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.

Because Paper Music is a Hassle

Paper sheet music is a hassle – plain and simple, and I’ve experienced it first hand for a very long time. After 10 years of thinking about it, and finally after 10 months of doing something about it, NextPage has finally become reality and is available in the App Store. You can find the details over on the product page or over in the iTunes store, but I wanted to give a little backstory here.

Every app needs to be about an idea…it needs to solve a single problem well, and the big idea behind NextPage is to take the hassles out paper music during live performance. How? By managing all of the details of presenting the music so you don’t have to.

As a keyboard player, paper music either in book or sheet form has been my nemesis virtually forever. Missed page turns, pages turning themselves backwards, music falling on the floor – you name it, I’ve had it happen (well, I’ve never had it catch on fire). Even when things go well, managing the music for a set of 5 songs during a performance, which could easily be 30+ individual pages, can be tedious and nerve-racking, not to mention a major distraction from being able to focus on putting yourself into the music.

I’ve had napkin drawings of software to solve this problem for a long time, but putting a laptop up on the piano always seemed like a bad idea, not to mention a dangerous one. I just could never bring myself to trust a live performance to a Windows PC, and Macs weren’t an option for me until just recently. Moreover, the form factor of a laptop just didn’t seem to fit, at least not for me.

The Solution

With the announcement of the iPad, I knew my platform had finally arrived, and so I took the plunge and created NextPage.  The roadmap for NextPage is pretty straightforward:

Version 1 – Available now

Manage the music files and present a set of songs using manual page turning. In addition, provide a way to quickly jump to any page with a single tap and tools to mark up the music with annotations.

Version 2 – In development

Provide hands-free turning using wireless foot pedals.

Version 3 – In the concept stage

Provide automatic turning by following the music. If you think about it for a few moments, you’ll realize this is not a trivial problem to solve.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how to accomplish this. I have no agenda other than this: help people who have to deal with the joys of paper sheet music. Maybe we can build it together!

//Scott

Deleting Files From Your iPad

Most things you need to do on the iPad are pretty easy to figure out.  In fact, Apple has a lot to say about how apps should be designed so that the user’s experience is an easy and enjoyable one.

While I’ve found that Apple does tend to practice what it preaches (at least 80% of the time) in regard to good user interface design, I have one beef:  deleting files.

Getting files onto your iPad couldn’t be easier:

  1. Open up iTunes
  2. Connect your iPad and click on it when it appears under “Devices”
  3. Select the “Apps” tab
  4. Select the app you want to add files to in the “Apps” box
  5. Drag files from Finder to the “Documents” box, or use the “Add” button in the “Documents” box.

All 5 of those steps can be figured out just by looking at the iTunes interface, no instructions required.

Deleting files on the other hand, is much less than obvious.   Here’s the recipe:

  1. Follow steps 1-4 above.
  2. Select the files you want to delete in the “Documents” box.
  3. Press the “Delete” key on your keyboard

I don’t know of anyplace wheres step #6 is clearly documented. The “Delete” option in the iTunes Edit menu will not help you.  Although there are “Add” and “Save to” buttons in the Documents box, a corresponding “Delete” button is nowhere to be found.

As much as I love what Apple does, this is simply maddening.

There, I’m better now.

//Scott

Five More Reasons You Need an iPad

Of all the iPad nay-sayers I’ve either read or talked to, they all have one thing in common – they don’t own one. Here are five more reasons, in no particular order, that you can give to your “financial department” to prove you need one.

1. Self Improvement – Reading books is so much more convenient because you don’t have to carry an extra item around (you’re already carrying your iPad for other reasons, right?), and you don’t need to worry about a highlighter exploding and causing a wardrobe crisis. Also, no more lost bookmarkers! Yes, you have to buy the online versions of the books, but you and those you serve are worth it. If you don’t like iBooks or feel they’re aren’t yet enough books in the Apple book store, get the free Kindle app for iPad.

2. Less to Carry - If you mostly consume content while on the go, the iPad is a lot easier to haul around than a laptop. Actually the word “haul” is a bit unfair, because the iPad is easily carried in your hand, in the smallest of briefcases, and (going out on a limb here) in modest size ladies’ handbags/purses/satchels. We will undoubtedly see an explosion of designer cases and bling for the iPad, but it will probably fit nicely in what you already own. Heavy duty content creation, such as writing reports or working with spreadsheets, is still best done with your laptop or desktop. To that point, I created this paragraph on my iPad, but I don’t think I’m going to use it to finish the whole post unless I end up writing it all on the go.

