The iPad Pro: A Boon To Musicians

2Although Apple's latest jumbo version of the iPad has been met with a lukewarm reception in many circles, the new plus size device offers several exciting possibilities for musicians involving composing, production, and playing the piano.


Guest Post by Ed Rex on Medium

Today Apple announced the iPad Pro — a gargantuan 12.9 inches of iPad. And the reaction on comment boards everywhere has been pretty much what you’d expect:


But there’s one group of people for whom the usual sarcasm that surrounds an Apple growth-spurt announcement has been replaced by genuine excitement. And that group is musicians.

Because everything we do just got easier.


Composing on a laptop sucks. Sibelius is the best program out there, but crotchets and quavers weren’t designed to be selected from a toolbox with a mouse and dropped into place — they were designed to be drawn. Not to mention the fact that there’s not a music stand in existence on which it feels good working on a laptop. Composing on your computer at the piano is like sitting on a mountain, painting the landscape in front of you on a discarded radiator you brought along.

But iPads, for all their promise, have never really cut it either. They’re just too small — composers write on A4, or even A3. And as natural a stylus as your finger is, most of them are too fat to get the precision you need to put a small black dot on a millimetre-wide stave.

The solution?

A massive iPad with a pencil.

Composers like using pencils


Producing music on your laptop is amazing. Apple have nailed it with Logic Pro — the bedroom has become the source of some of the world’s greatest hits. But laptops — in what can only be a cruel joke on the part of the people who coined the term — just aren’t that portable. You don’t, for instance, see people fine-tuning their latest tracks on the Tube.

iPads, too, never really stepped up to the plate in production terms. Sure, there are apps out there that let you work on your music on the go — but, again, the screen is just too small to really be able to do it effectively. If you open Garageband and can see 4 bars in 5 tracks out of the 100 bars and 50 tracks that make up your song, you quickly realise you’re going to be spending most of your time scrolling around trying to find that reverse clap you were working on.

The solution?

That massive iPad again.


Imagine how many backing tracks you could see on this thing at once

Performing from sheet music

Performing from sheet music on a laptop is not something that anyone does, ever. You won’t find the LSO playing from a sea of MacBooks.

The iPad, however, is a different story. With apps like forScore, suddenly you have a device that works, and sits on your music stand, just like paper. It even works better than paper — instead of fiddling about with the corner of the page every time you need to turn, you touch the screen and the next page magically appears. It really was the biggest innovation in sheet music since sheet music. But… musicians play from A4. We’re used to it. We just like it. So the iPad is just too small.

The solution?

Every musical score ever written on a massive device.


12.9" of music

Playing the piano

The piano is a great instrument — it can pull off any genre, it looks awesome, and it can play harmony (unlike a frankly surprising and irresponsible number of instruments). Its greatest weakness?


Rarely has a less portable instrument been conceived. So when the laptop and then the iPad came along, both were slavered over by pianists everywhere, an end to their exorbitant moving bills potentially in sight.

No such luck.

Sure, laptops have keys, but — as anyone who’s ever opened up Logic in order to improvise on their MacBook keyboard can attest — being limited to a single octave is pretty limiting. And playing chords involves a minor feat of contortion.

You’d think iPads would be better — design your app right and you’re selling a portable piano. But the screen is too small to play with both hands at the same time, which is sort of a prerequisite for pianists. You think you’re going to feel like Liszt, sitting playing with your headphones on in the quiet carriage, but in fact you feel like this:


The solution?

A screen that spans three octaves.

That massive iPad again

And that’s not even the end of it. Imagine doing your mixing sitting on the sofa in the studio’s control room, a vast display of dials at your fingertips. Or conducting an orchestra with a screen on your music stand big enough to show a whole orchestral score.

Much of the hype around Apple and music recently has, understandably, been focused on Apple Music. But it’s time for the people who make the music to get excited — because Apple just brought out a device aimed squarely at them.

Follow Ed Rex on Twitter @edrex_

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  1. How much did they pay you to promote looking at screens and killing your eyes. Not only that who the fuck mixes real commercial records on an ipad sitting on a fucking sofa? So you move your whole monitors and system to fit your sofa listening I guess? Some things simply don’t need reinventing. I would fire anyone mixing my radio records on a sofa. Tired of apple. Apple music. Apple phones. Apple cars and that ain’t even out.

