Technology in Music Direction: Score Readers

This month I’ll be uploading not only this article, but also another one on the beginning of orchestrating a new musical, in order to catch up for lost time.  This article aims to be the first in a mini-series on technology in the workplace for music directors.  This article in particular will focus on the devices used to read scores.  Without further ado, let’s dive into Score Readers.

What Are Score Readers?

When a music director sits down to begin work on a new show, they know that their biggest companion throughout the whole process is going to be the score.  That book will follow them everywhere, from home to rehearsal to studio to stage to pit.  It’s a heavy book, often two inches thick and full of ink.  Even when only a single song is being rehearsed or choreographed, the pianist will never fail to find themselves burdened with the unnecessary weight of the score.

So it’s not wonder that a digital score reader has long been a subject of fascination for both music directors and pianists alike.  The ease of portability and use has been a goal for many electronic devices for years, and finally we’ve started to see a market emerge for music directors and pianists.

Score readers cover various products, including tablets from both Apple (the iPad and it’s various models) and other companies running Android software (Galaxy Note and similar products), as well as Surfaces from Microsoft.  Essentially, these score readers need to check a few boxes in order to function as satisfactory score readers:

  • Large Touch-Screen
  • Bluetooth Functionality
  • Suitable Application for Score Management

If a device can excel in all of these categories, that’s an incredible score reader.  Today I’m going to dive into the score reader that I currently employ in my work, the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro

In this section, I’d like to review the Score Reader that I use in my professional work, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 1st Generation (at the time of this writing there is only one other model of iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch model).

What is the iPad Pro?

Let’s begin by going over some specifications.  The iPad Pro 12.9-inch is a tablet made by Apple.  The display is 12.9”, with an LED-Backlit 2732-by-2048 resolution.  The tablet comes in multiple models, allowing the consumer to adjust capacity (from 32GB to 256GB) and color (Silver, Gold, or Space Grey).  The tablet also comes with support for the Apple Pencil and various keyboards and keyboard covers.

Now let’s go back over those boxes that we need to check:

1. Large Touch Screen?

Needless to say, the iPad Pro qualifies as a large touch screen.  With a beautiful, high-resolution retina display, the iPad definitely spoils in the visuals department.  And of course the screen is massive, the exact size of a sheet of 8.5”x11” paper.  This makes the screen the perfect size for viewing scores, as any documents on the device will appear exactly as they would on the page.  This is a major selling point for me on the device, since I hate having to squint to make out the tiny print on smaller tablets.

2. Bluetooth Functionality?

The iPad Pro not only sports bluetooth functionality, it also supports the proprietary Apple Pencil and Keyboard Cover.  I will cover these devices and more in the peripherals section below.

3. Suitable Application for Score Management?

The iPad has a few score management applications, but the one that I use is called ForScore, and I’ve been incredibly satisfied with it since I first started using it in January of this year.  This application is capable of handling every score I throw at it, rendering them beautifully.  The controls are also perfectly adjusted to playing, with a simple tap serving as a page turn and integrated support for the Apple Pencil.  The app also has support for conductors and ensembles, though I have yet to test these features out.

The app, beyond organizing and storing my scores incredibly well, also has the invaluable feature of a ‘darkroom’.  This is a part of the app that allows the user to take photos and combine them into a new PDF score for use in the application.  This (along with other regular scores) can then be exported to PDF and shared with various devices via the internet, cloud, or AirDrop.


So you probably get it, I love my iPad Pro.  But before we get to my final prognosis, it’s important to note the peripherals that come with it, since much of my great experience has been as a result of some extras.

First on the list is the Apple Pencil.  This little device connects to the iPad seamlessly, and works exactly as you would imagine.  But it’s hard to describe how much more sublime the Pencil feels than a regular stylus.  There’s no delay, no frustrating rubber-tip, wonderful pressure sensitivity, and so much more packed into this piece of technology.  The Apple Pencil is my go-to tool to mark up my scores, make edits on the fly, write down music when I’m on the go, and otherwise interact with my device.

Second on the list is a page-turning pedal.  There are a few varieties out there, but below is one of my favorites.  A page turning pedal hooks up to the bluetooth in your device and becomes almost second nature.  Suddenly, for the first time, a pianist can play an entire score without ever lifting their hands from the keyboard.  Again, it’s difficult to elaborate on how eye-opening this is, but it truly changes the experience for the better.

Overall I am incredibly satisfied with my iPad Pro, and it serves my needs as a music director, composer, and pianist perfectly.  The cost of the device is definitely nothing to scoff at; at $799 for the cheapest model, it can be tough on the wallet.  But the tradeoff is definitely there of never having to rely on those paper scores again, and the safety of having a well-built, quality device that will likely last for many, many years.

This is normally the part where I talk about what we’ll be looking at next month, but since I’m a tad backlogged, you can click here to jump straight to the next blog post!  This one’s all about the beginning stages of orchestrating a new musical: setting up the score, instrumentation, and other considerations before the actual job of orchestration comes in.

Music DirectingTravis Frank