Music Notation for the iPad: Update Week
This week, updates were released for both Symphony Pro and Notion for the iPad.
Symphony Pro is now at version 2.3, and Notion is now at 1.1.For the record, my main use of both of these apps–for now–is based around the idea of importing MusicXML files with the intent of exporting rehearsal tracks for my choirs. Sadly, both updates leave me no further along in that process.In regards to Symphony Pro, my MusicXML files are still importing incorrectly and are crashing when I attempt to play them. I am usually working with choral music of 3 to 6 staves (solo & piano, SATB & piano), so it isn’t as if I’m attempting to import a large orchestral score. On the other hand, the piano parts often have multiple layers. I’m grateful for the other MusicXML iPad apps, so I can check to see if a MusicXML file is improperly written/created, or if it is a problem with a specific app. When I open my MusicXML files in SeeScore (MusicXML reader) or Notion, the files display (and in the case of Notion, play) correctly. Furthermore, the vocal layout is lost in Symphony Pro, whereas it appears correctly in SeeScore and Notion. I have no doubt that the 2.3 update added many features to Symphony Pro–but they are additions that are not centered on my primary use of the app at this time. I tried to visit Symphony Pro’s website this evening, and it would not open (symphonypro.net), so I can’t review those additions at this time. Ultimately, my wishlist for Symphony Pro is that it makes itself more vocal-friendly, and that it would import my MusicXML files correctly.
Regarding Notion, two new instruments were added, and Dropbox was added as well. Sadly, the Dropbox integration isn’t working for me, and the instruments aren’t on my immediate list of needed items. My wish list for Notion includes getting Dropbox to work (as intended), for the addition of vocal features (it SHOWS existing MusicXML data, but does not create or edit vocal information), and most importantly, for the ability to export audio from the app. By the way, the process of adding measures to Notion is somewhat frustrating, as you have to add a measure line at the end of your piece, and every two additional measures cause the scrolling page to go to the top of the song, meaning you have to scroll all the way down to add a maximum of two more measures, before heading back to the top again.
Neither app needs to cater to my needs. However, as I report on the use of Technology in Music Education, I need to do so from my perspective as a teacher and how I would use an app. For the record, the developers of Symphony Pro have always been quick to respond to my questions and the questions of others. Notion seems like a larger company that doesn’t have that grass-roots ear to the ground. I sent them an e-mail shortly after Notion was released, and didn’t even get an auto-response that my question had been received. I’ve mentioned this before, but my greatest fear of having the larger companies enter the world of iOS apps is the potential loss of customer service we’ve become accustomed to.
Both Symphony Pro and Notion have their own areas of strength or superiority. I’ve found Symphony Pro to be easier to use when entering notes, both in terms of the layout, and in the fact that you can actually play notes into the program, even with an external keyboard. Notion has great sounds, and so far, it has been relatively crash-free for me. At a $14.99 entry point, I want BOTH of these apps to succeed–I really do. These apps are tremendously important for music and music education. They represent the next step beyond Garage Band, which is being actively sold as an app “so that you can make music without knowing anything about music.” Garage Band can be an entry point of learning more about music, instead of an ending point. These iPad music notation programs can offer that next step.
In terms of teaching music theory or composition, in a traditional sense, these apps allow for the substitution of expensive computer labs with expensive proprietary software with an iPad and an relatively inexpensive app. There are few music theory assignments in year one or two that couldn’t be accomplished with these apps (granted, Notion needs vocal capabilities). In other words, you can take a MIDI lab with you whereever you go, and you can teach music theory in any classroom.