I am going to write a series of four articles about the software I use as an active musician. This software has made several things I do significantly easier. I hope this article encourages other musicians to try some of these tools and hopefully find the same benefit I did. The four articles I will be writing are:
I had my "epiphany" while accompanying at a young artist competition at UW-Madison. I had carefully prepared my scores so pages wouldn't stick together and were "dog-eared" so I could turn them despite the fact that my hands were dry from the January cold and occasionally the pages would slip through my finger-tips like ice. Everything went well for multiple rounds of that competition. I even turned my own pages! But, more importantly, I noticed one of the other accompanists. This accompanist who I know and respect had a very busy day as usual at that competition. But, he spent no time preparing his pages so they could be easily turned and he also handled his own page-turning. He did it with his left foot and his music was on an iPad. He was using the app, forScore and an AirTurn pedal. Rather than disregard this "new" music setup as I had multiple times before, this time I was intrigued and started to do some research in the following week.
After a little experimentation with a similar app called MobileSheets on an Android tablet (a device I already owned) I purchased a refurbished iPad 3 and a PageFlip Firefly. From that moment, I guess you would say I "jumped in the deep end." I began putting all my accompaniment scores in forScore and also used two other great apps I'll write about another time for church and jazz music.
I was totally sold. I loved the freedom of being able to turn pages without skipping notes and found the technique to do this with the Firefly was very easy to get used to.
forScore is a "music reader." Its primary purpose is to allow the user to see, play, and practice the music that is loaded into the iPad. I easy converted my scores to Adobe PDF format. If you have access to a modern photocopier, it probably has a scan function and this will create beautiful scans that you can use as backups of your music as well as read these in forScore. In addition to the photocopier, I also had an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax at home that could do the job, but not nearly so well. The size of the all-in-one device was really designed for 8.5x11 or legal sized paper. Most music seems to be printed at a larger size, so my experience with that device wasn't as good. Then, I found Genius Scan for iPod and iPad and that saved the day. This small and inexpensive app created scans that were usually as good and sometimes even better than the expensive modern photocopier and I always had it with me in my pocket. It is a great way to scan music scores into forScore. Between this and reference-copy sites like the IMSLP library, it has been easy to get the scores I need into the iPad.
I find the iPad works very well for music reading. The first question I get asked all the time is whether or not I find the iPad too small to read. The second question I get asked is whether I'm afraid the device will crash in the middle of a performance. Let's answer the first question first of all.
No, I do not find the iPad too small. Here's why. When learning a part with a lot of small and detailed articulations, elaborate use of accidentals, or many ledger lines, I simply turn the iPod on its side in landscape mode. This is a great way to learn and study music and sometimes the music is blown up even larger than the music book in this mode. I'd never perform with the iPad in landscape mode, but I could. I just don't need to, and I only use a 9.5" screen! The landscape mode is simply for learning. There are tools to make markings to help you remember--more on these in the next review--and I've always had the rule that I only want two tries to read a ledger line note. By that, I mean if I can't tell what note it is at first glance, I'm going to write a note or marking that helps me to know. There is no glory in valiantly trying to squint to determine whether the note is on the fourth or fifth ledger line. One to three, I typically wouldn't need to write anything, but four or more, I almost always make a note. That's just my way of reading and I can read my notes in either landscape or portrait view.
Bottom line, is the landscape mode helps one dig into the detail of the rhythm, notes, and articulations. Then, as the accompaniment part is now becoming familiar, I can easy turn it back to portrait mode and I see as much as I need to see. There is always the option of updating to a larger iPad Pro, but I personally like carrying the smaller size around.
The second question: What about crashes? Yes, computers crash, but strings break, pianos go out of tune, and sound systems fail. Many years ago in a recital I accompanied, a vocalist hobbled off stage partway through as the heel of her shoe gave way. Yes, bad things happen, but they usually don't. I usually give my iPad a restart before a major performance or a big day ahead and I'm obsessive to make sure it is fully charged for the day. I also leave WiFi off most of the time as it is a heavy draw on battery. If I have a long day at a music festival or competition, the last thing I want is to be stressed whether my battery will last.
The scariest thing I've faced happened just a week or two ago. My iPad overheated at an outdoor event! I have used that iPad outdoors many times, but never in as direct sunlight on a very hot day like that. So, when bad things like this happen, what do you do? You go on as usual! When a page-turner has skipped pages for me, I can't stop playing. We hopefully keep everything together and try to get back on track. I had five minutes to go before the concert started when the thermometer showed on the screen and it said it needed to be cooled down. I asked the upright bass player to angle his music a little "just in case" and put my iPad in my bag to cool off. It was ready to go by concert time. I took the iPad out of the sun whenever I could during that concert and everything went just fine. You can be sure I'll keep it shaded as much as possible next time I'm in a similar situation. Yes, bad things can happen, but the show goes on. That singer who lost the heel of her shoe finished up a wonderful senior recital with no shoes. We were all treated to a great performance, a good laugh, and an awesome memory!
Because of forScore, my music is well organized by title, composer, genre, and there is even a tagging system so I can pull up a list of all the music a particular student is working on and easily find what we will be practicing. You can also set playlists, which are very helpful for recitals and performances and keeping all the parts in order. I personally use the genre category for instrumentation so I can easily pull up a list of all pieces for soprano or all pieces for tuba. If you are playing only one movement of a concerto or sonata but have all the movements in the same file, you can easily set a bookmark so you can jump right to that movement and this also enables just that movement to be programmed into the recital playlist. The pages don't blow, you don't need to worry about whether the spine of the book allows it to stay open. It just works!
After about a year and one-half of heavy use, my PageFlip Firefly began to fail and I upgraded to the PageFlip Cicada and it too has been a great experience. The mechanical switches in the Firefly were replaced with electronic in the Cicada. It was quiet before, but this made it almost noiseless. The overall design was improved, but my favorite feature added is the LED lights on each pedal. These can be turned off to save batteries, but they are indispensable in a dark environment. I have so appreciated them on a dark stage or in a theater pit! I just finished month 19 with the Cicada and it is going strong and I use it a lot.
I hope this gives an overview of some of the why and how I choose to use the iPad for music performance. In part two, I plan to discuss the editing tools provided in forScore and share several practice tools built into the device that have been very helpful to me. In addition, I'll share some of the tricks and techniques I use.