The end of sheet music as we know it?

November 27, 2015 at 06:14 PM · Several days ago, I attended a concert at the Kennedy Center involving a string quartet. I was astounded when they came on-stage holding tablets rather than sheet music. They put the tablets on their stands, and I noticed that on the floor each one had a remote of some sort with two foot pedals. As they played, they would touch one of the pedals to change the page on the tablet. The other pedal was obviously designed for paging backwards. I also noticed that the cellist, whose stand I could see clearly, had the score of the quartet rather than his part and had to frequently pedal to change pages. A very interesting system, although I wondered how well it would work for a piece where there was a need to make a significant repeat or da capo. Anyone out there have experience with this system? Is this the end of sheet music as we know it?

Replies (41)

November 27, 2015 at 06:27 PM · >>Is this the end of sheet music as we know it?<<

I doubt it. At least not for now!

Don't get me wrong, I love tablet technology (I'm writing this from one right now in fact!), but I'm also one of those old-school folks who still thinks paper books and music sheet are the best.

I'm glad it works for that group and I'm sure many folks use tablets for their music nowadays, but with the intricacies and potential problems of an electronic device, I doubt they will replace paper sheet music for good anytime soon.

November 27, 2015 at 08:43 PM ·

Well, as we move forward with technology the day will come when you'll be hard pressed to locate a source for sheet music that isn't digitalized. I would imagine in the next 5-10 years, it will become fairly standard to use tablets or whatever electronic device is invented especially as they becoming more available via low prices. I could see the limited cons of using a tablet for a performance, but the benefits would probably outweigh things. I saw a chamber orchestra utilize tablets during one of their programs. it was fairly impressive.

One day we will have music stands with tablets built in. No more worrying about turning pages or watching a page or many fall off. And I'm sure there'll be simple notation apps to be able to mark up, down bows, etc along with random markings. Of course, I'm still waiting for the day everybody is zooming around in flying cars...

Personally I do not have a tablet, but my students do and find no real difference between them and actual sheet music. I'm set on my physical sheet music but doesn't mean I would not embrace using a tablet if I knew how exactly they worked.

November 28, 2015 at 12:15 AM · Depending on the software, there is a method for programming in a repeat - on forScore this is by setting the beginning and ending of the loop, so when you get to the end of a section that is to be repeated, you touch the screen, it goes back to the beginning of the section you have marked, and there is a marker to draw the eye to the exact spot to commence playing. I had to get used to it, not intuitive to set up or play through, but I persevered and got through Emperor Waltze, Dvorak #1, and some other stuff - all of which had repeats.

Benefits of using the ipad in orch performance was the iighting, not having to sticky tape a gazillion pages together, not having a gazillion pages to lose, and being able to easily set up the play list so that all the pieces were in the correct playing order.

Marking up was more of a pain, but produced a better result as I could use colours and highlights, without any concern about the page getting rubbed through or marking an original score.

November 28, 2015 at 12:25 AM · It would definitely not be beyond the ability of a program designer to provide an electronic page turner.

November 28, 2015 at 01:03 AM · I'm currently with Fox on this - but as in many things one should be wary about using the word "never" - it can return to bite you!

Every week I play in a band for English country dancing (basically Playford music with a sprinkling of Irish, Scottish and morris). About half of the band plays from their own paper-based transcriptions; most of the others play from tablets; and I (ahem) play entirely from memory, as do one or two others. What was the question?

November 28, 2015 at 01:04 AM ·

November 28, 2015 at 02:14 AM · The iPad Pro is going to be great if it comes down in price.

November 28, 2015 at 02:14 AM · Isnt the ipad screen kind of small compared to a page of music?

What I would want to do is digitize the music I already have. I guess I could scan to PDF

November 28, 2015 at 07:39 AM · The new iPad Pro with the 12.9" display is great for scores. It has a 2732-by-2048 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi). A colleague of mine now leads musicals with scans of the Piano/Conductor score using his new one. Single pages look wonderful in portrait mode, and double pages are very readable in landscape mode.

