Let’s get this out of the way first: if you’re looking for a tool for composing and editing scores on your iPad, Avid Scorch isn’t it — not yet, at least. But as a score reader, Scorch could be a glimpse of a future in which tablets create a new marketplace and exchange for notated music.

Scorch is, first and foremost, a score reader. It shares the mature notational display engine of Sibelius, and makes use of Sibelius’ (and now Pro Tools’) scores. That includes Sibelius’ broad library of musical symbols, guitar tab features, and handwritten fonts, among other features. (It even includes the somewhat silly, but potentially-comforting, textures that have long been a feature of the desktop product.)

The role of tablets in digital music is still evolving. But it’s not hard to make a case for the form factor here: unlike a MacBook Pro or a PC tower, you can put a tablet on a music stand. As such, a tiny device can have dynamic access to a near-limitless collection of music. We’ve already seen impressive takes on the classic jazz fake book on the iPad, and they handily beat the older form when it comes to weight or bulk.

That leaves the question of what reading a score on what remains essentially a computer, in place of on paper, actually means. Scorch shows off some advantages here. For instance, you can transpose scores – say, for a singer, or a different reed instrument – in realtime. (That grumbling noise you hear is people complaining about the loss of musicianship and the ability to sight-transpose. I agree, to a point – but I’ve also known some musicians who could do that who also used the transposition button on a digital piano.)

In some early glimpses of the utility of digital scores over printed ones, Scorch can transpose quickly (top), or even convert a line to guitar tab (bottom). You can also zoom, change fonts and appearance, and set up the tool for page turns. What you can’t do, yet – edit. Some early tablet tools for iOS and Android suggest what could happen there; expect more to come.

Other features could broaden the appeal of notation in general. With one tap, you can convert a line to guitar tab, dynamically, as seen in the image below. You can change fonts, or pull out a single part, in order to improve readability. These are things that would normally require a copyist to go back to the drawing board and make new parts, even in the computer age. The very notion of what a score is is changing: that score becomes dynamic, electronic, and live, open to instantaneous shared revisions.

I’m following up with Avid’s developers and testing the application myself, as some questions remain. Turning pages electronically could theoretically be easier … or not. There’s an interactive “Music Stand” mode, but that’ll require an actual test. (Stay tuned for results of that shortly.) Depending on your instrument, you may not have a hand free, and on the iPad, there’s no way to tape multiple pages together to increase the size of the paper. My bet is that we’ll badly need a footswitch. (See this week’s discussion of augmenting tablets with foot pedals.)

While I investigate that, though, it’s just as interesting to ponder that Scorch is not just an application, but a marketplace. Using Apple’s in-app payments (the rules for which this week were loosened), you can purchase scores or download free scores. The display even looks like e-reader apps from Apple, Amazon, and others. With brick-and-mortar music stores few and far between, and the record store long gone, this is huge news. Demand for notation has been on the uptick, as popular music, reality TV, and shows like Glee continue to feed on – and feed – appetite for musical expression. (I need to pull some solid numbers on that, but I do know there are some positive signs; that’s probably a topic for another story.)

Scorch could be the start of something big – and with electronics makers around the world, not just Apple, betting on the tablet, it could be a sign of other tools to come.

I still imagine many people want to use tablets to make scores, not just consume them, and I expect that to be a growth area, too. But Scorch is notable as the first big-league entry into what could be a transformative arena. And it could be transformative in ways that are more profound than even digital distribution of music. Notation has evolved the way it has on a paper medium, designed to be fixed, still influenced by the conventions of the pen and engraving. The next question: will scores, from creation to display, need to change, too?

Avid Scorch

  • Wheat Williams

    The best thing about viewing "live" Sibelius documents in the iPad player is that the idea of the 8-1/2 x 11-inch or A4 page is dead. This is not a PDF viewer. You can reformat the layout of the staves and systems and measures for however you want to read it on the screen you're using. You can choose to see the whole conductor's score or just your part, extracted. or a combination of say, for example, the tenor vocal and the piano accompaniment without seeing the soprano, alto or bass in a choir.

    I really hope that with this innovation that people will start preparing digital scores without repeat signs, first and second endings, "D. S. al Coda" and similar notation conventions that chiefly were only invented to save the number of pieces of paper in the first place. They create confusion for anybody sightreading a multi-page score in the conventional format, and lead to musicians getting lost in performance.

    But the ability for the performer, on the iPad, to put highlights and annotations on a Sibelius score, just as if she were scribbling notes and markings on a printed score, is needed in this product.

    I'm really excited about what the future is going to hold.

    • Coolerthanu

      Or you can just learn to roadmap before you sight-read. I learned that one in High School.

  • Randy

    "I really hope that with this innovation that people will start preparing digital scores without repeat signs, first and second endings, “D. S. al Coda” and similar notation conventions that chiefly were only invented to save the number of pieces of paper in the first place. They create confusion for anybody sightreading a multi-page score in the conventional format, and lead to musicians getting lost in performance."

    Amen to that! I am amazed at the crap that passes for sheet music now-a-days, ver difficult to read and very poorly laid out. I end up re-copying stuff (or transcribing it again from scratch because the chart is wrong) so I can actually use it in a live performance.

  • http://xfader.com regend

    this makes me want to go back to reading scores again…i hated flipping pages while sight reading. although it strengthed my left hand while tapping notes on a fretboard while i turned the page…it was always my wish to have someone turn pages for me. i also hope there's a feature that will automatically flip the keys of scores. for example, if i'm playing bari sax (key of E flat instrument) and i want to play a trombone part (Key of C instrument) the software does the notation for my instrument instead of me having to remember to add sharps and flats while i sight read. i used to have to do that live if we couldn't hire 3rd or 4rth trombone players.