3. The Weather Channel – The graphics are unbelievable, with a map to suit every type of weather junkie. Don’t be alarmed by the apparent low temperatures in the local forecast screen. The values are displayed in Celsius by default. Look for the little “gear” icon on the right edge of the tool bar to change to Farenheit.

4. iPhoto – You will immediately be amazed (and spoiled) with how easily you can manipulate and view your photos. iPhoto will organize your photos into Albums and Events, somewhat like folders, and allow you to peek inside them by using a “pinch out” gesture. Using this allows you to quickly find the photo(s) you’re interested in without paging through your whole stash. And, photos are automatically available as a slide-show screen saver when you lock the screen. Imagine the possibilities.

5. Musical Practice Buddy – If you’re having trouble learning a popular song, take your iPad to your music stand and bring up the YouTube app. Find a video of the song you’re working on, pop an ear bud in one ear, hit play, and play along. You can stop/start as necessary, work on just a particular section, and get the feel for playing the song with a full band.

So there you have five more reasons you can use to convince whoever you need as to why you need (NEED) an iPad. I’m available at very reasonable rates for grief counseling if they don’t work.

//

iPad Joy

After much pacing around and nervous energy release doing yard work, the UPS truck finally arrived mid-afternoon last Saturday. Not only did I have to sign for the small brown package, I had to verbally recite the spelling of my last name and my street address. Do they ask that all the time now I wondered, or was this just designed to delay my anticipated joy even longer?

Well, THE WAIT WAS WORTH IT! The iPad is going to be the platform I thought it would be. There are many “first impression” blog postings in circulation, and rather than rehash all the technical details that have already been well hashed by others, I’d like to share how my own out-of-box experience went. I learned a few non-obvious things you may find helpful.

Why The Joy?

  • The size is just right. It feels good both in your hand and under your fingers. You will not want to put it down.
  • Mobile Safari. The web browsing experience is simply a joy. Navigating the web and manipulating individual pages with finger gestures is so much more natural and intuitive than the traditional mouse/keyboard routine we’re accustomed to. I found myself reading more content, reading it more carefully, and reading more efficiently simply because I could navigate, pan around and resize pages so effortlessly.
  • The thoughtful integration of hand gestures in the built-in apps, such as the “pinch to expand” gesture in iPhoto, which allows you to peak inside your photo albums. Try this out on a friend’s iPad or at an Apple Store, or check it out in this video on YouTube.
  • Responsiveness. The iPad is fast and responsive. I’m sure that Mobile Safari was specially fine-tuned to run like a Ferrari, but all of the built-in apps are very snappy also.
  • iBook. After installing the iBook app, I found I was entitled to a complimentary copy of Winnie The Pooh – all 300+ pages with color illustrations. It’s a great book to showcase the new navigation features that will have many of us reading more books simply because of how enjoyable the experience becomes. This is the secret sauce of the iPad in my opinion – it will change the way we interact with content in ways that will improve how we absorb and process information.
  • Limitless Possibilities. It finally provides the platform for something I’ve been dreaming about for over 10 years. More on that below.

Charging

The iPad comes with a 10W power adapter, and you’ll want to keep close track of it. There are some erroneous reports claiming that you absolutely must use this charger, and that the iPad won’t charge while attached to your Mac. That said, you will want to use this charger, but the iPad will slowly charge while attached to a Mac USB port. The official iPad User Guide, which you can find in Safari’s bookmarks states:

The best way to charge the iPad battery is to connect…using the included…10W USB power adapter. When you connect iPad to a USB2.0 port on a Mac with the Dock Connector to USB Cable, iPad may charge slowly while syncing.”

And in fact it does, as I found when connecting my iPad to a MacBook Pro. The manual goes on to say:

Important: The iPad battery may drain instead of charge if IPad is connected to a [Windows] PC, to a computer that’s turned off or is in sleep or standby mode, to a USB hub, or to the USB port on a keyboard.

I haven’t yet verified this using my own Windows PC (iPad is supported with iTunes 9.1 on Windows), but in any event the included USB wall charger is clearly the way to go, despite the fact that a power cord isn’t included. If you already have a modular MacBook Pro-type power cord, you can use that with the iPad charger. There are probably some good options at Best Buy or Wal-Mart as well.

