The Seven Evils of Paper Music

When I started taking piano lessons around age six, the mandatory and much dreaded recitals involved little more than climbing up on the piano bench, slapping open a book to a particular song, and banging out the notes per my teacher’s expectations. At that age, my feet didn’t touch the floor, and all I had to do was focus on getting the notes right. All was well until the songs grew beyond two pages. At this point, I reached a turning point (pun intended) in my involuntary musical performance career.

It took only a few more recitals with multi-page songs before I learned to fear and dread the turning of pages while performing, let alone practicing. Over the next decade I would become the victim of nearly every page turning disaster known to man. Can you relate to any of the following?

  1. The book or folio won’t stay open. This is the classic problem with hardbound hymnals, most full-size contemporary song books, and urtexts. If you’re persistent (and very patient) you might eventually be able to break the binding in enough to get by, but come performance day, that binding will assuredly resurrect itself from the dead, flip the pages backwards right in front of your eyes and cause a train wreck, musically speaking.
  2. You turn forwards to the wrong page. My teacher’s recommendation was to dog-ear either the lower or upper right corner of all the pages on the right side of the book. Her thought was that it would be easier to grab the up-turned corner quickly, and it worked great when only one page needed to be turned. As soon as multiples pages were in play however, it become possible to grab too many corners, which I did. A lot.
  3. You turn backwards to the wrong page. Obviously, this one is close cousin to the previous. You come to a D.S. (go back to the sign), which usually means a multi-page backwards jump. Should you survive that, you may then run across a “to Coda” marking that wants you to jump multiple pages forward. ┬áMore risk. More stress. Less Joy.
  4. The music falls off of the piano or music stand. This is caused by gravity in collusion with any number of things such as drafts, bumps by you or others, vibrations, hard pounding on the keyboard, house cats, and of course, random forces of evil.
  5. A page is missing or out of order. This happens when you try to cheat the page turning demon by photocopying the music and placing all the pages side-by-side. That’ll fix the turning problem, you tell yourself, and it seems to, but a new evil awaits. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in the middle of a song and suddenly realize that you put the pages in the wrong order, or worse, somehow lost a page. A missing page is a class “A” train wreck, to be sure. Also, the music desk on most pianos can’t handle more than 5 pages laid side by side, so unless you start scotch-taping pages together into one long continuous sheet, you won’t always be able to use this strategy for every song.
  6. You can’t switch songs fast enough. If you play in a group that’s performing multiple songs back-to-back, you need to move from song to song quickly. For piano and keyboard players, this is typically no mean feat. You can choose the three-ring binder route and deal with page tuning evils #2 and #3 above, or you can bring a stack of single sheets and lay them out. If you choose the latter, you have to quickly remove one stack of sheets and lay out the next stack between each song. If your band is segueing from one song to the next with no break in between, this can be a real showstopper – sometimes literally.
  7. Managing and storage. If you’ve been playing for any length of time, your music stash has grown, perhaps to Library of Congress proportions. Do you know where your copy of Claire de Lune actually is? Did you remember to pick the right music for rehearsal this week, and, did you file last week’s music so you can find it again?

There are more evils of sheet music, but these are the Big Seven. Probably the only thing that hasn’t happened to me (yet), is that my music has caught on fire, though it did come close one Christmas Eve.

Necessity being the mother of invention, score apps like NextPage were birthed out of the need to deal with the problems of paper music. My purpose in creating it was not to strike it rich in the App Store, but rather so that musicians (including me!) could focus on playing well, not turning pages. After all, it’s all about the music, not the paper!

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