A lot of folks have been asking me about which iPad they should get. The answer is that it depends. Only you can decide whether the extra expense of a data plan is worth it to you, so I can’t help much with that part.
As for whether to get the New iPad or the iPad 2, I have the original iPad and the New iPad. Everything they say about the new screen is true, but in most real life situations I don’t find that it makes all that much difference unless you’re a major pixel peeper. (Yes, I know lots of people disagree–I guess it depends on how you use it.) For music reading in particular, the only major advantage to the newer model is that the angle of view is much better–you can see what’s the screen more easily when it’s not dead on straight to you than you can with the original iPad, and it does get brighter, too. But for reading PDF sheet music, I can’t really say I see a lot of difference in the way things look on the better screen. I’ve read several articles saying that text is amazingly, hugely better, but I just don’t see that, honestly. Yes, there’s a difference, but it’s not as enormous a difference as the hype machine would have you believe.
I do find the color rendering is sometimes a bit peculiar with the new super screen, which can be over saturated and unrealistic looking at times. Night scenes in video are particularly noticeable–the highest budget film can look like the lighting budget was in the hundreds of dollars sometimes. I guess you could argue that it’s actually more realistic, since it looks like people acting under artificial lighting, which is just what it is, but it’s not always exactly pleasing.
It’s true that it gets a bit warm, but if you have a case this is pretty much of a non-issue. It seems like the battery life is less than on the older model, but in real life it’s pretty close.
I ran a test, running movies continuously at maximum brightness with the sound, push notifications, and bluetooth all turned off. I started at 10:17 AM, and the New iPad went to sleep at 6:05 pm and the iPad 1 at 6:22–pretty close considering how much more screen the new one is driving. Of course, it takes a lot longer to fully recharge the New iPad, not surprising considering the size of the battery.
So if you’re a musician, which one do I recommend? I think your best bang for the buck right now is to get a new iPad 2. Apple cut the price on this model so it would be a real bargain anyway, and there are several reports that it has hugely improved battery life in the current iteration. With a starting price of $399, you really can’t go wrong.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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):
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
Harpist, arranger, and music publisher, Barbara is also a Mac fan and the author of the Missing Manual books for Photoshop Elements.
Because of spam attacks I've had to disable the contact form, but if you want to reach me, email me at barbATbarbarabrundage.com, only substitute @ for the AT in the address.