My most important iPad apps – PDF Music Readers

I currently have a student teacher, and she does not have an iPad. As a result, she uses a traditional folder with sheet music. Ultimately, that entails having thirty-six pieces of music for three curricular choirs and two extra-curricular choirs. I weighed her folder, and it weighs three pounds, 4.6 ounces. It also is about 2.5 inches thick (Note: All weight measurements were taken on my USPS digital postal scale).

I also checked out some student folders. This is the folder of one of our choir co-presidents, who is in the top choir and two extra-curricular choirs, meaning that she is responsible for twenty-one pieces of music. Her folder weighed in at two pounds, .9 ounces. Her music alone weighs one pound, four ounces.

I also weighed the folder of one a student in our women’s choir, which has the fewest number of pieces–six–although one of them is a twelve-minute medley from Fiddler on the Roof. Her folder weighed in at one pound, 4.4 ounces, and her music alone was 9.1 ounces.

Comparatively, my iPad 2 in the Pad & Quill Octavo case weighs one pound, 15.9 ounces. The iPad 2 (alone) weighs one pound, 4.9 ounces.

As I’ve said many times before, the iPad’s 9.7 inch screen is very close to the actual size of octavo choral music. Wikipedia determines “octavo” as being between 8 and 10 inches in height. This is also why I love the name of the Pad & Quill case. Some pieces don’t fit quite well–particularly those that deviate from the octavo size (e.g. Earthsongs publications). But most choral pieces look just about right on the iPad. True, a free-flowing music reader, such as SeeScore (the only program like it) are ideal for the iPad–but scores have to be in MusicXML format, and most purchased music isn’t available in that format. You also cannot annotate on SeeScore, which is another aspect of music readers (of any kind) that I feed is essential. Converting sheet music to MusicXML requires scanning or entry by hand–a lot of effort. Until sheet music is sold specifically formatted for tablet computers, PDF Music Readers are the way to go. Again, the iPad will work best when it can function as an iPad, rather than a paper substitute–but with PDFs and choral music, it works pretty well most of the time.

PDF music readers also offer some additional bonuses for the rehearsal. For example, UnrealBook has the best setlist features for PDF music readers that annotate. I also like the built-in pitch pipe, Dropbox integration, in-app fully functioning audio player (for more than one track), and easy annotation access with programmable presets. ForScore offers a great page caching feature (speeds up page turns), has an aesthetically pleasing design, and a powerful way to add metadata to songs. Both developers are continually updating their apps. That’s a win-win for all of us.

Ultimately, when I have UnrealBook or ForScore on my iPad, I have instant access to all of my scores. I can change titles and be ready significantly faster than even my fastest students can change scores in their folders. I have the ability to play accompaniment or sample recordings, give pitches through the iPad, and I can make marks in the scores. I don’t have to flip between thirty-six different pieces of music, or keep them organized in a folder. As a high school choir teacher, there is no question that these PDF Music Readers have changed my life. I only hope that we’ll reach a point where my students will also have tablets so that they can benefit from this technology as well. They could take their music home every day, and practice with audio tracks on their device.

The iPad has a lot of uses in education–I also use Keynote (presentations), mirroring (iPad 2), Noteshelf (note-taking), PDF Expert (filling out PDFs), Numbers (grading & music library), Pages (documents of all kinds), and other apps, but by far, PDF music readers have most impacted my life. This has also been true of the guitar methods book I scanned and use during guitar class (mirroring is great for this, too). I imagine that elementary band directors could have a similar experience with elementary methods books…bringing all the method books for all the instruments at all times. If size was an issue, for most elementary level books, the iPad could be turned to landscape mode–or even mirrored on a screen.

One other quick note: our school recently obtained an upright piano for our orchestra program, and I’ve noticed that when the iPad is on the upright instead of a grand, it is much closer to you, and much easier to see detail, even on smaller scores. Grand pianos keep music (and the iPad) much further away.


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