Digital music stands vs iPads

In May 2010 I wrote a post about digital music stands (or electronic music stands) and what looked like a fantastic new product that very soon would be widely used. 22 months on, the development has been very average and so I thought we should look at where things are at and if other devices such as the iPad are becoming more common and viable for musicians.

In that original post, I mentioned that there were two ways you could go about it: either purchasing the software and the hardware in one device (MusicPad Pro, Same Page Music) or just the software to run on your own monitor or device (MusicReader). I also mentioned the eStand which (now) has both hardware and software options available.

There have been several advancements to all products, in particular to the Same Page Music device which has (sadly, I think) morphed into an overly complex and overwhelming array of features, as can be seen in these two videos: video one, video two.

To me, all of the options mentioned above still seem very unattractive – they don’t have user-friendly interfaces or ease and practicality in mind. Have a look at this promo for MusicReader:

You may have picked up on two major flaws. Firstly, the conductor for the wind ensemble had to have his device on an office desk, not a music stand. Secondly, on the floor of most ensemble was an array of cables, power boxes and so on. So, on stage they are not very practical, they take a lot of setup time and are still, generally, bulky.

In an industry where technology is moving incredibly fast, 22 months has not seen much development at all with digital music stands. Why is this?

Hello, iPad.

I don’t want to preach Apple just for the sake of preaching Apple, but let’s face it, so many musicians have iPads and there is a reason for it. They can have everything in one place, communicate with ensemble members, connect with fans – the list could be huge – and also they can have all of their music in one place. Yes, you can have all of your music stored on digital music stands of course, but you’ve probably got an iPad already for a multitude of other reasons and view and organise your music on the plane, at a cafe, wherever. On stage, just click the iPad in and you’re ready to go – no power to worry about, no cables to trip on – a separate device seems quite unattractive, doesn’t it? I think for a musician, the thought of taking another monitor or similar device to read music from would a be real burden.

This, I think, is why those standalone digital music stands that looked so exciting a few years ago, haven’t taken off like many of us assumed. As of 31 December 2011 there were over 55 million iPads sold – that’s a tough market to try and break.

Using your iPad – there are two types of apps. The first are PDF readers where you can do a lot of editing of the meta data and draw on scores etc, but you can’t actually change the music:

  • MusicReader – I mentioned MusicReader in my original post and it is still a versatile piece of software, as it can be used on Mac and PC too. They have proved themselves over the years and it allows you to draw, highlight and write on a score, but to be honest the interface is pretty rough.
  • Perform – a nice app with good features for adjusting how the score scrolls. On the pro version, it can listen to where you are and will scroll accordingly. It can also make a video of you performing – if you like that sort of thing!
  • forScore – has a beautiful interface and nice range of features. It has the forStore where you can download a lot of music or you can even download PDFs from your Dropbox account. Some nice features like thorough editing of the score, a metronome and ability to play an on screen piano.

The second type gives you more flexibility with the music:

  • Avid Scorch – once your music is in Scorch, you can transpose by interval or key. If you have a score, you can view the actual score or individual parts and change between transposed/concert pitch. You can play it back and use the mixer to adjust levels if desired.
  • Finale user? – MakeMusic have announced they are bringing out an iPad app in May. Its features seem very similar to Avid Scorch. If you’re interested, check out this video posted on their blog a few days ago.

For a daily user of Sibelius and having around 1,000 .sib files, the possibility of growth with these apps is very exciting.

If you are using an iPad, or considering one, these two devices will make you very happy indeed. The first is a product called TheGigEasy which makes it easy to mount your iPad in any environment. Check out this video:

This is a wonderful product, and I think, considering it was named by USA Today as one of the five “Hottest Products” at this year’s NAMM Show, indicates how widespread iPad use amongst musicians really is.

You may be wondering about page turns. Well, the second device, AirTurnis taking away any worries in that area. In fact, it works via bluetooth so works with any iPad, Android, Mac or PC device. Check out the video below:

You may also be interested in this video of classical violinist Ray Chen talking about his use of the AirTurn and iPad.

So, digital music stands, I don’t think, are proving themselves as great options for musicians, whether classical or contemporary, amateur or professional – not when tablet computing is moving at such a fast pace. Maybe in another 22 months we can have a look at this topic once again – who knows where we will be then!

Thoughts, experiences and links are most welcome.

15 Replies to “Digital music stands vs iPads”

  1. Thanks for revisiting this, Ryan, and thank your for letting me know that you had.

    To slightly move away from the music reader thing for a moment, I mentioned last time about eBook readers, and I have to say, I have not seen these move forward anywhere near as much uptake as was anticipated, giving way to netbooks, tablets and smartphones, so I can understand why they have not been developed further as music readers.

    Back on topic. I’ve read several more blog posts here and there since your initial post, and it seems that the iPad really has found the one thing its really good at.  I agree that the other device is really impractical with all those wires and they really are bulky in comparison.  In reality, a user would be almost better off getting a Laptop or Tablet PC and use that instead, and then they can use it for other things like blogging or facebook in their spare time.

    Back to the iPad.  The general consensus is that, of all handheld tablets, the iPad has the best dimensions and resolution of the range of tablets out there for use as a music reader, so it makes sense that they have the range of music reading software they do.  Taking an iPad and adding a GigEasy and an air turn, you have a really good setup for playing.

