So here is second installment of Pianist With an iPad, a series I began last July but never finished. In this post, we’ll look at some of the tools and benefits of using the iPad for this purpose.
I believe what I’ve found most helpful for me is how the iPad allows me to have organized practice. I’ve been that guy with piles of books on top the piano, or the “black hole” of scores in a backpack or computer bag. I think of so many of the accompanists at music festivals walking around with their rolling suitcases packed with music. The iPad with forScore allows me to be organized. Everything is in one place. It is all grouped, sorted, and I can hold the device in one hand and still have room for a coffee in the other.
I discussed this to some extent in the first installment, but let me go through it here as well. I organize using Genre for instrument. That way, I can quickly pull up every trumpet or trombone piece I have on my iPad. As long as you use logical naming and enter things like composer’s name, it is also very easy to find pieces using search or sort.
I use “Tag” for the student name. This is especially helpful if you are developing a repertoire with another musician. Some of my lists are quite extensive, and others just have a few pieces in them. I love having all pieces for one musician so easily accessible.
I set up Playlists as soon as I know we have a performance scheduled. I’ll name a playlist according to the person I’m accompanying and I also put the date of the concert. Then, I sort my lists according to date. This helps me know the priority order to practice with regards to when I’ll be performing a piece. This is very helpful with college students who give me their repertoire for the year at the beginning of the fall (or in some cases, the spring before). Since I typically have a waiting list for recitals, students are accustomed to asking me early, which is very helpful, but requires some careful organization.
Organization is very helpful for planned programs, but it is just as helpful to keep playing and to grow as a musician. As my iPad library of music has grown, I’ve found I have many great options for sight-reading practice and I tend to pull out pieces for maintenance practice a little more. I have some pieces in the iPad that I hope to learn but have never done so. Having them with me and easily accessible gives me hope I will eventually learn them.
forScore allows you to write notes which can help you practice on the “right things” next time. It is important to have a practice strategy or game plan. Writing notes can help you formulate a good practice plan. There is certainly no need to waste time in practicing, and writing good notes as to what you did at in a practice session can be a tremendous help to you the next time you sit down with your instrument.
One can upload mp3’s into forScore for playback. That is a great tool, but one I don’t find as useful, as the music I am working on, tends to be somewhere else, and I don’t like to fil my iPad with multiple copies of the same song. I have used Amazon Music and Spotify for this purpose. Now that I’ve moved almost exclusively to Spotify, I’d love to see an integration that would enable me to play a Spotify link right from the music page.
Another feature that helps you organize your practice using forScore on the iPad is metronome markings. forScore remembers the last tempo you had for each song file. This is very helpful if you are ramping up a tempo slowly speeding something up, but allowing time for good slow practice. Since forScore assigns the metronome speed to the file, you’ll need to manually adjust it in multiple movement pieces. I would love to see forScore add a feature where we could add a tempo to a specific page.
The metronome easily accessible within the program is a great tool and I lean heavily on metronome practice whenever possible. forScore has the capability to highlight the first beat of a measure, but I find that feature unhelpful for myself except in very rare occasions as often in the instrumental accompaniments I often play, the meter changes regularly. I would prefer the metronome to play louder or give more pitch options that might “cut through” the playing, but one can use a Bluetooth speaker or headphones.
There are many other features that one can use. You can track goals. forScore will track for you how much time you are spending in a piece. I could see some uses of this, but for me, the amount of time spent is far less important than the quality of time I spend practicing.
forScore provides tools for careful practice and marking a score to help you. It is easy to add markings. I regularly highlight, circle, and add courtesy sharps and flats. I like the ability to mark with a variety of colors. Highlighting a courtesy accidental in red helps it to jump out to me. When music has a lot of details rhythmically or accidentals, I’ll typically turn it to landscape mode as I learn the piece. This zooms the page larger and in many cases it is larger than the printed page. It is really helpful to notice small, but very important details this way.
One of the most helpful tools is the ability to edit your score pages just the way you’d like. Does your score have crazy repeats or a D.S. that jumps back several pages? You can simply rearrange or duplicate pages so you can keep stepping forward rather than jumping around. forScore also allows you to create multiple versions of a piece. This is extremely helpful for an accompanist who plays the same accompaniment for many people. Does one of your performers add a ritard and in the same place another prefers a stringendo? Just use multiple versions and remember you have tags and playlists to make sure you have the correct version up.
Concert programming is very easy with the playlists. I save go-to program lists for a jazz ensemble. It helps me remember what is working well with consideration of the flow and progression throughout the performance.
It does take some practice and effort to get a good scan. There is a Darkroom feature within the program, but I have found this inferior to dedicated scanning programs. The fastest way to scan is with a large-scale photocopier with scan capability. These copiers can handle A4 format and the larger pages that music is usually in. Home scanners are usually limited to letter or legal size, so are not as helpful. Far better than the home scanners is software that can be easily and cheaply acquired for the smartphone. I use Genius Scan by Grizzily Labs for iPhone. Even on the large scale scanners it is difficult to get a good scan because music books tend to be large and bindings cause the pages to curl away. Usually, my best scans have come from Genius Scan, but it does take longer to get a great looking scan cropped just right. While getting the perfect scan takes time, Genius Scan is great for quick scans as well. I’ve scanned a piece moments before going on stage as I prefer to have it in my iPad for easy page turns.
It also takes good battery management. You certainly don’t want to be caught on stage with the battery dead or dying. Be active with battery management. Let your battery run down. Don’t use just a little and then recharge right away. I start all performances with a full battery whenever possible. When approaching a large day of accompanying or rehearsing, I turn off WIFI when I’m not specifically using it. On those extra-long days, I avoid using iPad for other things and try to use my phone for email or other ordinary tasks. I replace the batteries in my Bluetooth when I have a major performance. They tend to last a long time, but I don’t like to take the chance. I can usually remember when they were changed last. If I have a few performances close together, I don’t change them for each one, but you can be sure I will a few weeks or a month later when another important one rolls around. If you mark your used batteries, you can use them at more relaxed times—practice, lessons, studio class.
forScore has become a very important tool for me musically as a pianist, but it isn’t the only music reading program I use very regularly. In the next article, we’ll look at two others that I have found very helpful.