This evening, forScore 5.0 went live on the App Store. forScore is one of the two PDF music readers that I suggest for music teachers, along with unrealBook. For those of you who are new to this blog, this is for two reasons. First, there are situations where one PDF music reader will stop working and you need a backup. This is rare, and occurs most frequently when there is a major iOS update (e.g. iOS 4 to iOS 5)–but if you experience this, it is worth the $6.99 to have the backup. Second, forScore and unrealBook have some features in common, as well as some distinct features. In particular, unrealBook allows for recording while in a rehearsal, has the ability to link unrealBook via Bluetooth so that you can turn pages on multiple devices at once (I found this useful in our fall musical), and it has a number of MIDI features for live performance. However, this post isn't about unrealBook but forScore, so here are some comments about version 5.0.
There are a number of feature requests that I have sent to forScore over the years, and I am not vain enough to think that I am the only person that requested them. Nonetheless, I see two specific requests of mine that have made it into the app. The first is the ability to add letter names on the piano keyboard. Sometimes students can read notes, but cannot play the piano. This will help them in rehearsal on their own time. Second, you can now use restrictions in-app to block certain features, such as the browser. This is really important, so let me start a new paragraph (or two) about this.
I have used forScore on our school iPads (we have three) during choir sectionals. In the past, we had 2nd Generation iPod Touches (in fact, we still have three of these of the five we originally owned). Students would use the music player on the iPod Touches for rehearsal, but would also occasionally quit the music player and then do other things with the iPod Touches (check out the other apps, surf the web, etc.). This, of course, would be fine if the students weren't supposed to be practicing their music.
iOS 6 allows for Guided Access, which allows you to lock an iPad into a specific app, and not to leave that app without a pass code. With forScore (or unrealBook), you can create setlists of the music your choirs are learning, and attach an audio file (generated by the notation software of your choice, or a canned accompaniment) to that song…even a “part heavy” track that features the section's music (e.g. soprano) over the other parts or the piano accompaniment. Once you have a score into a notation program, it is easy to adjust the audio tracks to create such an accompaniment. Within a few minutes (truly a short amount of time), you can change the audio track linked to each song in forScore or unrealBook to match the music/part of the section that will be using the iPad. When the students go to sectionals, they can practice their parts (with an external speaker–bluetooth or wired) and remain locked in the app.
The problem (in this particular case) with both forScore and unrealBook is that each app has its own embedded web browser, so a student could simply enter the browser feature and go off-task (I'm not sure my students have figured out the browser capability, but I can see it happening). So, with forScore version 5.0, you can put restrictions on the Browser, Dropbox, and the Store, meaning that I can lock students into forScore for sectionals and trust that they are using the iPads for only what they were supposed to practice in sectionals.
I have not had time to try all of the new features in version 5.0, but other new additions include two page viewing in landscape format (something unrealBook has had for a while), a separate tab for setlists (outside of the normal music option of the past…this is a nice addition), and a ton (literally fifty) other features.
In terms of the Apple environment, this is very much like the difference between an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S. In terms of true functionality, forScore 5 is going to work very much like forScore 4. But the improvements will make the app–already one of the best for musicians–that much better. This isn't a revolutionary update, but it is a solid evolutionary update. When you have a good app, that is what you hope for–solid evolution over time.
Version 5.0 also brings a slight increase in price, to $6.99…but it is money well spent. If you have forScore, download version 5.0, and if you are a musician and do not own it…buy it today (and also consider adding unrealBook to your app collection as well)!