint Show (.pps) format
(1) Come Take a Trip in My
(2) Keep Away from the Fellow
Who Owns an Automobile
(3) Kissing Papa through the
(4) Take Your Girlie to the
5 audio files (.mp3)
Total: 9 synchronized slideshows (.pps)
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The results were presented to Peter Munstedt, Librarian of the Lewis Music
Library, and Nicole Hennig, Web Manager and Usability Specialist, on April 27, 2006.
Peter and Nicole approved of the resulting project files and are interested in pursuing the
possibility of implementing this work into the Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection
web site. Nicole suggested using a video file format, such as QuickTime (.mov), instead
of the PowerPoint Show format (.pps), because the QuickTime file format is more widely
used on the Internet (Munstedt and Hennig). This would solve two problems with the
current PowerPoint Show format: (1) for the audio portion of the slideshow to work, the
user needs to download the corresponding audio file to the same folder as the PowerPoint
Show file, (2) playback of the PowerPoint Show file on certain computers can be slightly
out of sync with the audio. Also, the video file format could enable random access;
markers could be embedded into the video file to provide seamless navigation to
particular points in the score and sound file (for example, the beginning of a specific page
This project has been demanding in terms of time and persistence. Manual input
into notation software, although perhaps more efficient and practical than finding
appropriate musicians to perform and engineers to record the music, is time consuming
and requires specialized skills. Still, this type of manual work can be educational and
even enjoyable, if not done in excessive amounts.
More importantly, this project has been very rewarding in the sense that several
limitations of digital music libraries have been identified and a solution suggested. The
workflow and combination of software suggested, although by no means perfect, may be
feasible for libraries to undertake, provided they have the staff, software and other
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“Description of the Collection.” Inventions of Note Sheet Music Collection.
4 Oct. 2004. MIT Libraries. Lewis Music Library. 1 May 2006
Dunn, Jon W., Mary Wallace Davidson, Jan R. Holloway, and Gerald Bernbom.
“The Variations and Variations2 Digital Music Library Projects at Indiana
University.” Jon W. Dunn: Professional Home Page. 5 March 2003.
Indiana University Digital Library Program. 19 Apr. 2006
Munstedt, Peter. Personal Interview. 31 Mar. 2006.
Munstedt, Peter, and Nicole Hennig. Personal Interview. 27 Apr. 2006.
“Product Demonstration.” Grove Music Online. 1 May 2006
“Scorch.” Sibelius. 2006. 1 May 2006 <http://www.sibelius.com/products/
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