Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

A nice forum for PDF Music Readers

I have mentioned this before, but Aron Nelson (creator of unrealBook) has put together a very mice resource for PDF music readers.  He has expanded the forum with a few other tech tips for iPad users as well.

If you haven’t logged into the forum–please consider joining, and asking questions if you have them!


Sheet Music Scanner: MusicXML ready!

Some time ago, I blogged about a couple of apps that could take a picture of your music and play it back for you.  To be honest, I can see some use for such a feature–but I needed a scanning app to do more.  I need scanning apps to be accurate and export MusicXML to another program.

Well, the developer of Sheet Music Scanner took that feedback and kept working on their app.  To make a long story short, I have been pretty sick (when you hear the new episode of our podcast, you will know what I am saying) and I also was a bit dismissive of the app after trying it out originally.  I put off testing of the new features when I should have been looking at the app with an open mind.

Once again, I made a foolish mistake.  Lesson learned (once again): never assume that because something doesn’t meet your needs that it cannot improve to meet your needs.

This weekend, the developer of the app released the newest version, which  includes a couple of amazing features:

  1. It works on iPad or iPhone (it always has, but I just wanted to mention this)
  2. You can open a PDF from an online storage location (iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive) and recognize the score.  No other scanning app for iOS deals with PDFs.
  3. You can export to MusicXML.

I have been putting this to the test with some choral music.  I have been pleasantly surprised by the results.  For example, here is a Mozart score from the Choral Domain Public Library:

After saving the score to Dropbox and opening with Sheet Music Scanner, the app took about two minutes to process the seven page song (it moves as fast as 5 pages a minute on my iPad Air 2).  I then exported to MusicXML and opened the score in Notion for iOS:


I did edit the first measure which ended up having an additional half note, no time signature, and no key signature (the key signature began in measure 4).  That editing took all of 20 seconds.  The end result was a highly accurate scan–with the exception of the multi-measure rests on the next pages.

There are a number of things the app does not do (yet), such as: triplets / tuplets, percussion notation, dynamics, also double sharps, double flats and grace notes.  These are all on the developer’s roadmap over the next year.

It also doesn’t scan lyrics, and after initially being disappointed in that, I wonder if that isn’t just a blessing in disguise?  As the app just “gives you the notes,” doesn’t that make it a better teaching tool rather than a tool for copyright infringement?  The app also doesn’t include diacritical markings like accents, staccatos, etc.  And to be honest, if you need to add those, use Notion and its new handwriting feature.

I did try a 37 page double-choir Bach score, which the app crashed on.  I don’t blame the app–I have seen live choirs crash on the same literature!

Here is the amazing thing: the app is $3.99.  You will have to do some clean-up, and you will need to do some editing.  But this is a developer who has figured out how to scan music, in an industry that has been developing similar products for 20 years or more!  There is no doubt that NotateMe with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase is more accurate than Sheet Music Scanner, or that it scans for more things–but the NotateMe package is $70 (already a better investment than computer apps that do the same thing)–and Sheet Music Scanner is $3.99.

Seriously–go spend the $3.99 for Sheet Music Scanner and $25.00 for Notion (buy the handwriting feature) and try out this combo for yourself.  I think you will be amazed at what you can do!

Note Rush (Audio-Sensing Note Game)

I was recently contacted by the developer of a new app in the App Store (released in June) called Note Rush.  The app “gameifies” music reading by detecting the sound of an instrument versus the pitch showed on the screen.  It is a universal app on both iPhone and iPad.

Note Rush features three skins (ladybug, space, and soccer) and fifteen levels (five for treble clef, five for treble and bass clef, and five for bass clef).  The app first asks you to play middle c, which establishes middle c for the instrument.  In other words, if you have clarinet, it will SEE c, but play B-flat.  This allows the program to painlessly take care of transposing instruments.  Then notes come across the screen, and you play those notes.  Depending on your speed (the goal is displayed), you earn stars for your effort.

