10 Reasons Why Pixels Are Better Than Paper

by airturn

Dog-eared music

This piece of paper music has seen better days…

Pixels are the smallest dots on a computer screen used to make images and words.  With today’s display technologies like the “retina display” for the new iPad and MacBook Pro, these pixels are so small that they make the experience of reading sheet music on computer screens incredibly vibrant and – some might argue – better than reading on physical paper.  Of course, there’s no arguing how much easier it is to read a digital screen in low light over a piece of paper music under a stand light!

Cutting-edge display technologies aside, here are 10 additional reasons why using computers to read music is better than paper:

1. Eliminate bulk

A single 1.2 pound 16 gig iPad (the smallest and cheapest model available) can hold the equivalent of 60,000 pages of paper.  That’s comes out to 600 pounds of physical paper!  Next time you lug around your heavy binders and gig books, I promise that your aching muscles will remember that fact.

2. Never lose music

Classical composers wrote works that ranged in length from 1-2 page miniatures to massive symphonies filling hundreds of pages.  If we average each work of a classical composer to be 20 pages each, a single 16 gig iPad would contain all the compositions of Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, with room to spare!  With that kind of storage, it becomes easy to simply carry your entire music library with you wherever you go, and never worry about remembering to bring a part or misplacing your music.

3. Find music instantly

I used to have these huge wall units to house my paper sheet music collection, with all the works catalogued in boxes alphabetized by composer.  Even then, it would take a considerable investment in time and effort to find all the pieces I would need for the day’s rehearsals, lessons, and performances.  By the end of the school year, there would be a ridiculous mountain of music stacked on top of my piano to search through.

With digital music, you can just type a few keystrokes and find any piece in your collection instantly.  We’ll talk more about ways to organize your digital collection that enable you to pull up all your works by the name of a song, the composer name, or even the key signature, tempo, genre/style, and other descriptions.

4. Make automatic set lists

A set list is simply a list of the songs or pieces to be performed in order at a gig or concert.  Rather than having to shuffle books or physically re-order pages on a binder, with several digital music reading apps you can easily search and select your set list songs, change their order on the fly, and have the songs appear automatically in order during the show as if they were part of one single book.  We’ll go into more detail about setting up set lists with various apps in future posts.

5. Transpose music instantly

One of my biggest fears as an accompanist was to have the singer I was working with come down with a cold and ask to transpose down a couple of keys right on the spot.  With certain types of music (text based lyrics and chord charts) and reading apps designed around dynamic music notation (Sibelius, Finale, etc.), changing keys on the fly is as simple as a few taps on the screen.

6. Mark up your music with rainbow colors

Brain scientists point out that the use of bright contrasting colors contributes to faster learning and better memory retention.  Digital music makes it easy to add bright color ink and transparent highlights to your music that can be easily erased – no need to carry a collection of color sharpies or whiteout paint, or even lead pencils with worn out erasers.

7. Eliminate blind spots

If you read music that requires at least one page turn, you have a “blind spot”: you can’t see what comes next until you turn the page.  With certain apps, you can set up the page turns so that the screen shows the bottom half of the previous page and the top half of the next page, creating a continuous “look ahead” view.  This is great for learning music and keeping a smooth sense of flow and phrasing.

8. Enlarge your music

When your music is in a digital format, your view of the music is only limited by the size of your screen and the application used to display it.  Some programs give you the option to see zoomed views of your music half a page at a time (this works particularly well for screen that are horizontal, such as laptops or desktop monitors).  Text based music readers give you the option to change font size and properties.  This is a godsend for musicians with low vision issues.  Again, we’ll go into more details about ways to enlarge your music in future posts.

9. Turn everyone else’s pages

With the iPad, there are several apps that enable a master iPad control any number of slave iPads so that the master can open the same song on every slave, and in some cases even turn pages for everyone.  Talk about keeping everyone on the same page!

10. Turn pages hands free

If you use both hands to play an instrument, you have – for all intents and purposes – a disability when it comes to turning pages.  With digital music, not only do you have a wide variety of software options for viewing and working with you music, but you also actually have hardware options for turning your pages hands free, either with digital page turning pedals, or even with other controllers such as bite and tongue switches.  Now you can keep your hands on your instrument and your focus on the music.  We’ll go into more detail about setting up hands free page turning options in future posts.