  2. And more. You’re suggesting that Apple solved a problem of playing keyboards by adding 3 octaves to touch a screen? wtf. No pressure sensitivity. No wonder music is so stiff now. Look there’s keyboards to do what Apple is “solving”.

  3. I’ve been using my iPad for years to read all of my 1,000s of pages of sheet music at gigs. It has been a life-saver for me.
    No one has to pay me to say the new iPad Pro is exactly what I’ve been waiting for! People making negative comments about this are obviously not working musicians who use sheet music and play gigs (and are near-sighted).

  4. You really thing a few extra inches going to do any change? I know a million musicians that uses the ipad every day at gigs, but this Pro version doesn’t give any edge at all. We’re not talking about no-ipad vs ipad pro.

  5. This is the kind of thing that comes from someone who doesn’t do what they’re writing about.
    It’s not just the screen size (I use two 27″ monitors) but the CPU Power that’s required … to run Logic X.

  6. As a pianist/vocal coach, the small screen of the regular iPad is a no-go, so the iPad pro will absolutely be a game changer for me. No longer will I have to lug massive books or binders of sheet music around! Ever tried reading an opera score on a regular iPad? Yeah, no.

  7. I agree 100%. I’m 55 with aging eyes. My students can read pdf’s off their iPhone screens but even a regular sized iPad is too small for me. I’ve got the pdf’s ready – I just need the iPad Pro and I’ll finally be able to leave most of my sheet music stored safely away in the filing cabinet.

  8. I’m a music teacher/performer who was elated at the idea of storing my music library on the ipad, but sorely disapointed when It was simply to small to use when conducting and performing. I liked everything about the ipad except the size and lack of multifunctionality. I’m with erin13mc about this being a game changer. The Ipad pro will finally have both of my needs met.

  9. I have all my scores stored on the iPad and am able to find specific scores faster and read/rehearse/perform from them far better than paper. The iPad pro will be even better, especially if the size does in fact hit the sweet spot. I am also wondering about the use of the Apple Pencil to make rehearsal markings.
    I write and arrange A LOT using my finger for input on the iPad. The finger isn’t great but I like it better than any other tool currently available. I am excited about the Apple Pencil to write notation with and this one new technology alone will have a new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in my hands.
    I record quite a bit too on my iPad. Here I would have to say that if I wanted to do anything serious I would go ti a studio but with a good microphone and my iPad I can do some amazing things but I don’t know that I need a larger iPad to do it on but it won’t hurt.
    The size/shape of all the iPads is way better than lugging around a laptop to the piano, the sofa, the bed to work and develop ideas. The larger iPad Pro certainly won’t be worse.
    I started with an iPad mini, loved it and gave it to my wife. I then got an iPad Air 2 and loved it more and will give that one to my wife when I get a new iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. As long as I have my Macbook pro I don’t know that I will want the keyboard that goes with the iPad Pro. I still spend 15 percent of my time on a laptop when I have more serious things to accomplish but that doesn’t include music.
    In summary, I agree that the first thing that came to my mind with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil was that it would make what I currently do musically on my iPad Air2 easier. How much easier is yet to be seen but I’ll try it even it is is just more enjoyable. I really find that all the iPad sizes have their own space/arena of usefulness. Even that big 6+S phone to play my creations in my car.

  10. Reading music in ForScore: The bigger size allows for more music per page and less dependance on blue-tooth foot page turners. There are times when a leadsheet just couldn’t fit on one page of my iPad Air without making the font tiny, so I had to make it a two-pager. When playing classical pieces with multiple pages, it’s obviously better to not have to flip pages as much. I can’t wait to upgrade to the iPad Pro.

