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!

It’s About Expressing Yourself

Music allows us to express ourselves in deep and meaningful ways that can not be duplicated in any other way. Whether by voice or instrument, we can pour ourselves out, expressing deep, intense feeling and emotion. Can there be a more genuine form of worship?

No more paper. Ever!

The most gifted among us can do this without the need for music – the melody just flows from within. Others can memorize and have the freedom to play expressively without ever worrying about a page turn. And then there are those of us, like myself, who have been chained to paper music. We are forever fretting about the next page turn, or worse, dreading to turn 5 pages back to find a segno, and then 6 pages forward to chase the coda. For us, pouring ourselves into the music can often be a hit or miss affair.

Happily today, there is relief for those of us living in paper music jail. It comes in the form of an iPad, an app to display the music, and optionally, a wireless foot pedal to help turn the pages. Imagine how things change when your entire set list is presented to you page by page just by tapping, swiping the screen, or using your foot. Imagine jumping back to a segno or forward to a coda with just one tap. How might this free your mind to play expressively?

I’ve been playing piano and keyboards for just over 45 years. In all that time there has been no more important invention to my musical performance than the iPad, especially in worship. Removing the paper from the equation has freed my mind from stress and distraction, and it’s allowed me to focus on making a much more meaningful contribution to the musical experience being produced by the worship team.

Whether you choose NextPage or another similar iPad app, I encourage you to take the plunge and choose something. And give it a fair chance, meaning, try it for a least a month. Even in the most ideal situations, turning pages breaks one’s concentration and limits the depth of feeling that can be expressed. So making those page turns as momentary, as reliable, and as uneventful as possible is something you most definitely want to do.  Why? Because our goal is to communicate the music expressively, in the unique way that each of us can do, so as to impart the emotion and message of the music in a way that is meaningful to the listener.

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?


Photo courtesy of ©

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.


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.

When You Should Use Technology in Music

As I wrote elsewhere today, the purpose of technology is to make life better, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Certainly there has been, and continues to be enormous opportunity to use technology to make our musical lives better, both in our enjoyment of listening to music (think iPod), and perhaps more importantly, in making and performing it.

How True.  Courtesy

Technology is best used in music to:

  • generate and facilitate the creation of sound – for example, synthesizers, digital audio workstations, guitar pedals, sound processors
  • improve skills – iPhone apps for metronomes, music term dictionaries, tuners, etc
  • eliminate distraction and tension during performance – personal mixers, in-ear monitors, iPad apps to manage music, to name a few.

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said “Drum machines have no soul”, and that raises a very important distinction: technology is not the answer to everything in music. Nothing replaces the passion, intensity, and range of emotion that a human soul brings to music. Technology cannot bring the expression that makes music come alive in a way that touches, moves, and enriches its hearers. Why?  Because all the important qualities that make music inspiring and enthralling pour out of the life experiences of those performing it.  A beloved teacher of mine one said “if music is your life, then get a life”.  How true.  Technology can’t replace your life experiences, and your music can have no meaningful life if yours is empty.

So use technology in your music to help you perform better because that’s the ultimate goal: sharing your musical gifts with others to make their lives better by lifting their spirits and brighting their lives.  This means:

  • If you have difficulty tuning your instrument, get an electronic tuner app.
  • If you can’t remember tempos on performance day, or have trouble with difficult rhythms, get a metronome app (we’re working on one).
  • If turning pages is killing you at the keyboard, get an iPad app and a wireless foot pedal to make the hassles and tensions of paper music go away (here’s one).
  • If your conductor is constantly glaring at you because you can’t remember what terms like Adagissimo mean, by all means get yourself a musical dictionary app.
  • If you can’t remember how to finger low E flat on your bassoon, get an app with fingering charts (we’re working on that too).

Helping musicians perform better is why OnStage Technologies exists. Tell us what you need, and we’ll bend the technology into the right shape for you.

How do you use technology in your musical performance?


Gearing Up

I enjoy participating in the weekly Sunday Set List posts over at The Worship Community.  In recognition of the 200th Sunday Set List post,  the regular contributors have been asked to do a little photo essay on their prep and rehearsal for their service on May 13th.  As I put my own photos together, I realized there are more moving parts in my current rig than I thought. It may be time to get a road crew…

IMG 3688

But as I looked over the photos (as you can see, I am NOT a photographer), the thing that really struck me was what wasn’t there any longer:  a series of Rube-Goldberg devices to hold my sheet music.  Managing an ever-growing pile of music every Sunday was starting to suck the joy out playing and was preventing me from staying focused on worship.  I am very grateful that God gave me the ability to be able fix that, and I’ve been happily sharing my solution ever since with as many other musicians as I can get to listen.

IMG 3702

If you’re a musician struggling with paper music, you owe it to yourself to get an iPad and a score app.  Of course I would love to see you use mine, but there are several great ones to choose from, and you want an app that fits you. What’s most important to me is that you get something, because once you eliminate the hassles of the paper, you can get back to enjoying your playing, and truly focus down on worship again.