Part 3: Apps for your sheet music

Once you have your iPad, the next thing is to decide what app(s) you want to use for storing and organizing your sheet music. For the most part you want to have your music in PDF format, and a lot of people bumble along with one of the generic PDF readers like GoodReader or iBooks, but you’re really missing out on a lot of useful musician’s tools if you do that.

(If you missed the earlier posts, you can go to Part 1 or Part 2 of this series to get caught up.)

You’ll find a slew of dedicated music readers in the App Store. My favorite is forScore ($4.99), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here, but there are others with somewhat similar feature sets, including Music Reader (free) and Unreal Book ($4.99). What’s great about these apps is that they are designed and built by musicians who created them for their own use, so a lot of thought has gone into making them work well, and development on them is continuing at a blazing rate–there were something like twenty updates to forScore last year, and the iPad didn’t even appear until April.

If you buy music from musicnotes.com, they also have an app that makes it easy to get your purchases onto your iPad. More about that one in my next post.


forScore logoThis is absolutely my all-time favorite iPad app. It’s a wonderfully competent organizer and reader for sheet music PDFs. You can organize your music in various ways (organizer, title, genre) and also create setlists of the tunes you plan to play on a particular job, if you like. You can add keywords and ratings and use those as search terms.

You get all kinds of things, like a web browser, so you can just download a new tune right into forScore when someone requests it during the gig, as long as you can find it in PDF  someplace on the internet (if you have a connection, of course). Normally you can add scores by emailing them or just by dropping them into forScore in iTunes on your computer.

There’s a metronome which can be a regular click metronome, or you can set it to pulse the edges of the page if you want a visual guide. You can even set it to turn the pages of the score for you as you practice.  You can share your scores with other musicians in your group via Bluetooth, if they also have forScore.

And yes, you can mark up your  music. You can write with your finger or a stylus, or there are what forScore calls “stamps” which let you put in things like fingering numbers just by touching where you want them to go. (But I have to admit I can never get those stupid numbers right where I want them.)

It would take pages and pages to go into everything that you can do in forScore, but here are some of my favorite things:

  • You can set it to go from one tune in your setlist  to the next just by turning the page, so you don’t have to go back into the menus again to get to the next piece.
turn pages in forscore for ipad
How it works: This shows where you touch to navigate. Tap or swipe in the right zone to go forwards, in the left zone to turn backwards, or touch the middle to bring up the controls.
  • Da capos, repeats, etc. are a dream with forScore. You can set up links in your score which appear as a transparent blue button. Tap that button and wham! you’re right back where you wanted to be, no matter how many pages back it was. The score even flashes orange twice in the exact spot so you can find it quickly. I LOVE this! I’ll try to get a video put up showing how it works, but in the meantime here’s a screenshot of the blue button:
button for repeats in forscore
Just tap the blue button, and you're back to the start of the repeat, no matter how many pages back it may be. (click for larger image)
  • Margin adjustment. Use a slider to expand the view of a file so that the notes fill the available screen space. You can also pinch a page to enlarge it, but when you use the margin slider, forScore remembers them and keeps the score at that size. forScore also remembers where you left off last time, so the next time you launch forScore or the next time you go to a particular piece, you’re right where you were.

It’s not absolutely perfect. Since the last major operating system update, iOS 4, page turns on really large PDF files can be slow sometimes. It’s mostly very reliable, but I have had forScore quit on me two or three times, which is really disconcerting in mid-piece, even though it’s only a couple of taps to get back to where you were. (Tip: It’s a very good idea to power cycle your iPad after a forScore update or even after adding a large number of new files. That pretty much avoids the quitting.)

There are still a few features that it doesn’t have. You can’t adjust the margins independently instead of globally enlarging a score, which would be useful for scans of printed music since they usually have uneven margins.  (This is evidently pretty hard to include, according to the developer, and there’s a workaround on the forscore website but it’s a pain and not worth the effort it requires, in my opinion.)