    I think the only thing I would see as a limitation, as with all devices, is battery life with prolonged use without the display going to sleep, especially with prolonged wifi, 3g and/or bluetooth use.  Perhaps if the creators of TheGigEasy or another company came up with a stand that has an incorporated a rechargeable battery pack for the iPad into the base or stem which the user could plug their usb cable into may be an idea for the future.

    It will be interesting to see where these go in the future.

    1. I agree, kind of, about battery life. You’d have to be playing for a heck of a long time for it to ever be an issue – especially when you’d just have it on a single music screen and be changing it every now and then, hardly demanding like recording software, for example.

      I have heard talk about the eInk technology (used in Kindles, Kobos, etc) being brought to music stands, because you don’t have issues with light coming from the device, it can last hundreds of hours of battery use and easier on the eye. Don’t think it will take off.

  2. Found your article today… I would like to do the digital music stand thing… I am a pianist, and I think the ipad screen will be too small for reading on the music rack; I would really like to use a larger-screen tablet device, like the ASUS Eee Pad.  The extra 3″ of screen should make a difference, shouldn’t it?  

    Are there any Android based PDF readers you have discovered?  I saw that MusicReader is not planning to release anything for Android (as of Sep 2011), and based on their FAQ page, forScore is not doing it either.

    I really don’t want a bulky (pricy!) tablet PC, just a skinny tablet. 🙂

    1. Hi Amanda, thanks for your question and thanks to Rob for his comments – which I agree with.

      I really am not up with the play on Android/Asus products in terms of sizings etc, and I am surprised that forScore and MusicReader don’t have intentions of expanding to Android – I don’t know of any others who intend to.

      I think an iPad is just such a musicians tool that they are all happy to focus on it. Once you get bigger you start to get the problems which have see the demise of what were the original products for digital music stands – clunkiness, easy mounting etc, portability…

      I do think that an iPad which is about 3″ bigger would be ideal for this, but that’s not going to happen.

      Let me know what you end up with.

  3. Amanda.. Has Asus released a new Transformer that I am not aware of?  The current models of Eee Pad are all around the 10 inch mark, which is the same as the iPad.

    As the iPad uses a different aspect ratio, you may find that the iPad may be better suited to your needs as it will fit a page of music better onscreen than the Eee Pad will (and that’s a big sell towards an apple product from an Android user 🙂

  4. Excellent and informative article. I am inclined to agree that the tablets people are using will be the dominant milieu. I haven’t ventured into tablets just yet (just no hurry on what is basically a toy). I considered buying software for my laptop, but that does bring up the issues of then needing a stable stand/mount for the computer, and needing to then scan all my music books, and convert pdf files. As an amateur musician I don’t really have time, and the groups that I play with (sax and clarinet in swing/jazz combos, concert band, and symphonic orchestra) aren’t about to convert away from sheet music. My major complaint even with iPads is that, for my half-century-old eyes, it’s still just too small.

    1. Thanks for the comment, James. It is a bit of a ridiculous option if you don’t have a device already, and I’m sure by the time this method of music reading is more common, there will be completely new devices for us to worry about!

  5. I have found the iPad is an excellent tool for reading sheet music; however, I find it a touch on the small side … I wonder if the Apple folks are considering an iPad Maxi??

  6. Our 20-piece church orchestra has been using the SamePage performance stands for a little over a year, since early 2014. It’s been incredibly frustrating, especially since the system has such potential. Hardly a week goes by that our orchestra leader doesn’t have to call tech support. One stand or another occasionally drops sound from the headphone jack, requiring a reboot to fix. Or the stand stops responding to the foot pedal, until you plug the pedal into the other USB port. Or a playlist refuses to load, or the stand won’t connect to the server, or the stand freezes, or the mixer sets itself back to defaults…

    Changing from one song to the next takes a solid three seconds every time; not good, since we routinely segue between songs. A bug in the caching component will randomly cause the first page of a piece not to load, showing it as blank, so the cache has to be flushed of that piece by cycling through two or three other pieces (and remember, it takes three seconds to load each one). We can be rehearsing, with no one touching their stands, and suddenly one or more stands (or all of them!) will jump back to page 1 of the piece. The underlying operating system is Windows XP Embedded, which may be part of the problem, but SamePage plans to keep using it until Microsoft drops support.

    It’s possible to annotate music from the touch-screen stand, but it’s clunky. The on-screen keyboard has no music symbols. Using text boxes and pre-defined shapes (circle, square, line) works OK, but freehand markings take so much memory that it can cause the stand to freeze. Recently, I’ve had annotations just disappear, for no apparent reason.

    The praise band uses iPads–not sure what software–and has none of these problems.

    Many of these problems don’t occur when we pull up SamePage in a web browser at home. Song changes are immediate, with no blank first pages. Annotation is much easier to position and edit with a mouse and physical keyboard.

    Tech support has been responsive and polite, and has put in hours upon hours with our people over the past year, but still can’t permanently resolve any of the major problems. Our worship leader is very close to pulling the entire SamePage system out and sending it back, and has told SamePage as much.

  7. Awesome site you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of
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