Ten (iOS) Tech Tools to Help a Secondary Music Educator Prepare for a Concert (#5: Notion)


This is a continuing series about ten tech tools (iOS-minded) to help a secondary music educator prepare for a concert.  The idea comes from Amy Burns, who started a series about ten tech tools for elementary music educators prepare for concerts at mustech.net.  She is wrapping up her list with a live webinar (this series on techinmusiced will not be followed by a webinar).

My iPad Pro, my own personal investment, splits time between being a device for school and a device for home.  When it comes to school use of my iPad, there is no doubt that forScore likely gets the most amount of screen time.  When it comes to preparing music, however, Notion is where I spend time.

It is a long story, but when the iPad came out, a couple of college kids came out with a program called Symphony Pro.  It was the first true notation app for the iPad, and it had a lot of issues—but then the team split up as life started after college.  Since that time, Symphony Pro has been re-started and is once again available in the App Store, ever improving.  However, around the time of Symphony Pro’s disappearance, Notion entered into the world of iOS and has really become the Cadillac of notation on the iPad (even factoring in web-based options like Noteflight and Flat.io).

Simply put, Notion for iOS works very well, and is a perfect companion to the Mac/Win version of the program.  I use the iOS version to write music (how I do many ukulele arrangements), edit MusicXML files, and to export audio from Notion.  Can the desktop version do this?  Sure—but I always have my iPad Pro with me (or my iPhone), and there is a huge benefit to audio on the iPad.  The entire library of Notion sounds on the iPad is $30.  The full library of sounds on Mac/Win is $300 ($150 on sale right now, and yes, I’m extremely tempted to buy it).  The iPad sounds are not as dynamically diverse as you will find with the full Mac/Win version—but they are good—better than the sounds that come with the full desktop version of other notation programs.  And to be honest, when I am using an accompaniment with my choirs, I am not usually concerned about slight dynamic contrasts on a score….most of the time, I am concerned that my students can hear the accompaniment and stay together as a group!  Additionally, Notion on the iPad has a mixer that is related to Studio One in appearance, making it very easy to create part-heavy audio tracks (rehearsal track) or part-empty tracks (accompaniments).

If you want percussion parts, you can enter then using Notion for iOS, but in truth, the Mac/Win version has wonderful percussion “standard” beats that can be dragged into the score, saving a lot fo time and resulting in a good sounding percussion part.   Pretty much whatever goes into the Mac/Win version of a score is visually correct and often played back correctly on the iOS version.  The major tool missing from the iOS version is the Mac/Win version tool called N-Tempo where you can either tap in a beat and have a song follow your pre-planned tempo changes—or N-Tempo’s ability to be controlled live in performance (a number of broadway musicals use Notion for this reason).

While I created some accompaniments with GarageBand and others with iReal Pro, for scores that had existing accompaniments, I use Notion for iOS.  I scan in the music with NotateMe or Sheet Music Scanner, export to Notion for iOS, and then work on that file, exporting the final audio to forScore.  Additionally, your work in Notion for iOS is saved in iCloud, which can be opened on your Mac, allowing you to make changes (e.g. add a percussion part), and save—leaving the updated file ready to be opened by Notion for iOS.

Notion is a $17 app with In-App Purchases for sounds (available independently or as a bundle) and for handwriting.

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