Part 2: The iPad goes to a gig

So just what can the ipad do for you on a gig? Well,  you can fit all the sheet music you could possibly want on the longest job on something you can easily hold in one hand, for one thing. And it can also replace your electronic tuner, stand light, watch, and calendar. It can help make sure you don’t get lost on the way to the gig. You can take credit cards from forgetful brides, so you don’t have to wait around while someone runs back to the room for the checkbook, without the hassle and expense of setting a merchant account. You can even include a book to read or a movie to watch on your break.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yeah, it’s totally wonderful, except when it’s not. Playing from an iPad is different in a lot of ways, and you definitely want to practice with it before you head out the door. For one thing, music on the iPad is smaller than a printed score. Sometimes a lot smaller. Here’s the same page in print next to the iPad rendering, so you can get an idea of the difference:

printed sheet music compared to iPad version
Click for a larger version.

As you can see, if you’ve got great eyesight or really good glasses, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re like me, in the years where you need glasses for regular reading but not yet for reading what’s on the stand, it’s a dilemma. Vanity or vision? Of course, if you turn the iPad sideways, the notes are back to nearly normal size, but you have a whole lot of scrolling to do to get through a page:

music on the ipad turned sideways
Now the music is larger, but there's a lot less of it.

So while this is useful when you’re practicing hard on a couple of measures, for most people sideways isn’t going to work so well on the gig.

Another consideration is that you can only see one page at a time. If you play a single-line instrument where much of your music is only one page long  this isn’t much of an issue, or even if you play a keyboard instrument where you can turn with either hand. But for harpists, (we can only turn pages with the left hand because of where the stand is placed relative to the harp), it’s something to think about.

On the other hand, you just tap or swipe to turn the page, so turning is a lot faster, especially compared to trying to turn in windy conditions with page clips everywhere. And there’s a nifty bluetooth foot pedal that lets you turn without taking your hands off the strings. (More on that in a later post.)

The biggest problem with the iPad, though, is the screen itself. It’s great in dim light. You don’t need a stand light anymore, and it can put out enough light to illuminate your strings, too. For lever harpists, it’s borderline okay for finding your levers, even on a high-headed style harp. (For non-harpists, the lever harp is called that because the strings have  hand levers you flip to change the pitch of a string to make sharps and flats. The pedal harp has, you guessed it,  a series of foot pedals for this.)

But in bright light? Well that’s a whole ‘nother story. Those Kindle ads aren’t kidding when they make fun of how impossible it is to see the iPad in full sunshine. The screen washes out badly, making it almost useless for what would otherwise be its best musical use–those miserable outdoor jobs where the sun is beating down and there’s a semi-gale blowing. Even if you are stern and insistent with your clients about shade, that’s not always a complete solution:

the ipad in reflected light
When glare happens. This is inside in a fairly dim room with bright sunshine outside the sliding doors.

Reflected glare can be really, really bad with that shiny screen. I’ve tried several different anti-glare films on my iPad. They work great on the iPod, but even the best of them, the one from Power Support, isn’t enough of a help on the iPad. The glare just becomes more diffuse, but it’s still there. I wound up removing the film altogether, partly because the iPad seemed to run warmer with the film on it. You do get a little used to glare after a while, but I sure wouldn’t want to be sight-reading in a glare-ish location.

Ironically, though, all those customers who can’t understand at all why a very expensive instrument needs to be out of the sun are invariably totally cooperative when I say, “But my iPad needs to be in the shade.” That they get immediately. I’ve never once had a client refuse to move me to the shade for the sake of the iPad, for all that they’ll always argue and roll their eyes about getting the harp itself out of the sun.

Another point about the iPad is that it’s rather heavy for its size. You definitely want a good solid stand if you’re going to use it, rather than a cheap folding wire stand, or anything prone to twisting around when bumped. I love my Anderson music stand, but a plain old Manhasset should be fine, too, or any sturdy wooden stand. If you already have mic stands around, you can just get the iKlip or the GigEasy, but I don’t want to lug something as hefty as a mic stand everywhere I go.

So while it’s far from ideal, I love having the iPad on a gig, with certain limitations. I don’t want to sightread music that size, even in ideal lighting conditions, for one thing, and I’m not crazy about it for ensemble scores with more than one cue line.

But it’s definitely the future and it can be very, very convenient compared to lugging around twenty pounds of sheet music. And it’s wonderful to have all your music with you, so that when you’ve only been hired to play classical for the ceremony and they ask you afterwards to stay for the reception since the DJ didn’t show up, you can just tap your screen to break out the Bruno Mars or whatever. And I find that clients really like it that there’s no need to have the tunes bag and the purse and anything else that might be necessary cluttering up the floor nearby.

I don’t think I’d buy an iPad today, though, especially not for use as a music reader. There are lots of rumors that the next version of the iPad, which is probably only a couple of months away at most, will be lighter weight and have a less shiny screen. There’s also a rumor that it will have a smaller bezel area, but I don’t believe that one. While the iPad would be absolutely perfect for music reading if you could expand the working area to include all that black space around the edges of the  screen, losing the bezel width would be pretty annoying for a lot non-music uses.

But it’s really all about the apps. Those are what make the iPad so pleasant to use. Next time, I’ll tell you about my favorite music organizing apps and about how to get sheet music onto the  iPad.

EDIT: Oh yeah, I forgot. A couple of people have emailed me to ask how long the iPad battery lasts. For me, it’s close to ten hours on one charge, as long as I turn off Push notifications, so it will get you through the longest day of gigging.

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