Best Apps for Reading Sheet Music Digitally

November 29, 2021, 5:01 AM · Have any of you used both Musicnotes & Forscore who could offer a comparison of what features you liked about each? Forscore is only available on iOS. I'm debating whether to get an ipad or surface for performing music and teaching. Thanks.

Replies (13)

November 29, 2021, 10:16 AM · I have both a Surface and an iPad Pro. The iPad Pro with ForScore wins hands down. (I got the Surface first; it was a gift and I hoped to use it for music, but I hated it almost instantly. I actually resorted to using my finger with ForScore on an iPad Mini over dealing with the Surface. Then I bought the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil.)

MusicNotes is really designed more as a frontend to their sheet music store than as a full-featured app for managing music libraries from whatever source. ForScore is an absolutely terrific app and keeps getting better.

But the app is really very much secondary to the differences between the Surface and the iPad Pro. (And if for some weird reason you really loved MusicNotes, there's an iOS version anyway.)

The Apple Pencil is vastly better than any Surface stylus, and you will feel that difference with every single annotation, especially when you're using this in a rehearsal and you need to be able to scribble something quickly and have it be readable. (I think this is rooted in Apple's better software for stylus input.)

iOS is also a lot more stable and predictable in its performance and behavior. The one thing you really do not want in a music tablet is unpredictable technology.

November 29, 2021, 7:08 PM · Thanks a lot Lydia. Your comment was very helpful
November 29, 2021, 9:01 PM · The largest iPad Pro is generally the preferred hardware. However, it is not that large in comparison to paper scores, and even the iPad can crash with Forscore.

Given the cost, and how common technology is, it should be better. Larger screen, no freezing, etc.

If you do not need to port it around, you could consider a touch screen monitor and computer. There are also dedicated systems such as the GVIDO.

People could probably provide better advise if could describe your use case in more detail. Are you simply reading music from the screen? Are you making hand annotations? Do they need to be typeset annotations? Will you make audio / video recordings for yourself or your student? Do you have page turns? Do you need automatic page turning, facial recognition page turning, etc....

November 30, 2021, 10:01 AM · I have no personal experience with all of this, but, at a Washington Bach Consort concert, I did talk at some length to the violone player about her set up, which she showed me in some detail. She had the iPad Pro with Apple pencil and used ForScore. It looked great!

I am old enough (71) to prefer hard copies which I can blow up and thereby have the "large print" edition. It is also probably not cost effective for me to switch at this point since to get the kind of set up I saw would require an initial outlay of about $1000. But, if I were significantly younger than I am, I would certainly go with what the violin player had.

November 30, 2021, 10:46 AM · We see a lot of live chamber music here, and even though a majority of folks still use sheet music, I think the 12.9" iPad is by far the most common device I see. In terms of size, remember you will not need your margins on the iPad, and most sheet music print I see is something like 13-14 inches, not a huge difference.
November 30, 2021, 10:59 AM · You can also rig up the interface so it shows a half-page at a time. Or maybe that is the Henle app. Anyway, flexibility is possible.
November 30, 2021, 11:10 AM · I bought a Surface Book when they first came out, because it could provide an almost full size view of music. (I also had use for the actual computer.) (An IPad of similar size did not exist then.) It has worked faithfully for years for me.

I use the Musicreader program and an early Airturn bluetooth pedal with it to turn pages hands free. It works beautifully for my piano music and piano playing. For violin music I would recommend being careful to avoid knocking a tablet off a music stand. The foot pedal would be needed rarely for violin music page turns - just a finger poke in the corner of the tablet works too.

Once music is in a PDF version, it is easy to store this way, downloaded from the internet, or scanned if you have a copy available. I find my "library" so much easier to manage this way than on paper and in stacks of books.

November 30, 2021, 11:32 AM · One question I have is: Is it worth so much money (equivalent to at least 10 sets of very good strings!)? So far my decision is: Not for me.

