Tag Archives: IPad

How do you listen to music

Please let me know in the comments or on twitter how you listen to music.

Listening to music

Why I’m asking this question.
I noticed in my collection of computer “junk” that I had a speaker system of a powered sub-woofer and three speakers. They were from a 2006 era computer. The sub-woofer is good, but the other speakers are not high-quality. I couldn’t remember why I wasn’t using them with my current system other than I have some nice near-field monitors. (But they don’t do low end well).

I hooked the system up and they sounded nice. The low end was a dramatic improvement over my current setup. But, after about 20 minutes the speakers started crackling and making a lot of static. Due to the unique (proprietary?) way the sub-woofer connects to the other speakers, I can find no way to use the sub-woofer without them. So, I’m back to just my near-field monitors and good over-the-ear headphones for listening and mixing.

I really liked hearing the low end in the music I was working on. I would like to get the sub-woofer to work with different speakers, but I can’t. This all got me to thinking, how do you and people you know listen to music? Is a sub-woofer commonly used?


Few listen to live non-amplified music

Most people will listen to music via some sort of speaker/amplifier system. Unless you regularly go to live performances of non-amplified instruments – which I do recommend – then you are listening to music via a speaker. I’d like to know what type of speakers you listen on. No, I don’t want to know models or brands, just general information. You may listen in various locations. I want to know what the most common speaker setup is for you.


Speaker listening possibilities

Here are some possibilities. Do you listen only in your vehicle? Do you only use ear-buds? Do you use the computer speakers that are in your laptop? What about over the ear headphones? Do you use the speakers that came with your computer desktop? Do you listen to the speaker of your phone or tablet? Do you listen through a home stereo or home theater system? When listening on stand-alone speakers are the largest speakers big (10 inches or more)? Are there multiple speakers within the speaker cabinet? Or maybe you listen via some other speaker setup?


To sub-woofer or not?

What about a sub-woofer? Do you listen to most of your music via a system that has a sub-woofer? (That’s the ‘point 1’ in a 5.1 or 7.1 system). What do you think of your music when you have to listen on a system without one? When I record or mix music, should I assume most people don’t listen on a system with a sub-woofer and not worry about mixing so it sounds excellent on a system with one? Although I try to mix so my music sounds good on all systems, I’m wondering as a result of this experience whether I need to spend so much time trying to perfect the sound for all systems or focus on the ones that most people listen to? Of course I’ll always strive to sound better on as many speakers as I can, I could save time by not spending so much time working on trying to please all speakers out there.

Any thoughts or comments are welcome here or via my Twitter account @MusicByJames

Visit my website JamesGilbertMusic.com for details about my sheet-music, recordings, piano lessons and more.

iPad music apps – revisited

iPad music apps revisited

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)

One of the most popular articles I’ve written here on my blog has been about sheet music apps for the iPad. I wanted to do a followup letting people know what I’ve found most useful and what I use regularly for music in general.


This is my go to app. For viewing sheet music, this is the one. As a performing musician called upon to perform from sheet music and someone who plays far too many different titles to memorize everything, I need something to display my sheet music. This program is the hands down winner. The latest version (compatible with iOS7) adds some nice features. The only complaint I have is they have implemented non-standard html in their ‘console’ interface that allows you to manipulate your score database via your desktop browser. It won’t work with Windows 7 & the latest Chrome browser.  (Let’s face it, doing anything that requires typing on the iPad is a futile effort, particularly if you touch type).

MIDI related apps

One comment. I think the iPad has a long way to go before it can be considered a content creation device. It’s great for consuming content, but terrible for making it. If you have no choice but to make your creation of music recordings “on the go”, then you really have no choice. For me, it takes three or four times longer to do the same on the iPad, if I can do it at all, as it does on my home PC. Maybe, just maybe someone who has never used anything but the iPad can do it fast, but I doubt it. One also has little choice but to by external (expensive) hardware to use with the iPad in order to make it possible to do any creating of content. In that case, I might as well buy a laptop. And let’s not even talk about the terrible speaker that comes with the iPad. (I know, use headphones, but that’s just something else to have to carry and/or buy).

iRig MIDI – This program requires the over-priced iRig MIDI hardware interface that often slips out of the iPad. Good if you need to hook up an external midi device to your ipad (for playing in or playing out). Complaint, the app isn’t very good. You can’t transfer midi files from your computer to the app. Many midi files I’ve created and then transferred to my computer cannot be read by any software I own. But, when I play them directly into my computer and record them into those same software programs, it records just fine (but takes 10 times as long to do). ikMultimedia won’t fix the problem.

