Going Digital for Musicians

A guide to working with sheet music paperlessly

Month: July, 2012

Sharyn Byer: A Forward-Looking Flutist

There! I’ve resolved that silly contention between the words “flautist” and “flutist” once and for all!  A guitarist plays the guitar, an organist plays the organ, and a flutist plays the flute.  It simply doesn’t make sense to think of a “flautist” playing a “flaut”, does it? You may disagree with me if you are on the other side of the pond we call the Atlantic ocean, but for right now I’m putting my etymological foot down and sticking to my flutes!

Sharyn Byer, Flutist

Sharyn Byer, Flutist, is another example of a forward-looking musician who enjoys a very active performing and touring life.  Here’s a look at Sharyn’s 4-C setup for her digital sheet music needs.

1. What do you do as a musician?

I graduated from the University of Miami School of Music and am Principle Flute of The Capital City Symphony in Washington, DC. I teach at Columbia Institute of Fine Arts and direct The Columbia Flute Choir (www.columbiaflutechoir.org). I tour with the International Flute Orchestra, and have performed in Europe, Russia, China and South America. I also play in First Light Ensemble and have performed locally in the DC area including at The White House.

2. Why did you switch from paper to digital sheet music?

I love having all my music available on one device, my iPad, and being able to easily take it all with me when I travel. Page turns are no problem with the AirTurn Bluetooth foot pedals! I can keep both hands on my flute at all times!! Dark stages are not a problem, either. I don’t even need a stand light because the scores are back-lit on the iPad! Also, I don’t feel like I’m hiding behind a big music stand because the iPad is so small. I can even position the music as close to me as I want and still see the conductor or the audience!

3. What are your “4-C’s”?
a.Computer (for reading music)?

iPad 2

b. Content (what kind of music do you read and where do you get it from)?

I scan music into my computer and transfer to the forScore app on my iPad through iTunes. I can also open emailed PDFs with the forScore app. Once in forScore, I can store music by title, composer, genre, or keyword. I can even annotate the music and create setlists for different ensembles or performances.

c.Container (do you use any special holders for your computer)?

TheGigEasy & iPad vs. Music Stand

I have two holders that I like. The Gig Easy Mic Stand Mount is very secure and sturdy. I also like the CrisKenna Xclip which is actually the one I travel with because it is less bulky. When I play C flute in First Light Ensemble, I am seated and use the iPad holder on a Mic Stand Concertino. When I play in a symphony orchestra, I use the Mic Stand Concertino with a goose neck extension because I need the iPad a little higher so I can also see the conductor. When I play the Contrabass flute, I need to stand to play so I use both the 13” and the 6” goose necks on the Concertino stand and that works great! I can fit the Concertino and both goose necks in one of my old folding music stand cloth cases and it goes easily in my gig bag. That’s what I used in Croatia this past May with the International Flute Orchestra! If I am playing locally, I can also just use a mic stand but that won’t fit in a carry-on bag for flying!

d. Controller(s) (do you use any special controllers for reading or working with your
digital sheet music)?

I use the AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth transceiver and 2 ATSF-2 foot switches for hands free page turning (I need to keep both hands on my flute!) It works great on any floor surface and I am amazed how long the charge lasts! It is so easy to recharge with the iPad charger, even overseas!

Sharyn Byer, sharyn@flute.pro

Sharyn Byer and the Columbia Flute Choir at The White House


Bob Bell: A Better Page Turner for Organists

For some musicians who need to use both hands – and both feet – to play their instruments, something as simple as turning pages for sheet music can pose considerable challenges. Organists, harpists, and drummers are some examples of musicians who have both hands and both feet constantly in use.

Bob Bell, founder of BCSTech, LLC and organist for his local church, has developed “One Good Turn“, a custom computer system for reading music, which includes an ingenious way for musicians to turn pages – hands AND feet free. Here’s a 4-C look at Bob’s digital sheet music setup and unique page turning solution, the idea for which quite literally “fell out of the sky”!

1. Computer

Bob Bell’s “One Good Turn” system consists of a customized 21-inch touchscreen Windows 7 computer loaded with MusicReader PDF 4. The screen is large enough to display 2 full-sized pages at a time, yet weighs only 8 pounds and can be carried with the help of a carrying case.

2. Content

Bob uses scanned PDF files of his hymnal as well as other miscellaneous choral and organ solo works. As mentioned above, the MusicReader PDF 4 software not only enables him to view his music digitally, but he can also use the software to organize, catalog, and instantly pull up any piece he needs to find, as well as create playlists/setlists for each worship service from his digital library. MusicReader PDF 4 also gives him the ability to mark up his music with color ink and highlights, using his finger to “draw” directly on the Windows-based touchscreen computer (no need to fumble around for blunt pencils or worn-out erasers).

Although 21 inch screen is large enough to display 2 full-sized pages at a time, if necessary, he can also set MusicReader’s viewing option to half a page a time, zooming the music dramatically. This can be a terrific solution for low-vision musicians, not just organists.  We’ll talk more about solutions for low-vision musicians in a future post.

By the way, if you’re looking for a way to have someone else scan your hymnal into a PDF file, BCSTech provides document scanning services ($2 per page at the time of this writing with a 10 page minimum – resulting scanned files will be emailed to the customer, ready to be loaded onto the One Good Turn system).

3. Container

As each organ design is unique, Bob offers custom-made brackets to secure his One Good Turn system safely onto any organ music rack.

4. Controller

The Windows touchscreen computer eliminates the need for any additional pen input devices (although I suppose a soft rubber stylus could be used if drawing with fingers brings back queasy memories of messy smocks from kindergarten).

And now, drumroll please – Ladies and Gentlemen, the “unique page turning solution” you’ve been probably scrolling/skipping down the page to discover:

A bite switch connected to an AirTurn AT-104 wireless USB digital page turner.

AirTurn AT-104 wireless USB page turner with a bite switch

The bite switch was originally designed for sky divers who want to be able to take pictures while plummeting to the earth. Since their hands are flopping and flailing uselessly while buffeted by high velocity air, the bite switch enables them to trigger digital cameras mounted on their helmets hands free.  I never knew that Bob was into sky diving, but thanks to his out-of-the-box (or “out-of-the-plane”?) thinking, he’s been able to adapt this bite switch to trigger digital page turns via the AirTurn AT-104 instead of a pedal or foot switch.

The AirTurn AT-104 itself consists of a wireless transmitter and a USB receiver that plugs into the Windows 7 computer.  Biting the switch triggers the AT-104 to send a Page Down (PgDn) keyboard command to turn the digital page.

