The musician and the iPad part 1

Posted by Alistair Parnell Category: IOS

I must admit when the iPad first came out I was very sceptical. Why would you ever want one of those?
I’d been using a laptop for function (one man band) gigs for about 3 years. I had quite a bit of music scanned as PDFs and was using iTunes to play my backing tracks. I’d also played with Mainstage to see how that worked, but clever as it was it still didn’t quite do what I wanted. Last November I took the plunge and got an iPad. I thought it might be useful for others to know how I now use this fantastic device in my work as a professional musician.

I wanted to use the iPad not only for all the great stuff like email and Internet, but also as a score reader. I was use to reading from the laptop which worked well but useless with the piano, bulky to take around and too heavy to place on an ordinary music stand when playing sax.

My first app was Forscore, a score reading app. It seemed to be the most developed score app and offered features I thought would be very useful. Adding the PDFs was easy and as I now could use the iPad at the piano and on a stand I added quite a bit more music, this included the entire repertoire for Equinox (more than 100 parts and scores) my entire gig sets ( more than 4 hours of cocktail music) and sets of piano accompaniments and gig sets for cocktail piano gigs. Forescore allows you to quickly search scores, annotate, highlight and add notes. You can make limitless set lists and add quick jump markers to take care of repeats and DS or DC markings. The killer feature for the gigs is that every score can be linked to an ITunes track so now I didn’t have to find the score then find the backing track it was all there in one place. Each score can have a floating window with a start/stop control.

Of course the big question was ‘is it readable?’ Well, despite the small screen size I have to say I find it very comfortable. You can zoom and crop pages to make them fill the screen and there are no worries about dimly lit rooms or playing on stage when the lighting guy is setting up and leaving you in total darkness. There is a compact foot pedal set up called Airturn, which let’s you turn pages hands free. There is a built in metronome which is either audible or just pulsates the edges of the screen while you play.

So with this one app I can now play gigs with just the iPad for hours of music with one cable to my Bose L1 compact speaker for the backing tracks and don’t forget with a huge battery life. When I accompany singers I no longer have reams of photocopied parts which are precarious and untidy. When I play with Equinox I can find any piece within seconds whilst the others spend minutes searching for parts. When I teach at University I have many accompaniments and scores to hand without lugging round heavy bags of music. Oh and did I mention you can share scores with other iPads, print, download from the net and back up your entire library?

So what of the cons?

It’s time consuming to scan the scores but I’ve even found this to be an advantage. I now have them all backed up on Dropbox..
You only see one page at a time but the turning time is quicker than turning a paper score.
Can you trust it? Will it bomb out on you? Well so far it’s been 100% reliable and I’ve used it on many gigs but still have that slight concern as with any electronics.

The bottom line is – I think it’s the future for musicians who need to read parts and carry shed loads of music with them.

To be continued.

ISax – Alistair Parnell