Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

NextPage Newsletter

Scott Kantner is the developer of NextPage, a PDF Sheet Music Reader for the iPad.

I describe NextPage as forScore-lite, or unrealBook-lite.

As a middle school choir teacher in a 1:1 setting, I found that the best-of-class PDF music readers offered too many features for my students.  Instead of singing, they would be using the metronome, searching the web, or playing the piano.   While I can lock them into an app with our MDM, the apps did too much.  Even the free option, PiaScore, did too much (they did not understand why I asked for YouTube to be removed from the core of their app).

NextPage was a good solution, and we bought 300 copies of it.  The program offers all the basic things you need in a PDF music reader.

We eventually moved away from NextPage as Showbie could be used as a PDF viewer with annotation.  NextPage would be a better solution, but it is easier for me to put students into one app for the whole hour rather than to try to change apps throughout the hour.  Every time you re-focus an app, strange things happen to some student iPads.

So…I like NextPage and recommend it, even though we are not currently using it.  Some users might find NextPage a good, uncomplicated option for music reading on the iPad.

Scott is starting a blog about NextPage 3, and sent out a newsletter.  The newsletter is short and talks about the status of NextPage–and it also has some performance tips at the bottom of the newsletter.  I wanted to share it with you.

NextPage November Newsletter

Handwriting and Notion on the iPad/iPhone?

Earlier this evening, the latest version of Notion for iOS (link) hit the app store, specifically version .143.  I am a member of the beta testing group for Notion, and have signed a non-disclosure statement about the app.  Specifically, I cannot talk about what is in a beta until the features go live.  I also cannot talk about the process of app testing.

That is all fine and good, as the latest version of Notion now offers handwriting from My Script.  The folks of My Script developed a software development kit that allows any app (that wishes to license the SDK) to add handwriting recognition for music.

If my memory serves, the inclusion of My Script in Notion completes a loop.  Back in early 2013, a company called “Think Music Technology” made a splash in the world of technology and music when it showed a coming app that would convert written music to digital music.  This was life-changing “stuff.”  It turns out the promo video was not an existing app (several music technology bloggers took great joy in debunking the promo video) but instead a part of a coming crowd sourcing campaign.  Think Music Technology eventually ran an unsuccessful campaign, and the product never came to market.  Two of Think Music Technology’s partners were My Script and Adonit (a stylus/accessory manufacturer).

My Script took advantage of that failed campaign, taking writing samples from musicians and using them to create their SDK.  There is a live web page from My Script showing music annotation, which can still be accessed at  My Script also makes that calcuator that you can write equations on and have the app solve the equations (to the chagrin of math teachers everywhere).

Since 2013, there have been a number of apps that convert handwritten notation to digital notation, most notably NotateMe and StaffPad on Windows.  I don’t know of any other company using the My Script SDK for music notation.

To be honest, handwritten notation on an iPad (or Windows device) is not the fastest way to get music into digital notation.  It is fun to use handwriting apps, but for real work you will want a keyboard (ideally QWERTY and piano) to enter notes.

Where I have found Notion’s handwriting to be most useful is in adding expression, ties, and slurs.  Slurs are a bit of a nuisance on the iPad, but drawing in a slur is a very quick solution.  If you add expression elements to your scores (most of us do), then the in-app purchase for annotation will be worth the investment.  Do you have to buy the handwriting feature?  No.  Could it make your life easier?  Yes.  Remember that the feature is somewhat new and there may be occasional bugs to work out.  Whenever you enter on the cutting edge of a new feature, expect some bumps along the way.

I wish that the handwriting could be included as a part of the program’s initial cost, mainly because schools using volume purchasing cannot access in-app purchases (IAP).  Speaking without any authority from the company, I see why they need to charge, as I am sure that My Script doesn’t offer the SDK for free (nor should they).

At a session I attended at NAfME, one fellow attendee complained about the $30 IAP for the sounds in Notion.  I attempted to make point that these sounds would cost hundreds of dollars on other platforms.  While the app itself is $14,99, you can add the sounds for $29.99, and handwriting for $7.99.  That’s still less than $60 for an app that can do most of what you need a notation program to do on the iPad while using fantastic audio samples.  That is still less than StaffPad on Windows ($70), and still significantly cheaper than any other desktop notation software with the exception of MuseScore, which is free.  All that is to say that I think the app is a steal at this price point, even though it costs significantly more than your average $1.99 iPad App.