TouchOSC – I’m disappointed with this. I loved playing with it when I first got it, but 99% of the time, I don’t use it. I perform on an acoustic piano or organ so I have no need for using it live. When it comes to studio based production, I can do everything as efficiently using the computer mouse and keyboard. I never used a midi controller prior to having this, so maybe it’s just that I’m not use to controllers. If you are, then, given the very expensive price of the iPad, it makes sense to use it as a hardware controller rather than buying one. So for that, it’s good. For entering midi notes (like a pianist would on a regular synthesizer), forget it, you’ll be frustrated.

SampleTankFree – I’m told that professionals use it (and it’s paid cousin) to make tracks that go straight to albums or they export to a DAW. For me, it’s too toy or game-like and very limited to do anything serious with. I know the free version is a teaser for the paid version, but frankly, it’s not done the job. If you are never at home and never able to use a midi keyboard or computer to enter your music, then this might, just might work while you are away from them.

Piano Lesson or Educational software

I like the following. They all have their pluses and minuses.

Pitch Invasion (ear training)
QF Notes (note flash cards)
Dust Buster (for new piano students, young students)
PlainText (a plain notepad for entering notes about students or anything).

Other software worth mentioning

WavePad (basic audio recorder)
unrealBook (another notation program. Good for leadsheets)
dbVolume (a SPL db meter to tell you how loud things are)
TraktorDJ (lookup Traktor on the native instruments website. DJ software)

Software I have my eye on

NotateMe – Supposedly allows you to hand-write your music on the iPad and then transfer to your computer for importing into Sibeliius or Finale.

Thanks for reading. Please comment and let me know what you’re using.


Any advertisements placed on this page have no affiliation with this blog. Personally, I never click on ads I see on a blog.


More on iPad apps for music

iPad music apps

See also an updated article HERE

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)

This is a followup to my previous blog about sheet music apps for the iPad.

My favorite and the app I use the most for viewing sheet music is still forScore. If you don’t like it, another good one is unrealBook.

In addition to creating music, I also teach lessons, mostly piano, but also composition & theory lessons. Here are some apps I find useful for one or more of my musical endeavors, whether teaching, performing or creating. Some of these will also work on the iPhone while others are only for the iPad.

dbVolume – not really music, but it measures the db level of any sound source.

FinaleSong – If you use the Finale notation program, you might find this useful. (I wish there was a similar free app for Sibelius)

iRig MIDI recorder – This app could be a lot better but it allows you to record MIDI using the iRig MIDI adapter. If you could move existing midi files from your computer to it via itunes I’d find it helpful. I find that the iRig MIDI adapter tends to slip out of the iPad if there’s the least bit of motion in the iPad or the midi cables. But for free, it’s helpful if you don’t need a full-blown midi sequencer or DAW just to record MIDI.

iTalk Record  and Pocket Wave – for recording my piano students during lessons to give them more feedback about their playing. The built-in camera app is good for video of performances.

English: An image of an iPad 2.
from Wikipedia

MIDI Monitor & MIDI Wrench – for troubleshooting midi connections

miniSynth2 – a nice 2 Oscillator synth with some nice features

Musical Terms – a dictionary of musical terms, with an option to hear an Italian speaker say them. (I forget if it just does Italian).

Pitch Invasion – a neat video arcade game that helps teach ear training

SampleTank Free – Another disappointment from IK Multimedia, but I guess for free I shouldn’t expect more. A 4-track only (even in the full paid version) sequencer. Contains a variety of sounds & loops. Can use with or without the iRig MIDI adapter. But really, only 4 tracks and again no way to transfer midi files from my computer to the app? Decent if you need to put together a sequence and you don’t have anything else to use.

Sound Brush – An interesting way to compose music. Useful for teaching purposes.

