Saturday, September 3, 2011

Digital Trio Gigging: An iPad, ForScore, and the Footime Pedal

I keep forgetting to take pictures of the iPad in action, but you all know what an iPad looks like.  My recent digitizing efforts have paid off as I've now played several weddings from the iPad.  

Before I get into the successful weddings I've played with an iPad in front of me, I should also mention that I've run into my first real bit of resistance to digital music.  I've had open minded stand partners that were willing to work with me and try out the digital scores.  I think that was made easier by the ease of using an active pen with windows; there was no learning curve to putting notes in the music.  But last weekend, I had a conductor tell me that he would not allow me to read from the iPad.  There was no good reason other than he was not comfortable with it.  Last I checked, he didn't have to read my music, but whatever, I had my paper parts as back up (which required windclips and a stand light, neither of which the iPad would have needed).  After the conductor told me I could not use my iPad, he also noticed the bassist was using one as well and tried to tell him it was not allowed.  After explaining that he would have gladly made a book had the conductor said something after the previous rehearsal (that I had to miss) where he had also been working from his iPad, he got to keep his. 

But back to happier stories.  I just got back from yet another wedding gig with my trio, playing from the iPad, and I will never go back to the paper books.  There are several reasons:

  1. Only one thing to carry.  I guess it's actually two things, since I have the foot pedal also, but it sure beats a dozen gig books and miscellaneous photocopies.
  2. Hands free page turning.  I've been known to put paper on the stand (for things I haven't scanned yet) and stomp on my foot pedal, wondering why it won't turn.  Seriously, it's so easy to turn by foot pedal.  And not having to put the instrument down and bend forward to turn the page is a huge back saver.
  3. It's cool, which means memorable.  I know, it's like drinking the Kool-Aid, but guests come up to me after the wedding to ask about it, which means they'll remember us, and hopefully book us again for the baby shower. 
  4. The time is in my face.  We are booked by the hour.  We used to always be checking our cell phones in between songs to see how much time we had left.  Now I'm looking at the time whenever I'm looking at the music.

But I'm such a huge advocate for windows based tablets with active digitizers, why am I using an iPad?  Also, several reasons:

  1. Battery life.  Most gigs are only booked for 2 hours, which would easily be covered by any of my machines, but it's nice to have battery life to spare and not ever have to worry about it. 
  1. Single purpose software for a single purpose application.  When you're playing a gig and all you need to do is read the music, you don't need a full blown desktop OS running in the background.  Sometimes you don't want to multitask.  Although, I should admit that I've managed to crash ForScore on occasion.
  2. Lightweight.  It's the lightest weight thing I have that's big enough for music reading.  Yes, that 1lb does matter.
  3. Touch navigation.  It really is way nicer than having to pick up the pen to select the next piece.  I'll be keeping an eye on the dual digitizer pen and touch windows tablets, but nothing out right now fits the bill.  The Asus EP121 lacks the battery life, and even the new Samsung tablet at 11.6" widescreen will still likely be too narrow in portrait mode.   
  4. The gig books are already small.  One of the main reasons I turn to my Lenovo x61t for orchestral music is that orchestra music is printed on bigger paper.  Shrinking that down to iPad size makes it very difficult to read.  12" is also much easier when you need to share a stand.  With careful cropping, the gig books, which are already only 8.5"x11" do just fine on the iPad's smaller screen when I don't have to share it. 
  5. Half page turns.  I need to look into a program that will do this on Windows, but I have to say, I am getting spoiled by ForScore's half page turns.  It's very convenient to flip to the top half of the new page while still looking at the bottom of the old page.  It means there's never a time when the next thing I need to play isn't already showing on the screen
  6. No markings.  It's gig music.  I don't really need to mark it as much.  I'm also getting more used to ForScore's system of stamps for easy and clean markings when I do need them.  I wouldn't ask a stand partner to learn to use stamps, but they're good once you've gotten used to them.
  7. People already know what an iPad is.  It may be petty, but it's true.  There are times I just tell people I play the violin when I don't feel like explaining what a viola is, again.  Sometimes it's just easier to say "yes, I'm reading from an iPad" rather than explaining that it's actually a something different.

All in all, I'm really enjoying the iPad for use with my trio.  Our violinist is also seriously considering the setup as well.  He has an iPad and is looking into getting a foot pedal.  Our cellist has declared the iPad way too small for her, and wouldn't be comfortable having to read from it.  We are always in shade for outdoor gigs (contractually as direct sun would be bad for the instruments) but I have run into some glare issues.  It's only been annoying reflections though, nothing unreadable with the brightness all the way up.  I'm considering a matte screen protector, but I have a hard enough time getting those right on a phone.  We have too many cats for me to get 10" of screen protector down without getting a cat hair stuck under it. 

So that's what I've been up to, and will be up to for the next several weekends.  I'll try to grab some pictures next time.  


  1. Hey Michelle - very useful summary. I noticed that ForScore currently has a three way review of different page turners including Footime and PageFlip. See: They like the fact that Footime doesn't need batteries but it loses marks for needing an Apple Camera Connection Kit (extra $29). Furthermore they claim you have to put the iPad in landscape mode because "Unfortunately, this dongle/cable combination means that the iPad can no longer stand upright". I guess they didn't think of turning the iPad upside down and having the USB cable wire come out of the top??? Is that how you do it?

  2. Yes indeed, I just turn my iPad upside down. As someone mentioned in a comment on an earlier post about using the Footime pedal with the iPad upside down - you have to have a case that sticks out farther than the lock button or it will get pressed with the iPad upside down.

    After the bassist's PageFlip Cicada ran out of batteries while he was showing it off during the break (at least it didn't happen during the rehearsal), I am even happier with my wired set up.

  3. What about using the Footime pedal with a PC tablet? I'm having a heck of a time getting it to work with pdf music on a Nextbook Flexx10 with windows 8.1.

  4. That's a good question. I think I still have my Footime floating around. I've been using the AirTurn Bluetooth pedal for a while now. I had been using a Surface pro 3 for a few months until I got an HP Slate (android). The surface has a full sized USB port so the Footime should plug right in and "just work". I don't see why it wouldn't work with Xodo Docs. It should just send a PgUp/PgDn signal, or up/down arrow keys.