Some might think this sounds pretty far-fetched (a polite way of saying “gross”), or might wonder how visually intrusive such an approach might be.  I’ll let you be the judge of that yourself:

The AT-104 transmitter rests in Bob’s shirt pocket.  Biting the switch requires a firm squeeze, but since the human jaw is the strongest muscle, it’s surprisingly easy.  The switch itself is curved in such a way that it rests in the mouth with no danger of being swallowed (and there’s a cable to yank the pesky switch out of your esophagus in case the unthinkable happens).  And the action is so subtle, no one can see how the pages are being turned.

Here’s another look at the One Good Turn computer system with MusicReader PDF 4 displaying 2 pages of music and the AirTurn AT-104 with bite switch:

And as a non-book/blog-only bonus, here’s a video interview with Bob Bell demonstrating his system.

Steve Hoover: Multi-Musician & His 4-C Digital Sheet Music Setup

When I was a youngster, I dabbled with a bunch of different instruments. I tried my hand at playing a little guitar, fooled around with the harmonica, took some lessons on the french horn and even studied the violin semi-seriously for a few years. Frankly, I stuck with the piano because it was the easiest instrument to make a decent sound out of, and I was super lazy about practicing. So when a one-trick pony like me hears about a multifaceted musician like Steve Hoover, my envy streak makes Kermit the Frog look like an albino gecko! Here’s a guy who can do EVERYTHING – he plays the keyboards, bass, trombone, tuba, and he even sings for crying out loud! And that’s just the performing side of his talents!

Here’s a look at Steve Hoover and his 4-C setup for being a digital sheet music musician.

Steve Hoover

1. What do you do as a musician?
I have a degree in Music Ed. From SIU-Edwardsville and I taught music in MO public schools (University City & Ritenour) for 17 years prior to becoming a full-time musician 14 years ago. I am the keyboardist / bassist / MD for the Bob Kuban Band in St. Louis – bobkuban.com – I play keys/bass in a PW band at First Christian Church in my hometown of Edwardsville, IL– and I have my all-Beatles-all-the-time project – The Abbey Road Warriorsabbeyroadwarriors.com – I play bass, keyboard, trombone and sing in that group. I play occasional brass quintet gigs on trombone or tuba. I also write and arrange music for other artist/bands – I’m an avid user of Sibelius – and I have access to a project recording studio.

2. Why did you switch from paper to digital sheet music?

The convenience factor is huge! And being able to turn pages hands-free with AirTurn makes performance so much easier and less stressful. Sometimes it’s tough to get a hand free to physically turn a paper page – AirTurn eliminates that hassle. I keep all the music for my performing groups on my iPad as well as a large library of fake books to cover requests that come up. I also don’t need a music stand light when using the iPad since it provides it’s own illumination. I’ve been using DeepDish GigBook and I’m very happy with it – it does everything I need and in an elegant and logical way.

3. What are your “4-C’s”?

a. Computer (for reading music)?

iPad 2

b. Content (what kind of music do you read and where do you get it from)?

I create my own PDFs from charts I do in Sibelius (a very popular music notation program for Mac and PC computers) – I also scan music to PDF. I sometimes purchase music from Musicnotes.com as well.

c. Container (do you use any special holders for your computer)?

I use TheGigEasy – it’s been awesome – I can place the iPad at the optimum spot and it stays put.

Steve uses TheGigEasy to turn his iPad 2 into a digital sheet music stand.

d. Controller(s) (do you use any special controllers for reading or working with your digital sheet music)?

I use the AirTurn (a wireless page turning pedal for the iPad) – wow, is this thing well built! I have used it 3-4 times a week since I got it – on everything from hardwood, to carpet, to concrete, and it still looks fantastic! And I step on it repeatedly! It has never let me down and has always worked the way it should.

Steve Hoover and the Abbey Road Warriors Band

My 4-C Setup as a Digital Sheet Music Musician

To recap a bit, I described “4 C’s” for what you need to get started as a digital sheet music musician.  These 4 C’s are  as follows:

1. Computer
2. Content
3. Containers
4. Controllers

While I’m waiting for feedback from some of my digital sheet music-using colleagues, I thought I’d start the ball rolling by sharing what my 4 C’s entail (and hopefully giving my colleagues a bit of a template to follow with their submissions, hint hint).

What I Do As A Musician

I’m a collaborative classical pianist (polite-speak for “accompanist”, or “someone that plays nice with others”) that performs with all sorts of musicians, mainly instrumentalists.  I work with a lot of flute players, as well as violinists, violists, and just about any other instrumentalist that you would find in a classical symphony orchestra (and then some).  I’ve played in lots of places around the world and have made a number of recordings, several of which you’ll find on iTunes, Amazon, and other online music resources.  I also work with orchestras – mainly accompanying private rehearsals between the conductor and visiting soloists, but also accompanying for job auditions, and sometimes even playing as part of the orchestra.

Why I Switched to Digital Sheet Music

Because I play with so many different kinds of instrumentalists, I have an enormous repertoire of music to work with.  I always struggled with having all the music I needed on hand, and carrying everything I would need for a tour or even a full day of rehearsals would be a major pain in the you-know-where (shoulder).  I also have a terrible habit of forgetting things, like car keys, children, business cards, and of course, paper music.  I wanted to find a way to be able to carry my entire library with me everywhere I went, easily and without being a pain in the you-know-where (brain).  Being able to call up any piece instantly was another huge benefit I saw from switching to digital music.

My 4 C’s

1. Computer – I actually use a number of computers, depending on the task at hand.  For the vast majority of rehearsals, recordings, and live performances, I use an iPad 3 (the “new” iPad, as Apple likes to call it).  I like its portability and relatively good battery life (although you need to keep the iPad 3’s screen brightness at 50%, keep wifi turned off when you’re not actively using it, blah blah – but I digress, we’ll get into all those nitty gritty details later).

I get asked to write arrangements from time to time, so for that I use a MacBook Pro (having been a longtime steadfast Windows champion, I can hear my Mac friends cheering now…).  If I have access to my grand piano at home, I can hook up to it via a MIDI interface to write my music (my piano has a MIDI strip installed.  Very cool to be able to play an acoustic instrument and get a digital output!  Thanks, Cunningham Piano!)