November 28, 2015 at 10:03 AM · I think the future will be large electronic-ink devices like this:

Compared to a tablet, this is much simpler to use, much lighter, much more reliable, has longer battery life and should be more pleasant to read. And you can simply slip it into the manuscript pocket of your violin case.

The current issue is price - this is bleeding edge technology that comes at a premium. So give it 5 years...

November 28, 2015 at 04:57 PM · Using a iPad obviously has some great benefits, but I don't see paper going away. I fly with an iPad as a backup GPS/moving map, but I wouldn't depend on it. They can overheat, crash, be dropped. Batteries can eventually fail. Recharging cables are easily lost/forgotten in hotel rooms/broken. Yes, they can be plugged into a plane's 24v system, but what happens if a fuse blows or you lose your alternator? Then you have no power, no communications, and if you get lost without a paper map you're in big trouble. There's also the size dilemma: small is light and easy to handle, but harder to read from a distance. Large is great to read, but heavy. So I always have a paper map.

The same issues are present with relying solely on electronica for professional gigs. My trio relies on a suitcase of music. Of course it would be great to replace all that with iPads. But what if just one loses power, or gets knocked down, or overheats and shuts down at an outdoor venue? What if the pedal malfunctions? The solution would be to have full backups of sheet music in the car. But then you'd still have to be able to acquire it. What happens if there's a failure at a critical moment, such during the ceremony, or any professional concert?

So until large, feather-weight,indestructible screens are available, I wouldn't rely on one for a professional gig. Yes, the airlines now all use iPads instead of lugging paper charts, but we've already seen how electronic glitches have brought down entire airlines and stranded thousands.

I would look forward to the day where I could just download this or that gig tune or movement for 99c instead of an entire album of tunes, half of which I might skip at a gig. But one question about digital files needs to be resolved: can the music be transferred? Currently, as I understand it, you don't own an iTunes file-- you just have personal use rights to it. You can't legally transfer or bequeath it.

November 28, 2015 at 05:55 PM · "Suitcase of music" - Scott, that resonates. I used to play in a barn dance band with weekly gigs all over the region. We played from sheet music which was placed in front of us while the dancers were being talked through the dance by the caller. The music sheets came out of a large metal box with handles at the ends because with the parts for nearly 1000 tunes within meant that two fairly strong guys had to man-handle it (usually the double bassist and the bass guitarist). We called the box the Ark of the Covenant because it resembled the Ark in the movie "The Raiders of the Lost Ark".

No, sheet music isn't going away any time soon.

November 28, 2015 at 08:23 PM · Hi Trevor

Of course we can always simplify things and use wetware. I play with dance musicians who have over 1000 tunes in their heads...

I've never seen an English dance band use sheet music in performance - not ideal, I'd have thought?

November 29, 2015 at 01:18 AM · I don't see sheet music going away any time soon but who knows with the pace of technological change we are seeing. I do know of some bands that are using tablets attached to microphone stands to assist them with song lyrics.

I like paper for sheet music and for books. Old fashioned I guess. But, change comes and there was a day that sheet music was the newest thing on the block!

November 29, 2015 at 03:02 PM · Michael - I think your point is a good one. For those of us who grew up using sheet music, someone will need to show us definite advantages to substituting technology. I, for one, am not seeing that yet, although I will keep looking.

November 30, 2015 at 07:59 AM · A couple more suggestions for help from 'electronic music'. Totally agree about the page turning - especially in music where there is no good turning point so half the section stops playing..... or your stand partner messes it up (which is probably less likely in professional circles).

Counting rests - maybe a button or pedal to tap at the start of each bar. A red light could flash when you are 4, 3, 2 ,1 bars away from the entry.