NAfME Session #1 – 30 Apps in 60 Minutes

As I write this, we have just spent 14 hours on the road, driving to Tennessee so that I can present a session called “30 Apps in 60 Minutes” at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Nashville.  This presentation is on Sunday at 11:00am.

I have given many “XX apps in 60 minute” presentations, which often become a marathon attempt at showing the best of the apps that are out there–often showing 3 or 4 different apps with a similar focus.

For this session, I wanted some time to be able to discuss each app, and thus had to pick (what I feel) the best thirty apps on the market.  Apps were left off the list, and other than grouping all of the GAFE apps as one app, I kept to the list of 30.

My second presentation will be on forScore at 2:30 on Monday.

And if you are interested, the session “handout” is here: 30 Apps in 60 Minutes (only available in PDF format).  I will add the presentation and the handout to my “Past Presentations” in the future.

I am looking forward to presenting at and attending NAfME!  If you are at NAfME, I hope to see you there!

Symphony Pro 4 is Out!

This past week, Symphony Pro released their latest version, Symphony Pro 4, in the App Store. Syphony Pro was the first “legitimate” composition app in the App Store back in early 2011. Since that time, Notion (also on sale at the moment) came out. Additionally, there are now also quality HTML 5 options for notiation, such as Noteflight and

To read more about Symphony Pro, check out their website.

What I love about Symphony Pro is that it was the product of some college students who were not music majors, and as they began their “real” lives, the app was abandonded–and then rather suddenly and shockingly, it came back.

When it comes down to my workflow, Notion is still my go-to option on iPad (and now iPhone) because it is simply a more mature app that mirrors its Win/Mac counterpart. In comparison, earlier versions of Symphony Pro were not capable of serving my workflow. Symphony Pro 4 is a HUGE improvement that represents many months of development. They are squashing bugs and adding features like crazy. To be honest, Symphony Pro still can't replace Notion in my workflow–but that doesn't mean that it can't work in YOUR workflow. Quite simply, the latest version might be the only music notation app you ever need (as for myself, I keep looking for additional solutions).

Symphony Pro 4 is priced well–an introductory price–there is a $4.99 updgrade option for existing users (adds additional features), and a $8.99 price for new users. I love the idea of an upgrade price; the App marketplace of “buy once, use forever” is unrealistic because developers can't afford to live on a single purchase for the life of a product. This is why Sibelius has moved to an annual fee, and why Finale cost $149 for an upgrade. This is also why we are lacking quality apps for music education on other platforms (primarily Chromebooks), as developers deserve to be paid. Google can provide Google Apps for free as they collect data and sell information (highly filtered in education, but still true)…but Chromebook developers don't get paid that way. This is why the best features in the best Chromebook apps are subscription based (and I'm still not sure how is going to make money).

So–if you haven't tried Symphony Pro 4 for a while, the basic upgrade is free, and it might be worth sending $4.99 to the company for the added features (and to support their efforts); and if you are new to the iPad, it very well might be an app worth adding to your toolkit along with Notion, forScore, and unrealBook amongst others. It should be noted that Symphony Pro 4 is not a universal iOS app, and a separate version is available for iPhone.

Having high quality options for native apps in iOS is a great things for users. And while HTML 5 apps offer solutions for all platforms, there are still things native apps can do better and more efficiently (remember–Win/Mac devices also focus on native apps). Perhaps someday HTML 5 web apps wil be the only option–but we are still years away from that point.

As a closing note, interacting with Symphony Pro and Notion reaffirm my belief that it is risky to purchase a 1st generation iPad Pro in November (although knowing myself, I may have one by March). The reason is that force touch, or 3D Touch, will add the ability to easily add secondary menus to apps like Symphony Pro and Notion. Granted, any current iPad doesn't have it, either–but an iPad Pro will cost nearly the same as an entry level MacBook and will not be something you want to replace in year 2. The Apple Pencil may add some of those features–but you know that 3D Touch will eventually come to iPads.