I used to teach a number of private students, and still get asked for a private lesson here and there from both younger students and professional colleagues (yes, professional musicians get lessons from each other – it’s a cool thing when you’re open-minded enough to keep learning!).  For those lessons, I tend to use a Lenovo X200 Tablet PC.  It’s an older machine, but I really love the way I can draw my annotations on the music naturally with the digital pen.  I sync my Tablet PC up with my iPad via wifi to show my Tablet PC’s screen on my iPad using a neat application called Splashtop.  That way I can keep my iPad next to the student on the piano music rack and stay seated in a position where I can observe the student and not have to constantly get up and down to show what I’m talking about on the music – the student sees the markings I’m making on the music right on the iPad.  Cool, eh?

2. Content

Since most of my music is made up of classical music in the public domain, I use a website called the International Music Score Library Projectwww.imslp.org – to get most of what I need.  The sheet music is completely free and downloads as PDF files.

Occasionally, I won’t be able to find something on IMSLP.  My second go-to site for classical sheet music is www.EveryNote.com.  This is a commercial site so I have to buy my music there, but the prices are very reasonable and the sheet music downloads as PDF files.

To read music on my iPad, I use an app called forScore.  forScore is a full-featured PDF reader.  I can mark up the music in different colored inks and highlights, rearrange the pages in any order, and even create PDF files from photos taken from my iPad 3’s built-in camera or from photos I’ve emailed to myself from my iPhone 4S.

Another iPad app I regularly use to read music is DeepDish GigBook.  I work from a large 300+ page PDF file for playing music at church.  Rather than having to flip through the pages to find the hymn I need, I use DeepDish GigBook’s Super Bookmarking feature to extract each song as if it were a standalone file.  Making setlists for Sunday worship is a breeze thanks to these Super Bookmarks.

If I find myself teaching without my Tablet PC, I’ll use MusicReader PDF on my iPad.  I find the ink marking a bit easier and faster with MusicReader PDF, particularly if I’m turning pages hands-free at the same time (more on that later).

If I need to get access to more popular music (Broadway tunes, Jazz favorites, Movies music, etc.), I use a website called Musicnotes.com.  Musicnotes has a free iPad sheet music viewing app.  The first time I logged into the app with my Musicnotes.com account information, I was pleasantly surprised to find that every single piece of sheet music I had purchased from them (and subsequently lost) over the years instantly appeared in the app!  Now all my sheet music is truly “unforgettable”!

To read music on my MacBook Pro, I use a program called MusicReader PDF 4.  This is different from the iPad version, made by the same developer.  While the iPad app is just a PDF viewer (with the ability to mark up the music in colored inks), the Mac/PC version of MusicReader PDF 4 has a lot more features for not only viewing and marking up your music, but also creating PDF files from scratch, using scanned or downloaded images as sources.  Remember the size 12 feet and shoe size 7 illustration?  MusicReader PDF 4 does a really good job of making awkward things fit by utilizing a variety of screen viewing options.  For my MacBook Pro laptop, I use MusicReader PDF 4’s half-screen viewing option.  This allows me to see the top half of a page, then the bottom half, then the top half of the next page, etc. etc. so that I don’t have to squint at teeny tiny notes squished the wrong way on my horizontal screen.  You can even adjust where the half page breaks so that you aren’t cutting off an important piece of music between page turns.  There are a bunch of other neat tools that come with the program, but we’ll cover those in more detail in a future post.

To teach with music on my Lenovo Tablet PC, I use both MusicReader PDF 4 and another PDF program called PDF Annotator.  I absolutely love the smooth inking quality with PDF Annotator, making it a great teaching tool.  Page turns can be a bit slow, and there’s no way to create set lists/playlists (a feature I use regularly with MusicReader PDF 4 for recitals), so I don’t use PDF Annotator for performances.

3. Containers

Since 99% of the time I’m working with acoustic grand pianos that have music racks built in, I don’t really need a container.  However, on occasion, I do run across a piano with a broken or missing music rack.  In those instances, I pop my iPad out of my Adonit Writer Plus Bluetooth keyboard case and set it within the frame so that the music is vertical.  The Adonit Writer Plus case has magnets in the cover that can secure the keyboard in almost any angle, making it pretty flexible as an ad hoc iPad music stand for my needs.

In the past, I’ve also used a case from Targus, which had the ability to rotate the iPad for both horizontal and vertical views.

4. Controllers

I used to teach video lessons using a connected to a large monitor.  To mark up the music, I used a digital drawing pad called the Bamboo Tablet, made by Wacom.  The Bamboo Tablet would connect to my laptop via a USB cord and allow me to use a digital pen like a mouse.  It took a little getting used to drawing with your eyes on the screen and your hand in another place, but if you can get used to working with a computer mouse, then you’ll have no problem adjusting to one of these pen tablets after some practice.

Teaching video lessons with my computers and a Wacom Bamboo Tablet

The newer Wacom Bamboo Tablets feature both pen and touch control, turning the unit into a ginormous track pad capable of gesture recognition.

For turning pages while reading my digital sheet music, I use a wireless page turning pedal called an AirTurn.  Since my right foot controls the damper pedal, the one that lets the strings ring and sustain their sound after the piano key hammer hits them, I use my left foot to control the AirTurn pedal.  This allows me to keep my hands on the piano at all times.  No need to interrupt my playing with a finger to tap a button on my computer or swipe the screen on my iPad to turn the page (Sweet Freedom!) The AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth pedal will work with any tablet or computer that can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard.  The AirTurn AT-104 is a wireless USB version that works with any Windows computer that can use a USB keyboard.  For both models, one pedal turns pages forwards and the other pedal turns pages backwards, easy-peasy. We’ll talk more about page turning pedals in a future post.

The AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth page turning pedal

AirTurn AT-104 wireless USB page turning pedal

A note to my contributing colleagues: you don’t have to be as wordy as me!! Simple answers to the following questions would be great:

1. What do you do as a musician?

2. Why did you switch from paper to digital sheet music?

3. What are your “4-C’s”?

a. Computer (for reading music)?

b. Content (what kind of music do you read and where do you get it from)?

c. Container (do you use any special holders for your computer)?

d. Controller(s) (do you use any special controllers for reading or working with your digital sheet music)?

Transferring Converted Music to an iPad using iTunes

If you don’t have access to Wi-fi or the Internet, or if you have a large amount of converted PDF files that you want to move from your computer to your iPad (or vice versa) in bulk, you can do so using the USB connector cable for your iPad and the Apple iTunes program on your Mac or PC computer.  Note the picture on the left – the iTunes icon represents your computer, and the USB cable connection you need to insert into your computer’s USB port.  On most computers, the small picture of the USB symbol needs to be pointing upwards – the connector will only insert one way, so there’s no need to force it into the port).  The “squat” end of the cable goes to the bottom of your iPad – look for the printed rectangle on that end of the cable and make sure it is facing the same way as the iPad’s screen is before inserting it into the port.

