Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” to be Released on Apple’s AppStore Tomorrow

About a few weeks ago, I was working with Kidoteca, a publisher and developer of iOS and Android apps aimed at children, on a project called the “Magical Music Box”. My job consisted of arrangement and transcription of various pieces of music from standard notation or audio and into a special worksheet that Stanislas Hauptmann (one of the top guys at Kidoteca) and his crew developed. I can’t wait to be able to try out on the iPad and hear for myself the results of my work.

To give more details about my experiences while working on this project, Mr. Hauptmann provided me with a list of various pieces of music that he wanted for the app to run. The challenge for me was to rearrange a variety of music with varying complexity into versions that would work for an instrument with barely 3 octaves in range (C3 to C6). This component of the job is indeed challenging, especially when I had to slim down complex pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act 1 Finale and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 into simple 1-minute pieces with a maximum of just 2 parts. It’s hard to do justice to such classics with those conditions, but I’m guessing I was able to pull that off.

The second challenge of the job was that I had to convert what I hear in my piano and read in the sheet music into Mr. Hauptmann’s specific code. He supplied me with a worksheet that essentially became a vertical step sequencer. I had to input notes according to scientific pitch notation, set a tempo and set a note value per beat. Seems easy on first look. The difficult part, however, was that I had no way of verifying by audio the results of my coding unless Kidoteca renders the worksheets as MP3s. I had to kiss the expectation of working like I do with FLStudio or Sibelius goodbye and instead try my best to accurately write down on the worksheet what I was hearing whenever I sight read or listen to the pieces that are assigned to me.

The third challenge was to curb my urge towards making complex arrangements. Complex arrangements do not work well most of the time when writing for the Magical Music Box as the notes tend to get muddy. There is a great emphasis on making the melody prominent and writing a simple yet driving bass line. There are at times when Mr. Hauptmann and I had a few differences over how the arrangements should go. Fortunately, we were able to settle things and figure out what works.

I also had the opportunity of writing descriptions for the pieces of music I arranged. It’s kind of like writing program notes for a recital except that this time it’s for an iOS app.

It seems to me that things are working out well as we’re going to see the release of Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” tomorrow. I just watched the YouTube promo video and it seems to have a really stunning interface. Of course, the music is *ahem* wonderful as well. Do check out the “Magical Music Box” by Kidoteca at the AppStore and Google Play. Turn your iOS and Android devices into a lullaby station or a mesmerizing kid’s music machine.

P.S. With this music box, you never have to wind it up to start playing plus it’s always at a constant tempo so the music doesn’t die down slowly.


What It Takes to be a Music Transcriber

Music transcribers may be some of the most patient people in the world. Although I cannot say that I have such patience, I believe I have enough that turned me into one. How does one really go about becoming a music transcriber? There are many approaches and certain qualifications to become one.

First off, a music transcriber should have really good knowledge of music theory. A music transcriber needs to be able to interpret what is heard and turn it into standard written notation. As there are many ways of interpreting a piece of music onto paper, a music transcriber should be able to determine the best way of writing down music that would make it easy for any sight-reading musician to accurately reproduce.

I believe that a music transcriber should also be a musician. It’s not just about jotting down notes into Sibelius or Finale. I think that in music transcription, a transcriber should try to play himself or herself the music with his/her instrument of choice. In many cases this could be a piano, but a few people like myself use other instruments like a guitar, sax or any other instrument. Not only does trying to play the music help the transcriber understand what’s happening to the music, it also improves the transcriber’s musical ear. It also happens to be a fun activity too. If you want evidence of that, take a look at serious jazz musicians who have been transcribing the solos of their heroes, a task called “woodshedding”.

A music transcriber should have a good sense of rhythm. Every note in any kind of music follows a certain time frame, hence following that time frame by being able to follow the rhythm is actually one of the first steps of being able to reproduce what is heard into what is written.

Music transcribers should love all kinds of music. It helps to listen to all styles and genres be it classical, jazz, metal, rock, pop, polka or what have you. An open musical mind leads to being able to enjoy the arduous task of music transcription.

The last (and probably the most important) thing allows a person to be a good music transcriber is patience. Imagine having to listen to one song over and over again, bar by bar, part by part, riff by riff, lick by lick, and then writing them all down into paper (or Sibelius/Finale). It is tedious, stressful work that can be very frustrating a lot of times. Like medical and general transcriptionists, music transcribers experience “ear fatigue”. However, the rewards of such diligence are great.

If you happen to possess such qualifications, you could possibly be a music transcriber. It’s also one way of improving your musical skills. Just listen to people like Steve Vai and Franz Liszt, music transcribers themselves, and you would have clues as to what made them who they are as musicians.