Music reading programs comparison for the iPad

I don’t really have a better title for this post. The programs I’m talking about don’t READ music but they let me read the music. These are really simply programs to manipulate PDF files.

I will start by saying that I have been using GoodReader to see my PDF files. I would take my music, scan it, turn that into a PDF and store it on in my DropBox. If you are not familiar with DropBox you need to go to their website and get an account. It allows me to have access to my files wherever I need it, as long as i have an Internet connection. I really like the way this worked because I never had to actually hook my iPad up to a computer to gain access to my files. The difference here is that when I would access a file from my DropBox, the file would be downloaded to the iPad. If I accessed a file on my DropBox from a computer, that file would be synced and would stay in DropBox. Changes I made to that file would then be seen on any other computer that I went to and accessed that file from. GoodReader never syncs changes, it simply downloads the file. In this case, since I am simply viewing my music/PDF files and not editing them, the way GoodReader works is not a drawback.

The pro side of GoodReader is easy access to my files. The biggest con is that GoodReader is not written FOR music.

The two other programs I have been playing with are UnReal Book and ForScore. Pros for UnReal Book are that it includes a music player built inti the program itself. This allows you to listen to music while playing along on your instrument. I like the visual cues that are left on the screen when in a setlist. I can quickly hit the buttons that take me back and firth between songs, I can also quickly find the button that brings up my setlist of songs. A huge benefit in this program is the ability to set hotspots. These will allow you to quickly jump to a repeat, d.s. Or d.c. Or a coda for instance. One Con in UnReal Book is the landscape mode. I really dislike the list of songs that does not go away when in his mode. I want to be able to use the entire screen for music. I like the zoom function on this program. I can zoom with a simple two finger movement just like in the photo program. Then a quick double tap in the middle of the screen takes the zoom back to the default.

Pros for ForScore are that the page turns are faster than the other two programs, and the biggest item is that there is the ability to write on your music. With the latest update there are
Several colors of pens, a marker and a highlighter. There is also a built in metronome that is both audible as well as visual. I also really like the page turn effects. There is one effect for turning the page and then if you are in a playlist there is a different effect for moving to the piece. One con in ForScore is the scrolling is still being worked on. For instance when I flip the ipad into landscape mode the music scales beautifully but when it is time to scroll, the page jumps a screenful at a time. I’ve been in contact with the programer and he assures me this is being worked on. It works but I’d rather be able to move the music a little at a time. Another con is that ForScore does not allow me to zoom in and look closer at what is on the screen. Not a problem until I get into a full band high school level score with lots of parts.

The biggest issue with these two programs is the quality of what is being displayed. I have used Sibelius to print out PDF files on my Mac for some of what I have been using the past three weeks. These files are pretty well displayed. The Euphonium music for the Community band I play in though has been scanned in. If I had only been using ForScore and UnReal Book i would have figured I needed to rescan at a different resolution. But since i also had been using GoodReader first I had read the music out of GoodReader for three or four rehearsals BEFORE I tried the other two programs. When I tried these scans in the other two programs I was dismayed at the bad quality. I went back and forth a bunch of times on a bunch of different songs because. I could not believe my eyes. In both the music programs it was bad enough that I did not trust myself using those programs for the concert that I played in tonight. I went back to GoodReader. Since i am writing this post on my iPad I’m not so sure i can upload the screenshots I took. To show you the difference but I I’ll upload them in the day or two.

My final verdict is that the quality and ease of accessing files in GoodReader, the hotspots from UnReal Book and the ability to write on the music with the great pages turns from ForScore all need to be combined into one program! I have hardly touched paper music in three weeks and have enjoyed every second of it. I had to laugh because when I was using the paper scores I found myself constantly trying to turn the pages by swiping them like on my iPad screen or just touching the corners and waiting for that nifty effect in ForScore. (it didn’t work)

A last thought is one if the most important I think. Both of the software developers for the two music programs have been very responsive and quick to communicate. Buy their programs and have fun.

8 thoughts on “Music reading programs comparison for the iPad

  1. Paul,

    on the unrealBook website I have a program that fixes the “bad” PDF created
    by Sibelius. I bet you have a Macintosh. This crappy PDF display only occurs with Sibelius. All of my PDFs are fine using the program on my website. That being said, although unrealBook does zoom, it is not as clear zoomed. I have fixed this as well as allowing another wireless method of file entry.

    There are more enhancements coming for unrealBook such as annotation etc. My program has only been out for a couple of weeks now. I am still gathering more info for future updates. I really appreciate your input. I am really proud of unrealBook’s bookmarks in 1.01.

    1. I had read that information on your website but the screenshots I included are not from Sibelius. In fact the PDF’s I’ve gotten of from Sibelius do not bother me. I thought they looked all right and have not had a chance to dig in and see how much better they get by following your instructions.

      The screenshots I included in this post have nothing to do with Sibelius though. They were scanned in and then I used Apple’s Preview to “glue” together more than one page. I wonder if it is actually the Preview software. I will use the software you mentioned and see if the PDF’s get better.

      1. Aron,

        I downloaded the OptimizePDF program and dropped several of my PDF files on it to see if there was a difference even though they were not Sibelius files to start with. There was no difference between the before and after files.


      2. My software should look exactly as apple preview shows them. I have never seen my software display any clearer or worse than apple preview. If you send me a file I will look at it,

        The Sibelius scores look way better using the program I have listed.


    1. Hi Martin,
      The short answer is that I hardly ever use GoodReader for musical purposes. ForScore and UnRealBook along with GigBook are still the most used apps for putting PDF music into.

      I would suggest that you also take a look at a few of the blogs in my blogroll…. Technology in Music Education, Technology for the Classical Singer and Going Digital for Musicians. These blogs are at the forefront of blogging about using iPads (and other devices similar) for musical purposes.


    2. More thoughts occurred to me after I hit the magical reply button….

      Both ForScore and UnRealBook along with GigBook have developed into very nice apps to use for a musician! The results are astounding and create an environment that I had hoped would develop with the announcement of the iPad. It is so much easier to carry all my PDF music in my iPad vs lugging around the stacks of printed music as in the past.

      The biggest concern is still in how you get your music scanned so that you can use it in the iPad. Many posts have gone up this summer from the 3 blogs I mentioned about the workflow those bloggers are using to make things work for them.

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