A week with forScore

iOS 5 is offering challenges to PDF Music Readers.  For example, forScore had a message on their support page that it wasn’t working with Beta versions of iOS 5 (that message is no longer on the support page).

The transition on the iPad from iOS 3.X to iOS 4.X was difficult for many apps, and I’m expecting a similar transition.  As the release of iOS 5 approaches, I’m trying to be ready for every contingency, as I’ve made the iPad essential in my teaching.

In summary of many months of working with the iPad, the two PDF music readers I can suggest without compromise are UnrealBook and forScore.  I’ve been a beta tester of UnrealBook, and UnrealBook has offered features that are very conducive to the music classroom.  At the same time, forScore has always had a more polished look, and the feature list has grown over the forty updates they’ve released since the introduction of the app.

Also–as of yet, there is no PDF music reader for the Android or TouchPad.  So I consider iOS users to be blessed to have multiple choices.  Even some of the apps I don’t consider in the same league as UnrealBook or forScore would be a blessing on the other platforms.

So, after using forScore for the week, how did things go?  Very well, as you can imagine.  forScore is a mature app with lots of functionality.  Let me provide a list of observations:

  • Downloading using Dropbox has been fantastic.  This is a new feature with forScore 3.0.  It would be nice to be able to download all the contents of a Dropbox folder at one time.  Also missing is the alphabetical scroll feature for Dropbox that is elsewhere in forScore.
  • I wonder how iCloud will work versus Dropbox.  A rumor this week was that Apple tried to buy Dropbox.  That tells you how “Apple” Dropbox really is.
  • The ability to edit pages and order of a score is nice.  I wish there was a way to delete more than one page at a time.  For example, we’re working on Vivaldi’s Credo, and I wanted to create a PDF of each movement from within forScore (I could have made bookmarks, but I wanted to link a separate audio track to each movement…whereas I can only link one audio track to the full movement).  I had to delete a lot of pages to make four individual PDFs out of forScore.
  • The way to set links (hotspots) or to be able to arrange pages is wonderful…it gives the user the choice of how they want to handle D.S., D.C., repeats, and Codas in their music.  Bravo.
  • I like the ability to export a forScore file with annotations to another user.
  • Annotation is generally good, although I occasionally exit without hitting “done,” which causes annotations to be lost.  I also like the stamp features (adding sharps as reminders), although there were some bugs with the visual “drag” feature (you see where you are dragging a sharp if you keep your finger on the screen).
  • I also like the ability to change pages while editing…not having to close the editing tool to mark something on the next page.
  • Page turning is always fast with forScore.  I don’t know if anyone does it better.
  • The PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth device works great–I just forget to use it and keep touching the screen!
  • I love the ability to scroll through a larger work with a thumbnail of each page as you go.
  • I had problems with the program defaulting to the first page of a PDF.  For example, I printed my attendance rosters as a PDF and then worked off that PDF to place students in sections.  When working with the 4th page of the PDF, I would switch to another song (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) to play as students sang, and then back to the roster PDF.  The roster PDF would always go back to page 1, and I’d have to go forward three pages.  I wish there was a way to quickly switch between two PDFs in cases like these, and that the PDF would return to where I last was.
  • However, for a concert, I’d want to be able to reset all PDFs in a playlist, so I wouldn’t be on the wrong page for the start of each song.
  • The setlist button is still difficult to work with.  I don’t know how it could be incorporated differently, but it is 5 touches to get from a song in one setlist (think choir A) to a song in a different setlist (choir B), all pressing tiny buttons:
    touch screen to bring up menu->Press note button->Press back button->Press next set list->Press song in setlist.
  • When looking for a score, I don’t like that I have to go to “Composer” to select “All Scores.”  Maybe I’m strange, but I look for scores by title, not by composer.   I’d rather the upper level tab be “All Scores” with a choice of “Composers” next (the opposite of the current arrangement).

Do I miss anything from UnrealBook? Yes.  The same is true when I’m using UnrealBook–I miss some things from forScore.  Here’s a small list:

  • Setlists.  If you use UnrealBook with multiple set lists, it is simply the best.  2-4 taps to be where you want to be for the next song, with bigger selection buttons/areas.  It’s just easier to navigate set lists on UnrealBook than ForScore.
  • Audio player.  I like how Unrealbook links audio in the toolbar (out of the way of the music) as well as the ability to play any song at any time through the app.  This is important if you are a teacher and are using audio from your device…you don’t need to exit the app.
  • One touch editing.  Touch the pen, get to editing.  (For the record, I’ve set forScore to start annotation with a two finger touch, but a one finger touch on an ever present toolbar icon seems quicker–as well as avoids unintentional presses).
  • And two tools…pitch pipe & recorder.   UnrealBook has them, forScore does not.

Once again, you can’t go wrong with either app, and we’re fortunate to have choices.  Even the worst iOS music readers would be welcome on Android or TouchPad devices.  I don’t know how long I’ll keep the ForScore-only experiment going, but I do want to warn readers to be ready for changes with iOS 5, some which may cause problems for our favorite programs in the short run.

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