My main want, though, is a Bride button. By this, I mean a button something like the one used for an in-score link (shown above), only this one would float over all the pieces in a set, so that at any moment you can jump to a particular tune in the set. I’d like this for those situations where you’re playing the prelude,  the wedding coordinator comes out and says it will be ten more minutes, and you look up 30 seconds later and there are bridesmaids on the horizon. (Yeah, that’s no biggie if it’s Pachelbel, but when the bride requests something like Noel Coward’s “Zigeuner,” it would be very, very handy.)

Finally, the documentation never quite keeps up with the app itself. Given how quickly features are being added it’s not surprising, but it is sometimes annoying. forScore is far from unique in this, though, and it does have the best manual of any of the music reading apps I’ve found.

To me, forScore is the single best app for sheet music viewing. There’s a lot of feature copying going on among all these competing apps, and this is a good thing for iPad owners, but to me the interface and organizational features of forScore make it the one to get. On the other hand, given how cheap the apps are, you should probably download several and see which one works best for you. You won’t go far wrong with any of them.

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.

The iPad for Acoustic Musicians Part 1

You know, probably the biggest surprise I had in the past year was my iPad. I bought one very reluctantly when they first appeared, thinking that I was investing in a necessary but tiresome tool for authors who want to continue to be authors. (For those who only know me as a musician, I have another life writing books about tech-y things like Photoshop Elements software.)

I was absolutely astounded at how instead it’s wound up becoming my favorite gig tool ever. There’s a lot of stuff written about the iPad for electronic music and electric guitar players, but even for classical musicians the iPad is becoming a gotta-have. It’s let me go from lugging all this to a gig:

musician's gig stuff
What I used to bring: Big bag 'o tunes, purse, stand light, tuner

to bringing only this:

Happy Owl clutch
This small clutch replaces everything in the photo above (and yes, the two images are to scale--check the tile lines).

and let me tell you, when you also have haul a harp around, that makes a big ol’ difference.

When things work out, the iPad is the best gig resource ever, but unfortunately there are some issues, too. In the next few days I’ll go over just how I use mine. I’m a harpist, and we have some special considerations (page turns are harder for us than for most instruments, for example), but even if you play flute or acoustic guitar or whatever, pretty nearly everything will apply and I hope be useful for you, too.

I never expected to love the iPad so much for music. (Ironically, for a technical author there are still puh-lenty of issues with digital publishing, alas.)

Next time: The iPad itself: what’s hot and what’s not when you’re on a gig.

Transfer Video and Photos from iPod Touch to iPad

Several people have asked me if it’s possible to transfer videos shot with the new iPod Touch directly to an iPad, and yes, you can do this very easily. (It works the same way for photos taken with the iPod’s camera.) Here’s how:

What you need: your iPod, your iPad, the charging cable for the iPod, and the piece of the iPad Camera Connection Kit with the USB port (not the one with the card slot).

How to Do It

Your iPod videos actually appear in the Photos app, in a Camera Roll, if you don’t know where to look for them, but it doesn’t really matter, since the iPad will find them for you.

1. Connect the charging cable to the iPod, and then plug it into the USB port on the Camera Connection Kit piece. It’s a good idea to make sure that both the iPod and the iPad are well charged up, especially if you have a lot of videos/photos to transfer. Both should be turned on.

2. Connect the Camera Connection Kit piece to the iPad and wait a minute. The more stuff you have on your iPod the longer it will take to read it, but usually it doesn’t take terribly long. If you wait a minute or more and nothing happens, check to be sure all the connections are solid. (I couldn’t get a reliable connection while the iPad was in the Apple case, for example.)

3. Your videos (and/or photos) appear on the iPad. You can touch the ones you want to import, if you don’t want to copy them all over. Then touch the blue Import button at the upper right of the screen and choose Import All or Import Selected from the pop-out menu. (You don’t have to select videos/photos if you want to copy them all.)

4. While the video is importing a red Cancel Import button replaces the blue Import button, so you can change your mind if you want. When everything has been downloaded, the iPad asks if you want to delete the videos/photos from the iPod. Your call.

That’s all there is to it! Your videos/photos appear in an album in the Photos app on the iPad and you can just disconnect the iPod once you’re done.

A brief video (sorry about the poor quality but all I had to use was my old still camera):