The Personal Electronic Music Library
Storing and Playing Music with your Tablet
by Greta Haug-Hryciw
Have you been to a concert recently and marveled at some of the performers reading from electronic devices rather than printed pages? Or perhaps someone at a playing session has made the leap to this technology? If so, you've likely wondered what it is like to use these devices and why people have chosen to use them. I polled several users, amateur and professional, to find answers that might help you decide if this would be a good option for you.
The following musicians have contributed insight to this article:
Dan Laurin, Adam Gilbert, Jason Yoshida, Tish Berlin, Kraig Williams, Daniel Soussan, and a few who asked to be anonymous.
- The greatest advantage is portability. You can have a huge library of thousands of pages in one place, none of which get lost or out of order.
- The brightness of the screen eliminates the need for a stand light. You can easily see your music in a space with low light.Also, the size of the image is adjustable, so scores with tiny notes can be enlarged for easier reading.
- Page turning is easy and immediate, whether with one quick touch or a wireless page-turning foot pedal, making it possible to read from complete scores and play from any part.
- A time-saving feature for professionals and ensemble leaders who are working on multiple concert programs is the ability to arrange (and re-arrange) the order of movements and works for each program.
- Getting set up with this technology is expensive. Overall, our users agree that it is a worthwhile one, and offset by all the advantages and convenience.
- The time required to learn how to use the system may seem long, but that won't be an obstacle if you find it fun to play with.
- The initial establishment of your electronic library is time-consuming (digitizing, organizing, bookmarking and re-naming pages).
- Limited screen size means viewing only one page at a time.Some users would like to have a light-weight screen that is large enough to display two full-sized pages side-by-side.
- In bright light (under stage lights or outdoors), there is glare to contend with, making reading from the tablet difficult.
- Performing with a tablet requires a lot of planning ahead. When traveling with your reader, one must remember to pack all the peripheral equipment, particularly any battery chargers and cords. As with all electronic devices, backup of your files is highly recommended.
The easiest place to start is with the tablet you own, whether it's an iPad, or one of many others that use the Android operating system. Be aware that music-reading software is specific to each platform, although the same music files (in .pdf format) can be read on any device. If you're starting from scratch, you may want to consider screen size, weight, and the features of the software you want to use.
Image from forScore website
Most of our users surveyed chose to go with an Apple iPad, which offers the lightweight "Air" model, as well as a large-screen version that is comparable to the size of a sheet of paper. One of our users opted for the more economical Samsung NotePro tablet, which comes with a stylus and has a micro-SD card slot.
A newcomer expected in September of this year is
, by the Japanese firm Terrada Music. Designed specifically for musicians, this is an ultra-thin, e-ink, light-weight,
device that will come with a stylus, foot pedal, micro-SD and USB interface.
: In my survey,
the most preferred combination by far was an iPad with the
app, which has excellent annotation and page-splitting features. It also allows for the import of your own images to use in your annotations in addition to the text and music symbols provided. For an Android tablet the highest recommendation was for
while others use
There are other apps, some of which are free.
: An important aspect for most users is the ability to make notes on the music.
This may be done with your fingertip, or a stylus designed to work with your device. Mark-ups don't affect the original music file and are easily erased, so changes to your edits are easier (and neater) than using an eraser. Depending on your software, you may be able to share pages either with or without your mark-ups.
Screen shots of annotated score with main drop-down menu; tool menu (forScore); MobileSheets example (from the website)
Hands-free Page Turning
The surveyed users were divided on the need for a remote, foot-controlled page turning device.Tapping the page on the screen is already easier than turning a paper page, but when both hands are engaged in playing, a wireless foot pedal can be quite advantageous.
Those using foot pedals chose devices by
recommended either the DUO or PED shown below).
They report the company has excellent customer support and well-explained tutorials on YouTube.
Images of AirTurn
DUO and PED from AirTurn website
You can purchase a floor stand designed to hold your tablet, or one that attaches to a microphone stand (very sleek and minimal for performing), or use a sturdy solid-desk music stand. The latter is better if you're annotating your music in rehearsal or classroom settings because there is room for your stylus, paper copies that you may have just been handed to play from, your glasses, or other related items.
Further tips and recommendations from the surveyed pros:
- Decide on a system for how you will name your music files and be consistent. This will help you locate pieces in your library more efficiently. Your music reading app will give you options, and you will be able to refine or customize them to suit your preferences.
- When scanning music from a collection, you can choose to keep it all together in one PDF and insert bookmarks, or scan the pieces individually into separate PDFs, which some users find makes them easier to locate.
- If your tablet has an on-board camera, you can copy pages of music and create PDFs on the spot at any time.
- Large file images will respond more slowly on your reader, so it is helpful to use PDF clean-up software and save your files as black and white rather than grayscale before importing them into your reader. One recommended free program is ScanTailor by Project Gutenberg, but there are several others.
- For playing repeated sections or jumping to a coda, insert additional pages (copies of those sections) rather than turning back to a previous page. This way, you are always going forward, reducing the risk of losing your place.
- Highlighting your part in a score will help you find your line in every system. When marking up your pages, use a contrasting color so your notes are easy to see.
- Remember to turn on the "Perform" setting in apps like forScore so that screen doesn't dim in the middle of a performance.
- When professionals are on tour, they often need to recharge their devices a lot. For this kind of extended use, consider an external battery, which can be a lifesaver in long rehearsals and performances. Look for one with more power than a typical smartphone charger.
- When you have questions about how to do anything having to do with this technology, there are lots of user blogs online which will be very helpful. There is no official on-line community for ForScore, but by phone, their help desk is very responsive.
: There is a lot of wonderful free
and public domain
music available on the internet (see March's
), which allows unlimited use and sharing. Files stored on your tablet can easily be shared among ensembles, ARS chapter members, and students via cloud-based apps like Dropbox.
However, when you have scanned music from a printed edition, remember that copyright law restricts this for your personal use. If others ask for complete electronic copies of your scanned music, please remember to honor intellectual property and copyright laws and instead, point your fellow musicians to where they can purchase it for themselves.
The technology for using these electronic wonders is still developing and will continue to improve. Its increasing popularity will encourage developers to introduce ever more astonishing tools and advantages. Early Music meets the future!
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