Why Pixels Instead of Paper?

The MusicGoat website has a list of ten reasons why you would want to use digital music instead of paper music. You can find the complete article here (and Hugh Sung, the creator of the Air Turn Bluetooth page turning [and other functions] device has a book coming soon). To summarize the article, digital music is better because:

  • It eliminates bulk
  • You don't lose music
  • You can find music instantly
  • You can make set lists
  • You can transpose music instantly
  • You can mark up your music as you wish, without ruining it
  • You can eliminate blind spots, bad cuts, and bad page turns
  • You can enlarge your music
  • You can turn everyone's pages (a feature of unrealBook)
  • You can turn pages hand free with AirTurn

I think all of these items are true, and all are important, but there are a few more reasons to go digital when you consider music education in particular:

  • Distribution and collection of music. Sheet music, regardless of type of band, choir, or orchestra, is a hassle when it comes to purchasing, distributing, and collecting music. Parts are lost and damaged, and a music library is difficult to maintain (professional orchestras have full-time librarians). We are starting to see apps, such as Chromatik, that allow for a set list of music to be sent out to choir members–securely. Think of how much space is wasted storing music–not to mention how much paper is used for that music. Think of how much time is spent preparing, distributing, and collecting that music.
  • The music will not be forgotten. I know a small music publisher who has a wonderful collection of Eastern European music. Most of this music will never be of interest to the big publishers, but it is music worth saving. If music is digital, it can be eventually added to public domain libraries (IMSLP, CPDL, and the PDF Band Music Library are some of the best), and never lost. As I am working through my “new” middle school library, I am finding songs from 1890 to 1960 that will likely never be sung again and have long been out of the purchase requests of schools (particularly the sacred music). When this music is digital, it can never be lost.
  • The iPad is the perfect size for most choral scores, with the exception of Earthsongs publications and Mack Wilberg Oxford scores.
  • The ability to link an audio file to your iPad music reader means that you can control an entire music rehearsal from your iPad.
  • Not only can you annotate your music, you can correct printed errors (more common that you would thing) with tools such as forScore's stamps.
  • In the perfect world, a music publisher could push out an update to their scores, correcting errors as they were found.
  • PDF Music Readers on the iPad often have additional tools for the iPad, such as a metronome and a pitch pipe. forScore has a piano!
  • Reliability. I have no qualms using my iPad in a performance–the apps I use are rock solid and trustworthy. Like many other performers and conductors, I find the iPad more reliable than printed music.
  • Hotspots or Links. When you have a score with a repeat or a D.S./D.C. marking, and have an app that can move you with a touch of a button…it is magic. You'll never go back. This has also been beneficial when I have performed musicals that have additional/optional/replacement songs…you can skip to a song and back again, without losing place in the larger score.
  • And finally, you can record while performing with your iPad–a wonderful tool for education and gigging musicians alike (I believe unrealBook is the only app with that feature).

There are still some problems with digital music:


  • Publishers have to make digital music less expensive than printed music, and should offer batch purchases (licenses up to certain amounts of use at one time). With all sincerity, I can order a digital score from Chromatik or Sheet Music Plus, and that digital copy costs more than a paper copy, as our local music store offers a discount of 10% all year.
  • Publishers should make it legal and inexpensive to digitize your library. No school can afford to re-purchase all of their music digitally, particularly when digital music costs as much as paper music.
  • The iPad can be too small for some musicians (although I wonder if they have tried landscape mode with partial page turns)…the 16:10 Android tablets even more so. I'm still hoping for an iPad Pro at some point…particularly for doctors, pilots, instrumental directors, and instrumental players who perform from large-format scores.
  • The iPad *can* be a little too heavy to hold in a choral setting. That said, future versions of the iPad will continue to decrease in weight.
  • Copyright is a mess. 95 years is too long. It is ridiculous that music from the 1930s and 1940s–where the paper is literally falling apart on good copies–is not in the public domain. That said, when I have purchased music that is in the public domain from a publisher, they have always been happy to charge me, and not once have I received a note saying, “You know, you might as well just copy this, because you can legally do so.” The Stanford Part Songs are one example of where I have bought music that is legally in the public domain. The famous Messiah scores are another.
  • I think the eventual answer will be a clearing house that offers scores from all publishers–and iTunes for printed music. You would pay a per-student annual fee, and have access to all scores in a library, up to a certain number of scores per year. Teachers would report which songs and how many copies were used, and the clearing house would then pay the publishers (and the composers) for the songs that were used. This isn't as far off the mark as you would think. As I work through my “new” library, I notice how many former music publishers have become a part of larger companies…in fact, it seems that about 90% of the printed music today is represented by Hal Leonard, Alfred, Hinshaw, or Carl Fischer. Yes, there are additional companies…but most scores are available from a small collection of companies. Why couldn't they get together to cause this to happen? The benefits of such a project would be immense…schools would know the exact cost needed to provide music for their students, music would no longer need to be stored, stamped, shipped, folded, stapled, or printed.



Comments are disabled.