I sometimes read Walter Mossberg’s tech articles in the Wall Street Journal, and in his iPad review he claimed to have gotten 11 hours of run time from a single charge. He essentially set his iPad up to continuously play videos and simultaneously download email until the battery died. I haven’t run mine quite that hard, but I have used it a lot, including for app development work, and I haven’t had to recharge it since it arrived on Saturday.

Initial Sync Surprise

When you first turn the unit on, it will immediately inform you that it wants to be attached to your Mac or PC for initial syncing and registration. No problem I thought. What I didn’t notice in my rush to get things set up is that if you have an iPhone backed up to iTunes, it will ask if it should restore that backup to the iPad. I somehow didn’t notice this and consequently ignored the warning.  So, as soon as the sync started I saw iTunes dutifully downloading all of my iPhone apps and iTunes media library! I realize some folks may actually want that to happen, but I certainly did not! Happily, iTunes does maintain separate sync settings for each device. This mistake cost me only a little clean-up time; there certainly was no damage to the iPad’s configuration.

Twist Lock

If you have an iPhone, you’re no doubt familiar with the mute button next to the volume controls. The iPad has a somewhat similar looking switch located next to the volume controls also (see photo above), but it is NOT a mute button. Sliding this switch to its “on” position will prevent the contents of the screen from rotating as you turn the device. At first I was taken a bit surprise by the need for that, but after you’ve used some of the built-in apps for a few hours, you’ll understand why that’s a handy feature to have. If you do need to mute the sound, simply press the volume down button until you get silence.

File Sharing Warning

The iPad supports file sharing via the Apps tab in iTunes 9.1. You can drag files to/from your iPad via the Apps tab as well as delete files. This feature is enabled on a per-app basis, so not all apps will appear in this portion of the Apps tab. I have tested file sharing extensively with the app I’m developing, and it works as advertised, but let me warn you about something that isn’t necessarily obvious. If you delete an app from the iPad (which is done the same way as on iPhone), the documents and data that were part of that app get deleted along with it. So, you will want to be careful to preserve your files before deleting apps.

Keyboard Notes

The keyboard that pops up for text entry is closer to what a touch typist would expect, and I’m satisfied with it for the most part. It would be nice to have the ‘;’ under my right pinky as a standard QWERTY layout would have, but that’s a minor nit. I could always go with an external keyboard for serious heads-down typing. I do wish, however, that the ‘@’symbol and ‘.com’ were on the keyboard at all times in Safari and Mail. I would hazard to say that we will all be spending much time typing email and web addresses into our iPads, and those two items would very handy to have available on the keyboard when doing anything online.

I also found an interesting keyboard item in the iPad User Guide. Apple says that “if you touch the wrong key, you can slide your finger to the correct key. The letter isn’t entered until you release your finger from the key.”  I didn’t find that to be true. Whenever I held a key, I got a set of foreign language equivalents for the key I was pressing, just as on iPhone.  Sliding my finger made no difference.  I must be missing something.

Don’t Scratch Me

I’m glad I read the manual on this topic before attempting to clean my unit. Simply stated: USE NO CHEMICALS. A soft, lightly damp cloth is the suggested tool. My initial thought would have been to use Windex – it’s glass right? – but the rule is no chemicals and nothing even remotely abrasive. A damp cloth worked well for me.

An App In the Works

I happen to be an amateur musician (keyboards, piano, and organ), and I play weekly in our church’s praise and worship band. As an amateur, I need sheet music – lots of it. As I don’t have the gift of memorization or making up the music as I go along, I have tons of sheet music to manage during a performance, not to mention during rehearsals and practice sessions.

Let me state what may be the obvious to musicians: Sheet music is a major hassle. It’s really a subject for another day, but I will say now that I have notebooks from over 10 years ago where I scratched out software designs for displaying sheet music on a PC, just so I could ditch the paper and not have to worry about turning pages. There was simply no way, however, that I would trust a live performance to Microsoft Windows, and I could not see wedging a Mac onto the piano or keyboard stand back then. My idea simply wasn’t practical given the technology of the day.

Such products are now available, and a few are really well done, but they are out of reach of the average amateur musician both cost-wise and from a usability standpoint. And, I still don’t trust Windows. The iPad has suddenly made my ideas practical, and I’m working to bring out an alternative to paper sheet music that is both affordable and easy for the average musician to use. I know the sheet music problem from a musician’s standpoint, and I believe I have something to offer that will be very helpful to a lot of people. I hope you’ll stop back to check on my progress!

Please share your iPad experiences below – I’d love to hear how you’re using it and how you like it (or don’t!)

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