TouchOSC – If you use a DAW or musical instrument software (like Reaktor), this is is nice. It turns your iPad into a hardware controller. Depending on how you set it up and what you’re trying to control, you can use OSC or MIDI for the controlling. It is easy to design your own control templates. Since you already spent a lot of money on the iPad, why spend more buying a hardware controller when this can pretty much do what you want for around $5?

Introduction to Music, Conclusion

Introduction to Music

for those wanting to become musicans, or improve their musicianship


I hope this Introduction to Music series has been helpful. While it is obviously not a comprehensive look at all there is to music notation and music theory, if you know this stuff, you have a great amount of tools to help you as either a performer or composer, no matter the style of music.

I have a number of YouTube videos that cover a range of music topics, some duplicating what was in this series, but many that go beyond this series. Here are a few below for you to take a look at.

To see and hear how I’ve used my musical knowledge, you can download any of our sheet music for Free at the website. I also have six albums (as of January 2013) available on GooglePlay, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

If you would care to make a donation to help in my efforts with free content – blogs, videos and sheet music – your Donation is most appreciated.

Introduction to Piano Lessons and general music theory
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRdYzYjxl5M]
Introduction to Chords
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmezVWK0Ex8?hl=en&fs=1&w=425&h=349]
A Review of iPad Apps of help for musicians
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Ia92GaSrg]
12-tone, Dodecaphonic Composition Overview

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMayH_p5GS0]
Scales and Modes

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHhf7mB4180]
Some Sibelius (notation software) Tips
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OouCZ-Uz0zM?hl=en&fs=1]
Making another Arrangement using Sibelius
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yKV-GI-5KA?hl=en&fs=1]
Making an Organ arrangement in Sibelius
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B49i8EtmS-w?hl=en&fs=1]
I hope you enjoyed this. Your comments and questions are welcome here or via the contact page on the website.


iPad apps for music lessons

Update May 2013. See this followup article

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)

I’ve uploaded a video showing three iPad apps that I find useful as supplemental material when teaching my piano students. When I downloaded them, they were all free apps.

QF Notes is a basic Notation Flash Card program. Plain and simple.

Pitch Invasion is a PG Music app for Ear Training. For kids, but adults will more than tolerate it. The aliens play a note and you have to guess it before the alien captures one of the instruments along the bottom row. Various levels of difficulty.

Finally, one definitely designed for kids, but a few of my beginning adult piano students have found it to be challenging enough to keep them playing it.

The short link for the video.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Ia92GaSrg]

A reminder that if you are looking for some unique sheet music, visit the website and download, for free, any of the over 400 sheet music titles we have available.

For a limited time, I’m offering free music tutoring and piano lessons via the internet. Read more.

I’d love to hear from you about the blog, YouTube, my sheet music, my recordings on iTunes, GooglePlay, CD Baby or Amazon, even if it’s a negative comment.

Sheet music apps for the iPad – my experience

Sheet-Music programs for the iPad

See yet another followup article

Update May 2013: See this followup article

If you have some time, please listen to my music on iTunes (Click here)


As mentioned in a previous post, my aging and no longer supported MusicPad Pro tablet that I had been using for the past 9 years to display and manage my sheet music is dying. So, I invested in an iPad. This article is a brief look at a few iPad apps I’ve looked at. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review.

Desired features

I would like to be able to clearly read the music from a keyboard with page turns and repeats being reliable and possible. A decent way to manage and find the songs is needed. I also need to be able to have a set list – where a whole concert is in one listing with the ability to move from song to song without having to do anything special. A program that reads PDF files without having to convert to another format would really help. While I hardly ever used annotations in the 9 years I had the MusicPad, it is still a nice feature to have.

Free offerings

I tried three free programs.


First, there is iBooks — A free app from Apple. This app is designed to view books in either the ePub format or PDF format. Once you transfer your music to iBooks, it shows up in the app and can be viewed. That’s pretty much it. There are no special features that would help the musician. I couldn’t get rid of un-needed white space. (Even reading books, there is too much white space that I can’t seem to remove).


The second free program is piaScore. For a free program, it works. However, the one negative that made it useless for me was that I cannot zoom in (at all) or eliminate white space from the sides of the imported PDF files. The quality of the PDF file will make a big difference, but not being able to zoom in can make even the best PDF file hard to read. There is a metronome and, for me, an odd feature, a link to YouTube that tries show videos with the same title as the sheet music. As with many free programs I examined, they have an online store that will sell you music to use with the app.