  • http://www.ghmetcalfe.com Graham

    The biggest disadvantage to having notation on a 10 inch screen is the size. I've noticed how difficult it is to read notation at the standard performer-to-music-stand distance when displayed on an iPad screen with my 50+ year-old eyes. I'm a Sibelius user so I'll have to check it out and see how it goes.

  • Peter Kirn

    Having just picked up a Galaxy Tab 10.1 alongside my first-gen iPad, upcoming resolution boosts should help … a little. No substitute for having more area, because of the distance of your eyes to the score, but still useful.

  • quantize

    Hi Peter,

    please be also blogging about important people in electronic music…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2011/jun/06/musi

  • Random Chance

    As the iPad has no stylus how do add annotations to the score? Sometimes you may want to write down a registration (for organ or other instruments with multiple timbres) that you just came up with or add markings for phrases or other stuff. Besides that, I could see this kind of sheet music usage being quite awesome with big e-ink type displays that are at least as large as today's typical paper scores (except for orchestras or big ensembles).

    Another question that came to mind just now: I really like Sibelius way of typesetting leadsheets (realbook style). Does one of the FOSS alternatives do this in the same way? I tried that years ago and just used Sibelius in the end because it was quicker and I got the result I wanted.

  • carrythebanner

    I wonder if the iPad's mic could be combined with a fancy pants algorithm to listen to your performance and change pages automatically. It wouldn't necessarily need to correctly identify every single note you're playing, just get a close-enough picture based on the score's tempo and the basic flow of notes. 

  • Jim Aikin

    The size of the iPad display is a serious issue. I use sheet music a LOT (in my other life as a cellist), and I'm over 60. For me, even photocopying a standard 9×12 part at 8-1/2×11 (a 95% size) makes it nearly unreadable when it's on a music stand.

    But the big issue is, where's my pencil? If I'm learning a piece, I need to be able to write fingerings or other reminders on the page. If I can't do that, it's not sheet music, it's just a toy.

    Getting rid of repeats and DC's is an intriguing thought, but think it through: That means you'll have to write the same fingerings, bowings, etc., in two or three different places rather than one. Plus, there will be a lot more page turns. Page turns are an awkward business at best; some publishers of orchestral parts manage to give you a bar or two of rest at the lower right corner, but some don't.

    If you're accompanying singers, one-touch transposing would be super-sweet. No argument there.

  • Roger Butler

    What is going on ?   Why has the moonlight sonata been transposed up a semitone to D minor ?  Sound totally ? – to notate music you need a pen, not an iPad.  Sibelius just makes crap music look pretty – in fact it looks pretty crap. See the illustrastions above: no octaves, no phrasing, no articulation  If only people put more effort into their music than the software.

  • Jim Aikin

    @Roger: Actually, Sibelius is a kick-ass notation program. If you write great music, it will make your great music look pretty, I guarantee it. It will do just about anything you could dream of throwing at it, notation-wise.

  • http://airturn.com Hugh

    The Avid Scorch Sheet Music App for iPad is compatible with the AirTurn BT-105 Bluetooth page turner, enabling users to turn the pages of their Sibelius scores hands free. The AirTurn BT-105 is available with 2 ATFS-2 silent foot switches, designed to be the quietest in the consumer market for demanding musicians and recording artists. 

  • james

    this should be used to make music stands that chase a pro tools session.

    just think of it.

    THAT would be useful.

    the cost of one person's time to code that into the app would be less or equal to the cost of the person who runs round giving sheet music to everyone each time a change is made during a session. plus the paper and ink costs!

  • http://noisepages.com/members/koentanghe/ Koen Tanghe

    Someone mentioned "score unrolling" without need for repeats etc…: yes, I was thinking the same thing (although you might still want to show somehow that a certain part is a repetition of an earlier part, just for the sake of structural overview).

    And automatic page turning: as it happens to be, we at SampleSumo have some music following tech in house, that Bram recently demo'd in a setup with the guys from MuseScore at Music Hackday Barcelona. There are also other systems around.

    Hi-res tablets of some reasonable size should make this practical indeed. And a stylus to make personal annotations would be nice too!

    @James, can you explain a bit more? Are you talking about automatic score updates when the master copy changes?

  • Jason Rebourne

    The only question I have is: how DOES "page turning" work on this? I'm a pianist and my both hands are employed. There's no way this ISN'T going to need some virtual page flipping, unless it's just a real book type "chords only" chart, nothing is going to fit on just "one page". But I suppose it's, well, supposed to work in the fashion Wheat Williams suggested above – you reformat the score to your liking, instead of reading it like an "A4 PDF". 

    And I have to agree, the iPad is kind of tiny for this, no matter how great of an idea this is. And i'm only 32!

  • http://www.ewaldebing.com Ewald Ebing

    I use an pdf-based music reading app (ForScore) on the iPad 2, and while I realize it's not the same thing as the app described here, I have to say that it works very well for me. I find the display size plenty large enough, and you can enlarge the image on the display by 'pinching'. Turning pages by tapping the screen isn't harder than turning a page of a conventional music book.

  • http://sandygritt.wordpress.com/ Sandy Gritt

    I never really thought much about reading notation. I have been composing and learning music by ear, chord charts and tabs. But I just started using Progression for Ipad and I must say, after the initial learning curve, I’m finding this app very useful as both a composing tool and a learning tool. 
    The advantage of having both in front of me as I compose on the virtual fret board is allowing me to take my music to the next level. An excellent tool for teaching music and figuring out parts for a band. It's also a lot of fun.

  • Lake T

    Wow you obviously haven’t tried to in tall on a new computer. OUT OF DATE. NO SUPPORT. It’s only fix is to change my browser back down to 32 bit. Really AVID? Are times that tough???