  11. “I write and arrange A LOT using my finger for input on the iPad. The finger isn’t great but I like it better than any other tool currently available.”
    Have you looked at StaffPad? It’s a pen-and-touch optimized music writing app. Currently Windows-exclusive, so Surface would be a great match, but you can use it on a large tablet as well such as a Cintiq QHD Touch. Mac users can run it via Bootcamp of course.
    Have a look here: http://blog.staffpad.net/looking-through-windows/

  12. I have been using my new ipad pro for the last four days, and it is indeed a game-changer. I have tons of music stored with forscore, which incidentally is a fabulous program. I seldom used the ipad 2 on gigs because it was too difficult to read. Now I can read anything with ease.
    I am definitely happy with the ipad pro for music reading.
    And yes, a few inches did change everything!

  13. I would love an update on how you’ve found the iPad Pro and Pencil combination for marking up your music. I’m busy trying to decide between an Air 2 or the Pro to use as my primary device for music scores/rehearsals. The Air 2 would be much cheaper for me (between trade ins/etc), but the size of the Pro and the possible ease of marking scores makes it highly interesting.

  14. I got The iPad Pro to play music using external usb music keyboards.
    I have the CE Xhey, and the korg microkey-25. Both are wonderful on my iPad air, and my iPhone6+. but they wont even burp on the iPad pro, after an hour with apple geniuses at the apple store, their answer was , ” the standards have changed” WHAT?? somebody please help !
    thanks Carson

  15. I’m finding this entire article and comments thread quite interesting as I made quite an investment in an iPad 3 and the composing thing using NotateMe. It’s so unintuitive for me I’m solidly in the skeptics camp, but this was a very seductive review, and some hilarious rebuttal, lol. I’m subscribed. I may be atypical but much of my music writing begins with lyrics, so an app that gets that (incl. fonts and layout) right gets a fair look from me.
    Not sure this machine would make a believer out of me either, though I don’t fault Apple for trying and selling what they have (realizing how hard this stuff is to get right), I want encourage them to “go for it and add xyz” and I won’t try to sell my couch-po-songs to anyone. Peace.

  16. The Pro has been a revelation to me. I perform handbell music, to the envy of my fellow ringers. I direct my church vocal and handbell choirs and use ForScore Cue function to turn pages for my accompanist.
    Is it scary? Yes, I keep hard copies nearby but have never had to revert to them.
    On top of it all, our church has a new Savin copier that scans at an unbelievable rate and sends them to my email as the pdf’s that ForScore needs.
    The main worry is keeping it charged – you just get used to a new paradigm and routine. I used an iPad Air for the last couple of years, and the upgrade to the Pro is simply life-altering to me as a musician. I use the Pencil to make notations.
    Thank you, Apple.

  17. I play tuba in various bands and, for years, have transferred all my music into ForScore. It’s been great….no longer having to search for the next sheet of music to play, I make a setlist for each performance or practice….so easy. The greatest thing is that we’re not always playing in a great lighting situation. Playing off an iPad, with its back lighting, it’s like I have a stand light with me wherever I go. I purchased a large Toshiba Android tablet, thinking that bigger might be better, but there was no suitable sheet music reader available, but it also was not nearly as bright when playing outdoors, so I went back to my iPad. I borrowed an iPad Pro to try it with music and it had all the advantages of the iPad, but now, instead of scrolling every 4 or 5 lines of music in landscape view, I can actually place the iPad Pro in Portrait view and have a full page of music on one screen as large as an 8.5 X 11 sheet of music. Far less scrolling. Also, it’s much easier to mark up the music with a stylus in the large format.

  18. Ok, Hawk. Breathe now. It’s okay. You good? Okay.
    Don’t know if the person who wrote this got paid or not but looks like you got a case of “Hype Fatigue”. I wonder if you actually have one these products and somewhere got burned of if you’re among the legions of “people who hate [product X]” either of which is relatively okay and easily solved.
    Believe it or not, there are people who are doing actual stuff with their iPads (and iPhones) just like any multi-use electronic computing product these days. Including make mixes and even making commercials that likely involve cats with hats on their idevices.
    But please, I assure you: Just like when people were largely wasting their time moaning and griping about the world collapsing into itself because more and more people were owning and using home computers in the 70s/80s (spoiler alert: we’re still here) rest assured that it you that is a bit stiff. Which is easily solved by – doing something else more constructive to you.
    Typed from my iPad Pro

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