Another program worth mentioning is ScorecererLite, a free offering. (There is also a paid version that I did not look at). What looked good for me was a free desktop companion program that lets you import music from various formats, including the MusicPad freehand (.fh) format. It does do that, but, it does not import FH files you may have bought from Freehand as they were copy protected. As best I could figure out, no matter the source, you have to convert your music to the app’s format using the computer program and even then, you have to transfer the files via wireless. It does not sync via iTunes. It is useable, but barely.

Paid offerings

In the paid category, two programs stood out over others.


This seems geared toward ‘fake books’ and PDF collections. With quite a bit of work on the user’s end on their computer, one can create a csv file consisting of an index of a large collection. One could then use that to quickly find a song within the collection. Alternatively, you can add bookmarks manually. As I think is true with any large PDF file on the iPad, large files were sluggish when turning pages. The song management and set list options were acceptable but not ideal.

It has a number of features that allow you put a button in your score that can: 1) control the metronome, 2) start/stop the recorder or 3) the player, 4) play a pitch and 5) a popup note is displayed. The ability to type in lyrics, I assume to use to display via an exernal display, is also available. You can also use the ipad’s camera to take a photo of a piece of music or load an existing photo(s) that is then converted into a PDF file.

I didn’t cover all the features the program offers. I’m someone who doesn’t have to have a program instantly work for me and I don’t mind reading the manual and studying how a program works. However, with this program I read the manual more than once, played with the app for a while and just didn’t get it. The unrealBook may suit your needs perfectly and it may be more powerful, but if it is, I’m not sure the extra time required to learn it is worth it when you factor in the time you’ll spend transferring music into any of these apps.


The final paid product and the one I’ve been using on a weekly basis is forScore. It is entirely PDF based and reads any PDF file. (Again, large files can be problematic in this and any iPad app). In addition to transferring your own PDF files into the app, another iPad user can send you files via email or bluetooth and vice versa. The app also features the ability to use its own browser to save PDF files directly from the web. Turning pages is fast and easy. You can either tap the right edge of the screen or swipe, or both. I found that as I reached up with my left hand to go forward, I was unintentionally swiping from right to left resulting in going back a page. There is nothing on the screen besides your music, which is good. When you tap the screen, the menu items show up. You can use the standard iPad pinch gestures to zoom in while double-tap returns to default zoom. You can also touch on the title in the top menu bar where a dialog box showing metadata appears. It also shows a thumbnail of the page with a slider at the bottom that allows you to fine-tune the zoom level so you can eliminate just the right amount of white space.

The file management system is the most detailed of any app I looked at but could still use improvement. It uses the PDF metadata to propagate the various find and search options available. You can search on title, composer, genre and keywords and more. You can organize your music into set lists. You can display the setlist in the order you entered it, sorted alphabetically, recently played or a shuffle/random order. Bookmarks can be added to any page of any music and are easily searchable. When looking at a list of titles, you can press on a title and hold your finger down. Doing so results in a decent sized thumbnail popping up. Click on the thumbnail and the music is loaded. The big drawback with the file management is that it relies either on the original PDF having all of its metadata present or the user entering it once it is on the iPad (or using an auto-scan option to import the metatdata, assuming the PDF has any). I found editing the files first on my computer to be the best way to do it.

You can attach/bind an audio file to a song. There is a metronome that can be used in the traditional way but also to attach a unique BPM value to each score. You can also program the pages to turn automatically based on the tempo and beats/measure per score. I have yet to try that feature. You can move, duplicate or delete pages from within your score. Generally speaking, this is not to be used for repeats as there is a ‘links’ option available to setup repeats. For DropBox users, it also integrates with that service to allow you add files straight from DropBox. You can also create PDF files from within the app by taking photos of the music or by importing photos already in your iPad picture folder. You have to get a really good photo (lots of light, flat pages and good angle) in order to get a decent PDF and then it can end up being a large file.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a pitch source, an on screen piano keyboard and options for TV/external output. And of course you can make annotations. You can draw, type erase and clear. There are a number of drawing styles available. You can also make a snapshot of the current annotations and display different annotations at different times. You have hue, saturation, transparency, brightness and size options with the drawing styles. There are music stamps available to add markings to your music (mainly articulations) and you can create your own 48x48px stamps. You can also have different versions of the same score, up to 24 different versions. This appears to be variations in the metadata (and possibily the annotations). There are numerous options in the settings dealing with such things as swipe or no-swipe, page types, look/feel and the like.