Most folks think of iTunes as just a media player (for music and movies) and a digital store where you can buy media files.  It may come as a surprise to you that iTunes also works as a file sharing service for your i-Devices, giving you the ability to manually move digital files back and forth between your i-Device and your computer.

I should mention that you will need to have iTunes installed on your Mac or PC computer ahead of time, and for that you’ll need to access the Internet, as Apple doesn’t include installation CDs with iPads.  You can download iTunes from Apple at http://www.apple.com/itunes/

You will also need to have a PDF reading app installed on your iPad.  You can purchase apps through the App Store on your iPad. We’ll talk more about specific apps for musicians in future posts, but if you’re looking for some quick recommendations, then you may want to check out this interactive App Guide at http://airturn.com/ipad-apps/airturns-app-guide-for-tablets-and-computers

Once iTunes is installed on your computer, it will automatically launch as soon as you connect to your iPad with the USB cable.  Look for your iPad icon along the left navigation column and click it with your mouse to bring up the iPad window.

You should see some menu items right above the iPad window.  Look for “Apps” and click on it.  You will then see the following window:

Don’t be fooled by the way this window looks – you can actually scroll down to another section right below, which looks something like this:

You should be seeing the “File Sharing” section after scrolling down.  Assuming you have a PDF reading app already installed on your iPad, you can scroll down the left column within the “Apps” box until you find the app that you would like to load your PDF files into.  In the above example, I’m using an app called forScore.  Click on the app, and then you will see all the documents that are contained within that app in the window to the immediate right.  Most likely your Documents window will be blank (you can probably tell I’m a heavy forScore user), but in any case, this will be the area that shows the contents of your digital sheet music library within that specific app.

To add your files, click on the “Add” button on the bottom right of the Documents window (circled in the above picture).  You will then see a navigation window pop up – in this example, I’m using a MacBook to navigate, but the Windows version will be similar. Navigate to the folder where your scanned PDF files are located.  To select a single file, click on it to select it, then click on the “Open” button.

If you want to select a group of files all at once, you can either drag a box to group your selections, or select the first file by clicking it, scrolling up or down to the last selection, then pressing and holding the “Shift” key on your keyboard while clicking the last file.  You will then see all the files between the first and last selections highlighted.  Click the “Open” button to move all these files into your iPad app all at once.

If you want to select a number of files but they aren’t adjacent to each other, you can do so by the following combinations of keyboard key presses and mouse clicks:

  • For Mac computers, press and hold the “Command” key on your keyboard, then click on the desired files with your mouse or trackpad.
  • For Windows computers, press and hold the “Control” key on your keyboard, then click on the desired files with your mouse.

As with the previous methods, once you’ve finished selecting your desired files, click on the “Open” button to have them transferred into your iPad app all at once.

Conversely, if you want to copy files from your iPad to your computer, you can do so by navigating to the “File Sharing” section as we described above, then scrolling to the app that contains the files you want to move.  Select the files in the “Documents” window, then click on the “Save to…” button (which is right next to the “Add” button on the bottom right).

A navigation window will pop up.  Navigate to the folder on your computer where you want to paste the copied files, then click on “Open”.

This is a great way to copy over files in bulk all at once.  By the way, you can also delete files that appear in your iPad app’s “Documents” window by selecting them and pressing the “delete” key on your keyboard.

Congratulations!  You are now a master of moving your scanned files back and forth between your computer and your iPad!  Pat yourself on the back for this amazing feat of digital juggling!

Transferring Converted Music to an iPad using Dropbox

When I first started using computers to store and read all my music, my biggest fear was tripping on stage, smashing my computer, and losing my entire digital library in one fell swoop (this actually happened to me once right in the middle of a major concert! I left my slate Tablet PC on the piano during intermission.  One of the stage hands closed the music rack without realizing my computer was still perched on it, and it flew off with a thunderous crash and a deafening collective gasp from the audience.  Miraculously, the computer – screen and all – remained perfectly intact, but that was enough to give me a mild heart attack!) I used USB thumb drives and portable hard drives of all shapes and sizes to carry and back up my library, but being the absent-minded musician that I am, I found myself constantly misplacing and losing them.

One of the most amazing bits of technology in recent years has been the development of the “cloud”.  Thanks to greater availability and increasing speeds of Internet connectivity, you no longer need to depend on the fickle nature of your own physical hard drives or worry about your own butterfingers to keep a steady grip on your precious data.  Online web-based storage solutions have been around for a good while, but one particular service – Dropbox – revolutionized the ease and convenience of keeping your files in the cloud.  Founded in 2007 and officially launched in 2008, Dropbox can be installed on virtually any computer device and automatically synchronizes your files between your machines. Best of all, Dropbox is free for the first 5 Gigs of storage space – throw those thumb drives away!  Of course, you can pay for more space if you really like the service, but you can also grow your storage capacity if you refer others to join (500 MB per friend, Baby!)

Dropbox is a popular feature with several iPad apps, giving you the ability to store, download, share and sync your sheet music files right from inside the app.  Each app handles Dropbox connectivity differently, so you’ll have to take some time to explore each app’s idiosyncrasies.  Nevertheless, this is a great way to transfer and manage relatively large digital sheet music libraries between multiple computers, from the ones that are used to scan and create the PDF files, to the devices used to receive and work with them.

When you sign up for Dropbox, you’ll be given the opportunity to install the free application on your computers.  Once installed, you will see Dropbox as a folder in your computer’s navigation bar, just like the all-important Documents, Desktop, and other top level folders that are the default options.

Here’s the Dropbox folder on my MacBook (with my Sheet Music subfolder open):

And here’s what it looks like on my Windows 7 computer:

Once I scan my paper music into PDF files on my “scanning computer”, I just save them within my computer’s Dropbox folder (you can create subfolders within Dropbox just as easily as you would with a regular folder on your hard drive).  Depending on your Internet connection speed, your files will automatically be uploaded and synchronized within your Dropbox account without any further intervention on your part.  Once your files are uploaded, you can then use your iPad to browse to your online Dropbox account, download the file, and select which app you want to open it with (see the previous post on opening email file attachments within your iPad’s mail app – it’s a similar process, but you need to make sure you are using the iPad’s default Safari browser to be able to assign apps to open the file with).

