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Hydrogen is an open source drum set that runs on your computer. We’re going to take a short look at this exciting piece of software. For those uncertain as to what a drum kit is, just imagine a virtual drum kit (drums, cymbals, etc.) on your computer, but with an interface of sliders and knobs in lieu of actual drums. Read on. You’ll see.
Hydrogen presents an approachable interface that anyone familiar with audio-visual equipment, such as equalizers, should have little trouble finding his or her way around. Hydrogen’s interface is modular and incorporates timelines, sliders, knobs, toolbars, tabs and menus to help users get the job done.
The screenshot gives you an idea of what to expect. The screen is divided into panes, each one offering something special. Some components, such as the Mixer, operate from their own window. The upper pane is where compositions are created. The lower left pane presents instruments in the drum kit. The panel in the lower right allows users to toggle between modifications for the currently selected drum set and accessing the sound library.
Hydrogen is replete with features. One of these is a Pattern-based Sequencer. Hydrogen is designed to work with patterns. To facilitate this, the developers have also included an integrated Pattern Editor. Another impressive feature is unlimited instrument tracks. That’s right. A composition created in Hydrogen can have unlimited instrument tracks. It’s almost mind-boggling.
Hydrogen offers support for QT5, MIDI and OSC file formats. Hydrogen also provides support for sound library images. If drums are not your thing, it’s possible to import different musical instruments. There is support for managing different sessions. Support for basic exportation to LilyPond is also available. Playback capabilities and menu editing are two more useful Hydrogen features. Hydrogen can be easily customized via the Preferences option under the Tools menu. Tutorials and full documentation are available on Hydrogen’s Web site.
What You Can Do With Hydrogen
Arguably, users are limited only by their imaginations when using Hydrogen. Compositions can be played back as desired and easily modified. There are some pre-designed drum kits available for Hydrogen on SourceForge with which to experiment. In short, users can create the musical composition of their dreams. More advanced student programmers may interested in knowing that Hydrogen is written in the C++ programming language. As it is open source, this opens up wonderful opportunities for collaboration between music and tech departments. If properly implemented, students from the realms of computer programming and music could meet, share ideas and create that indispensable Hydrogen component. How cool would it be if students from your school could make this claim? Best of all, Hydrogen is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS, so it probably will run on the platform of your choice.
Hydrogen [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Piraino, A. et al. (n.d.). Hydrogen manual. GNU General Public License.
NtEd is an open source musical score editor for Linux. It seeks to provide a platform for music teachers and students alike for the instruction of reading music, composing music and learning to play instruments. NtEd is an abbreviation of Noteedit, the application’s full name.
NtEd developers strove to create an intuitive WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface. This they have achieved with aplomb. The interface is very approachable with a menu bar at the top of the window, and a toolbar below this. Below this is a pane presenting what appears to be a sheet of paper with a stave along the top. A free-floating Toolbox is included for added functionality. Within this toolbox are arrows that allow users to scroll between five different options of items to add to the stave. These include notes, rests and the like that can be clicked on and dragged to a desired location on the stave. Musical composition couldn’t be easier than that.
So what can users do with NtEd? By clicking on two notes, they can be tied (legato). These can be used to build cords and tuplets. Instruments can be added to every staff and, thus, a complete orchestra can be created. The Play button allows users to hear the music that they have written. Additionally, NtEd offers support for up to 4 instruments per staff. NtEd includes full compatibility with MIDI, both in terms of MIDI files and MIDI devices.
Other features include, but are not limited to, the ability to transpose a score to a new key, the capacity to mute selected staves and a copy and paste feature. NtEd can create files of the following types: PostScript, SVG, MIDI, PDF and PNG. Creations can be exported to MIDI and MusicXML. Completed projects can even be exported to LilyPond, an open source, text-based musical score editor.
If you’re a music teacher, NtEd is software that your budding impresarios deserve. Check it out. Introduce your students to it. Watch the magic unfurl.
Anders, J. (n.d). NtEd [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Anders, J. (n.d.). NtEd a new and free musical score editor for Linux. Chemnitz, Germany: Chemnitz University of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.iiis.org/cds2010/cd2010imc/iceti_2010/paperspdf/eb505ay.pdf.
