Selecting the Perfect Sheet Music Computer: 3 Key Questions

by airturn

Rather than get hung up on mumbo jumbo techno terms or micro-analyzing system specifications, I’d like to break the search for the perfect sheet music reading computer into three basic questions:

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. Where do you want to go?
  3. What do you want to see?

The first question deals with the sheet music itself – what do you want to do?  Most computers and tablets will give you the basic ability to read PDF and text files, but what if you want to be able to mark up your music with annotations?  What if you want create set lists, or be able to transpose your music into any key?  What if you want to project your music onto a larger screen for a classroom or auditorium, or simply want to be able to turn pages hands free?

The search for the perfect sheet music reading computer begins with the applications, or “apps” for tablets.  Any given computer or tablet can have the fastest processor or the best whiz-bang display specs, but if it doesn’t have the ability to run an application to do what you want it to do, then it’s just a shiny (and very powerful) paperweight.  Conversely, if you begin your search by trying to find the cheapest computer without considering the applications that can run on it, then you’ll simply have a cheaper (and slower) paperweight.

Several months ago, a friend of mine was eager to show off an HP TouchPad that he managed to get for only $100 from eBay.  The problem was, he didn’t realize that this cool little tablet had been discontinued by Hewlett-Packard only 49 days after it had been launched, and that its webOS operating system had virtually no programs available for it outside of the ones bundled with the unit.  The HP TouchPad featured great design, slick performance, and a price that couldn’t be beat, but it was absolutely worthless as a digital sheet music reader (or much else, for that matter).  And remember that MusicPad Pro?  It was a computer device that was powered by a proprietary version of Linux running essentially one single program. The MusicPad Pro suffered from price, choked from closed systems, and died from design.

The first place to begin to understand your computer choices is to look at the major operating systems – OS for short – that bring your computers to life and give them the ability to perform any given task.  Despite the dizzying array of computers, laptops and tablets out in the market, there are currently only three major players in the computer OS arena powering devices large enough for reading sheet music:

  1. Microsoft
  2. Apple
  3. Google

Microsoft, Apple, and Google

Each of these players provide a number of operating systems for a variety of computer/tablet devices.  Here is a rough breakdown:

I. Microsoft
A. OS for computers

  • Windows (XP, Vista, 7, 8 [coming soon])

B. OS for tablets

  • Windows 8 (coming soon)

II. Apple
A. OS for computers

  • OS X (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, Lion)

B. OS for tablets

  • iOS (for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch devices)

III. Google
A. Android for tablets (Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean)

The basic thing to understand is that an application written for one OS will generally not work on any other OS platform (there are special exceptions with Apple emulators for running Windows programs and even some Windows emulators on iPads, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this book/blog).  You will sometimes find multiple versions of an application available for different operating systems, particularly between Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X computers (Adobe Acrobat Reader and MusicReader PDF 4 are examples of PDF reading programs that run on both operating systems), but cross-OS versions of sheet music reading apps for tablets are much harder to find.

So the takeaway lesson is this: ignore the bling and start with the app.  We will explore various app possibilities when we get to the “Content” section in future articles.  Tomorrow, we will look at where you want to go.