Some iPad apps down’t need to use Safari as an intermediary to your Dropbox files.  Here are some examples of apps that can import PDF files directly from Dropbox – some have Dropbox connectivity built in, while others have their own built-in mini browsers from which you can access the web version of Dropbox:

1. forScore (Dropbox)

2. MusicPodium (Web browser)

3. MusicReader PDF (Web browser)

4. OnSong (works mostly with text files, but also can work with PDFs – Dropbox)

As with any wildly popular technology, imitators aren’t too far behind.  Google has launched Google Drive, and Microsoft has its own SkyDrive.  I haven’t had a chance to play around with these newer services, but it might be worth adding a note of caution: any online storage service that can’t pay its own bills in the long term runs the risk of suddenly disappearing one day, so be sure that you don’t leave anything completely irreplaceable in the cloud.  I would advise that you stick with a time-proven performer like Dropbox for the time being until these other services prove their mettle.

Transferring Converted Music to an iPad using Email

Once you have your sheet music converted into a digital PDF file using a scanner or scanning app (see the previous post on converting paper sheet music to PDF files), we need to find a way to get that file from the computer used to scan the music to the device that you will use to read and work with that file.  If you are using the same desktop or laptop computer that you scanned the music with, then you can skip this post (we’ll talk about various programs for Mac and PC computers to read your sheet music PDF files).  If you want to move that file to your iPad, then stick around – we’re going to look at a number of ways to do this.

One way to transfer a digital sheet music file into your iPad is via email, particularly if you are using a scanning app on a smartphone.  You will want to make sure that you have your email settings established in your iPad’s default email app (this is usually done as soon as you turn on your iPad for the very first time.  If you skipped this part for some reason, tap on the “Settings” app icon, then on the left hand column, tap on “Mail, Contacts, Calendars” and follow the instructions under the “Accounts” menu box).

Email the sheet music PDF file to yourself as an attachment.  On your iPad, tap the mail app icon, then look for the email message you just sent to yourself.  You should see your email message with your PDF file attachment as follows:

Tap on the icon that represents the PDF attachment to open it in the mail app’s browser.  It will appear as follows:

On the upper right hand corner, tap on the icon that looks like an arrow coming out of a box.  This will bring up the option to select which app you want to open the PDF file with.  Doing so will bring up a “default” PDF reading app (if you have one installed) – it will look like this:

If you want to open the PDF file in a different app, tap on “Open In…” – you will then be given a selection of PDF-compatible apps to select.  You can use your finger to scroll down or up the provided list.  Scroll down until you find your preferred PDF reading app.  In this instance, I’m scrolling down to select a popular app called forScore:

By the way, you may want to take a look at the following interactive App Guide for some recommendations on various apps for your music reading needs (tap on the graphic link below):

Once your desired app is selected, you will see it appear in that app.  In the following image, you can see that the PDF file has been automatically added to the forScore library:

This email method works best for transferring digital sheet music files one at a time.  In our next post, we’ll look at another way to wirelessly transfer scanned PDF sheet music files to your iPad in larger batches.

The 5th C: The Art of Converting Paper to PDFs

We’ve looked at 4 general categories of tools that a musician will need to read music digitally, what I call the “4 C’s”: Computer, Content, Container, and Controller. When it comes to the second C – Content – the type of music you work with will greatly determine the means with which you will get your music into your digital reading computer of choice. There is a wealth of sheet music content available on the Internet for instant download – no need to wait for the mailman to deliver to your house or favorite music store. For many musicians, this will be the first place to look, and oftentimes there’s no need to bother with paper versions. We’ll touch on a number of popular online resources for digital sheet music in a variety of genres in a future post.

But perhaps you are a musician using paper sheet music that can’t be found in any digital format anywhere on the Internet. Maybe you are working with paper versions that are marked up with precious fingerings and special instructions that are more valuable than the music itself. In that case, you will need to learn the art of a “5th C”: Conversion. By conversion, I mean hardware and software tools used to convert your paper music into digital files that can be then read and worked on in your reading app or program of choice.

There are basically three steps in the conversion process:

  1. Scan
  2. Process
  3. Transfer

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.


To scan is to convert a physical document into a digital format. Basically, you are creating a digital photo of the document, using a hardware device called a Scanner. Scanners come in all shapes and sizes, and are sometimes part of an “all-in-one” office machine that can print, fax, make copies, and make a perfect double soy latte (I’m kidding about that last feature). The type of physical music you need to convert will determine the kind of scanner you will want to work with. Here are three general types of scanners and the types of music they are best suited for:

  1. Flatbed – these are scanners that have a glass surface to place your music on and a lid to prevent you from being blinded by the scanner’s light. Flatbeds are best suited for music books and bound collections and require a connection to a laptop or desktop computer to process and transfer the digitized images.
  2. Sheet-fed – these are scanners that are much more compact and tend to look like plastic rolling pins. Sheet-fed scanners are best suited for single sheets of music, since only one page can be fed into the scanner at a time. These types of scanners also require a connection to a laptop or desktop computer, although as of this writing, there is a new sheet-fed scanner called the iConvert Scanner which has a slot for your iPad to sit in and receive the scans directly. http://www.brookstone.com/iconvert-ipad-scanner
  3. App – Believe it or not, smartphone cameras are becoming good enough to create sharp, legible scans of music. You’ll need the latest smartphones with high resolution cameras (the latest iPhones from Apple work beautifully, as well as the latest offerings from the various Android smartphone manufacturers) and apps like TurboScan for the iPhone or CamScanner for the Android phones. (Note: while the iPad 2 and the “new” iPad [3] also have cameras, the resolution isn’t as high on either of these devices as the ones you’ll find on the latest smartphone cameras. The new iPad’s camera is a lot better than the iPad 2’s, but there’s no flash for low light situations and you might find it hard to hold your iPad steady without a dedicated mount. More on that later). Scanning apps are best for smaller songs or scanning on the fly when you need to digitize your music in a pinch and don’t have access to the other kinds of hardware scanners. Keep in mind that if you’re trying to scan pages from a bound book that you’ll have to deal with the curvature of the binding, especially so if the book is brand new.