Getting back to educational technology, I’d like to focus on a tool that music teachers and their students will love. Rosegarden is an open source application for composing, mixing and editing music and sounds. It was developed around a MIDI sequencer with an understanding of musical notation and featuring support for digital audio.
Rosegarden is feature-rich, although this depends on the available hardware resources. The more recent or “cutting edge” the hardware, the more features available to the user. Rosegarden supports the importing and exporting of MIDI files. One caveat regarding this is that the Rosegarden Manual states that information about the file in question will be lost if the file is not saved in Rosegarden’s native .rg format. Such files are referred to as Rosegarden Project Files and contain all of the musical note information of the file in question as well as MIDI controller settings, plugin details and the names of any audio files included in the composition. Other supported sound formats include, but are not limited to, Csound, Hydrogen and MusicXML.
The default track-based overview allows users create sound “segments” by clicking-and-dragging or by double-clicking on the desired sound file. Additionally, Rosegarden offers some powerful editing tools. These allow users to get their ideas down and to tweak them as desired. There are three editing windows -the matrix editor, the notation editor and the event editor. These windows share a common interface for ease of use. Musical notes can be entered using either a MIDI keyboard or a computer keyboard. Furthermore, all editors offer unlimited undo and redo. The pan and zoom interface near the bottom of the matrix and notation editors provides axis-independent zoom and fast navigation.
Rosegarden offers many other features. The notation editor allows users to view the musical notation of their work, which can provide an alternative view of a composition. This editor can be used simultaneously with other Rosegarden components. Rosegarden will automatically update the work, saving recent changes simultaneously in all instances of it running in other components. Sheet music can be printed using LilyPond, an open source music engraving program. In terms of audio, file creation is easy. As mentioned previously, external sound files can be dragged from a file manager window and dropped into Rosegarden. From there they can be moved, resized, repeated and more. The synth plugin allows for accurate synthesis of MIDI tracks. The full-audio-effects plugin allows for the addition of audio effects to the composition. Add to all this the capacity to integrate Rosegarden with other Linux sound applications via the JACK audio connection framework and you have a very powerful and flexible sound mixing tool.
If you’re serious about sound mixing, you should definitely give Rosegarden a test drive. Rosegarden is available in English and, thanks to volunteers, in Russian, Spanish, Finnish, Japanese and Indonesian to name a few other languages.
Rosegarden is currently available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.
All images property of the Rosegarden Team.
Cannam, C., Bown, R. & Laurent, G. (2008). The Rosegarden handbook. GNU Genreal Public License.
Laurent, G., Cannam, C. & Bown, R. (2008). Rosegarden [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
One thing that has chagned quite a bit since I was a kid is the attitude that schools and teachers have towards comic books. When I was a child, if you had a comic book in school, you wouldn’t have it for long, as such things were viewed as the antithesis of education. The attitude now is that so long as kids are reading, it’s a good thing, even if it’s a comic book, which I think is a big improvement. My middle school library has a fine collection of graphic novels, in addition to the other media that they offer. Anyway, I thought that I would write about some open source comic book viewers that work with graphic novel ebooks and that you could use in your classroom.
Comix. Comix is a very versatile and easily customized comic book reader. Ir reads most common image formats, not just .cbr (the native format for digital comic books). Comix supports the storing of comic book libraries as well as allowing users to adjust how they view their comic book reading. Users can zoom in and out as desired. As it presents one page from the comic at a time, the page being viewed can be rotated to suit the reader. For the die-hard comic book fan, media can be displayed in two-page format, if desired. Archive formats supported include .tar, RAR and ZIP. Comix supports the use of bookmarks to mark pages of interest. Comix features integrated archive editing. Though Comix is available only for UNIX-based operating systems, it is available in over 20 languages. The screenshot at left shows the author’s Comix session, displaying a page from DC Comics’ Batman: Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel, as do the other screenshots featured in this article.
QComicBook. QComicBook is highly customizable and provides the user with every feature that he or she would desire through either menus or its toolbar. The Read Me file will tell you that the developers of QCmicBook sought to keep convenience and simplicity at its core. In addition to comic archive files (.cbr), it also supports handling of .jpg, .png, .gif and .xpm image formats, as well as PDF files. Users can navigate through a comic or graphic novel via a context menu, navigation buttons on the toolbar or by clicking on images of pages in the Thumbnail pane to the left of the main viewing pane. Other features include automatic unpacking of archive files, full-screen mode, double page viewing and continuous scrolling mode, among others. QComicBook is available for UNIX-based operating systems.
