Part 5: Tuning with the iPad

This is the fifth part in a look at what the iPad has to offer you if you’re a classical/acoustic musician. The earlier posts are here:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Today’s post is about how to use the iPad as your electronic tuner, but before I get into that, people have been asking me how much space sheet music files take up. Mostly, they’re very small, but things like colored cover art can bump a single piece from a few hundred K up into the megabytes. Here’s a look at the current state of my iPad, with about a hundred gig tunes (average about 4 pages) on it:

relative size of music files on iPad
The circled area includes all my apps and sheet music on a 16 GB iPad. For comparison purposes, there are three full length feature films in the Video section. (Click for larger image.)

So there’s plenty of room for a LOT of music.

One place the App Store really shines is in the number and variety of electronic tuners available there. There are dozens to choose from, including all sorts of specialized guitar tuners, cello tuners, violin tuners, etc. As a harpist, I need a full-range chromatic tuner, and these are my two favorites. They’re both really iPhone/iPod apps, but you can use pixel doubling to enlarge the display, if you want. Even at the 1x size they’re pretty easy to see.


If you like the microscopic accuracy of a strobe tuner, you’ll be in heaven with the iStrobosoft, which gives you a Peterson strobe for a measly ten dollars, and what’s more,  a strobe with the strobe pattern instead of those annoying chasing lights found on the lower end standalone strobes.  You can set your A from 340 Hz to 540 Hz, and you can calibrate to an external source–very handy if you want to set the A from, say, the piano in the hall.

the istrobosoft tuner display
The iStrobosoft. Click for larger image.

As you can see in the image, it tells you the note it hears and just how exactly how many cents flat or sharp you are. The Noise Filter button helps eliminate background noise from the equation (although I will say that since I’ve had the iStrobosoft I now know the exact frequency of the hum from every appliance in my house), and the Input Boost amplifies a soft sound source.

At $9.99, this is one of the most incredible deals in the whole App Store.


On the other hand, if you like a match needle type tuner, this is the one. Bitcount’s Cleartune includes both a rotating wheel display and a fine-tuning meter at the top. With this one, you can tune to 22 different temperaments in addition to the standard equal temperament, and you can even add your own if you need something that’s not already there.

cleartune interface
When the note is in tune, the pointer (yellowish here) turns bright green to let you know. (Click for larger image.)

In addition to all the visual clues, you can also set up Cleartune to act as a pitchpipe if you prefer an audible reference pitch. Cleartune is $3.99 at the app store.

Which of these is better? That depends on what you want. Both are very accurate, and I will say that both suffer from the same major flaw–they’re too darned sensitive when tuning a harp. They respond immediately to sound decay, so you have to be fast to catch the attack. I find them both useful in different situations, but I’m not sure either is  a good choice for a beginning student, who may find the higher tolerances of a dedicated tuner like a Korg easier to use.

The iPad has a built-in mic, and that’s fine for tuning in quiet conditions, but we all know that as soon as you get the cover off the harp, a brass player will appear from nowhere and start warming up. You can still use your old tuner pickup with the iPad. There are several different cables available  that let you connect anything with a quarter-inch plug to the iPad via the headphone jack. I use this one, from Peterson:

peterson connector cable
Just plug the mini-plug into the headphone jack and your tuning pickup into the other end.

It’s not the most deluxe by any means, but it does the job, and it only costs $12.99. (Incidentally, for those of you who’ve asked–the links on these pages aren’t sponsored. I don’t get anything if you click on them; they’re just for your convenience.)

Now that you’ve got the basic equipment, it’s time to consider how to carry it to the gig. Next time: The Happy Owl Clutch.