There are a number of “handwriting” apps available, and many of them are quite good. I personally have favored Penultimate because it works so well, particularly with a stylus. I know some music educators and administration that use SoundNote, because you can take notes and record audio at the same time (Notes Plus can also do audio recording while writing or typing). I’ve got all these apps on my iPad, but as of late, I’ve migrated completely to Noteshelf for written notes.

I first saw Noteshelf when it was discussed on TUAW. As a side note, it is important to find blogs that discuss the things that interest you. Those blogs will discuss the major events of the day (in that subject area), offer reviews of hardware and software, and let you know the good bargains of the day. I’m fully aware that some blogs receive payment for their reviews–which is why you should do further research on any app priced over $.99.

Noteshelf, at $4.99, offers four features beyond Penultimate. First, it offers music paper as a “background.” As a music educator, the ability to write notation by hand is important (Penultimate uses a hand-drawn music staff as part of various promotional pictures of the app).

Second, Noteshelf has a “zoom” function which is very similar to Note Taker HD and Notes Plus. As a result, you can write very accurately by hand (letters or music), with either a finger or a stylus. Other than SmartNote, which is far more difficult to work with, (to my knowledge) none of the other prominent handwriting programs feature a music staff background as a “core template.”

Third, Noteshelf allows you to import pictures (In the iPad version of Safari, just tap and hold a photo to save it to your camera roll) and position them on the notebook paper. You can then annotate the picture by hand. This feature has many educational uses (beyond music), and it is a feature I have wanted for a long time. It is far easier to notate a picture by hand rather than on a PC–this is another winning feature.

Finally, Noteshelf also has a baseball score card, and people in my (wife’s side of the) family love to fill out score sheets when they go to baseball games. No, that’s not related to music education, but it is part of the reason I was willing to spend $4.99 on the app.

It is also worth mentioning that different pens are incredibly easy to access and use, there are undo and redo buttons, and all notebooks are “stored” in an iBooks-style bookshelf. Documents can be easily exported in PDF or jpg format, via e-mail, Dropbox, Evernote, or even to AirPrint

There are some “missing” features (for my preferences), such as the ability to write music on a non-blue background, the ability to use different kinds of “paper” templates in the same notebook, the ability to create your own templates, the ability to add typed notes, and the ability to record audio while taking notes. These features, of course, would make Noteshelf the preeminent note-taking app, not just my preferred handwriting app.

With Noteshelf’s functionality and ability to be used for music notation, it becomes part of my “recommended iPad apps for music education,” along with UnrealBook, ForScore, and Symphony Pro.

More about Noteshelf can be learned from their webpage at


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