Reading sheet music electronically

Cantio belgica

About nine months ago, I restarted playing pipe organs. I focussed on playing, though not exclusively, french composers of the baroque era. The International music score library project hosts tons of free scores in PDF and even MIDI formats. I immediately tried to use electronics to display them, but switched to printing on paper sheets soon since I didn’t find a convincing solution.

Since my repertoire is growing, the desire for a digital solution still exists. Many musicians nowadays use software installed on a tablet to display scores. That’s great for single page scores (like lead sheets). But as soon one page is not sufficient (or the tablet provides a small display), scrolling becomes a mandatory feature. To do so, singers usually can tap on the touch screen to turn pages. Trumpet players can use a wireless bluetooth pedal (like the PageFlip Cicada or the AirTurn). Piano players in a combo still have the option to just drop a couple of notes of the left hand while turning pages.

Unfortunately organ players need both hands and feet to play the instrument, and dropping notes often is not an option. Physically I can at least place two or three sheets of paper (letter respectively A4 size) beneath one another. For longer pieces, it often still is possible to arrange the sheets in a way that they can be turned at a suitable occasion. Further, it is quite easy to add annotations using all kind of stationery. The disadvantage is that it becomes unconvenient to manage the scores as soon as the collection grows, and carrying the stuff around also becomes more and more inconvenient.

The advantage of tablets include the small size, the capability of arranging the required scores in setlists before a gig, sharing scores with annotations within a combo, and at least theoretically making page turns much easier than with physical sheets.

The disadvantage of tablets include the danger of broken displays in case of a fall, the danger of a drained battery and the limitation of the screen size (the typical 10 inches is even too less for displaying one single traditional A4 page).

The only application I know of that provided touch free page turns is piaScore for iOS (demonstration video). Unfortunately the feature was dropped due to technical issues. None of the other candidates (like Zubersoft’s popular MobileSheets or Orpheus for Android devices) has integrated such gestures. Since the tablets usually have built-in mikes, a further workaround could be speech recognition, but I didn’t find any application that included such a feature for page turns. I additionally checked plain PDF readers but to no avail.

Verdict? Using a tablet for displaying scores is an option. It works as long as the score does not exceed the size of one page, or in case the notes are set in a manner that the player can free one of the hands or feet at the end of a page. Even that those conditions are met, a physical backup of the notes is still useful just in case the battery unexpectedly drained or, even worse, the tablet got damaged due to an accident.

I’ll probably start using a tablet for pieces that meet the aforementioned conditions. Not because it really is advantageous, but to stay connected to the further technical development.