sharelle taylor

Going digital: Comparing 2 iPad music reader apps - Music Reader PDF & forScore

February 22, 2014 19:39

I play in two community orchestras and an ensemble, plus still take lessons, and am just starting to give lessons to kids with some learning differences and using violin as a therapy tool - so my sheet music library is way out of hand. Plus a lot of the music I am using for orchestra and ensemble and my own use is now coming either via IMSLP or virtual sheet music etc so is in pdf when I receive it, so it seemed wasteful and redundant to print it out.

I have over the past two weeks started to transfer my music to my iPad - at present it is around 80 different scores. This is a 64gb, and I also have a LOT of video since I try to get video from youtube of any pieces I play for orchestra + favourites, but also apps since I use it for therapy with ASD and kids with learning difficulties. There is still about 40gb left, so so far storing in pdf is not a big space user.

I had started with MUSIC READER PDF, (MR) but for reasons as explained in the review, then switched to FORSCORE (FS).

Cost (US):
MR is .99 for basic but that is useless as it limits the annotations, so the professional upgrade for 4.49 extra was immediately needed.
FS is $7.49, so more expensive, but the app was suitable without any in app purchase or upgrade.

I have priority needs for an app to:

  • Import & mark up orchestral parts
  • Share marked parts with non app users
  • Play from the iPad in rehearsal
  • Other possibilities such as:

  • Creating a set list (for performance day)
  • Organising music library
  • Scanning paper scores into the app etc.
  • Using the app with my little students
  • ...are still secondary so I will report on them when I get around to testing that option.

    Import of scores:
    both were done easily in itunes by adding desired scores from my hard drive folder to selected apps and sync. took seconds to do multiple scores.

    Finding scores in the app:
    MR was confusing, click on the symbol that represents a music stack, or the one next to it (play list, looks almost the same) everything opens up with the name of the composition.
    FS is also unintuitive, but easier when I knew what to do - click the 'note' button in top left brings up the library where you can select via composer, title, genre - a much cleaner interface once accessed. Even after some hours of use, I found I was still navigating to a playlist button on the MR app by accident, or adding my existing score to the playlist by accident. Just not an intuitive interface for me.

    Exiting from score
    Exiting from that score with both apps is just a click back to the library / stack button or exit the app. any changes to the score were saved reliably.

    Saving different versions
    MR had instructions for how to 'save as' so that different versions could be saved - this would be useful if for eg you were using a piece for lessons and giving different markings or advice to different students, each version could be 'saved as ...' with different markings. I don't know if it was the non native English that made instructions sometimes not match the real life experience, but when I tried to save-as it didn't work. The instructions for a start told me that I could "create folders to save files in a separate map" which sort of makes sense until you try to determine what is meant by 'map' in iPad / app speak. then when I clicked as required, none of the expected things happened so I didn't know how to proceed. In FS this process has been more like save-as in any other application, just ask it to save and give the file a new name, then there it was. I preferred FS for the finding and saving aspect.

    I use a JOT CLASSIC FINE POINT STYLUS for iPad writing as it has a hard fine line that I know will go where I put it.
    Ease of annotations was one area where I noticed a big big difference between the apps.
    In MR, editing menu is at the top of the page:
    click to enter annotation, but from there I had to click out of annotating to turn to the next page. If I didn't do that, I got pen markings on the page from tapping or swiping the page turn. a little thing, but I was marking Dvorak 1, and 57 pages is bloody boring, and it all had to be marked, so it was a frustrating time waster.
    There are lots of colours and pen width is selectable, but if I chose to erase or highlight or change colours it was not an automatic process to ensure that I would return to my red skinny pen to for bowings, so again a frustrating few moments of stuffing aroudn would follow when I would be clicking through options trying to get what I wanted to select.
    With the upgrade version in MR you also get stamps which could be used for up/down bows, music markings etc, but i did all by hand as I didn't realise until I had bowed the first movement that I could pay for the upgrade and get them, and then I just kept going as I had a system. they would not be any easier to use, since you would have to alternate in and out to get ups and down stamps for bowing.
    FS, annotation is accessed via 'edit' menu tapped on the top left.
    set pen colours + a highlighter and pen that are colour selectable (and renamable). Much better than the MR choice, I realised, as I mostly used the red for bowings, green for fingerings, and then I highlighted all the very numerous editing errors (extra bars, forgotten bars, demi-semis that should have been semis, wrong notes). Line width was still as selectable, I could turn the page from within annotation, and I could select the eraser and back to pen without the app forgetting what I had been doing. So I preferred FS for this.
    Again there were stamps that could be selected, and again they wouldn't be that useful for bowings. FS did include clear instructions for adding my own stamps for frequently used markings to the music - i tried with the glasses, and my own version of down bow, and it was fine. I could also select for colour when using stamps in FS, which I don't think i was able to do in MR (but willing to stand corrected there, as I didn't give that a chance).

