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How to play sheet music without a piano

November 22, 2013 Leave a comment

[Kelsey Gower has been faithfully contributing descriptions to the Project for some time and is gradually working her way through the scores and creating sound files for them. These will eventually be linked to the images of the sheet music on the What’s the score? platform. Meanwhile, a small selection of Kelsey’s transcriptions can be heard here.]

I found What’s the Score? late last year through Zooniverse. I found the history behind the sheet music fascinating, but I was not satisfied simply describing it. I wanted to hear the music, but aside from a few pieces on the project page and some classical pieces on Youtube I could not find recordings anywhere. Another issue was that I did not have a piano, so I could not play the songs the way I believe they should be played. Luckily, though I didn’t have a piano, I did not have to go searching for one. With some advice and help, I found I could transcribe the sheets in a MIDI creator and play the music on my computer.


A MIDI creator is a program that provides an easy way to annotate instructions to a computer’s sound card in order to produce music. So far, I have transcribed these pieces using the program Noteworthy Composer, which can be used to both produce MIDI files, print sheet music, and preview composed songs. I use the number keys to set note values and accidentals. I press ‘Enter’ to set a note on a specific place on the staff and press ‘Space’ for a rest. It’s a simple though repetitive system. Overall, I find the program easy to use and achieve good results with it. There are limits though – for one piece I needed to improvise a bit when I found that the program does not group quarter notes into quintuplets.


After I finish transcribing a piece of music, I listen to it, make corrections, and export it in MIDI format. From there, I convert the MIDI into an MP3 using a free converter. After that, the file is sent off to the Bodleian. Soon the MP3s will be linked from the songs themselves, and everyone can listen to the music stored in this archive. I currently enjoy making and listening to these songs, and I hope you will enjoy them too.


Kelsey writes about herself:

Kelsey Gower has had an interest in music history for some time. She started transcribing sheet music out of a desire to hear the music she was describing on the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project. Previously she has served in the United States Air Force from 2007-2013 as a linguist. During this time she earned an Associate’s of Arts in Arabic Studies. She is currently planning on attending university for a business degree. Kelsey is also a regular contributor to other Zooniverse projects.

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Who was Adelina Patti?

Image: Patti QuadrillesOne of the new sound files on the What’s the Score? website is of a piece called the Adelina Patti Galop. Among the sheet music selected for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, there are several pieces inspired by this lady, including the galop, The Adelina Patti Polka, The Adelina Waltz and the Patti Quadrilles.

Probably the most famous singer of her time, Adelina Patti has been described as the second most celebrated woman in the world in the year 1900, after Queen Victoria. Born in 1843, into an Italian family of singers while her parents were working in Madrid, she toured the USA as a child prodigy and made her London début at the age of 18 in the demanding role of Amina in Bellini’s La sonnabula. From that point, she dominated the stage at Covent Garden for a quarter of a century, as well as performing in all the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.

Her personal life had a degree of turbulence not unusual in such circles. She married the Marquis de Caux in 1868, the French tenor Ernesto Nicolini in 1886 (after a lengthy affair) and finally the Swedish Baron Rolf Cederström in 1899. A shrewd businesswoman, she could command enormous fees and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1878, she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle and its estate, near Brecon, where she built her own private theatre, a miniature version of La Scala, Bayreuth and Drury Lane, rolled into one. She retired officially in 1906, but continued to make charity performances until the beginning of the First World War. She died at Criag-y-Nos in 1919 at the age of 76.

Although singing was doubtless in her genes and Patti always claimed she was self-taught,
Image; The Adelina Patti Galopshe did receive lessons from family members when she was a child. In her heyday, she was renowned for her astonishing vocal agility and stamina, as well as for the beauty and purity of her tone. Her remarkable vocal technique meant that recordings she made in her 60s, in the early years of the 20th century, do more than hint at what she must have been like in her prime.

John Rosselli, in his book Singers of Italian opera: the history of a profession (CUP, 1992)
describes her in these terms: “The highest paid opera singer in history, in real terms, was probably the soprano Adelina Patti. Her doll-like looks and pure, even vocal emission masked a notable competence in running her career and a will of iron.”


– Listen to the Adelina Patti Galop

– View the score

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What’s the Score at the Bodleian? goes live

The Snails GalopAfter several months of development work and testing by a limited number of users, What’s the score at the Bodleian? is finally being released to the general public today. The Bodleian Libraries are enlisting the help of the public in this experimental project to help improve access to parts of their music collections. A selection of unbound and uncatalogued piano sheet music from the mid-Victorian period has been digitised and people are asked to submit descriptions of the scores by transcribing the information they see. This will help to make them more readily discoverable online.

The Bodleian has teamed up with Zooniverse, world leaders in crowd-sourcing technology and the people behind various high-profile ‘Citizen Science’ projects, such as Galaxy Zoo and The Milky Way Project. They have recently branched out from purely astronomical subjects into other areas, with projects like Old Weather and Ancient Lives, and have adapted their software in order to present our music scores for the gathering of crowd-sourced data ( In conjunction with this, the Bodleian has developed a website which will contain the digitised scores and descriptive information about them ( Data collected from crowd-sourcing will eventually feed into this database, to add to the basic metadata already there, making the collection searchable and available for the first time.

The Jubilee WaltzesThe music selected for this project has never been catalogued by the Library so has not been readily available to users. Although music of this kind was considered to have little academic value at the time of receipt, it can now offer an insight into the nature of amateur music-making during the Victorian period and reveal something of the social history of the time. Many of the scores have attractively illustrated covers which are a subject of study in their own right.

This project may lead in future to the Libraries exploring further ways in which members of the public, who may be experts in particular fields, can be encouraged to enrich the existing catalogues and other finding aids by contributing additional information about the collections.

So, please sign up and become a contributor (

For more information about the project, see

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