Notion for iPad (v. 1.2)

As I mentioned yesterday, Notion released an update to the app, which now allows for lyrics AND voice parts.  This is very important to me, as I am a choral music educator.  When I spoke at NCACDA just over a week ago, I mentioned that Notion would be adding lyrics–I had no idea how quickly that update would be coming at the time.

For the record, there are two “real” music notation apps for the iPad.  To this point, neither MakeMusic (Finale) nor Avid (Sibelius) have entered the iOS market with a music notation app, although Avid sells Avid Scorch for the iPad, a Sibelius Reader, and MakeMusic has announced an upcoming Finale Reader for the iPad.  Symphony Pro has been on the market since January 2011, and has had quite a few updates since the introduction.  Each version adds greater complexity, but the program has been a bit buggy as well.  With over 50 million iPads on the market, there is certainly room for both Symphony Pro and Notion.

While I was at the MMEA convention at a resource fair (representing the area of music education technology), I decided to try to put one of the sample scores I received at a reading session into the notation apps that were on my iPad.  Sadly, I wasn’t even able to create a file with the necessary voices (Symphony Pro does not have a standard “voice” instrument in the available instruments, so I chose violin, violin, violin, and piano), but each time I tried to add the piano, the app crashed (I let the developers know, they are aware of the issue and are working on an emergency update).  As such, I started putting the song into Notion, although I didn’t have a lot of time to finish the document.

With the addition of lyrics, I decided to finish that score in Notion for the iPad.  I’ve been working on the score off an on throughout the day.  For the record, I’m a bit of a Finale “pro,” and can work quite rapidly with Speedy Entry, either with the computer keyboard or an external keyboard.  Using Notion for the iPad did slow me down quite a bit, although I was already speeding up by the end of the experiment.

Here are some things that I noticed:

  1. When entering lyrics, you can advance to the next note by pressing the space bar (Symphony Pro, which has had lyrics for some time, has a “next” button, but does not advance with a space).  I add this because it took me a long time to figure out how to do this.  I was entering and exiting the text tool for every syllable…not fun.
  2. Notion has actual “instruments” for Voice, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass
  3. Notion continues to be locked down with two measures per staff system.  It also prints this way.  So if you write something on Notion, you will probably want to export it using the MusicXML export to another program…whether that program is Finale, Sibelius, or MuseScore
  4. There is no way to clone lyrics from system to system, so I found the best solution in homophonic passages was to copy music from one line to the others, and to use the “melody” entry mode to change the notes to the desired notes in the other parts.
  5. In the previous version of Notion, copy and paste did note work for me.  With the new version, copy and paste are working.
  6. There are still some odd bugs.  For example, as you enter notes, sometimes the keyboard will jump octaves (to a preferred range, perhaps?), or as you add a second measure (you do this by highlighting a measure and adding another measure line), Notion jumps to the beginning of the document (if you have to keep adding measures, just keep pressing that new measure line, as the app adds measures even if you can’t see them from the top of the page).
  7. The final song was 105 measures in 4/4 time, in two keys (F and G), with 5 staff lines (Soprano, Alto, Baritone, Piano)
  8. Entering diacritical markings, from accents to slurs is extremely easy in Notion.  I could see myself importing a file from Finale into Notion for iPad just to add these items.  Dynamics are also easy to add in Notion.
  9. There are two ways to enter notes: melody or chords (there is an analog switch that shows the difference), and each has its own benefits.  I found the melody feature to be useful in putting in single lines (that is perhaps the obvious statement of the year), but it also came in useful when changing pitches in homophonic sections where I didn’t want to have to add text each time.
  10. I struggled to be able to copy single lines from multiple staves at one time.  Once the select feature went to the second staff, it selected all possible staves, and there was no way around this.
  11. Don’t forget about the fantastic mixer settings and sounds that come with this app.
  12. There’s still no way to export your audio as an aiff to your iTunes library.
Overall, I’m happy with the end result, even though I would have to move the file to another program if I wanted to work with it.  Admittedly, I’d have to do that anyway; if I wanted the file available on SmartMusic for my students to rehearse with, I would have to convert it to Finale and export it as a SmartMusic file.  I’m not opposed to entering scores this way, but usually I scan them with SmartScore (Finale’s scanning program, although I did update to the full version).
Finale Notepad (Mac or Windows) is free, but I’d have a really hard time suggesting that anyone consider a traditional MIDI lab for a school anymore.  For any high school music theory class…and perhaps most college theory classes, Notion would more than serve the purpose for nearly any computer-based compositions.
There are only 3 major components missing from Notion: A) Audio export to file  B) The ability to customize pages/number of measures per system C) Core MIDI compatibility so an external keyboard could be used to either enter notes or to play music in real time.  I’m sure all of these features are on Notion’s agenda.  I imagine some users would also like the ability to export instruments and data to Garage Band; I certainly wouldn’t argue with that feature (who would ever need to buy an accompaniment track again?).  If you want to buy the app, it is $14.99 and worth every penny (yes, they introduced it for 36 hours at $0.99, and there may always be a future sale, but it is an app worth $14.99).
Don’t get me wrong: I still hope the best for Symphony Pro (I still like Symphony Pro’s layout for entering notes and rests better), and I also would look forward to MakeMusic or Avid’s entry into the field as well (I’m quite pleased about the option of Avid’s video editor for the iPad, too).  There are 50 million iPads on the market with a huge number soon to be added with the introduction of the iPad 3 in March.  With iPads as the focus of most 1-to-1 integration projects, there will be more than enough potential buyers for these apps.