Brother MFC-400CN Scanner printer

iConvert Scanner for iPad from Brookstone

Scanning with a smartphone


Every scanner and scanning app will have different settings and options, so you’ll have to refer to their instructions for the specifics on processing your scanned page images. We’re going to want to aim for the following goals:

  1. Create a universal file that can be read on as many computers and programs or apps as possible
  2. If you are scanning more than one page for a song, then this file will need to be able to have multiple “pages”
  3. Make the file as legible as possible
  4. Make sure the file is as small as possible to ensure that it loads on any computer quickly and that the page turns (if necessary) are fast
  5. Make sure that the file name is descriptive enough for easy cataloging and searches

Thanks to a company called Adobe, the most universal file format since 1993 has been the Portable Document Format, or PDF for short. PDF files were designed to be read universally on every computer, which is why I’ve been able to keep up with the rapid changes in computer technologies since my conversion to a paperless lifestyle in 2001. All my scanned music consists of PDF files, and as I mentioned before, the remarkable thing is that the very first music files I scanned are still as pristine looking as the day I created them, as opposed to their physical counterparts which have sadly yellowed and in many cases already started to crumble. PDF files have the ability to contain multiple pages – some of my music, after all, is 50–100+ pages in length. Most scanners these days have the option to directly create multi-page PDF files. If not, don’t despair; we’ll take a look at options to convert individual image files into a single “bound” PDF file.

To make your scanned pages legible and as small in file size as possible, you will want to look for options on your scanner to scan in Black and White. Scanning in color will make your file look great, but you’ll have to deal with a much larger file size, which can choke the loading and page turning speeds, especially if you’re using a computer with a slow processor (like the original iPad 1). Grayscale, while smaller than color formats, still creates a file size that’s unwieldy, especially if your song is more than 2 or 3 pages in length.

You will also want to set the scan DPI to either 150 or 300. DPI stands for “dots per inch”, and represents the resolution or how fine the image quality of the scan will be. Photographers and printers want a high DPI, but for music reading purposes the extra dots are unnecessary. In fact, if you find that your staff lines are getting broken up with your scans, you may want to try a DPI as low as 75 – the scanning software will tend to consolidate fine lines better at lower resolutions. Since every scanner and scanning app is different, you’ll want to experiment with a few different DPI settings to find what is optimal for your reading purposes and computer performance. Keep in mind that the higher the DPI, the larger the file size, so you’ll want to find the right balance between legibility and performance (loading and page turning speed) for your needs. Most of my music is scanned at 300 DPI, so feel free to use that as a benchmark.

Finally, you’ll want to come up with a naming convention for your files that best suits your particular musical needs. As a classical collaborative pianist, my primary title needs are as follows:

  1. Composer name (usually just the last name will suffice, or in special cases – like with the Bach family – the last name and the initial of the first name).
  2. Title of the piece; if there is no title, then I’ll indicate what type of piece it is (Sonata, Concerto, etc.) followed by a number (if there are multiple versions of the same type of piece) and key signature. (See #4 below for an exception to this order).
  3. Publisher’s catalogue info – these include general indications like Opus and Number (Op and No for short), or unique catalogue references in the cases of particular composers, such as J. S. Bach (BWV number) or Mozart (K. number).
  4. Since I work with such a wide variety of instrumentalists, I need to include the primary instrument for whom the piece was written for. If the piece if for my own instrument (piano), I won’t bother, but if it’s for another instrument, In many cases, I’ll actually put the instrument name before the title.

Here are a few examples of some of the PDF file names I use in my library:

Chopin Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23

Bach, JS Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042

Massenet Meditation from Thais for Violin and Piano

Did you notice something in the above titles? I tried to avoid using periods and special non-alphanumeric symbols, such as a period after “No” or “Op”. In computer language, periods are generally used to separate between the name title of a file and the extension that indicates what sort of file it is. For example, the full file name of the Chopin Ballade is actually:

Chopin Ballade No 1 in G minor Op 23.pdf

Note the “.pdf” at the end – that tells the computer that it is looking at a PDF file, and will assign the appropriate compatible program to open it.

I also try to avoid symbols like ; : # ” ? ! ( ) & + This came as a result of working with some pretty old Windows programs that didn’t have the ability to include those symbols as naming conventions. Since I want to be able to read my files as universally as possible, I generally try to stick with using just alphanumeric characters  just to be safe.

As you can gather, classical music is quite complicated, hence the convoluted naming convention. For folks who play more popular genres, like jazz, rock, pop, or worship songs, you may not need anything more than the title of the song, or perhaps in some cases the name of the band or artist that made the song famous as well. Determine what works best for you, and think about the information you would need to be able to call up the song on your computer quickly and easily.

This may seem like a lot to absorb, but in practice, it’s actually not very difficult at all. Once you have your equipment and settings established and know how you want to name your files, you’ll find yourself a master of Conversion in no time.

In our next article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at various ways to transfer your scanned files into your reading computer and app or program of choice. In a preview nutshell, you will generally have the following transfer options:

  1. Via Internet (email, Dropbox, etc.)
  2. Via physical connection (USB docking cable + iTunes for the iPad, or a memory card/stick from computer to computer)

See you next time, and feel free to leave comments if you have any questions or suggestions!

What do I need to get started reading sheet music digitally?

The transition from being a paper-based musician to going paperless digitally can seem like a daunting idea. Some common questions I hear all the time include:

– Which computer is right for me?
– How do I get music into my computer?
– What programs do I need?
– Besides a computer, what other equipment will I need?
– Given the rate at which technology changes, how can I be sure that the equipment I invest in won’t be obsolete within a few years?

I’d like to start addressing the last question on the above list first. As of this writing, I will have been a “paperless pianist” for almost 12 years. Even though the computers and equipment that I’ve used to store, read, and annotate my digital sheet music scores have changed many times over during that time period, it’s amazing to me that the very first digital music files that I scanned from my paper sources still look perfectly pristine, while the physical paper versions have already started to yellow and crumble. Once you understand a few general principles of working with digital sheet music, then you’ll be able to make the transition from paper to pixels with confidence.

To give you a helpful overview, I’d like to share four “C’s”, which describe four categories of things you’ll need to get started as a digital sheet music musician. They are as follows:

1. Computer
2. Content
3. Containers
4. Controllers

Your choice of computer will depend on a number of factors:

– Your need for mobility
– Your need for legibility based on screen size
– Your need for accessories to support your computer, such as the containers and controllers which we’ll discuss in a moment

As everyone knows, computer technology changes on almost a daily basis. The good news is, that this isn’t as important as you might think. If you know how to take care of a musical instrument, you can apply that same level of understanding to maintaining your computers used for reading sheet music for many years to come, as well as being better educated on the best computers to upgrade to when necessary. And with Internet cloud storage services like DropBox and iCloud, you really don’t have to worry about being completely dependent on a single computer device.