MComix. MComix is based on Comix, but offers a few embellishments. These embellishments pertain predominantly to a few bug fixes as well as improved stability. MComix’s creators boast that it is both user-friendly and customizable. The interface is very approachable, incorporating a menu, a simple toolbar and a side pane for selecting individual pages. It is designed specifically for comic books and graphic novels, and supports a variety of formats, including .cbr, .cb7, .cbt and PDF. What makes MComix really great is that it is available for both Linux and Microsoft Windows.
I’ve presented three comic book viewers here. So what can you do with them in your classroom? Just as you might buy printed graphic novels for your classroom library, it’s just as easy to buy them in digital format. You could set up a couple of second hand laptops (they’re cheap on ebay) with libraries of graphic novels on them. Your students then sign up for a time to use one of these computers to do some reading. You could even provide them with a reading log so that they can keep track of where they’ve left off rather than to have multiple students using the same integrated bookmark feature, which could get confusing.
Augustyn, B. et al. (1989). Batman: Gotham by gaslight. New York: DC Comics.
Casillas, L. & Brunner, M. (2013). MComix [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Ekberg, P. (2009). Comix [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Stolowski, P. (2012). QComicBook [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Stolowski, P. (2012). QComicBook read me. Retrieved from https://github.com/stolowski/QComicBook/blob/master/README.
Arguably a difficult transition that Windows users undergo when switching to Linux is the lack of video editing software, like Microsoft Movie Maker. Have no fear! Pitivi comes to the rescue. Pitivi (pronounced pee-tee-vee) is an open source video editor for the Linux operating system and built upon the GStreamer multimedia framework.
Upon launch, Pitivi opens a greeting window providing the user with the opportunity to open an existing project or to create a new one. Behind this is the main screen where the film editing/creation takes place. The interface is pleasantly straightforward and intuitive. A menu and toolbar at the top of the screen are referred to as the header bar. Below this are two tabs, or primary tabs, to the left, above a pane. These tabs allow users to toggle between the media library and effects library. To the right are the contextual tabs, which allow users to view clip properties, add transitions and to add titles. To the right of this, is the viewer, through which users can observe their developing creations. The interface for the viewer is the same as for any media player. Below these three panes is the ruler and below that the timeline. This is where videos are placed to be modified.
Media can be added to the media library by either clicking on and dragging the desired file from the file manager window to this pane or by clicking on the Import button above this pane and to the left. When imported, media can then be dragged to and dropped on the timeline. Once a film clip is added, the clip as it will be seen by viewers appears in the viewer. When a user clicks anywhere along the timeline, the viewer jumps to that position. Using the timeline toolbar to the right of the timeline, users can delete selected clips, group clips, ungroup clips, copy, paste and toggle gaps in media. All edits affect the selected clip.
A click of a mouse button (right or left) places the playhead at the desired point on the timeline. This is where splits are inserted. Other tweaks involve being able to control the zoom on the timeline, adding a title, adding special effects and adding transitions. As effects are added to a clip, they are listed in the contextual tab with a checkbox next to each. The checkboxes are checked by default, so, as expected, unchecking one disables it. Effects include, but are by no means limited to, such items as facedetect (detects faces in videos), kaleidoscope and Tunnel (creates a light tunnel effect).
Pitivi is very versatile in terms of file support. Projects may be saved (or rendered which is the term used in Pitivi) in the following formats: AVI, Apple QuickTime, Ogg Vorbis, MP4 and MPEG to name a few. Furthermore, Pitivi offers excellent project management. The term project in Pitivi refers to any film being edited. But users can save their projects at different levels of completion or in different file formats. Many different settings can be adjusted, such as pixel and display aspect ratios, and there is an excellent Undo/Redo utility.
Now that you’ve read about what Pitivi can do, give it a try. Better still, let your students give it a try if you really want to see Pitivi put through its paces. If you’re so inclined, you can also contribute to their fund drive. Such support is always appreciated.
