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.

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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.

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