While tablet computers like the iPad might be great for many musicians due to its portability and ease of use, other musicians who don’t need to be mobile (like organists or teachers working in studios) might be better off with laptops, desktop computers connected to larger monitors, or even large touchscreen computers. We’ll discuss all those options as we drill down this topic.


By content, I mean both the type of music you work with and the sources where your music can be found. For instance, classical musicians work with content based on traditional music notation containing staff lines, key signatures, notes and rests. Musicians in more popular genres work with content based mainly on text, such as lyrics, chord symbols and tablatures. Your preferred content will determine both where you find your music sources and how you get that content into your digital sheet music computer, ranging from scans of physical books and binders, to direct downloads from online sheet music resources. This will also determine which programs will be best suited for your content needs, and what kind of interactivity you will need from your music – will you be using PDF files to draw ink annotations on your music? Or will you use a text reader so that you can change your font sizes and transpose chord symbols on the fly? Or will you use a proprietary reader for computerized music notation from programs like Finale or Sibelius?


Containers are hardware accessories used to hold or mount your computer, turning it for all intents and purposes into a digital music stand. This may or may not be relevant to your needs, depending on what instrument you play. For example, classical pianists can usually count on a music rack built in to their instruments to hold their iPads or support their laptops, while guitarists or orchestral musicians will almost always need a way to safely mount their computers. The container options will vary widely depending on the type of computer being used. We’ll explore some of the current options in upcoming posts.


Controllers are hardware accessories that enable you to work with your digital sheet music in a variety of ways, ranging from digital pens for drawing annotations, to page turning pedals and other switches enabling you to turn pages hands free. Some computer devices, like the iPad, don’t require digital pens to draw on the screen, whereas other computers like Tablet PCs already come bundled with such pens. Page turning pedals and switches, on the other hand, are a relatively new type of accessory that most musicians don’t think of until they’re confronted with the stark experience of viewing their music one digital page at a time and have to consider how to get to the next digital “page” in ways that don’t necessitate finger swiping or mouse clicking.

In future posts, we’ll look at some examples of various types of musicians and the 4-C configurations that best fit their needs.

A Short History of Digital Sheet Music Readers

Finale 3.0 Box Cover, circa 1995

Generally speaking, reading sheet music on computer monitors and laptop screens in the past was like trying to fit size 12 feet into size 7 shoes: a bad fit and painfully uncomfortable to say the least.  I still remember an old box cover painting for an early version of the venerable music notation software Finale in which a pianist is supposedly in bliss, basked in the glow of reading his digital score off of a ginormous cathode tube computer monitor perched like a cyborg hippo on top of his grand piano.  Screens were expensive, small, and oriented in an “unmusical” way, displaying pages horizontally (“landscape” in computer-speak) rather than vertically (“portrait”, again in computer-speak) in the way that most sheet music is printed.  Reading sheet music on a typical computer screen meant either zooming out to an impractical level to fit a vertical page on a horizontal screen, or reading small segments of a page at a time, which became a problem if your music staff happened to fall right in the middle of the break point, cutting off notes either below or above.

The Toshiba Portégé M200, one of the first convertible Tablet PCs

The first computers to begin to solve this reading orientation problem were the Tablet PC’s, introduced by Microsoft back in 2001.  The early Tablet PC’s basically came in two designs:  a laptop design, where the screen could be flipped around and folded backwards over the keyboard, or the “slate” design in which the keyboard was done away with entirely and information put into the computer by drawing or tapping on the screen with a digital pen.  Both designs gave the user the option to rotate the view in both horizontal and vertical positions.  With this simple feature, reading a full page of music the right side up on a computer became practical for the first time (I was in digital nirvana).

The Tablet PC’s were terrific computers, but they were prohibitively expensive and never really caught on with the general public.  The premium price point alone probably killed the possibility of mass adoption, but I’m sure that the Windows operating system didn’t help (and this is painful for me to admit, since I’ve been a longtime Windows fan).  Despite the Tablet PC’s great digital pen inking and handwriting recognition features, the fact remained that the Windows was really intended for keyboard and mouse input and never designed to accommodate input directly by human hands.  Handwriting a sentence and watching it get recognized as text was pretty cool but impractically slow.  Tap pecking a sentence with a digital pen on the Tablet PC’s onscreen keyboard was laughably awful and akin to typing with a single finger in a splint.  Other eggs to throw at the Tablet PC designs could be aimed at their bulky sizes, lousy battery life, and dim screens due to the scratch resistant coatings to prevent screens from looking like overused Etch-A-Sketch toys.  Reading on these computers was definitely possible, just not very pleasant (except for geeks like me, I suppose, who are willing to fork over hefty credit card debt and put up with these shortcomings in order to enjoy the possibilities that these latest technologies tantalizingly hint at).

Freehand System’s MusicPad Pro

In December of 2001, a company called Freehand Systems produced a product called the MusicPad Pro that was years ahead of its time in concept, but woefully hobbled by the technologies of its time. The MusicPad Pro was a digital music reader that featured a 12.1 inch pressure touchscreen which gave users the ability to annotate scores and turn pages with the tap of a finger or with a wired pedal.  The MusicPad Pro was eerily prescient of the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad with regard to its ambitious attempt to create a complete ecosystem between a hardware reading device and a proprietary digital sheet music store that it connected with directly.  But once again, price was a serious killjoy: at $1000, users would be paying a premium laptop price for what basically amounted to a one-trick pony in a kludgy form factor with lousy battery life.  Early marketing efforts made a pretty big splash, with endorsements from famous bands like “Yes” and classical musicians like violinist Itzhak Perlman (who I’m sure never used the device more than once) and a media event by the Chicago Symphony using them in performance.  Sadly, the MusicPad Pro never evolved beyond its first version design and died a slow, drawn-out, William Shatner style death dramatization (it might be interesting to note that there was an additional product briefly introduced, the MusicPad Maestro, which was intended for conductors with its larger screen and conductor’s ego-sized price point).

The first Amazon Kindle

In 2007, Amazon introduced a device which started the eBook revolution in earnest: the Kindle.  With its small form factor, battery life that could be measured in weeks instead of hours, seamless ability to wirelessly purchase and download electronic books, and its ground-breaking use of E-Ink technology that made reading the screen much more similar to the experience of reading actual paper, the Kindle helped people realize the amazing benefits of digital reading.  However, for musicians, the screen was much too small, and the page “turns” had a strange delay due to the limitations of E-Ink technology, making it an impractical device for reading music, particularly in real-time performance.  Read, press page turn button, wait for blinking screen refresh…not a good idea in the middle of a high speed Tarantella or a Metallica thrash!  And since the Kindle was intended primarily as a read-only device, there was really no way to annotate pages in a pragmatic manner. Another one-trick pony, perhaps, but this time Amazon got it right – at least for its intended market of book readers – with its much friendlier price point and feature set.

