Reading Music with iPads - PERCUSScene Article

07 Jan '13

Here’s my Percussion and Technology article from the October-December issue of PERCUSScene. Enjoy and check out the new issue!

Reading Music for iPads

As soon as I got my iPad in 2010, I knew that I wanted to use it in my percussion setups for practice and performance. The touch screen was big enough to display a score (and you can still use it while holding sticks!), synthesiser and drum machine apps were coming out, and the whole device could sit on a music stand! Two years later, it’s easy to see a few simple but exciting uses for iPads to help with creative practicing and performing!

The first use for my iPad in performance was to display sheet music using PDF reading apps like iBooks (Apple) or Good.iWare’s GoodReader. Since then, many apps have been released specifically for reading music on an iPad and there have been lots of creative developments in this area.

ForScore ( has turned out to be my favourite score reading app. With a clean and efficient design, it’s very simple to browse through scores, add annotations, edit page order or repeat certain pages.

One of the best improvements to ForScore has been support for Dropbox as a method for adding files. When I first used the app, scores needed to be added through iTunes, but now I can import scores right from where I keep them in my Dropbox folder.

This proved invaluable recently when I was writing some arrangements for vibraphone. During a rehearsal, I had Sibelius open on my laptop while I was reading from the iPad on my music stand. Each time I wanted to change something in the score I could update it in Sibelius, export a PDF to dropbox and import it again in ForScore in a matter of seconds.

This brings me to a different kind of score-reading application, Avid Scorch, the iPad version of Sibelius’ companion score viewer. Scorch can view Sibelius files, play them back using basic MIDI sounds on the iPad as well as do some basic editing like extracting and transposing parts. Even with these useful features, the interface isn’t as slick as ForScore’s which I prefer as my everyday score reader.

A final piece of software is iReal b ( Rather than a score reader, iReal b displays and plays back chord charts. I’ve found it to be a valuable tool for practicing the chord progressions of jazz standards which can be downloaded through the app. There is also a desktop app for creating and editing charts that I use to practice improvising over my own compositions.

Of course, there are many other similar apps available for displaying music on an iPad, but once the software is set up and all of your music is loaded in, there are some other issues to consider. Since percussionists usually have both hands occupied with sticks or mallets, it might be difficult to turn pages by touching the screen. AirTurn ( manufacture a set of page-turning pedals that connect to the iPad wirelessly over Bluetooth to solve this problem.

I usually use my iPad with a music stand, but in a drumset or multi-percussion setup, it could be easier to mount the iPad on a microphone or cymbal stand. Two manufacturers make mounting brackets for this purpose, IK multimedia’s iKlip ( is the cheaper option and TheGigEasy ( is the more expensive but more specialised version available for microphone stands, music stands and several other options.

The iPad was always useful for displaying PDFs, but with the range of software and accessories that are now available for displaying scores, it has become an exciting tool for practice and performance.