When it comes to technology, I’m a medium adopter — not one to queue for a new release, but not one to snub a gadget JUST because it’s mainstream either. When I was a lawyer, I upgraded my trusty flip phone to a gleaming white iPhone 4, gleefully unpacking the box in my office. As I set up the phone, the app icons started wiggling.

“The things are wiggling,” I reported to my office mate.

He looked over.

“There’s exactly one button on your phone,” he said, in that professional yet condescending voice that makes lawyers both so authoritative and so off-putting.

“Use it.”

So you wouldn’t necessarily expect me to be the first passenger on-board with digital scores. But years ago, a family member gifted me their iPad Air, and even though it was small, I loaded up a PDF score — and proceeded to use and perform from it for years.

There are many reasons to digitize your music library, and the number of people doing so is growing. If you’d like to join, there are many ways to make the jump, but I’ll talk below about what most professionals consider the top tools and practices at the moment.

Step 1: Get the best tools you can.

I’ll be frank — a 12.9 inch iPad Pro is the best game in town. Is it expensive? You betcha. It’s definitely an investment in your musical development, but it’s hands-down the best tablet for scores in terms of functionality, dependability, and availability of music apps. That said, the best tablet for you is the one you can afford, so feel free to be creative. I used that hand-me-down iPad Air for years and my eyes aren’t exactly U.S. Air Force quality, so older and/or smaller models of iPads could be your entry point. Check used and/or manufacturer refurbished deals for further discounts.

Step 2: Download the best apps

Again, there is one that stands above the rest, so go ahead and download ForScore as your score management app. It’s only for iOS, which is part of the reason I recommend the iPad. Like it or not, the Apple ecosystem is favored in app development, and this is a prime case of that.

You’ll likely also need some mobile scanner apps (see next step).

Step 3: Get PDF versions of your music

Let’s face it, you’re going to get very, very good at scanning music. The bright side is that, in the music world, this is a highly marketable skill. Entire assistantships in conservatory seemed to consist of photocopying and scanning odd-size scores. 10 bucks an hour, anyone?

Luckily, you can avoid a lot of this grunt work by first checking IMSLP. Remember to download the best (legal) edition out there. We’re living in a magical era of music scholarship, in which the leading critical editions of Mozart are now available for FREE. Don’t look now, but a lot of your Dover or Henle editions are based on prints that are now in the public domain. I haven’t bothered scanning any Beethoven … I’ve just nabbed them off the internet.

If you do have to scan in your physical scores, there are three ways to do this:

  1. Find a decent copy machine, copy (and resize) all of the pages, and then scan the copies (feeder tray a must!);
  2. Download a free scanning app, such as Adobe Scan, Genius Scan, or even the iOS native Notes app, and scan pages using the camera on your phone. Placing the page flat on a dark surface is key;
  3. Outsource to a copy center or a minion, if you have one (preferred).

Remember, this is likely a long-term project. Scan a bit at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Step 4 (optional): Get a notation tool

If you’re shelling out for the iPad, I’d recommend you get the Apple pencil. You can certainly annotate without a stylus, but I guarantee that gets old. After all, you are a pianist, and some of your repertoire requires a LOT of fingerings. For the iPad, I’d get the latest Apple Pencil for its added functionalities, not the least of which is that it attaches magnetically. I have the first generation Pencil, and I have thrown that slick mofo out of my hands more times than I care to recount.

Step 5 (optional): Get a page-turning device

If you’ll be performing from your device, you’ll want to complete your kit and caboodle with a Bluetooth-enabled page-turning device. I have an Airturn Duo, which arguably was industry standard back when I got it. These days, I have to admit that I’m hearing more great things about the Pageflip Firefly. You can’t go wrong with either of these companies.

Now, working up the courage to use one of these in performance is another matter … I probably chickened out for a whole year, bringing printed scores AND turning pedals with me to the venue. And there’s definitely a learning curve to using the pedal. Once you’ve got it though, you won’t think twice. You’ll just have to deal with all of the audience members completely mystified by your magical turning. Small price to pay, I say.

That’s the state of the art, folks. Like all technology, there’s a learning curve, but once you’re up on the plateau, you may find your practicing and performing changed forever — for the better. After all, isn’t that the whole point of technology?

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Musician

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