And then there was Apple.

The Apple iPad

In 2010, Apple introduced the iPad, which was actually conceptualized before the iPhone.  In many ways, the iPad took the lessons learned from the above predecessor products and knocked it out of the park – the first iPad sold 300,000 units on its first day of sale; the iPad 2, a year later, sold 500,000 its first day; and in 2012, the new iPad with its deservedly hyped “retina display” sold a staggering 1,000,000 units on its first sale day.  As of this writing, iPads are on track to be in the hands of an estimated 66 million users in the USA alone – that accounts for almost 1 in 5 Americans owning one of these sleek tablet computers.  With an adoption of that magnitude, it’s not hard to figure out why an incredible ecosystem of “apps” (a shortened version of the word “applications” coined by Apple) and hardware peripherals for iPads exploded on the scene almost overnight.

Very likely, you either already own an iPad or know someone who does, so in some ways I may be preaching to the crowd.  But since this is a blog intended to help musicians find digital solutions for reading sheet music, I’d like to point out why the iPad in particular works so well as a musician’s reading tool:

1. Form Factor

Where the Tablet PC and MusicPad Pro were relatively bulky and heavy, the iPad is thin and light, weighing in at approximately 1.2 pounds (this varies depending on the model, with the first iPad being the heaviest). The iPad also boasts a battery life of 10 hours, which far outperforms the older machines’ output of 2-3 hours.  That gives you the ability to leave the power cord at home during long days of rehearsals or gigs, further reducing bulk in your gig bag.

While larger than a typical Kindle, the iPad’s 9 inch screen is noticeably smaller than the Tablet PC or MusicPad Pro, both of which sported 12.1 inch screens that more closely resembled the size of a typical 8.5 x 11″ sheet of music paper (if you happen to be a musician with low vision difficulties, we’ll address a number of cool app solutions and hardware alternatives later on).  On the other hand, the screen quality of the iPad is bright, clear, and vibrant  (superfabulously with the new iPad) – so much so, that some folks argue that reading music on an iPad is much easier on the eyes than physical paper (that’s certainly the case when comparing the experience of reading in a dark club or orchestra pit with finicky stand lights vs. an evenly backlit iPad).

2. Use

The Tablet PC required a digital pen to operate the screen.  My biggest fear in my early paperless days using my Table PCs was that I would misplace or lose that pen, leaving me dead in the water right before an important performance with no way to navigate or open my sheet music files.  My solution was to tie my pens with dental floss as a leash to my Tablet PCs.  Yes, dental floss – at least I could always be ready to perform with a smile, eh?  The other major problem with the Tablet PC was the simple act of turning it on.  As a full computer, you had to endure a painful 5 minute boot up process after pressing the power button before you could actually do anything.

The MusicPad Pro came with a touchscreen that could be used with either a plastic stylus or a firm finger press.  A slightly better solution than a pen only computer, perhaps, but you still needed to keep a close eye (or a piece of dental floss) on that stylus – trying to use your finger on the screen was as responsive as trying to scratch an itch through a leather jacket.  And you had to be careful not to let your wrist touch the screen while using your stylus, since it could only accept a single pressure point at a time.

With the iPad came a cool tactile experience thanks to capacitive touchscreen technology that allows the user to use multiple fingers at the same time.  And unlike the MusicPad Pro’s pressure-based input screen technology, the iPad can be operated with the lightest of touches with zippy response.  The feeling is quite “magical”, as Steve Jobs and his cohorts loved to exude.  No need for pens or dental floss leashes!  And thankfully unlike Tablet PCs (and even the MusicPad Pro), turning on the iPad does NOT require a trip to the water cooler while waiting for the machine to boot up. Press the home or power button on the iPad and it’s ON.  Instantly.  Amazing how such a simple concept could be so revolutionary for a computer!

3. App Store

In 2003, Apple introduced the iTunes store, an online resource for buying music as MP3 files, and with it came a seamless way for people to easily, affordably – and most important, legally – purchase music that could be instantly downloaded to computers and its iconic portable music player device, the iPod. This laid the foundation for the App Store, which was opened as an iTunes update on July 10, 2008.  Now users could not only get content – aka, music, audio books, movies, and the like – but also a whole world of programs to do nifty things with iPhones, iPods, and of course, the titular iPad.

With the explosive popularity of i-Products from Apple came the enticing opportunity for programmers to write programs that could make some serious money.  Ditto for hardware manufacturers making i-Accessories.  This results in an interesting oxymoron:  incredible diversity in software and hardware options for a family of products that is quite monolithic in design (actually a great thing in general for programmers and hardware manufacturers: uniformity in design means you don’t have to design dozens of variations of the same product).  In layman’s terms, that means that i-Users have access to the widest variety of ways to work with their i-Devices, far more than other tablets and mobile reading devices that have since entered the marketplace.

4. Price

As mentioned before, the one-trick pony MusicPad Pro was introduced in 2001 for a whopping $1000.  Chump change for Janet Jackson or the Backstreet Boys back then, perhaps, but way out of the budget of the typical mortal musician.  Tablet PC’s were priced as a premium laptop when they came out, with many models starting out around $1500, a price point to make even Warren Buffet squirm (well, maybe not Mr. Buffet, since he and Bill Gates are chummy buddies…).  The iPad, on the other hand, begins at $499 for the 16 Gig model.  When compared with the portable digital reading options for musicians in the past, this is a much more appealing price point.  Some musicians argue that this is still too expensive, but I think this is a matter of perspective and priorities.  If you don’t hesitate to plunk down thousands of dollars for an instrument or hundreds of dollars for an amp or other tool to enhance your sound, then your reading tools should be framed in a similar manner: it’s an investment that will reap enormous benefits in the long run towards enhancing your musicianship.  We’ll be looking at that “return on your investment” in future posts.

The iPad isn’t perfect by any means as a digital reader for all musicians, but it does many things very nicely in a form factor that is easy to use, making it a great starting point for many users.  We’ll spend a good bit of time in this blog with the iPad as a launching point for digital sheet music reading, and then expand the discussion to alternative digital devices, particularly for low vision musicians and other unique situations.