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, 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.