Other apps

Here are some other apps worth mentioning. There is a “Baptist Hymnal” app. The free version includes a few titles from the 2008 Southern Baptist hymnal. You can purchase the entire hymnal with an in-app purchase. Not bad, but I couldn’t find a way to remove the top menu. That meant the music was too big (vertically) for the iPad.

Another is the Hymnal Lite. It has only 19 hymns with audio (organ) recordings of the hymns. More hymns can be purchased at the developer’s website (but not via in-app). The recordings do nothing to add value for me and could be left out as far as I was concerned.

Just announced as I started this article is the Adobe Reader for iPad. Adobe, the big name in PDF files has released a reader for the iPad. It obviously would not be geared toward music but it views PDF files and has some annotation features that would work for music. Did I mention it is also free?

PDF files and music

Since I’ve been composing, arranging and selling music in PDF format for over 10 years, I’m accustomed to music in PDF format. However, there isn’t as much music from legal sources out there available in PDF format. Not too many publishers, especially the big publishers are selling music in the PDF format. (I know some of the classical publishers have experimented with CD-ROM products – remember the CD-ROM? – that were password protected PDF files, but as to contemporary music, I just don’t see it out there for sale. Please let me know if it is). I don’t know if they are being pressured by the rights holders to have DRM on their products using propriety DRM methods or what? As more publishers move to selling music in digital form – usually for a user to print out at home – they do so using proprietary formats with DRM but don’t offer sheet music for download to a computer file in a standard format. So, finding music legally in PDF format is hard and until publishers start selling PDF files (without copy protection), people will be forced to turn to piracy to find what they need.

If you already have a large collection of paper music, you’ll need to get it into your computer. The easiest way is to scan it in. Of course, that assumes you have or have access to a scanner. Use grayscale and 150 or 300dpi. That seems to work the best, but experiment. Another option is to take a photo of it and touch up before converting it. You then need to take those images (scanned or photo) and convert to PDF. There are some free ways to do that, but most likely you’ll end up having to buy a program to do it. If you have a program like Finale or Sibelius and have time, you can use its score reading features (like PhotoScore in Sibelius) to read in your scans and convert to notation. You could also enter the music by hand. Either way is time consuming but the resulting PDF file that will be created will be small and better looking than almost any scan. Once you have the PDF file created, importing into any of the apps mentioned (that support PDF) is no problem.

I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions for other iPad music apps to look at.

A musician’s thoughts about the iPad


For about 9 years I’ve been using the MusicPad Pro as a way to view my sheet music rather than carry around dozens of books of music. The MusicPad is a 10×14 inch tablet with only 1022×766 resolution at I believe 72 (possibly 96) dpi. It weighs nearly 5 pounds. All it did was display sheet music and organize it, nothing else. Unfortunately, the MusicPad is no longer manufactured or supported nor was it ever improved upon since it was first manufactured.

Back in mid-March 2012, I was asked to play the organ for a special anniversary service celebrating a priest’s anniversary of her ordination. Being one of the first 100 women Episcopal priests ordained, it was kind of a big deal. In the middle of the service, on a piece the audience was singing along to, my MusicPad went completely blank. Not just froze, it went blank, no power, no battery, nothing. Needless to say, it was not an idea situation to be in. I had some similar issues in the past, always during practice, never in a live performance. So, I knew the time was coming to replace it with something else. But what to replace it with or do I go back to paper music?


At the time I started researching what to buy, there weren’t any tablets of the same size that I could definitively confirm could run some sort of music display application. After some time of considering different products, I decided to go with the iPad. The latest, sometimes referred to as the iPad 3 had just been released. The high resolution display looked impressive in spite of the small size of the tablet (at least it was small compared to what I was use to). So, I decided to purchase one. (Please help me pay for it by referring me piano students in the Gainesville-Ocala-Micanopy, Florida area OR by purchasing my recordings on iTunes, Amazon, Google or buying my sheet music at my website).

