Prior to the appearance of personal computers, we musicians saw little change in printed music “technology” since the invention of paper. We’ve had paper music in either book or sheet form basically forever, and that’s all we’ve had.
Some of us who regularly struggle with the evils of paper music started to wonder whether the PC might be the answer to our paper woes. A few of us even drew up ideas on napkins where the PC would show the music and magically turn the pages when necessary. But who could imagine actually hauling a PC out on stage and plunking it on top of the piano or a music stand. And who of us would be willing to trust a PC not to crash in the middle of a performance? The Blue Man Group might have been renamed The Blue Screen Group. The arrival of the iPad, however, changed the whole “playing” field dramatically. Today, harried page turners everywhere now have a practical alternative worth considering.
So called “score apps” for the iPad vary widely in their feature sets, but all of them share at least one thing in common: they manage the display of music during performance. That one simple feature, when done well, makes the price of an iPad seem, well, priceless.
Here are 7 quick ways a score app will help you improve your rehearsals and performance:
- Basic page turning becomes effortless. You either tap or swipe the screen to turn pages. With the addition of a wireless foot pedal, your hands never need to leave your instrument.
- Skipping multiple pages becomes safe and easy. Most score apps allow you to skip multiple pages in any direction using just a single tap on the screen. This is handy for jumping to segnos, codas, and repeat signs that are multiple pages apart. In NextPage, this is done using “Page Links”.
- Scores can be “flattened.” Some score apps allow you to duplicate and reorder pages such that you only ever have to page forward. This is sometimes advantageous when playing a piece with an extremely fast tempo.
- You can play in poor lighting conditions. The iPad provides the light for your music, and you can fully control the brightness. You can play in poorly lit or even completely dark rooms. No more surprises on performance day.
- You can mark up the music without it getting in the way. Virtually every score app provides tools that let you annotate your music by drawing with your finger, highlighting sections, or typing notes into the score. Performance-oriented apps like NextPage let also let you hide them during performance. This is handy, for example, when you don’t want rehearsal markings distracting you during the actual performance.
- Your music won’t fight you anymore. Can you imagine a world where the paper doesn’t fall on floor, or the music book doesn’t close itself, or there is never a missing page, or the pages are always in the proper order? A score app can make that world a reality for you.
- The right music is always with you. An iPad can hold a tremendous amount of music, if not your entire library many times over. How handy would it be to always have the right music with you when the group leader changes the set list at the last minute?
There is an old proverb that says “Better is the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Paper music is clearly a devil we musicians all know, and it’s true that technology can sometimes make a bad situation worse, but that’s not the case here. I sincerely encourage you to try out a score app. Borrow an iPad if you need to, but please try it. You owe it to yourself.