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12/5/2011
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Sheet Music Direct: An iTunes For, Well, Tunes

Buy, use, and (to a limited degree) perform sheet music with this iPad app. Just watch out for the per-song pricing.

Hal Leonard, known to band directors and students across the world as the folks who distribute the majority of sheet music, recently released their Sheet Music Direct app for the iPad. The app is designed as a one-stop shop for sheet music, chords and tablature, but there's more to it than is apparent at first glance.

As a hobbyist musician myself, I am always trying to deconstruct popular songs and see what makes them work. For instance, see what chords or melodies seem to work well together. The fifteen stock songs included with the program aren't much more than show tunes and stuff you'd find in a basic piano or guitar book: "Greensleeves," "The Entertainer," "Amazing Grace," etc. In other words, nothing I care to learn or play.

Luckily, the app is a frontend for an online store where you can find more interesting music. I found many of the artists I was looking for, but many of the songs are still very expensive. It's also worth knowing that not all the songs are set up to be played like their album versions. While you may find guitar and piano, some of the pieces are just straight-up piano arrangements of the works, which may not work for recreating the song. That said, hearing Nine Inch Nails's "Head Like a Hole" or "Sin" played on the piano is definitely a new way to listen, and it's a nice way to learn a bit about arrangement. I just wish individual songs were a bit less pricey. $3.99 seems a bit excessive (though some songs go as low as 99 cents).

Something I definitely appreciate about this app, as someone who has very little formal background in music, is that there are MIDI arrangements of each song. You simply touch the screen, hit the play button and let the app play the song so that you can get a feel for it.

There is also a very simple audio mixer that allows you to adjust levels. For instance, if you only want to hear the guitar part, or if you only want to hear what the right hand should be playing, you can mute or turn down one of the instruments. You can also speed or slow down the song as well as turn on a click track to help you with the timing. You can even transpose the song if you want to adjust it to a different key. This may be useful for vocalists who want to sing along but need a particular song to be more in key with their voice. Also useful is the built-in tuner, which helps you tune up your guitar before playing or make sure you're hitting the right now when singing.

The app also lets you create setlists. This means if you have a show, you can arrange it so that the particular songs you want to play are on your setlist, and you go through only those songs instead of having to find them in your collection. For instance, if you want to play "The Entertainer" followed by "Greensleeves" and then "Aloha Oe," you can add the songs to a new setlist in that order. From there, you can simply go to your setlist and work your way through each song in the order you set.

Overall, the Sheet Music Direct app is nice for musicians. The one problem, in my opinion, and it's a major one, is pricing. While the app itself is free, it doesn't come with songs everyone would care to play. Buying a piano arrangement of a song I want to learn costs four bucks in many cases. That's a bit much for my tastes, and many may feel the same. While I'd like to recommend it, I have a feeling that many will be put off by pricing.

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