Using Your iPad to Position Your Music

Part of the benefit of using an iPad to display music is that it gives you flexibility when placing your music in relation to your instrument. Seeing the music easily, and being able to reach it comfortably when necessary is very important to performing well. Missing page turns, or fumbling with music between songs leads to a Bad Musical Day, and we want to do what we can to avoid those as much as possible.

My rig with iPad to left side

Orchestral instrumentalists are somewhat restricted by a relatively small physical space and are accustomed to dealing with a traditional music stand. An iPad is right at home here if the bottom ledge of the stand is wide enough, and the stand itself is not too wobbly (is it me, or do they all seem to wobble a little). In this case, the iPad allows the performer to slide her music left or right of center as desired, depending on the sight line provided by the instrument or the hand she has available to reach forward for turning pages. Adding a wireless foot pedal brings the best of all worlds to the orchestral player. No hands are needed to handle the music, and the music can be placed where it can be seen without having to move one’s head.

For instruments like an acoustic piano, the options for music placement are a bit limited regardless of paper or iPad because the construction of the instrument essentially dictates the placement. Fortunately, most pianos are designed with a music holder (I.e. the “music desk”) already built into the instrument.

Electronic keyboards, however, typically don’t have a music desk. Depending on brand and model, there may be an optional music desk-like attachment available, but my experience with these has been quite disappointing. They are usually either too narrow or too short, setting one up for all sorts of potential disasters during performance. Here is where the iPad truly shines.

If you play an instrument without a music holder, or where a traditional music stand won’t work, there is very simple, effective recipe available to you. Besides an iPad (and NextPage, of course) you will need:

  • An standard microphone stand, like this stationary stand, or if you want even more flexibility, this boom stand.
  • An iPad holder with a built-in microphone stand adapter. You may want one that has a flexible shaft (as I do), though it’s not visible in the picture above. You can also find some models that rotate, if you prefer showing the music in landscape mode. I’ve got my eye on this particular holder. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s an example you can check out as part of your search.

The microphone stand can be placed anywhere you’d like it – left or right side of the keyboard, or directly in front of you. It can also be adjusted to whatever height you need based on whether you sit or stand to play. As a keyboard player, I like to position it to my left when standing to play. While I do use a foot pedal, I often find it comfortable to simply lift my left hand off the keys, and slightly reach forward to tap or swipe for a page turn. In a very short time, this will become a natural, easy motion. In fact, it’s become so automatic for me that I’m hardly aware anymore that I’m doing it, which is exactly what we want when we’re performing. Of course this only works well when the melody can be sustained with the right hand, so the foot pedal is very necessary at times, depending on the score.

Positioning the iPad to the left as I’ve described is of course not going to be ideal for everyone. Depending on your eyesight and the lighting in the room, you may need it directly in front of you to see it well enough. If you are leading, you may want it front of you so you are facing the audience directly, rather than having your head angled sideways.  The beauty of the iPad solution is that it accommodate all of these and almost any other positioning need.

Regardless of your specific situation, displaying your music with an iPad can definitely empower you to perform better and enjoy your music more. The music notation must be made to serve us, not the other way around!

NextPage Version 2 Back Story

If you’ve found your way here, it’s more than likely that you’re an owner of NextPage. If you’ve ever contacted us via email, we’ve done our level best to reach out to you regarding this post. Let me again thank you for your support and patience as we’ve transitioned NextPage to iOS 7. We know that many of you have been suffering with some rather annoying issues with NextPage since upgrading to iOS 7. So we’d like to share with you what’s been going on, and what you can expect in version 2.

NextPage V2

First off, you may be wondering why we’re about a month late with an iOS 7 compatible version. To be frank, Apple quite literally caught us off guard with the release date, and we underestimated the pressure it would put on the resources we depend on to put a new release together. Apple never shares exact dates with developers, so we were working in reference to past history for major changes to iOS, such as iOS 5, expecting them to release sometime in mid-late October. Had that been the case again this time, we would have been right on time. As it turned out, however, we were caught a bit by flat-footed with about 10 days effective notice from Apple – not nearly enough time to get NP2 finished. We decided that rather than rush something shoddy out the door, we would stick to our original schedule and bring you a quality upgrade. We believe you be pleased (or as Apple would say, “delighted”) with the results.

Next, we had conveyed to some of you who had asked about NP2 that it would be a new app in the store for iOS 7 only. Since Apple doesn’t allow upgrade pricing, that would have meant you would have had to buy the new version at full price to get the new features and iOS 7 support. We’ve changed our minds about that.

