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Ada-Borup band director Richard Tuttle (top) has digitized most of the sheet music for his elementary and middle school students in his push to altogether eliminate paper sheet music in his classroom. Marino Eccher / The Forum
Ada-Borup band director Richard Tuttle (top) has digitized most of the sheet music for his elementary and middle school students in his push to altogether eliminate paper sheet music in his classroom. Marino Eccher / The Forum

Students 'boot up' for band practice

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Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

ADA, Minn. - The music stands are out, or at least off to one side. The computer monitors are in. And Richard Tuttle's vision of a paperless band classroom is marching toward reality, one digital quarter-note at a time.

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Welcome to the future, the Ada-Borup band director said.

"I think this is where things are going eventually," he said. "Last year, the fifth and sixth grade and the junior high pretty much didn't use paper sheet music."

Tuttle began his drive to go digital last year, when he procured some hand-me-down computers that were bound for storage and paired them with new monitors he scrounged up. Now, his classroom resembles a computer lab strewn with instruments, with the full score projected on a screen overhead.

The machines aren't fancy - just powerful enough to run the music files he converts from paper copies. He's scanned about 35 pieces so far.

The concept is new enough that music publishers don't always know what to make of Tuttle's requests to scan their pieces. "When I talk to them, I have to explain what I want to do because it's so foreign," he said.

But despite the time required to get permission to input the music and then scan it, he said a digital system is ultimately more convenient. There's no more sheet music to put away, leave out or lose. The digital readers can play along with students to guide them; at a few points during Thursday's middle school band session, he cued up digital tracks to help get the band on track.

Count seventh-grader Luke Heitman as a fan.

"I think it's pretty cool," Heitman said. "It's a lot easier than having a binder, and you can also kind of personalize it."

He's referring to the variety of custom color schemes on display in the classroom, from blue notes on an orange background to neon green on black.

Classmate Brooke Ruebke agreed.

"I like it. I think it's a lot different," she said. "You can change the color, make it bigger."

Tuttle is still working out the kinks. He has 14 computers for classes about three times that size and is still tinkering with an ideal arrangement of monitors and cords (to say nothing of chords). Students still use paper sheet music for concerts, and he's still trying to find a way to get the high school pep band on Kindle e-readers or something comparable.

"We have to find grant money for that," he said. "That would be about a $10,000 venture. If we ever get that, it'll be a little more versatile."

But he envisions a future classroom where every student reads music off an electronic tablet - and he's trying to be on the forefront of that curve.

"My hope is that eventually I'll have a whole library of music that we've scanned," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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