Sheet Music on the iPad Pro (12.9″)

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Many people have been asking me about reading sheet music on the iPad lately, so I thought I would write a blog post in order to share information with students and colleagues. What follows is not an exhaustive technical review or a laundry list of all the music apps available, but rather a concise discussion of the apps and accessories that I use along with some tips for best practices, especially for trumpeters.

About four years ago, I began experimenting with sheet music on an iPad Air. I devoured Hugh Sung’s essential guide, From Paper to Pixels: Your Guide to the Digital Sheet Music Revolution, and purchased an AirTurn bluetooth foot pedal to use for turning pages. While I was excited about the possibilities of the setup, I wasn’t thrilled with the size of the 9.7 inch screen and developed my own system of reading the music in landscape rather than portrait mode (using the forScore app, which would advance the music by half pages). You can see my setup in the photo below, which was taken during a rehearsal with the Washington Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble at Duke University back in 2015. (The low resolution screen shot comes from a Facebook video shot by Michael Holmes.)

iPad at Duke 2015

The benefits of reading sheet music on the iPad are numerous. You can carry your entire library on one small device (provided it’s in PDF format), you never need a stand light, and you can quickly import digital sheet music from iPad photos, screenshots, and online sources. With sheet music reading apps like forScore, you can also create set lists for concerts and gigs (your music is always in order) and easily annotate your music with your finger or a stylus. (This tutorial covers many of forScore’s basic functions.)

When the 12.9 inch iPad Pro was released, I could see that it would be an ideal device for digital sheet music, especially with its larger screen size in portrait mode, which is comparable to an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper. While the screen size is certainly transformative, the real game changer is the addition of the Apple Pencil. The forScore app recognizes the Apple Pencil immediately, so marking annotations during rehearsal is virtually the same a grabbing a pencil and writing on paper (no buttons to push).

Accessories for the iPad Pro

While it’s true that you can simply set the iPad Pro on a conventional music stand, there are advantages to mounting the device onto a microphone stand, like AirTurn’s goStand with the Manos Tablet Mount. The 12.9 inch iPad Pro is too heavy to put on a wire music stand, and heavier music stands are bulky for transport (the PEAK SMS-20 is a good portable alternative). The only problem with the mic stand setup is that it lacks a place to put pencils and other small items. One solution is the addition of an accessory tray like the Gator Frameworks Accessory Tray. I particularly like this one because it is a nice size for transporting a Bluetooth pedal and the Apple Pencil when moving the stand to different locations. Adding a piece of black gripper shelf liner (cut to size) on the accessory try minimizes noise and prevents objects from sliding around.

IPP mic stand blog

When it comes to cases, I prefer a combination of the Apple Smart Cover and the Logitech Slim Combo Keyboard Case. Most of the time, I just use the back half of the Logitech Slim Combo case because the keyboard is detachable. (See this YouTube review for more details.) The Manos Tablet Mount can accommodate an iPad with a case installed, and my Logitech case is attached in the photos above. Another virtue of the Logitech Slim Combo case is that it can be placed on a table in portrait mode, which makes a nice substitute for a music stand on the go; you can place it on a hotel dresser when standing up or on a table or desk for sitting down.

IPP portrait case blog

Much as I admire the Logitech Slim Combo case, it adds a lot of bulk to the iPad with the keyboard cover attached. IPP scale full Logi setupBecause it adds nearly a full pound to the weight of the “naked” iPad Pro, most of the time I use the Apple Smart Cover with the back half of the Logitech case; this setup is considerably slimmer and about fourteen ounces lighter. It’s also worth mentioning that if you carry the complete Logitech slim combo case like a book and grab the thick side (where the keyboard is), you might inadvertently squeeze the function key for audio, which causes music to start playing. It’s also uncomfortable to type on your lap with the Logitech keyboard attached; the standing back panel digs into your legs and the keyboard juts out too far (even when folded). A good compromise is to fold out the Apple Smart Cover backwards, under the standing back panel (see photo below) and to use the on-screen keyboard. I’ve found this to be quite comfortable and convenient because the hybrid case (Logitech back + Apple Smart Cover front) is my everyday setup. As you can see below, the folded Logitech keyboard cover and folded Apple Smart Cover are comparable in size when detached and easy to throw in your backpack or tote bag along with the iPad Pro.

