I hope you enjoyed the previous article. Our custom digital music stand software is built on Microsoft Office Professional, specifically Microsoft Word, Microsoft Access and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). Microsoft Office can add significantly to the cost of the software package but if you already have a multiple license bundle it may be cost effective. Making a digital music stand out of these components is not a trivial task. It requires some programming skill and knowledge about VBA and Microsoft Access forms. One major advantage to this is that applications can be developed very quickly if you have the aptitude. There is simply too much to cover here but I do want to cover some items you might want to consider if you decide to build or purchase your own Digital Music Stand.
Here’s my top list of important features:
- Importing songs
- Legible display and flexible formatting
- Key changes
- Play lists
- Quick searches
- Category Organization
1. First, even with a completely working Digital Music Stand (Hardware and Software) there is still a bit of work to have a useful tool. What is this work? It is loading all the lead sheets into the system. Now you could add only what you are using for a given service and eventually you will start to build a library of songs. However having an easy way to import the lead sheets into the application is a very useful time saving feature. For example our custom application imports all the text files and Word documents from a specified folder. If it is a text file it converts it to a Word document. With another click it searches the document and extracts the copyright, artist, etc and puts it into the corresponding fields in the song record. All this minimizing the effort to load songs is a very important and desirable feature.
2. The second on my list is an easily legible display and flexible formatting. This is important for obvious reasons like legible font type and size. One not so obvious is the ability to fit all the words on the screen for a given song. Many songs have too many lyrics to fit and having the ability to arrange the text in multiple columns makes this achievable. Another thing to keep in mind is when changing fonts the chords may change their location over the words.
This happens because some fonts have a variable size width for each character which causes the chords to shift because the width of the spaces remains the same. So we tend to stick with one variable width font or use all fixed width (mono-spaced) fonts. The image to the left uses a mono-spaced font.
Variable-width fonts tend to be easier to read but will move the chords (refer to right image) so it requires you to stick with one font and adjust your chord spacing over the right words. The choice is yours but there is a trade off between time and legibility. Notice in the image at the right the variable spaced font caused the chord position over the words to change location.
Now let’s touch quickly on the other items on my list.
3. Quickly changing keys is a must. It gives the musicians flexibility that was not possible before. If you have more than one song leader then chances are they have different vocal ranges. Accommodate them quickly by changing keys all without having to re-print the lead sheet.
4. Play lists allow for a set of songs to be assembled for a particular service. It is equivalent to pulling the songs from the file cabinet before the practice or service. The advantage here is it can be done quickly and the order can be easily changed at the last minute.
5. Sometimes during a time of ministry there may be need for adding an impromptu song. This can be done quickly with a good search feature. Perhaps the name of the song escapes you so having the ability to search for a phrase in the song text is extremely valuable.
6. Lastly organizing songs by categories, keys, etc. can help the worship leader find just the right song. There are times when you may need one more song and scanning for other songs in the same key or of a certain topic can make this a quick easy task. Categories can also help to filter out seasonal songs so you can still look through the songs of interest.
I haven’t been able to cover everything a Digital Music Stand can offer but hopefully you now have a better idea of what you might want and what to look for.
Editor’s Note: Trevin’s custom software is amazing. He’s been talking about rebuilding it using web technologies when he finds time. One thing I wanted to mention is that while we have this amazing software, if you don’t have the ability to write custom software, the hardware system that he previously described can be used to show your music sheets right from whatever software you made them in. You don’t have to have a full-fledged lead sheet software to utilize digital music stands. But, without that kind of software, your experience is going to be a lot less rich and you will lose flexibility during live events. One track to implementing digital lead sheets could be to invest in the hardware first and use Word (or whatever) to display songs. Then as you obtain more funds, you could invest in lead sheet software.