NETEM: Supporting Musical Ensembles with Synchronised Digital Scores

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music


The aim of this project is to enable the public release and long-term support of software prototypes developed during the NETEM research project, thereby vastly increasing the impact and dissemination of the research.

The NETEM ('Networking Technology and the Experience of Ensemble Music-making') project asked whether a wireless network of tablet computers could be transformative to the experience of musical ensemble playing. To explore this question, we developed two apps for Apple's iPad: NETEM Conductor and NETEM Performer. These apps display musical scores in the place of conventional paper scores, and synchronise the performers' scores with the conductors score. With synchronised scores, musicians cannot lose their place in the music. This reduces stress and increases confidence, enabling the whole ensemble to focus on musicality. It also enables access to ensemble music for less experienced musicians, and supports ensembles with performers of varied abilities.

The NETEM project followed a participatory ethos, and the apps were developed with regular testing and feedback from a primary school orchestra and with a varied set of local musical ensembles, musicians and conductors. Feedback from these groups has demonstrated that the NETEM apps would be valuable to many musical ensembles. The apps in their current form are research prototypes, designed for the NETEM research project, and to be used with the support of the research team. They lack some user interface features and basic functions that everyday users would normally expect from a public release. Users without specific technical expertise may find them difficult to use. This project will develop the apps from research prototypes into consumer quality releases, following a clearly defined specification of new features that need to be implemented. We will also build an online community hub to support users. We will make the apps available to a wide user-base by creating a new version for Android in addition to iOS. Building on the rich participatory ethos established with the initial project, we have organised frequent testing sessions with a student ensemble and with our partner ensembles: Lewes Concert Orchestra, Dorothy Stringer Secondary School Orchestra and Community Music for All Sussex.

A core concern of this project is to ensure longevity of the outputs, beyond the lifetime of this and future research grants. To achieve this, we are collaborating with Sussex Innovation Centre (SInC), a business support hub at the University of Sussex. SInC are conducting market research within the UK education sector and with community orchestras, and are identifying structures and organisations that will help us engage with stakeholders in these sectors. They will work with us to create a plan for setting up a company to support the apps and the community of app users. The company will operate with sustainability and affordability as its priorities. Revenue will pay for future updates and repairs to the software, and for long-term support for the community of users. Our collaboration with SInC is supported by a £5,000 grant from the University of Sussex Enterprise Panel, and will lay the foundations for an ongoing partnership through the company we form.

The apps will be released in spring 2017, with a public launch event in London. At the event, members of the public of any musical skill level will be able to take part in an ensemble rehearsal and performance with professional musicians, supported and enabled by the software. A similar event will follow at Edinburgh Science Festival.

Planned Impact

The initial geographic scope of this project is UK audiences; in the long-term, having established a UK user base, we will reach out to international communities. Our main users will be stakeholders in classical and contemporary musical ensembles in community and educational settings. Impact will also be seen beyond these groups, for professional ensembles, music teachers, composers, non-classical groups, and non-musicians who have an interest in ensemble music.

For less experienced musicians in school ensembles, the software will support and reduce stress in musicians who struggle with reading scores and keeping in place with the rest of the ensemble. In the short term, this will lower the bar of entry to ensemble playing to these users. In the medium term, this is likely to improve their confidence in playing, and eventually be reflected in their general musical skill level. More experienced musicians in school ensembles will benefit from improved flow and cohesion in rehearsals where the group as a whole can concentrate on musicality with the support of the software. This improved flow will benefit ensemble leaders who will need to spend significantly less time aiding players with score following, therefore freeing more time for other aspects of rehearsal. Ensemble leaders will benefit from access to a library of free scores, developed during research and prepared for release during the follow-on period; scores include new compositions and original arrangements of some tracks featured in the BBC's Ten Pieces therefore benefiting from high recognition factor. Students will gain from the cognitive, social and well being benefits that research has shown are attributable to involvement in ensemble playing. Schools will receive economic gains, with free access to a collection of scores.

Community musical ensembles will benefit in similar ways to schools, with the software allowing access to ensembles for less experienced musicians, and supporting them in rehearsals and performance. For professional ensembles, the software offers an opportunity to collaborate with non-professional players, as demonstrated by our workshop events run as part of the NETEM project. For all ensembles, the software will aid flow in rehearsals by removing pragmatic concerns over managing, navigating and archiving paper scores. Furthermore, with the NETEM system, musicians can see any instrument part, giving flexibility in switching to easier or harder parts, or experimenting with other scores. We will benefit from the expert marketing research support provided Sussex Innovation Centre to ensure the most effective marketing to schools and community ensembles running on limited budgets.

