How to Use a Digital Tablet to Store Sheet Music

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Digital Tablet store sheet music

Digital Tablet store sheet music

Cellist Shimon Walt doesn’t need to bother with shuffling through pages of sheet music or fussing with a light for his music stand. Instead, during concerts and gigs, Walt reads his music off a bright—and tidy—7-by-10-inch screen: his Apple iPad. An early adopter of the iPad, Walt nowadays almost always uses the technology on stage. He has transferred the scores to hundreds of pieces onto his iPad and totes the one-and-a-half–pound device around with him, leaving his old-fashioned sheet music in the car. “I love it,” says Walt, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, adding that when onstage, he points it out to audiences who ooh and aah over his use of the digital device.

Apple launched the iPad in the spring of 2010. Market analysts predict iPad sales could top 60 million units through 2011, some of which are finding their way onto the stage with string players. With up to 64 gigabits of storage capacity, the iPad can squirrel away thousands of pieces of music, letting players carry an entire library in one hand.

While it’s unclear exactly how many string players are using an iPad during performance, gear sellers report healthy sales of stands specifically designed to hold and position the device. One company that offers performance and practice products, AirTurn, has sold since January between 300 and 400 of each of the two models of iPad stands it carries.

One, the $35 XClip, screws into a standard microphone stand and lets the player snap in the iPad vertically in portrait mode (a gooseneck adapter can be purchased that allows the user also to position the device horizontally in landscape mode).

The other, a $89 accessory called The Gig Easy, attaches to a mic stand and rotates to let the player position the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode.

AirTurn co-founder Hugh Sung adds that some who buy his company’s separate wireless system, which lets players use a foot pedal to “turn” pages, are using the pedal with an iPad, so they don’t need to swipe a finger across the screen. (Working with many string players as a collaborative pianist at the Curtis Institute, Sung carries in his own iPad multiple copies of, say, the piano accompaniment for the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, each marked with notes for a different player.)

Players can choose from a wide range of sheet-music applications for the iPad. The iTunes app ForScore, for example, lets players transfer PDF files of printed scores onto the device, organize them into folders, and mark up pages with standard notation symbols and text in varying colors and fonts. Players can bookmark scores or set up playlists presenting scores in a desired order. Another sheet-music app, Perform Pro, has an auto-scrolling tool that slowly scrolls the score from page to page.

Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet, uses the iPad backstage during warm-up. (The quartet has for years read its scores from Apple MacBook laptops during performances.) Kitchen says he has used an iPad as a music reader twice in performance. “It’s totally functional,” he says. “I wanted to test it in concert to see if I was comfortable with it.”

While the iPad works well as a reader, Kitchen doesn’t plan to continue using it onstage because, he says, he has become accustomed to the larger 17-inch monitor on his laptop. “I treat it as a backup,” he says of the iPad.

Kitchen and his colleagues do, however, use the iPad with students during string quartet coaching sessions. Pulling up scores showing all four parts of a work, Kitchen can quickly locate and zoom in on a passage and easily pass the iPad among the students to let them view the entire context of a musical phrase. “It’s a nice addition to the teaching process,” he says.

One caveat: players who use the iPad during performances should take care to disable features that might be convenient offstage but less so onstage. When he first started using the iPad, Walt neglected to disable the reminders that can pop up in the middle of the screen. During a performance of Astor Piazzola’s “Oblivion,” with his chamber ensemble Rhapsody Quintet, Walt’s grocery-shopping reminder popped up, obscuring some of the music. “It was during a big cello line, so I didn’t want to stop” to cancel the notice, Walt says.

Fortunately, Walt had that section memorized and so he was able to play right on through. “It was pretty funny,” he says.

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*This article appeared in Strings December 2011
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