Part 4: Apps for Sheet Music, continued

This the fourth in a series on the iPad for classical/acoustic musicians.

Part 1, part 2, part 3

Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer for iPad

If you ever buy sheet music via download, you know Musicnotes.com, which is pretty much the only authorized source for a lot of the more current tunes. They do provide a free app for use with your purchases, which is fairly handy for you as the musician (no need to waste time scanning and saving as PDF), and handier still for the publishers (no unauthorized copying going on, no sir).

I want to love the Musicnotes app. It has one completely killer feature (transposition), but on the whole, I just don’t like it except for the PDF-creation time it saves. It has a lot of features that seem to be nice but aren’t that well thought out. For instance, when you open the app, you get this nifty coverflow-style view:

musicnotes main page
Cover flow view. (Click for larger image.)

The problem is that every time you open the app, you get the nifty coverflow-style view. It can’t remember where you were last time, and there’s not even an option to open to a simple list view, so it’s scroll city every time.

Since Musicnotes wants ¬†you to use a unique app for their tunes, it ought at a bare minimum to stay where you left it the last time you closed it, since they’re making you switch apps to use other scores. For example, if I have a wedding where the bridesmaids are coming in to the Vivaldi Largo from ‘Winter’, that’s in forScore. But then if the bride is coming in to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by the Verve, that’s in the Musicnotes app, or at least they’d like it to be.

Now that wouldn’t be a really big nuisance if I could get to it quickly enough (tap Home button, tap Musicnotes icon), but instead it’s tap Home button, tap Musicnotes app, scroll madly to find tune, tap tune. That’s a panic-inducing number of taps when you want a quick, smooth transition.

The Musicnotes app does include a set list feature, but I haven’t ever been able to get it to work without crashing and you can’t make the app open directly to a setlist, so I avoid it entirely. Also, once you’re in a tune, there’s no default magnification available for the scores. They come in small and you have to pinch each page to enlarge it to fill the whole screen, and do that again if you turn back while you’re playing. Page navigation is okay, but not great. You see the page numbers arrayed along the bottom of the page and you can jump to a page by tapping its number. (You can see this in the graphic below, if you look carefully.)

Despite all these drawbacks, there’s one feature that makes the Musicnotes app a must-have for anyone who buys sheet music from them. You can download your tune transposed to a number of different keys (but not print them–there’s no printing from this app, unlike forScore):

how to transpose music in musicnotes app
Just tap the Menu button for your choice of keys. (Click for larger version.)

You just tap the Menu button when you have an internet connection and you can choose to download any or all of the alternative key versions for a particular tune. Once they’re on the iPad you can still use them without a connection. If you play lever harp, as I mostly do, this is a wonderfully helpful feature, and it’s also great if you have to accompany soloists, no matter what instrument you play.

Another very nice feature is that the first time you fire up the app and tell it to sync your tunes, it will automatically find every song you’ve ever bought from them. And in my case, some tunes I never did buy. As a harpist I’m 99.995% sure I never had occasion to purchase “Big Rock Candy Mountain” from them (or anyone else) for any reason whatever, but there it is in my song list, along with a few others I know I never bought.

They also send out free tunes each month, a feature about which I’m kind of ambivalent. Mostly they’re not things I have much use for, at least not in their arrangements, but it’s a nice idea and once in a while there is something. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prune those from your main library. It’s show all or nothing for free tunes, which makes the main window even scrollier. And each time you purchase a new song and sync it to the iPad, the free ones all come back again.

When you have an active internet connection you can purchase tunes right from within the app, which is nice, too, but overall I’d prefer they either fixed the app to make it more usable on a gig or else offered the option of downloading a PDF in the first place.

Next time: Tuning with an iPad.

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