Restart points for rehearsals - '20 bars before C' takes time to count and could easily be misheard as '20 bars before E' or D..... The conductor could tap the score and a marker could appear on all the orchestral parts at the relevant point (assuming the devices are networked). Or if the section leader wants a particular bowing or fingering she could mark her part and the marking could magically appear in all the section's parts. Likewise adjustments to printed dynamics etc. With appropriate software it is possible to use some kind of stylus to mark parts (cf bamboo tablet, some smart devices or touch screens.

I'm sure there are other possibilities. And prices will come down and the technology will develop if there is a need and a demand.

Would this replace sheet music - no idea!

November 30, 2015 at 02:30 PM · I've been told that much of the technology that Peter describes is used in the movie industry where time is at a premium (i.e. next to no rehearsals, and so they need the best sight-readers in the business), and anyway the score is under constant revision by the composer as the movie is being edited. It'll be a while before you can buy that sort of technology at an affordable price at your local store! Until then I'll stick with my quill, ink and good quality manuscript paper (which I print to my liking).

November 30, 2015 at 03:03 PM · I love sheet music and prefer books to e-readers as well. There's just something very inspirational and organic about books.

Living in a time where acoustic instruments have given way to electric instruments which in turn have given way to computer music I like to respect the wonderful culture and traditions of art music. I hope this to include sheet music as well. I think it's these elements that distinguishes us from the rowdy live music shows that is ever becoming less and less about the music. When I tell my younger friends I play the violin they usually respond along the lines of asking why I didn't take up the electric guitar instead and whether I at least play an electric violin. There is a common perception that electricity and digital means newer and better or can do more. I hope this perception to change by virtue of the stark contrast to what folks are used to when they come across art music.

November 30, 2015 at 03:46 PM · Agreed with David, but unfortunately the New Economy is premised on:

-taking simple,elegant, proven technologies and replacing them with complex, proprietary ones with huge margins, and off shoring all but the highest levels of design

-converting the world into subscribers and licensees rather than owners

-selling us storage space for all the new data we've created, hoarded, and forgotten about, in thirsty, energy-intensive data farms


-making us all more vulnerable to hacking and data loss

Yes, I'm Apple's B!tch.

but I don't have to like it.

November 30, 2015 at 04:27 PM · Would licensing and subscriptions be similar to renting paper? Not familiar with either. Perhaps the IT aspect is addressed by educators.

December 1, 2015 at 07:11 AM · If you've ever bought music on iTunes, you're effectively renting it--you have rights to play it but you do not own it.

Many software products are going to web-based subscription models. A good example: Adobe's Photoshop. You can't just buy the program anymore.

December 1, 2015 at 02:28 PM · Geoff wrote: "I think the future will be large electronic-ink devices like this:

Compared to a tablet, this is much simpler to use, much lighter, much more reliable, has longer battery life and should be more pleasant to read. And you can simply slip it into the manuscript pocket of your violin case.

The current issue is price - this is bleeding edge technology that comes at a premium. So give it 5 years..."

I never understood the lure of the iPad and certainly wouldn't want to use one for music...but this version looks rather promising. If one could have two of these electronic pages - like you might have two pages of sheet music open on your stand - I can see it working quite well.

December 1, 2015 at 03:03 PM · A practical disadvantage of tablets is that they are inflexible, may break if you drop them or sit or stand on them (!), and also have a smaller display area than when we use paper.

What would be needed is score-following software. I am referring to software like the Cadenza app, but a version that would not play anything but just listen to what people are playing and follow with displaying the right part of the music automatically.

After all, pedaling is not exactly 21st century!

December 1, 2015 at 06:19 PM · That e-paper thing looks cool, that could be good if it's very sturdy and durable. Right now that's a Sony product and quite expensive, once there is some competition from the likes of Samsung we'll see the price go by half.

December 2, 2015 at 02:49 PM · OMG, I've been testing Cadenza on iPad Pro and not only is the automatic page turning (no pedals) great, the large screen size is a pure joy to play with!

This iPad is large enough to be read comfortably at a distance, and Cadenza turns pages automatically based on listening to you. (If you take time, it waits for you.)