IPP hybrid case blog

Typing on the Logitech Slim Combo keyboard is fabulous, by the way. I like it even better than the keyboard on my MacBook Pro. It’s also a breeze to use because the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro doesn’t require Bluetooth pairing; just snap on the keyboard (it’s magnetized), flip out the back panel stand, and get right to work. If you want a Bluetooth keyboard, the Logitech K780 Multi-Device Keyboard is a terrific option that works well with phones, tablets, and any kind of computer (it even includes a keypad), but it’s heavy and only recommended for the home office, not for travel.

Finally, an indispensable accessory is the little Fintie Apple Pencil Cap Holder. You can see it on my Apple Pencil in the photos above. When you remove the end cap from the Apple Pencil to charge it, there’s nowhere to put it the tiny cap, and it’s easily lost because it’s so small. Do yourself a favor and get the handy silicone cap holder attachment.

Recommended Apps 

  • forScore – essential sheet music and PDF reader
  • iReal Pro – Jazz accompaniment and practice app
  • Tempo – flexible and intuitive metronome
  • Tunable – tuner and metronome with recording capabilities
  • Pianist Pro – on-screen piano keyboard
  • GarageBand – music production and audio editing (comes with the iPad)
  • Notion – music notation app for the iPad and desktop platforms (a beta feature uses the Apple Pencil to enter notation by hand, but it’s not reliable yet)
  • PlayByEar – ear training app
  • Tenuto – Music theory app (recommended for students)
  • Fingering – interactive fingering charts for brass and woodwind instruments
  • Fingering Strings – charts for string instruments from the same developer
  • Scales Lexicon – Over 100 scales, modes, jazz scales, and world music scales
  • GeniusScan+ – powerful app that creates PDFs from screenshots and iPad photos
  • iBooks (free on the iPad) and Kindle apps – you need both because some resources are platform-specific
  • Notability – flexible note-taking app (works great with Apple Pencil)
  • GoodNotes – similar to Notability with some different features and templates, especially for sheet music (see below)

IPP GoodNotes example

Recommended Resources

Special Resources for Trumpeters

Recommended Best Practices for using the iPad Pro for Sheet Music

  1. Turn off all notifications on the iPad during rehearsals and performances.
  2. Avoid updating apps right before a concert (especially forScore). You don’t want any surprises or loss of expected functionality or familiar menus.
  3. When using the Apple Pencil with the forScore app, it occasionally gets unpaired when setting up a Bluetooth foot pedal. Just plug the Apple Pencil into the lightning port and check the iOS battery widget on the notification screen to make sure it’s recognized (or check Bluetooth settings for Apple Pencil connection).
  4. In the iPad settings, set the Auto-Lock to “15 Minutes” or “Never” during a performance or dress rehearsal. (Settings > Display & Brightness > Auto-Lock)
  5. Bring along a charger, lightning cord, and external battery on long trips.
  6. Share annotated PDFs with performance markings through forScore’s sharing function (see example page below). This is a terrific time saver!
  7. When conducting from a full score on the iPad Pro, put the tablet on the left side of the music stand and put another printed score or folder on the right side, to balance the weight. I prefer this setup because it’s more convenient to tap the right side of the screen to advance pages with my left hand while the baton is in my right hand. This is very easy. You don’t need a Bluetooth foot pedal when conducting; however using the pedal is a lifesaver when reading off the score when playing cornetto or vented Baroque trumpet.
  8. Bluetooth foot pedal tips: Keep it next to your foot, not in front. It’s much easier to pivot on your heel to tap the pedal with the ball of your foot than to go on a search and rescue mission in the middle of a performance. Also, pick one foot (I prefer the left) to operate the pedal and practice for coordination. This is important when playing standing up; develop a level of comfort and familiarity (always put the pedal in the same reliable place). It takes some adjustment, but not too much. I’ve seen many pianists use the left foot to operate a Bluetooth pedal when using an iPad because the right foot is obviously needed for the piano damper pedals.
IPP annotated score
A page from a score annotated in forScore using Apple Pencil and exported through forScore’s sharing function. In this case (Mozart’s concert aria, “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” K. 505, downloaded from imslp.org), rehearsal letters and interpretive markings were added and shared with the soloists.

The iPad Pro is not quite a laptop replacement … yet. But it’s increasingly becoming the device I rely on most of the time. Let me know if you have any favorite iPad apps and accessories for musicians in the comments section. With iOS 11 coming out soon, there will certainly be new features and apps available, so I’ll try to update this post in the future.

 

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