Part 7: Hands-free Page Turns

Although the iPad is really, really handy to have, turning pages while you play can be seriously annoying. Since the iPad only shows one page at a time, you have twice as many turns as you do with printed music and it takes some heavy-duty practice to get good this, especially if you’re a harpist and so can only use your left hand for page turns.

The AirTurn BT-105

I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing until AirTurn came out with their BT-105 unit, which provides a Bluetooth foot pedal for turning pages. The actual BT-105 is just a tad larger than your car remote, and you can hook up one pedal or two (one for forward, one for back).

airturn BT-105 with pedals
The AirTurn BT-105 with two pedals (image courtesy AirTurn)

This makes all the difference in the world, let me tell you. You just tap the pedal to turn the page–no need to take your hands off the strings at all. They sell their own pedals (foot switches), which are very low profile and available in either black or clear. I have one of each, since I thought the clear one might be less obvious on a job but was worried that it might scratch more. I have to say that the black pedal isn’t really any more obtrusive, and so far neither has scratched, even on my sandy beach house floor.

They also sell a much more bulky pedal made by BOSS, which they say is better for surfaces like spongy carpet and grass, but I can’t say I have any trouble with the slimmer pedal on either. The only downsides are that the pedal can be a tad clickety on uneven tile sometimes, and the iPad sees the AirTurn as an external Bluetooth keyboard, so you can’t use the onscreen keyboard till you turn off the AirTurn or disable Bluetooth. Also, it only works with apps whose developers have taken steps to ensure that it does. So while it’s dandy with forScore, the Musicnotes app doesn’t even know it’s there, and you can’t use it to avoid touching your iPad with messy fingers while using your cookbook app  either. There’s a list of compatible apps on the AirTurn website.

Although I have two pedals, I find that I mostly just use the one for forward turns and use in-score links for Da Capos and repeats rather than the back-turning pedal. If you’re a lever harpist the AirTurn is a complete no-brainer, but it’s considerably trickier if you play pedal harp. First of all, it’s hard to find a really good spot for it with all those pedals down there already, and it’s a good long reach to get to it, no matter where you put it. Personally, I find it extremely distracting when playing a complicated pedal piece I’ve known for years, but fine for things where my feet aren’t already completely set on what to do.

Battery life is excellent. You can forget and leave it on for a couple of days and it still works. Airturn says 100 hours of standby time, but I’ve never really  measured it. It’s a lot, anyway. The downside is that it only charges via USB. They suggest that a cellphone charger may fit the mini-USB port on the BT-105, but they must have different devices than I do. I couldn’t find a single mini-USB cable that fit exactly right. Still, the fact that the charge lasts so long means it’s not as much of an issue as it might otherwise be.

If you’re going to use an iPad for music, you want one of these, no question. And that’s the only other problem: they can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand, so you may have to wait a while after placing your order before it arrives. The BT-105 by itself is $79. Pedals are $30 each, available from their website.

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6