Here's how to use Cadenza just to turn pages:

1. Choose the piece you want to play.

2. Turn down the volume on the iPad.

3. Play your instrument. (Repeats are handled automatically.)

Cadenza on iPad Pro

Bruch Violin Concerto in Cadenza (iPad Pro & regular iPad Air)

[right click to see larger]

Dvorak Humoresque in Cadenza

These photos compare the size of iPad Pro to regular-size iPad Air on a standard Manhasset music stand. (I also put a US quarter on the stand for scale.)

As you can see, iPad Pro is massive. And that means easier to read and therefore more enjoyable to play with.

Cadenza scales the notation up to a larger size when you rotate the iPad. By the way, all the music is free in Cadenza, so maybe—just maybe—you could afford to actually get an iPad Pro ;)

Then again, Christmas ...

December 2, 2015 at 05:15 PM · I think there is a real and huge market for a cadenza-like app that is not focused on playing accompaniment (that's why Paul writes to turn the volume down!), but is truly focused on displaying the right part of a score. All music would have to be transformed into the right format for the app to be able to process it. So there is no free lunch. Not only that, the catch is that the listening technology is (as far as I know) not yet capable of following just any music that is played, say in an ensemble, or by an orchestra. The current software can only follow a soloist. I would love to be corrected.

December 2, 2015 at 05:22 PM · By the way Paul, you are the CPO of Cadenza, aren't you? Is it really true that all music is free? I thought the business model is that the app is free and people pay for the music?

(edit: what's a CPO, actually?)

December 2, 2015 at 09:26 PM · I am curious about what you think of the way Sit-ins Music tackled the score display. It scrolls 2 lines of automatically so that you don't have to turn the page and is large enough to read easily. The scroll rate is linked to the rubato metronome which you can slow down and loop without any change in pitch.

The tool runs deeper than just notation software, but we are interested in how we can improve this part of the experience.

The Sit-ins player is free to download and comes with a simple Haydn piece to play with. If you would like to try it and provide some feedback, I will give you some additional music to try.

December 4, 2015 at 09:40 AM · I'm really surprised at the positive reception of digital alternatives to sheet music. Perhaps because this is already an internet forum savvy crowd? What happened to the classical community being hesitant to change? ;) I'm only 30 years old and a software developer!

Vive la resistance! :) Even if the whole world uses tablets, I will still whip out my old, fading German sheet music inherited from my grandmother, falling apart and matching my old Italian violin (that I currently don't own yet and if you cough I might throw it at you).


December 4, 2015 at 12:36 PM · Vive la both.

December 4, 2015 at 02:33 PM · I love my sheet music and my books. I often buy music, even if I can get it for free...because the printed music is much nicer than a printout of scanned (often photocopied) music...

I have an eReader - that I rarely use because it just doesn't work for actually 'getting into' a book. But it's great in that it doesn't have backlighting. So much easier on the eyes.

Having said that...there is a place for everything. The eReader is ideal for travelling. I won't take paperbacks with me anymore...

And I can certainly see the benefit of the ePaper, especially for orchestras or chamber groups. All the performance material can be loaded on it - takes up no room (fits in your music on your instrument case) can write on it...seems ideal.

The iPad? Not so much. Too small, too heavy...

However, the iPad (or similar gadget) has mass appeal. Will ePaper have enough appeal to make it more affordable and obtainable?

It will be interesting to see where the technology goes next...

December 4, 2015 at 07:01 PM · I owned and used an unreliable b/w e-ink e-reader. Past tense. Expensive lesson learned there. I wouldn't risk an e-doodad's reliability at a gig.

And the corporate tracking is creepy and gross.

And back-lit shiny screens are tiresome to read, and useless in strong light.

Not to mention that electronics aren't really made to last. No small cost there, for wallet and planet.

I'll stick with paper, thanks.

December 5, 2015 at 01:58 AM · Hey, sorry to take so long to get back to this thread. (Busy week launching Cadenza 3 and preparing a new app just for trumpet players!)

