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Smooth Criminal Piano Notes Letters – Even before Apple announced the iPad, seeing the first Amazon Kindle made me excited for the day I could leave my huge stack of music scores at home. Since then, many hardware and software products have come and gone to serve the (mostly) enthusiastic but niche market of musicians who want to read digital scores.
Since the introduction of that first iPad in 2010, musicians have been using unique responsive screens and reliable software in rehearsals and performances. With high-resolution displays on iPads in 2012, the larger-screened iPad Pros in 2015, and the revised 2018 iPad Pros now in 11- and 12.9-inch displays, there’s never been a better time for musicians to go paperless.
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I spent time with each of the leading iPad score reader apps — FourScore, Newzic, Nkoda, Blackbinder, and PiScore — to assess the current state of the category and help musicians decide which options best suit their needs.
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I am a composer and university music educator In my work, I see many scores in the classroom, in lessons, rehearsals and performances I’ve worked as a trumpet player and conductor using an iPad, and I’ve been using an iPad as a primary (though not exclusive) teaching computer since 2015. And the iPad’s use as a music and music-teaching tool has expanded to extend classroom teaching.
My current iPad setup, and the one I test most extensively, is a 12.9-inch 2018 iPad Pro (third generation) with an Apple Pencil (second generation).
I cannot overstate the importance of the Apple Pencil in my workflow Yes, it is very expensive However, the functionality of an active stylus includes extremely low-latency input, pressure and tilt sensitivity, and most importantly, palm rejection (allowing you to rest your hand on the screen as if writing on paper). There are no third-party styluses that can come close to matching it for its functionality.
Having said that, there is nothing about reading scores that requires the highest-end or latest hardware available. I used all of these apps on my previous 2015-model iPad Pro, and they work great on my 2014 iPad Air 2.
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In choosing an iPad for music, the most important factor for me is the screen size I don’t need to be reminded
Readers tend to print music on large paper sizes that are cumbersome, so the bigger the screen, the better. I recommend at least one step bump from the base-level of storage, especially if you expect to use your iPad for anything other than reading scores and parts.
This article is written for musicians who currently use iPads for fun or work, but have not yet committed to using an iPad to replace most or all of their work with paper materials for rehearsal or performance. It may also be useful for those considering the purchase of an iPad to use for reading scores and interested in some of the benefits of digital display materials.
Finally, I hope that those of you who are currently using an app will learn more about the other options that I will discuss and learn something new about an app that you are currently using. This is a mature app category, and there are some amazing and powerful options available
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This article is not going to discuss any other apps that may be available for other platforms (especially Windows tablets), nor will it discuss a handful of hardware platforms (such as GVIDO) that are specifically designed for it.
In my experience working with musicians, it’s rare to find someone using a Windows tablet for reading scores (although I’m sure I’m going to hear from both of you now). The larger screen sizes available are certainly attractive, but the score reading software options are not as mature, and the operating system is not as reliable, due to all the other software that will run with a score reader. Hardware score readers certainly look great, but they’re too expensive for personal purchase, and not as useful for other tasks, like an iPad or Windows tablet.
Every musician will have a different use case for a score-reading app Some players may have a large collection of lead sheets that they need to pull out at short notice, while others may have a small collection of large orchestral scores. Some musicians may update their libraries with new works or editions, while others may return to a small number of works regularly.
I tried to consider as many of these different use cases as possible, and to that end, I focused on a few broad feature categories:
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One thing I could have considered was the price, but I found that the leading options for power and utility were similar and very reasonable. I would argue that there is such a tolerance for error for software, that anything under $20 is perfectly reasonable – and anything under $10 is a steal.
ForScore is probably the most widely used score reader as of this writing It is certainly widely used among the musicians I know and work with Not that I recommend it for that reason In fact, I started this review to find a competitor that I could recommend However, the more I dug into its feature set, the more impressed I became with ForScore’s depth and power.
Like NewZik and other readers I’ve tested with PiScore, FourScore has several ways to get a score, including Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, and the relatively recent Files app built into iOS 11. Bringing in scores from another app or another device (even a Mac) through the Share Sheet also works great, as does drag-dropping through another app in Split View.
There is an additional feature called Darkroom, which allows you to use your device’s camera to snap pictures of pages of a score. This can be useful in a pinch, but I’d strongly recommend using a dedicated PDF scanning app like Scanner Pro or Scanbot, both of which will do a great job of processing a photograph that looks like a document.
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The file handling feature I like best in FourScore is the powerful metadata options it provides for organizing your scores. With the basics of title and composition, works can be tagged in any number of ways that can later be used to organize large numbers of files. The tagging system may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but all fields are optional, and it’s this flexibility that sets Score’s organization features above the competition.
Along with archive organization, forScore allows users to bookmark certain sections of large works This is useful for scores that may include many movements, or score documents that are collections of smaller works, such as art songs or lead sheets. What’s unique about ForScore bookmarks compared to what’s found in NewZik is that ForScore bookmarks have an explanation.
This becomes even more powerful when creating set lists Most of the apps I’ve tested have some form of creating a set list (or playlist) that organizes the score in a specific order to quickly jump from one piece to another in a performance. forScore allows not only adding scores to a set list, but also adding bookmarked sections. I can imagine this being particularly useful for arranging a “set list” for a voice recital, where it’s common for a set of small works – sometimes dozens – to be collected in a single volume, even if only a handful can be performed. Just once.
As I wrote above, annotations are an important feature for any score reader Performers need to be able to mark a part immediately in rehearsal, rather than picking up a pencil and marking a piece of paper. Of the apps I tested, FourScore provided the closest approximation of paper notes With Apple Pencil, write in the score as normal Touching the Pencil screen will allow the app to write instantly and continue to allow you to navigate and zoom the document with your hand, just like on paper.
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ForScore has an extensive set of musical symbols that can be used as “stamps” on a score’s notes. These are often common musical instrument symbols such as finger numbers, hairpins and accidentals (It’s not
People.) It’s not a feature I’ve found particularly useful, since it’s a bit slower than drawing or writing by hand, and the reason I’m writing something is because parts of it pop out. Before marking in score If you use these, you may want to consider using them in a color other than black so they stand out more