Because our delay in getting NextPage 2 shipped has caused trouble for many of you who’ve updated to iOS 7, we’ve decided not to charge you for the new version.

Despite that fact that we had to make significant financial investments to accommodate all of the changes that iOS 7 brought, plus the tremendous amount of time we invested in the new, faster page turning engine, we just did not feel that charging you was the right thing to do. We will likely raise the price of NextPage for some period of time to recoup our development costs, but we will not be charging you, our faithful existing customers. It’s the least we can do to try to compensate you for any trouble you’ve experienced.

While free to you as an existing customer, NP2 is an iOS 7 only app. Customers who must remain on iOS 6 because their iPad can’t run iOS 7 will unfortunately not receive further updates. We originally wanted to release the faster paging engine to NP1 owners as well, but the shortened time schedule and Apple’s new rules regarding iOS 6 apps necessitated we change those plans.

Looking Forward

While it will look a bit different (our designer calls the new color “Violin Red”), NextPage 2 works just like the NextPage you already know. Our goal has never been to have the most features or get involved in a features “arms race” with competitive apps – that does not serve you. Instead, we are focused solely on providing you with a simple, reliable sheet music app geared for live performance. (If you’ve not heard it before, NextPage was born out of my own frustrations with paper music at the piano. I have sketches of sheet music “apps” that go back to the early 80’s, when apps were called “programs” and computers were too clunky and unreliable to trust during live performance. I’ve written about that once or twice before).

NextPage has been built for one purpose: to help those of us who need music to perform better.  We are not trying to get featured by Apple, be the app with the most bells and whistles, the coolest user interface, or be featured as a “must-have” app in the trade press. We are not interested in any of that (but if it happens, we won’t complain…) It’s about playing music better. That’s all.

Here are some highlights for version 2:

  • New graphical design for the look and feel of iOS 7.
  • A redesigned page turning engine (aka “Lightning”) that actually gets faster as you use it.
  • Simplified markup tools that require much less effort to use.
  • Faster startup time with larger numbers of songs.
  • Add information to each song, including key, tempo, transposition, score type, composer, arrangement, and genre.
  • 3-finger swipe to move forward/backward one song.
  • Backup/Restore of Set Lists, markups, and annotations to Dropbox.
  • A slew of usability improvements.
  • A beautiful new Quick Start Guide as a downpayment on a more comprehensive manual in both PDF and iBooks format.
  • iOS 7 only.

Those of you who’ve been with us for a long time know that we talked about doing short videos on how to use various features, tips for scanning music, playing with a foot pedal, etc. We did not deliver and we apologize for that.  We will be getting around to that this time.

Real Soon Now

We submitted NextPage 2 to Apple this past weekend. All things being equal, and barring any serious objections from Apple that require significant rework on our part, you should find it in the store within the next 7-10 days.

Thanks again for your support. We look forward to continuing to serve you.

Warm regards,

//Scott

Parting With The Paper – Using Sheet Music Apps

The iPad is a tremendous tool for the performing musician, especially those who rely on paper music in one form or another. I’ve talked about the hassles of paper music before, but how exactly does one use an iPad to make that better?

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Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/freeartist

First and foremost, a good sheet music app is required, and while we’d love to see you using NextPage, all sheet music apps generally work the same way.  Here’s the basic outline of what you’d need to do to use an iPad instead of paper:

Loading the Music

Most sheet music apps work with PDF files. These days it’s possible to buy music in PDF format, but for most of us with existing paper music collections, it’s simply not practical to hope to find PDF versions. The answer? Scanning. Printers that include scanning capabilities have become quite affordable and are available for PC or Mac. The software that comes with the printer/scanner can usually create PDF files in just a few easy steps. It is very important that the scanning software be able to combine multiple scanned pages into a single file (it is usually a checkbox or option that you have to select in the software).  It’s worth getting a machine that has a document feeder so that you can scan a whole song in just one operation.

So, you will be scanning your paper in to PDFs, and then loading those files into the iPad. How you do that depends on the app you’re using. NextPage allows you to load PDFs using iTune sync, Dropbox, or email. Dropbox is by far the easiest and most effective way to manage your PDF files, and perhaps the subject for another post.

When you first start scanning and loading music, it will seem like you’re always doing it, and you might be tempted to think it’s too much trouble. The point will come however, when you finish loading the music you use most often, and the amount of scanning you do will seem to suddenly and drastically decrease. Happily, you will probably soon find that your time investment was well worth it.