Note: Pitivi is designed to run on the GNOME Desktop Environment. However, all of the author’s screenshots were taken while running Pitivi on the Xfce Desktop Environment upon which it ran without issue.
Pitivi [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
JPitivi quick Start manual. (n.d.) GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://www.pitivi.org/manual/.
Taking a break from my more traditional topics of STEM and programming, I’d like to put the Arts into the spotlight for a change and talk about Ardour, an open source application that allows users to create audio compositions. Undoubtedly, music teachers out there are familiar with the proprietary, but WYSIWYG software, Accoustica Mixcraft. Ardour is just as WYSIWYG, but, as mentioned above, open source. Let’s take a look at Ardour right now.
Ardour is designed to be suitable for audio engineers, musicians, soundtrack editors and composers, but it should be just as ideal an environment for young composers to create their masterpieces. The interface is very similar to the aforementioned Mixcraft. The Editor Window presents a menu at the top of the screen allowing for ready access to features. Below this, the Transport Menu allows users to navigate (Play, Fast Forward, Loop, Record, etc.) through clips added to the Main Canvas below.
. To the right of the Transport Menu are the Clocks, offering four time formats. Right of the Clocks are the Edit Modes and Cursor Modes controls, which allow users to edit clips. Below this is the aforementioned Main Canvas in which sound and video tracks appear, each with its own track. Each track can then be edited individually. To the left of the Main Canvas is the Editor Mixer, which allows users to control volume and other features using slider controls.
So, what can you do with Ardour? I’d venture to say that you could do just about anything that you could do with Mixcraft. Rather than to compare the two, I’ll focus on Ardour’s features and what can be done with them. First of all, Ardour supports importing of the following audio types: AAIF, BWF, CAF ,FLAC and WAV. In terms of audio exporting, the following formats are supported: AAIF, BWF, CAF, FLAC, Ogg and WAV. Ardour is not just limited to handling sound. Videos can be imported and soundtracks extracted from them. Videos can be displayed frame-by-frame on the Video Timeline for easy editing. Users can add start/stop points to the video as well as blank frames and mix the video with the soundtrack of the current session. An Ardour session can even be run simultaneously on multiple computers.
This all sounds great, but it gets better. There are many plugins available for Ardour that enhance its functionality. These are conveniently handled through the Plugin Manager. Plugins allow users to create various audio or MIDI effects and to generate audio by functioning as “software instruments.” Additionally, although Ardour does not include music/sounds of its own, these can be downloaded from sites like Freesound (see below) and then imported into Ardour.
After reading this, I don’t know why you’re not downloading Ardour right now. Your students may not thank you with words, but their compositions will speak volumes.
Ardour is available for Linux and Apple MacOS.
Thanks to Paul Davis of the Ardour Development Team for permission to use all images included in this article.
Ardour [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Ardour Manual. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Mixcraft 7 vs Ardour -audio editing comparison. (2016). Software Insider: Graphiq, Inc. Retrieved from http://sound-editing.softwareinsider.com/compare/39-169/Acoustica-Mixcraft-7-vs-Ardour.
It’s been a while, too long in fact, since I’ve written anything here. Hard to believe that the summer is winding down. You probably have lots of photos and videos taken this summer. What better way to share them than in a movie that you’ve made yourself? You don’t need Microsoft Windows Movie Maker either. Let me introduce you to OpenShot, the open source alternative to Movie Maker.
Upon initial launch, OpenShot bears a striking resemblance to its proprietary counterpart and it works in a similar fashion. What I find extremely appealing about this software, personally, is the WYSIWYG interface. The interface is very straightforward, which is a big deal to me as I believe new users will have a tendency to return to an application if they have a pleasant first experience. ( I’ve just discovered another strength of this software: the user’s manual jumps right into using the software via a piece entitled Learn OpenShot in 5 Minutes, rather than to present the application and its features. The manual addresses these topics, but after guiding the reader through initial use of the software. How cool is that?)
Looking at the screenshot at left, the Main Toolbar is at the top of the window, under the menu. Below this are the Function Tabs, which allow users to toggle between files, transitions and effects. The Project Files pane below this shows all media files that have been added. The Preview Window to the right displays video playback. Just below these two panes is the Edit Toolbar (left) and the Zoom Slider, which allows users to tweak the time-scale. Below this is the Play-Head/Ruler. The Ruler displays time-scale and the Play-Head shows the current position of the movie on the time-scale (appears in red when in use). Finally, the Timeline is at the bottom of the window and displays each component of the movie.
