Paperless Performing – No Memorization Required!

Almost five years ago, when I was attending the Ohio Music Educators Association Conference, I became introduced to the idea of using a tablet to replace paper music. This instantly made complete sense to me. I hated having to carry around stacks of music books in addition to my instrument, other college textbooks, etc. I was always terrified that I was going to forget a necessary piece of music, so I constantly carried around significantly more than I needed. However, this quickly got very heavy.

I decided to buy a used iPad off of eBay and an AirTurn pedal from the conference, and downloaded ForScore to my iPad. I quickly ran into problems between doing a horrible job at scanning the music (see my scanning post!) and the pedal not connecting well with the iPad. In addition, trying to make notes on the music was miserable. My adventure with the iPad seemed to die a rapid death.

A couple years later, Apple announced their iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. The Pencil seemed to call my name in a nerdish way that my husband found hysterical. After pouring over reviews for months, I finally decided to purchase the 10.5″ iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, right before I started my Masters degree.

I didn’t immediately go to using my new iPad for music. I used it to take notes on for my classes, primarily. I would use the pencil and hand write in the Notability app. I loved it. The tablet was slim enough that other people barely noticed that I wasn’t using a notebook like the majority of the students.

I continued to get involved in more performances and more ensembles, so I was carrying around more and more music. Eventually, my adventures with digital music came to mind and I figured that it had to be easier now than it used to be. I was carrying around so much music and was getting tired of it.

I decided to scan the music and save copies of everything in Dropbox, to start. That way, I always would have a digital copy that I could print from any computer if something went wrong. (My paranoia of something going wrong also meant that physical copies of all my current music were sitting in my car at all times). Since I had been using Notability for all my classes, I decided to start with using that app for the music. I imported the PDFs in, and my music appeared.

Notability worked well for me. It was easy to import my music and even easier to make notes on it in varying colors with the Apple Pencil. Since Notability has you scroll through the documents vertically, it meant that I could slightly adjust the music as I played so that I could time my page turns when most convenient. However, sometimes I simply couldn’t take my hand off my flute easily every single page, so that started to get difficult.

Strangely, Notability eventually started acting strange for me. Some of my files seemed to disappear off my iPad (yay backups!) and would continue to disappear when I replaced them. The system didn’t want to stay in sync with my iPhone. After a few days of this, I decided it was time to try something new.

I had heard many good things about GoodNotes, an app that is very similar to Notability. I downloaded it and immediately liked it. Your documents are sorted into notebooks and you can create templates or use the included ones to fill your notebooks. I now use GoodNotes for work organization and my classes.

Right around the time that Notability crashed on me, I decided I wanted to try incorporating a pedal into my set up, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with page turns anymore. After tearing apart my house, I was unable to find my old AirTurn pedal. I gave up and ordered a new one from Amazon.

I eagerly waited for it to arrive and immediately tried to set it up to work with GoodNotes. Nothing. I had seen a couple articles online saying that GoodNotes was compatible with AirTurn pedals, but none of the modes seemed to allow it to work. Since I had just spent $75 on this pedal, it was going to work for something.

I redownloaded ForScore from my initial attempt with digital music. Obviously, the app had been improved over the years and many of my initial pain points had disappeared. It was very simple to use with the pedal and the Apple Pencil. Finally, this seemed like the best solution.

Now, I’m using ForScore for the majority of my music. I have different libraries set up for my various ensembles and one for solo works/orchestral excepts/etudes. I use a setlist called “Current” to save what I’m primarily practicing to allow my practice sessions to be a little smoother, and I use additional set lists for each performance. In addition, I discovered that I could rename the metadata that ForScore uses to organize your music. Since “Tags” and “Labels” seemed a bit redundant to me, I renamed “Labels” to “Instruments,” so that I can more easily sort my vocal music from my flute or piano music.

I still save everything to Dropbox as a backup should something go wrong. I’m disappointed that ForScore does not sync across devices. That’s something that I really liked about both Notability and GoodNotes, was that I could see everything from my iPhone (and computer, in the case of Notability). ForScore does allow for backups, and I use those as well. However, I’m not entirely sure how quickly that would help me if I needed it right before a performance.

There’s always the pain of scanning the entire library that you have developed over many years. I’m scanning music as I use it, and occasionally grabbing a piece or two to scan as I watch TV. I’m not plowing through it, simply because that would cause me to become resentful of the whole thing.

The biggest thing that I’ve noticed about performing without paper is the sheer number of musicians that ask me about it. Everyone seems curious and is fascinated about how the whole process works. I’ve very quickly been inundated with people buying tablets and then asking me for help to play their music from it.

The most entertaining teaching situation I’ve come across, is with the director of the professional orchestra that I work for. He travels quite a bit and transporting scores on his iPad made a lot of sense for him. After several teaching sessions, he is now doing really well with his iPad and has directed concerts from it!

It’s definitely taken a while to get to the point where I feel comfortable performing from an iPad. However, the convenience of it makes all the work worth it. Now, I don’t think I could ever go back to paper. Honestly, my back might revolt! Carrying around an iPad in my purse is much lighter than my old backpack, overflowing with music!

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