Organizing the Music

Every sheet music app provides ways to organize your music, and most use the concepts of a song list or library, and set lists. Some even allow you to enter extra information like composer, genre, key, etc. After you’ve loaded music into NextPage, for example, you tap the ‘Songs’ button to see your list of PDF files. Then as you tap on individual song titles, they are added to a set list and presented to you in order as you play. You can create as many set lists as you like, name them however you’d like, and load them as required. You can also rearrange the song order or remove songs from a set list whenever necessary.

Some apps also allow you to change the page order within a song to make performance easier. Say for example, you’d like to avoid turning back three pages to handle a repeat sign or D.S. al segno. Using tools like the Page Arranger in NextPage, you can duplicate the three pages and arrange them in such a way that all you have to do is keep paging forward.  No more missed turn backs!  Or perhaps there are certain pages in a song that your conductor or director has decided to skip. You can remove those from the page order completely and eliminate page turns!

Turning Pages

Here is where the magic really happens. To move from one page to the next, you have a couple of ways that you can mix and match depending on the situation and the instrument you play. You can:

  • Tap the left or right side of the screen
  • Swipe left or right
  • Use wireless foot pedals and turn the pages hands-free
Multiple-page jumps are also possible. Using page links in NextPage, you can define a small rectangle on the screen that when you tap inside of it, you will be taken directly, and instantly to any other page in the score.  No more missed codas!

Marking the Music

Obviously pens, pencils, and highlighters aren’t going to work well on your iPad.  Virtually all sheet music apps provide a set of tools that let you draw freehand on the music, highlight it, and make text annotations. Some, like NextPage, even provide a symbol pallet that let you add the most common musical symbols without having to draw them.

Preparing for the New Playing Experience

There will be an adjustment period that will vary depending on how you’re used to doing things. Because page turns are now virtually instant, your eyes and brain will have to adjust. Think about what happens during a manual turn. Your arm moves up to grab the page, then it moves in front of your eyes momentarily blocking your vision, the new page becomes visible, and finally your eyes have to move either left or right depending on the turn direction.  It all happens in a second or two, but now that second or two is gone, and you brain and eyes have to react faster. Your eyes will also have to adjust because even though they are now moving less, they have to pick up the new page image of a size that is probably smaller than the original paper you’re accustomed to.  On the other hand, dark rooms are no longer a problem! With an iPad no ambient light is even required.

Practice, of course, is key to perfecting your new page turning technique. Even more so if you decide to use wireless foot pedals, since you must train yourself to tap the pedals at the right time. If you’re a pianist or keyboard player, your right foot is already occupied, so training your left foot becomes the challenge (but well worth it!)

No Turning Back

This all sounds like a lot of work, and maybe even like more hassle than the paper, but once you’ve invested the time and made all of the adjustments, there simply is no turning back. You will be amazed at how much better you can focus on playing once the paper is out of your thoughts. You will also be amazed at how much time you begin to save because your music is always with you – no more pulling, filing, and searching for your music. And no more fighting with 3-ring binders that seem to always explode on impact when you drop them on the floor.

Sheet music apps like NextPage were created to help you perform better. Give it a try. You will be delighted!

Is The iPad for Musicians?

The iPad for musicians?  Is that seriously a question anymore? Though it seems like a foregone conclusion to those of us that use them in musical performance, the iPad is not the obvious choice, nor perhaps the right choice for every musician.  Why? There are many reasons, but here are just a few to consider.

NextPage - perfect for iPads for Musicians

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD)

For those of us who suffered through the Microsoft Windows era of the late ’90’s and have scarred memories from the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, any deep-seated fears of trusting a computing device with our musical performance are neither weird or unjustified. Few people had the blind faith and fortitude to trust a Windows PC on stage.  The chances for catastrophe were just too high, and it was hardly worth it based on the small screen sizes and the limited ways available to turn pages. The thought of an automatic page turner was just a dream for pianists and keyboard players.

A good sheet music app is (or should be) designed first and foremost not to crash during performance. Bugs in other areas of the app, perhaps in the markup tools, might be tolerable, but not the meat-and-potatoes function of turning pages and navigating between songs! But regardless of how good an app might be, a person suffering from PC-era FUD may be unwilling to even try it out. Making the transition from paper to an iPad sheet music app requires some adjustment, and a successful transition happens best when one has a positive attitude going into the process. Loading the music is different, the timing and visual appearance of page turning is different, and marking up music must is different (using a pencil or pen on your iPad is probably a bad idea).  In short, this means change – a lot of change. Those who dread or are fearful of change, or who just can’t bring themselves to trust an electronic device with their live performance just aren’t ready for an iPad, at least not without a lot of moral support!