JamStik+ Review (plus Video Link)


On Friday, my JamStik+ arrived from Zivix.  The JamStik is a small guitar that connects to your iPad or Mac.  The original JamStik was sponsored in part by a Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, and the JamStik+ was sponsored by a very profitable KickStarter campaign.

From a distance, the JamStik and JamStik+ look identical.  The original JamStik connected to your device via wi-fi (the JamStik itself became a wi-fi hub).  Since the time the original JamStik shipped (a year ago), Apple introduced a new Bluetooth MIDI standard for iOS and Mac OS. Zivix quickly moved to make their wi-fi products into Bluetooth MIDI products.  The JamStik+ brings Bluetooth MIDI to the JamStik, as well as an additional pickup.  These changes result in a device that is easier to connect (although the wi-fi version was not difficult) and more sensitive.  The fretboard finger position sensors (IR sensors) remain unchanged.

If you follow this blog, you know that I am 100% in support of Bluetooth MIDI, and I expect most platforms to adopt this standard as Apple is now on the international Bluetooth advisory board (they also recently joined the USB board).  Compared to the old days of MIDI (a more than 30 year old standard), Bluetooth MIDI is truly “turn on and play.”  The hardware and software take away all of the old challenges of MIDI.

In my playing of the JamStik and JamStik+, both devices feel the same.  It is simply easier to connect to the JamStik+, and the JamStik+ is slightly more accurate as I play Zivix’s JamTutor, which is a free app available to JamStik owners. For the record, the original JamStik uses an app called “JamStik Connect” to establish the MIDI connection, while the JamStik+ uses the “JamStik+” app to simply turn on the Bluetooth MIDI connection and to provide audio events (sounds/instruments).  Once you have that MIDI connection (wi-fi on the original JamStik, or Bluetooth on the JamStik+), you can use the JamStik with any Zivix app, or with any of hundreds (if not thousands) of Core MIDI apps on the market.

It is worth mentioning that “real” guitar players still complain about the device and the fact it isn’t a “real” guitar.   A quick look at the device should have told them it isn’t a “real” guitar, as it only has five frets.   In truth, this device really isn’t for them–except for the fact that it can be used as an input device into apps like Notion.  This means that a guitar player who does not play piano could now use the guitar an a entry method.  I would think that would be appealing to “real” guitar players.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Zivix make a full size JamGuitar some day, since they have the basic technology figured out already.

One of the things I have seen with guitar players in guitar classes is that many players come in unable to read music–but they can read tablature.  They like to look up tablature on the web.  If your JamStik is connected to your iPad via wi-fi, you can’t look up tablature.  If you have a JamStik+, it connects via Bluetooth, meaning students can still use wi-fi on their device (JamStik+ will operate in the background).

Both JamStiks bring a number of features to education: real strings, no tuning required, and a small footprint.  You can use Zivix’s JamTutor apps (one is available, another is coming) for individualized instruction, or you can use an existing guitar method, as all of those methods only use the first  five frets (if that) of the guitar.  Zivix recently reached a distribution agreement with Hal Leonard, and I am hoping that some of Hal Leonard’s guitar methods find themselves embedded in future Zivix apps.  Wouldn’t it be great to have an app that taught student guitar via gameification, but taught notation/literacy in addition to tablature?

If you adopt JamStiks, you do have to figure out a plan for charging instruments, and I keep bothering the folks at Zivix to provide a lab set of JamStiks for schools that would include a storage cart, extra batteries, and strings.  I had a set of nine (original) JamStiks to use with some students last year, and under daily use, the devices hold up well.  We have not suffered a broken string, and battery life is still good.  If you do use JamStiks, I encourage writing down each device’s Bluetooth or wi-fi identifier, and then printing that identifier on a label (P-Touch?) so that students know what device they are connecting to.  Tony Strand used (original) JamStiks with his guitar program and had good results.

Original JamStiks can be bought at the Zivix website ( for $199 (probably while supplies last) and the new JamStik+ can be purchased for $299.  This is within striking distance of a quality school guitar (plus case).  If you are interested in a classroom set, I would contact Zivix directly and inquire about education pricing.

As you can tell, I love this device and its potential for music education.  I love the updates to the JamStik that are found in the JamStik+.  If you are a music educator and you have any dealing with guitar–I have a suspicion that you will like this device, too!


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