Adding media is easy. Once you’ve added media to the Project Files pane, simply click and drag them to the Timeline. You can add a wide variety of audio, video and image media to your video. Once media has been added to the Timeline, it can be repositioned by clicking and dragging. You can also add effects, such as transitions, special effects and sounds. Finished videos can be exported to such video formats as AVI, MOV, MP4 and MPEG, If you really want to see something cool created using this software, let your kids or students run wild (well, not that wild) with OpenShot. They’ll show you what thinking outside of the box is all about.
OpenShot is available for Fedora Linux and Ubuntu Linux and also as a Live version run from DVD so that you don’t have to install it to try it.
OpenShot Home Page
OpenShot Video Editor Manual 1.3.0. (2013). OpenShot Studios, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.openshotusers.com/help/1.3/en/.
I’d like to look at a nifty little media converter entitled WinFF. WinFF bills itself as an open source video converter. I refer to it as a media converter as it is capable of converting audio files as well. Truth be told, WinFF is actually a graphical front-end program for FFmpeg, which is a program run from the comand line that does the actual converting. WinFF simply allows users unfamiliar with the command line to run conversions using a graphic interface.
Before I begin, I want to say that I am running WinFF in Ubuntu Linux. Although WinFF is available for both Linux/UNIX and Microsoft Windows, the screenshots in this article will show WinFF being run on Linux and will also show a file manager, equivalent to Windows Explorer, displaying the contents of a CD, or as Linux refers to them, an Audio Disc, which is similar to a CD’s/DVD’s folder in Windows. That having been stated and without further adieu, let’s get to the point of this blog: converting media files using WinFF.
When initially launched, you will be presented with a window that should look like the screenshot at left. WinFF’s interface is WYSIWYG and you can see from the screenshot that the buttons on the toolbar (referred to as the Buttons in the WinFF documentation, which can be downloaded from their Web site) offer tooltips to provide more information about their function. Above the Buttons is a menu bar. Below these is an empty field where information is displayed during the conversion process. Below this are tabs pertaining to various types of media and a place to specify your output, or destination, folder.
I will be converting the CD shown in the screenshot at right. It was a gift from my niece (Love you, Ayla) and I’m anxious to add it to my MP3 collection. Place the audio CD in your DVD drive. A window will open asking you what to do with the disc that has been placed in the drive. Choose to open it in file manager. This way you can view the files on the CD. WinFF and FFmpeg support WAV files, but not CDA (Compact Disc Audio) files. Your CD is likely to have files in either format. Once you’ve checked the contents of the CD or, as WinFF refers to this type of media, Audio Disc, you can start WinFF.
Once WinFF has opened, click the Add button. This will open the Select Video Files window (shown at left), which looks like a file manager. Select the files that you wish to convert (Tip: You can press the CTRL and A keyboard keys simultaneously to select all pf the files) and click the Open button. This window will close and return you to the main WinFF window.
Now, set your desired conversion format and preset. For this type of action, Convert to should be set to Audio and the Preset to MP3. Next, choose your destination folder. This is important as it will make finding your converted files easier if you place them in a precise location. Clicking on the ellipsis (…) will allow you to select a more specific location than the default, which in Linux/UNIX is your home directory. When you are ready, click on the Convert button and the process will begin. The actual conversion process occurs in a terminal window as shown in the screenshot at right.
When the process is completed, you will be instructed to Press Enter to Continue (as shown in the screenshot above), which will close the terminal window and return you to the main WinFF window. The process is complete and you can now close WinFF. You may still want to rename your new MP3 files as they will still possess the generic name (e.g. “Track 1.mp3”) that they had while on the CD, but that can be done in a file manager at your leisure.
Ballard, F. (n.d.). FFmeg [software]. Lesser GNU General Public License.
Weatherford, M. (2013). WinFF 1.5 English Documentation.. GNU General Public License.
Weatherford, M. and Stoffberg, I. (2015). WinFF [software]. WinFF.org.