Bob Bell: A Better Page Turner for Organists

by airturn

For some musicians who need to use both hands – and both feet – to play their instruments, something as simple as turning pages for sheet music can pose considerable challenges. Organists, harpists, and drummers are some examples of musicians who have both hands and both feet constantly in use.

Bob Bell, founder of BCSTech, LLC and organist for his local church, has developed “One Good Turn“, a custom computer system for reading music, which includes an ingenious way for musicians to turn pages – hands AND feet free. Here’s a 4-C look at Bob’s digital sheet music setup and unique page turning solution, the idea for which quite literally “fell out of the sky”!

1. Computer

Bob Bell’s “One Good Turn” system consists of a customized 21-inch touchscreen Windows 7 computer loaded with MusicReader PDF 4. The screen is large enough to display 2 full-sized pages at a time, yet weighs only 8 pounds and can be carried with the help of a carrying case.

2. Content

Bob uses scanned PDF files of his hymnal as well as other miscellaneous choral and organ solo works. As mentioned above, the MusicReader PDF 4 software not only enables him to view his music digitally, but he can also use the software to organize, catalog, and instantly pull up any piece he needs to find, as well as create playlists/setlists for each worship service from his digital library. MusicReader PDF 4 also gives him the ability to mark up his music with color ink and highlights, using his finger to “draw” directly on the Windows-based touchscreen computer (no need to fumble around for blunt pencils or worn-out erasers).

Although 21 inch screen is large enough to display 2 full-sized pages at a time, if necessary, he can also set MusicReader’s viewing option to half a page a time, zooming the music dramatically. This can be a terrific solution for low-vision musicians, not just organists.  We’ll talk more about solutions for low-vision musicians in a future post.

By the way, if you’re looking for a way to have someone else scan your hymnal into a PDF file, BCSTech provides document scanning services ($2 per page at the time of this writing with a 10 page minimum – resulting scanned files will be emailed to the customer, ready to be loaded onto the One Good Turn system).

3. Container

As each organ design is unique, Bob offers custom-made brackets to secure his One Good Turn system safely onto any organ music rack.

4. Controller

The Windows touchscreen computer eliminates the need for any additional pen input devices (although I suppose a soft rubber stylus could be used if drawing with fingers brings back queasy memories of messy smocks from kindergarten).

And now, drumroll please – Ladies and Gentlemen, the “unique page turning solution” you’ve been probably scrolling/skipping down the page to discover:

A bite switch connected to an AirTurn AT-104 wireless USB digital page turner.

AirTurn AT-104 wireless USB page turner with a bite switch

The bite switch was originally designed for sky divers who want to be able to take pictures while plummeting to the earth. Since their hands are flopping and flailing uselessly while buffeted by high velocity air, the bite switch enables them to trigger digital cameras mounted on their helmets hands free.  I never knew that Bob was into sky diving, but thanks to his out-of-the-box (or “out-of-the-plane”?) thinking, he’s been able to adapt this bite switch to trigger digital page turns via the AirTurn AT-104 instead of a pedal or foot switch.

The AirTurn AT-104 itself consists of a wireless transmitter and a USB receiver that plugs into the Windows 7 computer.  Biting the switch triggers the AT-104 to send a Page Down (PgDn) keyboard command to turn the digital page.

Some might think this sounds pretty far-fetched (a polite way of saying “gross”), or might wonder how visually intrusive such an approach might be.  I’ll let you be the judge of that yourself:

The AT-104 transmitter rests in Bob’s shirt pocket.  Biting the switch requires a firm squeeze, but since the human jaw is the strongest muscle, it’s surprisingly easy.  The switch itself is curved in such a way that it rests in the mouth with no danger of being swallowed (and there’s a cable to yank the pesky switch out of your esophagus in case the unthinkable happens).  And the action is so subtle, no one can see how the pages are being turned.

Here’s another look at the One Good Turn computer system with MusicReader PDF 4 displaying 2 pages of music and the AirTurn AT-104 with bite switch:

And as a non-book/blog-only bonus, here’s a video interview with Bob Bell demonstrating his system.