(The three skins of Note Rush)

The app will eventually allow you to set your own parameters for your own levels, and may possibly allow users to share self-created levels with other users.

I pulled out my ukulele, and was able to work successfully through levels 1-3 on the Treble Clef area.  I couldn’t go any further, as the 4th level required G below middle C.  The program worked perfectly with my ukulele.


Five levels with three settings, “custom” coming soon

The levels are geared towards pianists first, with the intent to move along rather quickly.  This may not work with your instrument or how you would want to teach instruments, so the coming ability to create your own levels or to customize the game will be much appreciated.  For example, I would want to make levels for ukulele using String 3 (C & D), then String 2 (E, F, an G), then Strings 2 & 3.  If you are teaching beginner band, you might want to make different tests for different instruments.

In summary, Note Rush is attractive and innovative in its approach to transposing instruments (you don’t have to choose an instrument).  It will truly show its value for music educators in the near future when you are able to design your own challenges.  There are other apps that share the ability to assess played pitch versus printed pitch for various instruments with customized settings, such as Staff Wars Live, another app I recommend.  However, Staff Wars Live only has one theme, whereas Note Rush has three skins, and Note Rush has the famous “three star” gameification which our students have been trained to crave through popular games such as Angry Birds.  The app is currently (September 2016) priced at $3.99, and when customized exercises are available, will be very much worth that price.  Just remember that the ability to customize levels is not yet available (again, as of September 2016).

Thank you to Note Rush for a promo code, and as a reminder, when you purchase an app from a referral link, a percentage of the purchase comes back to the author out of Apple’s 30% of the sale price–the developer continues to receive their full portion of the app purchase price.

forScore 10 coming soon

A few years ago, I attempted to move my presentations away from “60 Apps in 60 Minutes” to sessions that were based on best practice with some of the apps.  To my surprise, these sessions were not of interest to many state music education associations–they wanted the “app list” presentations.  Even today, I am amazed at how many core apps are still unknown to music educators, even for apps that have been around since the iPad was introduced in 2010.

A few posts ago, I blogged about Newzik, a new app that is both a PDF and MusicXML reader.  This is a new idea, and you can see the benefits of the MusicXML format when you work with the app.  The fact is that most musicians do not have access to MusicXML files, and have access to PDF files which were hopefully obtained or created legally.

If you have PDF files, there are a handful of PDF readers that I recommend.  This includes forScore, unrealBook, and NextPage among others.  forScore and unrealBook are the most developed PDF music readers that you will find on any platform (iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Linux, or Android).  While there are other solutions on other platforms, iPad users are blessed with the best-in-class options for reading music.

I presented on forScore at NAfME last November (and no, an hour isn’t enough), and recently came across a tool in the notation area I had not seen before…stretchable shapes, such as crescendos and decrescendos.  Apparently those have been in forScore since version 7.

I have a pretty good grasp on forScore, and there are still tools in the app that I am learning about it.  When I present on the “basic” functions of forScore, it is pretty clear that many music educators have no idea of some of the fantastic featrures offered by forScore, even when they have the app installed on their devices.

This summer, forScore is going to release their 10th version of the software.  You can read a detailed report here .

I am impressed by the new audio tools…the ability to speed up or slow down at pitch will be a great tool for musicians.  Another audio feature is the ability to easily create looped playback–which would be awesome for drilling sections of music in a rehearsal or sectional.  I like forScore’s new ability to insert content from one PDF to another.  I am waiting to buy an iPad Pro until the fall, but I look forward to working with forScore with an Apple Pencil.   And forScore’s enhanced features for Darkroom (taking pictures of a score to use) and “deskew” from the crop tool will be of great assistance to music educators.  This just scratches the surface of forScore 10.

And it will be a free upgrade to owners of forScore, even those people that bought the app six years ago.

