A little over four years ago I wrote an article defending my decision to not yet use a tablet computer for music reading, ending with the following words:
Again, I am sure that at some point in the not-too-distant future reading sheet music from tablet computers will be the usual practice. Nevertheless, until some standardization in the software applications used for this purpose occurs—particularly for marking parts for musical enhancements and avoiding errors—I remain unconvinced that the time has arrived. When such industry standard applications emerge I will be more willing to overcome my other two objections and join the “Sheet Music on iPad Revolution.”
Well, last year I decided to end my Luddism and begin performing and teaching using an iPad. I began in the summer of 2018 with a 9.7-inch device, but was able to upgrade to a used 12.9-inch iPad Pro a few months ago for even greater visibility. So far I have been very happy with the change, particularly as I now rarely have to travel with large binders or folders of sheet music. The more streamlined appearance at recitals is also a plus, with the iPad stand obstructing the audience’s view less than a music stand. I still have yet to digitize a large segment of my paper music library, a lack which remains the most serious drawback of this effort. However, as “sheet music” purchasing becomes increasingly digital and wifi access to cloud-based storage systems nearly ubiquitous, many of the concerns that prompted my initial reticence to adopt the iPad as a music-reading device have been alleviated.
The app that has been most helpful in this endeavor is called Forscore. I mentioned in my article four years ago that I saw the inability to efficiently mark music to correct and avoid errors was a serious drawback of reading from tablets, a problem that this app addresses very well. Accidentals and other markings are easily inserted using a tap-and-drag placement method that is very intuitive, and can be done in different colors in order to best draw attention (red seems to be the usual choice). Additional markings can be made using a finger, stylus, or Apple Pencil, including writing or highlighting in multiple colors. My parts now are rather colorful, with corrections indicated in a way that immediately draws my attention. Page turns can be done by hand or with a Bluetooth pedal, and can be configured for half or full page turns at each swipe or tap. My only complaint about this app is that scores and parts have to be loaded into it manually from the cloud drive and metadata entered for indexing; in some ways this resembles the way one would organize music for a recordings library like iTunes rather than a sheet music library. Nevertheless, Forscore seems to have emerged as an industry standard in this area, and its functionality more than makes up for this one oddity.
A further complaint about Forscore is that it is available only in iOS. In fact, that is a common issue with music-related mobile apps. While I have become rather fond of my Samsung smartphone, I have retained an Apple tablet because the software I use for my work is available only in that system. Additionally, Android tablets tend to be shaped more for viewing widescreen movies and videos than for documents. Perhaps one day music reading won’t be an iOS-only endeavor, but for now that seems to largely be the case.
Regarding other accessories, the most important is my PageFlip Firefly Bluetooth pedal, which I use to turn pages when playing. This device connects easily, has extremely long battery life, and simply works. I have seen and heard others complain about their page-turning pedals from other makers sometimes being a bit touch-and-go but that has not been my experience at all with this device. Highly recommended.
I’ll mention one more app before leaving this post, one that is not directly related to music reading per se but has been extremely helpful in my practicing and teaching: iRealPro. To put it briefly, if something like this had existed when I was 18 years old I would be a FAR better jazz/commercial/popular musician than I am now. In this app one can download chord changes for thousands of songs, transpose them, change the tempo or style, and explore practically unlimited ideas for practicing and developing style and improvisation. While this app does not have complete lead sheets (i.e. with notes and rhythms in addition to chord changes), paired with lead sheets from The Real Book or other sources it is a formidable resource. And, unlike Forscore, it works on both iOS and Android.
I knew when I wrote that 2015 article that at some point I would join the “Sheet Music on iPad Revolution.” I’ve been there for a while now, and so far I’m liking it. In fact, I need to go and check the charge on the batteries: I’m going to be conducting a rehearsal using the iPad in a few minutes.