Second question: How does it work in orchestras where you need to share stands? Even super size tablets are small compared to "standard" orchestral parts.

Third question: How does it look for the audience in performance when there is a pale glow from the tablets on the musician's faces?

Edited: November 30, 2021, 11:44 AM · I recall pianist Christopher Riley (host and accompanist on the PBS program "From The Top" circa 2006-2007) read music from a tablet (turning pages with a wire-connected foot pedal). That inspired me to purchase a wired foot pedal to link to my newly acquired 13" MacBook - but I never linked them (a laptop - on its side - was not compatible with a portable music stand). I just continued to collect music scores into that a successive laptops and print them.

If the equipment now being used now had been available then and I had known I had at least 15 years of ensemble music-making ahead I would have been out there setting up my digital music storage/reading system the day after I first noticed Christopher Riley's setup.

If nothing else, my printed music collection would be 2 cubic feet smaller.

One violinist I play with moved to the "digital system" about 4 years ago. Seems to be a real advantage for people who play lots of different music - and he does - at least 2 orchestras and 2 chamber groups every week.

I see that some used 12" iPads with 500 GB storage are available for about $600.

Edited: November 30, 2021, 6:46 PM · Just saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra play last Tuesday--a few folks using the iPad Pro 12.9. Not distracting at all, in fact for the brass, as they were only using tablet stands, it made it so that none of them were blocked visually, which was nice to see. Given the lighting on a professional concert hall stage, the "glow" from the devices is not noticeable at all.

I've used an iPad Pro 12.9" with the Forscore app for everything from conducting orchestra concerts and musical theater productions to solos and chamber music since 2018. It's fantastic!

With most sheet music, you use the built-in crop tool to eliminate the margins, which in most cases, results in music larger than would appear on a standard 8.5x11 sheet of paper. And while I've certainly had my share of failing technology, I've not had my iPad fail on me in hundreds of performances since I first bought it. I do keep original parts on hand just in case, but the technology has been around for long enough where it is rather consistent.

December 1, 2021, 7:23 AM · Albrecht, I can't see everyone wanting to do this, but in my daughter's last orchestra performance, she and her stand partner each wanted their own fingerings (on a really tough piece), and since her stand partner is already using an iPad, she decided to just use her own. They didn't have this, but I see chamber groups using compact iPad grippers that replace sheet music stands and reduce the floor space needed and visibility.

With a tablet, playing chamber music from the score rather than parts is possible. We got started on this when my pianist son lost his (human) page turner at a chamber music competition at the last minute...bought the first iPad the next week.

December 1, 2021, 9:16 PM · An iPad Pro 12.9" will sit just fine on a standard Manhasset stand, no worries about knocking it over. Or you could buy a tablet holder, which is nice if you're playing chamber music and want your colleagues to be able to see more of your body.

I prefer a foot pedal for page-turns, especially since the page turns in most printed music assume that you've got pairs of pages, and only turn at the end of a pair. It takes a little practice to get used to the page turns with the foot pedal, but it generally works great.

Also, rather than doing turn-backs for repeats, you can clone pages easily, or do create hotspots that allow fast turns to anywhere in the score.

While it is not impossible for an iPad to crash, it's quite rare. Also, I think it's generally good practice to fully charge the iPad, and reboot it before the concert, so there are no extraneous programs running.

December 2, 2021, 9:32 AM · I use the android app Mobilesheets on an android tablet. It works really well for me. It is the third app I tried and this one is the most complete and friendly for me.
Since I have a new tablet with a slightly bigger screen I don't use printed music any more. I use a bluetooth pageturner with it. No problems any more that I can't see the notes because the light is not good. And no problems any more that I dont have time to print last minute provided sheet music: just download it at the rehearsel if needed ;)
But I don't know the Surface so cannot help you with your original question. I dont know if Mobilesheets is available for microsoft devices.

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