Jean Dubuisson - Yes, it's really true: all the music in Cadenza is free and so is the app. The business model is: pay for extra features like being able to adjust the tuning, the overall tempo, and make the accompaniment a bit earlier or later across the board for particular pieces. ALSO: create your own sections to play (e.g., m. 1 - 34, or whatever you like). So, those features are all in "Cadenza Pro" which costs $8.99. Just a one-time thing. Any new features we add you get free.

Oh, a CPO is a "chief product officer" and not a sort of Star Wars droid.

Personally, I think it's a mistake to think of screens as a replacement for paper. Paper has richness, legibility, low cost, character and you can write all over it and not worry too much about "breaking" it. It's great - especially when the notation on it is masterfully engraved with sensitivity to musical performance and musical meaning.

What I think screens are good for are the things you just can't do with paper. Things like ...

Making annotations and bowings and sharing them with the rest of the section instantly.

A very light way to carry around thousands of pieces of music, even though the screen itself is heavier than any single piece, obviously. It can literally replace hundreds of pounds of music.

And these sorts of things that are just getting off the ground now: remember that the screen is not just a visual display. Because there is a computer in there, there is a possibility for endowing the notated music with "understanding." For example, it can know where you are in a piece and show you the staves you need to see. But it can also instantly transpose. It can connect you to others in interesting ways that we have only begun to imagine. For example, an iPad in an ensemble could "know" which other musician is playing in unison with you, and help direct attention to that (so you can decide what to do: blend in, overpower them or ignore them). It can remember how you played before and use that to improve what it does. (Cadenza does that.) And, of course it can actually play the other parts in a way that frees you to play musically.

It's a mixed bag. Some of the innovations are remarkable, and some are useless, but as we give more thought to how musicians actually play music and work together and share information, as well as to how computing power could participate in music-making in ways that support it, we are only going to see more useful and engaging ideas coming to light. That's not true of paper, great though it is.

December 6, 2015 at 12:22 AM · Sheet music is still plentiful out there so I don't see it going away soon. The digital world is still developing so who knows what the future brings us.

March 5, 2016 at 04:50 PM · I just found this thread. Some friends and I just started playing chamber music together and the problem is when you have 5 or 6 parts in the score and you spend all your time turning the pages, each of which has about 3 actual lines of the music on it. What do people do with the paper score? Do they use a version with their part regular sized and the others small? So far we've just downloaded music because we're looking for various things we can all play. The music comes from many sources so the format is nonstandardized.

March 5, 2016 at 05:17 PM · You don't play from the score. You play from your parts. The score is handy for reference.

March 5, 2016 at 06:23 PM · Not all chamber music comes with scores for individual parts. But of course one can always write out one's own.

March 5, 2016 at 06:39 PM · Ipad etc... no use due to Back light (as has been mentioned) - hence the Kindle does not have one for example.

E-Paper - that is actually ancient technology, about as up to date as big fat Ipad. They already have invented 'e-paper' you can fold up and put in your pocket and unfold like a newspaper and that can be updated daily. Newspapers basically - but you only buy one - ever. This technology has been around a while already, but it's not hit the shops yet as far as I know. I expect they will ship out a whole load more pads and tablets before they start flogging that to people.

Not sure why you would need a foot pedal unless you wanted one. Computer with mic on and a basic flash player could be programmed to follow/ read where you are on a score and turn automatically very easily. Think free interactive online tuner for your violin!

There also gets to a point where you are inventing stuff for the sake of it. When it comes down to it, may as well just use a piece of paper and a pencil. So with that in mind, can't see e-paper being used for a score except for concert performances where it has obvious advantages (no page turning), but not for teaching etc...

March 5, 2016 at 06:44 PM · Aha, cats out the you go...

March 5, 2016 at 06:48 PM · Here's the folding one, folds down to 6 inch square atm.

March 6, 2016 at 05:13 PM · Thanks, guys. I heard about the rollable screen years ago. Yet that UK article is very recent. I guess we're going to have to get creative with cut-and-paste when necessary.

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