Tech Savvy

Similar to FUD, tech savvy, or lack thereof can sometimes be a hindrance.  Using an iPad for sheet music usually involves getting your music into PDF format, either buying it that way or scanning it, and then loading it into the iPad using iTunes or Dropbox. For a certain segment of musicians, this is simply beyond their technical grasp or aspirations, and the thought of having to learn it leads to stress and brings a negative attitude to the transition process from paper to electrons.

Conversion From Paper

Most sheet music apps work with PDF files, and many online music retailers will deliver sheet music, or even whole music books in PDF format. That works well for new music, but it’s doesn’t address that pile of 4” 3-ring binders holding all of your existing music. The only answer for that is to scan it, which can either be a breeze or a chore, depending on what kind of scanner and software you use, and either way it requires time. For musicians unwilling or unable to tackle this task or invest the time, a sheet music app is going to seem like a hassle. Tip: Find a teenager who needs to earn some extra money and have them scan all it to a Dropbox folder.

Cost

iPads are not inexpensive, and so cost is often the first hurdle a musician has to jump over. Why? Because you usually don’t buy just the iPad – you also buy a case, and maybe an extra charging cable, and possibly AppleCare to extend the warranty, and on it goes. If you plan to use the iPad on stage, you may soon find yourself shopping for a special iPad holder for your music stand and maybe an automatic page turner like the AirTurn BT-105. In short, while you need to spend at least $500 to get started, you can easily spend $700-$800 in no time at all. Tip: Find an iPad 2. It is still one of the fastest iPads around for sheet music apps and they can be found for very reasonable prices on the second-hand market. (Yes, the iPad 3 is slower! But that’s a topic for another post…)

Not Right for Everyone?

There are certainly more reasons why an iPad may not be right for every musician, but perhaps the few reasons listed above will help you begin to relate to some of your iPad-reticent brethren at your next rehearsal.  As much as you may benefit and enjoy using one in performance, and as much as you think they’ve just got to see the light, they simply not be ready or willing to take the plunge. Hopefully you’ve now got a bit of  insight as to why.

7 Reasons Why You Should Try a Score App

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

In fact, I’ll provide the first 25 folks who contact me with a complimentary copy of  NextPage. You can try out this new world for free, no strings attached.  It’s that important.

NextPage 1.3.7 : The iPad 3 Maneuver

If you’ve been a user of NextPage on iPad 2 or the original iPad and have upgraded to “the New iPad”, you may have noticed a lag when turning pages. On the surface, this makes no sense, as one would think spiffy new hardware would perform at least as well, if not better than the old. That is not the case here, faithful NextPage user. If you’re anxious just to get your previous level of page-turning performance back, pull out your iPad and upgrade to NextPage 1.3.7, which became available today. If you’d like the gory details of what’s been going on, please keep reading. I’ve written in detail about it over here, but to summarize:

The new iPad, or iPad 3, features Apple’s Retina display which boasts twice the resolution of previous iPads. It accomplishes that by using 4 times as many pixels as the previous models. At first glance, one would think this is a Very Good Thing.

However, while Apple did upgrade the graphics processor (GPU) to handle the increased resolution, the new iPad’s main CPU remained basically the same as last year’s iPad 2. As it turns out, this lack of additional horsepower to go along with the higher resolution display makes quite a difference to apps like NextPage, Instapaper, and a slew of others.

Apps like NextPage require heavy CPU (not GPU) power to render scanned PDF files quickly. With the new iPad, this means calculating images that have 4 times as many pixels as before, but without any additional processing power to do so! In NextPage, this shows up as sluggish page-turning performance.

Fortunately, with version 1.3.7, NextPage’s performance is as good as, if not better than it was on iPad 2. Besides changing the way in which pages are rendered, additional tuning of NextPage’s caching engine was also possible because of the additional memory available on the new iPad (1GB vs 512MB on iPad 2).

The “next iPad”, or “iPad 2013″, or whatever it will be called will no doubt have a better CPU story to tell, and we won’t have this dilemma again. In the meantime, NextPage performance should be back to normal for you on iPad 3, and, you now have some insight as to why some of your other apps may be performing poorly on your new iPad.