I have a suite of music education apps that I use more than other apps.  All of these apps have continued to innovate and to add features as apps have matured (as well as the OS and the APIs that give developers more power).    If you haven’t looked at some of these apps in a while–take the time to get reacquainted.  You might be surprised at what they can do!

Look for forScore 10 later this summer.

Newzik: an iOS Music Reader


If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I am in full support of the use of tablets (particularly the iPad) as a music reader–a function that can be used in any discipline of music education, particularly with the introduction of the 12.9″ iPad Pro last November.

My go-to apps haven’t changed since the iPad was introduced in 2010…forScore and unrealBook are the best PDF music readers available on the market.  PiaScore has been the best free option (although with too many distractions for middle school students); NextPage has been a great solution for a forScore/unrealBook “lite” version; and Showbie has worked relatively well for me as a music folder for my students (and has made the act of distributing and collecting music 100% easier).

Newzik was an app released this past January, and I cannot remember if they contacted me about their app, or if Paul Shimmons (band director, fellow blogger, and friend) had told me about it.  Their latest version of the app came out a few days ago and it is amazing.

Do I still love forScore, unrealBook, NextPage, and Showbie?  Of course.  Newzik takes  a different path towards music reading, and opens up sheet music to MusicXML files and PDF files.

There have been a few programs that use MusicXML files, such as SeeScore, and apps like MusicProdigy (red note/green note) rely on MusicXML files.  But to incorporate both PDF and MusicXML is a new idea.

I believe that the primary need for a tablet music reader, beyond showing music, is annotation.  Newzik has it…and you can annotate on a PDF or a MusicXML.  Writing on a MusicXML is a pretty radical idea, and the only time this becomes a problem is if you want to transpose the MusicXML to another key (it makes you make a copy of the song or delete the annotation).  In addition to annotation, you can link multiple files (PDF, MusicXML, audio, etc.)  to a single file, organize your files in playlists, and use a wireless page turner.  You can also share music with band members (additional cost per month), and 30 scores are included free–more than 30 requires a full purchase ($20).

The transposition feature worked amazingly well from a ukulele song I created in Notion for iOS, uploaded to Dropbox (Notion still doesn’t allow “Open In” like many iOS apps), and then into Newzik.  I changed the song from the key of C ro the key of F–and everything switched correctly…lead part and chords.  That is the power of MusicXML.  I was also able to load a recording of that song that I had created from GarageBand into Newzik.  That way, I can play the MusicXML file, or I can play the m4a audio file.

Just imagine if iReal Pro would marry its functionality with Newzik…full generated accompaniments behind the literal sheet music or MusicXML file?  Wow.

Newzik is still pretty young, so some key features (for music) are missing, such as dealing with repeat signs, DS/DC/Coda markings, and “hot spots” or “links.”   But in the world of digital music, who needs these markings any more?

Furthermore, it is getting easier and easier to get music into MusicXML format (here’s hoping that it will simply be available as such from publishers someday) with apps such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP), PhotoScore, and SmartScore (Finale is advertising the ability to import directly from a PDF in the next version).  There are even some web sites offering free PDF to MusicXML conversion–and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see MuseScore develop its own scanning component (they have everything else, why not that).

Once your score is in MusicXML and accurate, and if you have a program like Newzik that can transpose on the fly, show a single part, play back, zoom in (for smaller screens), and annotate, why would you even want the paper version or PDF version?

The app also shows chords (on a MusicXML file) on a guitar neck or on a keyboard.  As a ukulele player, that isn’t super helpful (perhaps ukulele can be added), but it makes Newzik as functional for a rock musician as it does for a member of the New York Choral Society (Loren–shout out!).

Sure, there are things to fix and improvements to come–but this is an app that has been out since January, and it is really worth installing on your iOS device.  No, it isn’t going to replace forScore or unrealBook on my device…but it is going to remain on my device, particularly as I create more and more MusicXML files in the future.