Music teachers can benefit from the system, using it as an educational support tool for students learning to read music. It can also support duets between teacher and student. Composers will have a new distribution channel and a new community of users for their scores. The apps will offer an opportunity for musicians who do not work primarily with fully notated scores (pop, rock, jazz etc.), to collaborate with classical musicians. We have already successfully demonstrated this feature in sessions that brought together a contemporary music ensemble with rock musicians. The software can support non-musicians who are interested in trying ensemble music, as we have seen in our Brighton Science Festival workshop event.

All users will benefit from the online community, which will be actively supported by the company we will form with SInC. Users will have access to tutorials, reference materials and forum discussions, and will be able to share and access free scores.


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Description The major outcomes of the project have been the development and release of our software, formation of a company to support it and continuing engagement with educational and community users. Further to this, we have demonstrated the software in public performances and workshops. Beyond the end of the project, the company, Syncphonia, continues to engage with users, support future development of the software, and identify paths to wider adoption. We have completed a phase of gathering feedback through school trials, and decisions concerning future directions of the project are currently in process. We have been collaborating with a local software company on upgrades to the user interface. Syncphonia has been endorsed by multiple UK music service leads, the Association of British Orchestras, and other key industry music stakeholders including Peters Edition, and teachers in five UK regions. Further software development has also been recently funded by the university.
Exploitation Route The outcomes are being taken forward by our company Syncphonia. This company was initially supported by an additional one-year grant from the University of Sussex Enterprise Panel, with which we employed a part-time programmer and a part-time brand ambassador who organised trials in schools and engaged with industry stakeholders. The system has successfully been used in local schools and community music organisations, with positive feedback. We are currently looking at ways to continue to sustain the availability of research outputs so that they are supported and available to schools and ensembles. The software is currently available for free on the iOS app store.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

Description This was an impact and engagement project, designed to bring our research prototype software into commercially and publicly releasable form, and to form a company to support its development in the long term. During the project and following from it, we have engaged with the public through press conferences, music workshops and performances, trade shows, through apps and app stores, and through dialogue with schools and third sector organisations. Following a September 2017 press release event at University of Sussex, the two apps, Syncphonia Conductor and Syncphonia Performer, have been available free of charge on the Apple App Store. An Android version of the Performer app was also created, although recently we have not had the capacity to keep this updated. Our organisation, Syncphonia, engaged with potential users through a series of software trials where we received feedback on the software and how best to build a business model to support it in the future. Feedback from schools and from interested parties at trade shows have shown significant excitement about the software, and we have had interest from schools internationally. Our event at the British Science festival demonstrated the utility of the system for allowing mixed experience musicians to play together in ensembles, lowering the bar of entry; in this case it allows players with no musical experience at all to engage in ensemble playing. The system has been in use also by experienced musicians, with a successful performance by Lewes Concert Orchestra. It was also used to support a performance of the 40 part Spem in Alium by Tallis, with 16 iPads with Syncphonia spread amongst the five choirs. Trials with schools and community ensembles have continued, and are helping to identify technological and commercial barriers to wider adoption. The project was chosen as an Impact Case Study for REF2021. We have recently released v3.0 in late 2020, packaged with 36 scores including GCSE and A-Level set works, and is available for free on the Apple app store. We are currently looking at the next step for Syncphonia and evaluating future funded or open source models.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description University of Sussex Enterprise Funding
Amount £31,634 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sussex 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 07/2018
Title syncphonia apps 
Description The main outcome of the project was the development of our research prototype into commercial software. This software is now available on the app store, as Syncphonia Conductor and Syncphonia Performer. It was released in sept 2017 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The software has been used successfully in schools, and we are developing it further through our recent enterprise panel funding. 
Description expolondon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We presented Syncphonia at the Music and Drama Education Expo in London. We made contacts with educators, third sector organisations and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description expomanchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We presented Syncphonia at the Music and Drama Education Expo in Manchester. Through this event, we made contacts with schools and third sector music organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description science festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We ran an event 'orchestra hero' as part of the British Science Festival in Brighton, UK. This event used the Syncphonia system to enable members of the public with no musical experience to take part in an orchestra performance with professional musicians. Approximately 15 members of the public took part, along with a selection of local musicians and a conductor who is an advocate of our software. The event was reported to be successful by participants who clearly enjoyed the opportunity for the new experience. After the session, we had some interesting group discussion and received useful feedback on the design of the software.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description syncphonia release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held a very well attended press-conference to launch our software, Syncphonia. During the press conference, we demoed the software with a small ensemble, and spent a while taking some very interesting questions from journalists from a range of media outlets. This resulted in several articles in the press, and a radio interview on Australian ABC channel Following the launch, we received numerous requests for information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017