It should be noted that I am neither a Windows nor Apple fan. I think those who are passionate about either company and/or their products might want to seek professional therapy. I’ve never cared for Apple’s almost monopolistic approach to their products and therefore high prices. Let’s face it, the PC world gives you far more choice and bang for the buck. If you want a computer that does what you want it to do and will run the majority of software out there, get a PC. But the Apple world is known for being easy to use and having good customer support. The iPad will be the first Apple product I’ve used or owned since 1983. (That’s before the Mac came out). Although, my first solo piano CD was recorded and engineered (by someone else) using a Mac.

If I’m not home composing/arranging music or doing web maintenance or design, I’m either teaching piano lessons or at a gig. One of those gigs is a steady job as a church musician. (I might add that too many up and coming musicians ignore the potential income one can make working in churches and at the same time honing one’s skills). So, I couldn’t see much point in having to pay $30 (or more) per month that I don’t have to be able to access the internet via my iPad no matter where I go. That made the choice of the WiFi model the obvious one. Not knowing how much my sheet music and recordings would take up when combined with the size of various applications I opted for the 32Gb model (the middle one).

First impressions

I won’t try to do a comparison with the MusicPad as that would probably be like comparing apples with oranges. As of this writing, I’ve only had the iPad for two weeks. The one thing that I will not be doing with the iPad is returning it. While not as big as my MusicPad pro, something I’ll definitely miss, the screen resolution and added abilities make it a worthy replacement. The ability to have other applications, such as music theory and piano teaching apps as well as calendar and note taking apps have already come in handy. I’ve already used some apps to help with my teaching. My students, adults and children, have been receptive to it.

I’ll talk in detail about the various apps I looked at and am using in another posting. For now, I’ll just talk about the iPad itself. The screen resolution is excellent.  When viewing PDF files, which are the bulk of my sheet music, it is very clear and easy to read. It is a very easy product to use. I had no problems setting up a WiFi connection with my home WiFi network. I’ve had no connection issues.

My one complaint is the iTunes software on the computer side of things. The fastest way to transfer data from the PC (or Mac) to the iPad is via iTunes using the included USB cable. (You can use WiFi, but it is slow). The iTunes software is not a program I care for. It doesn’t feel like a mature product. It feels like a bunch of different programs put together to try and meet all the needs of iTunes, iphones, ipads, app store, video store, tv store, etc. All with an emphasis on ‘store’ as in ‘buy stuff from us’ and do things our way. The software changed file associations without asking me. I don’t understand why I need to add my music and videos to the iTunes library just to transfer it to the iPad. Those libraries take up disk space and use system resources. iTunes also runs some services and apps in the background that they don’t tell you about.

I find the fact that one has no choice but to purchase apps from Apple to be offensive and monopolistic. I know I didn’t ‘have’ to buy an iPad, but why should I be forced to purchase almost everything that goes on the iPad from Apple. I don’t like it and I don’t think it’s right.

The iPad is definitely geared toward using the internet. Since my needs have little practical reason to be accessing the internet, especially when you consider the draconian data caps that ISP providers force on us, I’d rather put something on the iPad and do everything separate from the internet. If I’m going to watch a movie on my iPad, that movie better be located on the iPad, not somewhere on the internet.  I don’t care for the iCloud and am not using it. Not that I have anything to hide, but read the Apple terms of service. It makes it very clear that what you put in the cloud will be viewed by Apple and may be voluntarily shared with private companies (like RIAA and MPAA). What encryption that does happen is done by Apple and they have all the keys to view it.

Final thoughts

I may never use the Safari, Mail, Maps, YouTube, GameCenter, iTunes, AppStore, Newstand and FaceTime apps (which are the bulk of the apps that come with the iPad), but the other apps will get some use. The video and camera apps are nice and of course being able to play music examples for my students is good. The speaker quality is not so great, but acceptable for demo purposes. But, the sheet music reading apps, educational potential and the ability to use the ipad as a MIDI controller or DAW controller are very powerful and worth serious consideration if you are a musician looking for something in those areas.