    MR does have a system for dealing with Coda / repeats etc but I didn't get to that. I have used FS system, it took about 8 goes to get it right - the procedure is that you click to 'link', and 2 corresponding pages of the score will open up, one with an orange dot and the other with a blue dot. By default, the blue dot was on the RHS and the orange on the LHS page, and they get dragged to the points where the coda / returh begins and ends. Trouble was, that 1. the default was opposite to what I needed - I needed the orange dot on the RHS page so I could tap it and it would take me back a couple of pages to my coda (where I eventually got the blue dot) 2. when trying to get to the correct pages, I kept placing the freaking dots instead of page turning. I need to do this a few more times to work out how to do it efficiently. Probably something that can be improved in subsequent app upgrade.


  • Annotating was slower on iPad than on paper score
  • It is harder to write in an extra staff and notes for those missing bars
  • The fatigue in writing is there becaase of the capacitative surface of the ipad
  • I don't use a glove but in the end I used a folded hankie so I could rest my wrist while annotating because it is a LOT to write with your wrist in the air.
  • Also, if wanting to do a real time cut and paste to avoid a crap page turn - and this edition is full of them with hooked bows at the end of a line with accidentals, or semiquaver runs etc, and a page turn right bang in the middle of it - well that is really hard. There are a couple of pages that I am going to print, cut and tape, rescan, and insert into the score via preview on my imac, then sync back in to FS.


  • I am not erasing and wearing through the paper
  • If I erase it erases completely and so there is no smearing
  • When there was an edit error or removing slur lines etc, I could use the while marker to white out that section cleanly
  • If necessary that version could be saved separately from the original score (I didn't bother, as the master had come from IMSLP so was available in any case)
  • I could use coloured markers for different annotations which helps me to notice and recall as I learn the score.

    So i think overall I will persevere and prefer annotations on iPad. Annotating uses a lot of power under either app, pretty much drained the battery over the few hours it took to do the markings in the score each time.

    Sharing an annotated score:
    This is what led me to download FS after I had already dedicated hours to MR, and bowing that stupid Dvorak already!.
    I wanted to share this copy, and MR advised I could 'synchronise .. by mail or bluetooth' . The only bluetooth device they support is a bluetooth printer [which I don't have], so I tried to synchronise via email. I sent 3 copies to myself. None of them annotated. The support page didn't mention that Dropbox would also be suggested as a sync location even though it was. I tried that too. The broken English instructions didn't make any sense, I think it was asking me to ensure that I had an account and a folder to sync to - which I did, and selected the folder, and pressed sync button on the app, which said it was syncing the metafile, but although I tried a few different ways, it never actually synced the file itself.

    After going through the download, familiarise and annotate procedure with FS, I clicked on the edit menu, selected 'share' - 'annotated pdf' and waited a couple of seconds while it created the pdf, then it brought up a (familiar) sharing menu for iPad users, offering a choice of suitable apps including mail, and I sent the version off to myself and a colleague who opened the fully annotated copy in adobe and printed it off. If she wants to buy FS, we can share the annotated copy including that coda thing I did, and have the pretty colours preserved. So by far, FS is the winner on this account, because it worked.

    Playing off the score:
    I have now had the opportunity to play two orch rehearsals, ensemble, and lesson with the iPad + using for all of my practise. I find it preferable to sheet music.
    Main problem is page turns - I don't yet have a bluetooth or other pedal, but will get one before we do performance. I use my finger to tap the screen, but becasue i am only getting a single page, not two pages, I have more turns and it is too much for a performance.
    I always use my own stand in orchestra anyway, due to vision problems, so it doesn't affect my stand partner/s, and I still bring the lead pencil for my forgetful stand partner, as well as my stylus. My techie friend behind is pretty much converted I suspect :)

    I have used < 10% battery over a 3 hour rehearsal, so will definitely get through a performance.

    Although the music size looks smaller, it is easier to read with the back lighting. FS has the facility to remove white space from the margin, to increase the print size on each page. I haven't yet played around with this but will advise when I have.

    Both the apps to read off are good, but MR doesn't have an animation for its page turns. This meant a momentary delay while I checked each time that there was a different page on the screen, which added to the momentary delay I already had for needing to tap for a page turn, so less efficient. FS has a powerpoint style page turning animation so you know it has happened.

    My preference and recommendation would be for forScore over Music Reader. I think it has much better attention to user experience and frankly the efficiency of the app and the fact that it worked when MR didn't at a vital point was the seller. I did email MR support and received a reply, but it didn't address the problem, just confirmed that I had followed the correct procedure. FS is a little more expensive, and they are costly apps in terms of app price, but pretty powerful.

    If this has been of use for any of you, please let me know. Of if you have any questions / scenarios that you would like me to try out (I only have forScore installed now, so will be limited to that), I'd be glad to help out.

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