I’ll write more about the specific music apps I’ve started using and those I’ve decided aren’t worth using. Look for future blogs with those articles.


Digital Sheet Music Organization

Organizing Digital Sheet Music


I have thousands of sheet music titles in either PDF, freehand/musicpad or Sibelius format. All can easily be formatted to standard letter size PDF files which are great for printing out and viewing on an iPad or a computer screen. So, PDF format seems to be the logical choice as far as what format to put my music in. I’ve seen programs that rely on a single graphic per page. The MusicPad (freehand,.fh files) does that and in order to create books for the Kindle or Nook format, one must do that. Graphic files are so much bigger than a PDF file created from a music notation program to begin with and more importantly, having all the music in one document (rather than multiple graphic files) makes the PDF the logical choice.

Some thoughts

I’m trying to figure out the best way to organize all of my sheet music. I have over 14,000 titles cataloged in my personal music library and over 500 for my music publishing company.  I suspect maybe as much as that number is not cataloged. (Hymnals and fakebooks can contain thousands of titles per book and collections can contain dozens of titles so 14,000 is not a huge number). Most of the titles I have are still in paper format. Converting them to digital is a subject for another article someday. Of those titles I do have in some sort of digital format already, what is the best way to organize them? Some of my music is for solo piano, some is for solo organ, sometimes with the same title, sometimes multiple versions of the same title and some of my music is for various instruments, vocalists and various permutations of instruments.


I see two possible ways of organizing them:

  • A single PDF document per song title and per type/genre of music.
  • Collections of titles (multiple titles per PDF file)

If I go with multiple titles per PDF, the size can be huge and in a live situation, being able to find, say the Addams Family TV theme someone requests (and they do request it) in a collection of a thousand TV themes can take forever, even if the PDF has been properly bookmarked. On the otherhand, having all my TV themes in one PDF file puts everything in one file and I don’t have to find and open another PDF file.

When it comes to selling music in PDF format, do people want to buy just one title or a collection of titles? A collection often may only contain one or two titles that you really want while the rest of the titles are wasted money. On the other hand, a collection is, so far as a per-song cost is concerned, cheaper than buying the individual titles. If you are given only the choice of a collection to buy that one song you really want or only the choice of buying several single titles, which would you choose? (Let’s assume you only have the choice of one or the other). That choice can make a difference for how we organize the music.

Ideas for discussion

I currently organize my music in a folder structure by instrumentation. As a composer/arranger and music publisher, I have all types of music, not just music I might play as a solo performer. I also differentiate between music I’ve written/arranged and music I’ve purchased that was written by other people. This works fine on a PC or Mac, but when we start getting into iPads, Kindles, Nooks and other tablet readers, they often don’t allow documents to be stored in folders. The iPad, as far as I can tell, only allows for one folder for an app. As we move into the future with tablets becoming more and more used, then we have to keep that under consideration.

The iPad apps I’ve run across are not sophisticated enough to read inside a PDF file to get the table of contents (assuming the PDF is in text format and not a bunch of scanned images put together). There are apps that will allow you to manually create an index on your PC or Mac and upload to the ipad. The app then uses that in its own index which may or may not contain all the titles of all songs on the app.

A single music title per PDF file seems to be the most logical and fastest way to find one’s music. A suffix (eg. “filename (O)” for Organ music and “filename (P)” for Piano music) would handle those situations where we have multiple titles with the same name but for different instrumentation. Likewise, multiple arrangements for the same instrument with the same title could add a suffix to find them more easily. Or perhaps it should be a prefix and suffix combination. I have dozens of solo piano arrangements of Amazing Grace. So for that, do I call it maybe “PN_Amazing Grace (arranger or source).pdf”? Besides just figuring out whether to do one file per title or use collections, what we name the files is also open for discussion.

Your thoughts and comments on the subject of organization of digital sheet music would be most appreciated.

Did you know…

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been selling my own sheet music in PDF format for over 15 years on the internet (and in the past year or so, additional artists have been added to the catalog). I have a number of free titles, including music theory related available at the website. I also have a number of sheet music titles available for the Kindle and Nook (on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). My MP3 recordings are available at the website as well as at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and more. Check out my YouTube page as well.

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