Using your iPad and PDF’s to make music in the classroom more efficient.

I am using the iPad to make my life easier and more efficient. That in turn gives me a chance to do my job better as a music teacher.

First thing is that I have come up with a workflow that I think is going to streamline one of the biggest hassles we have as music teachers. That job of getting music out to students. From now on I will be creating PDF files of every song we do in class. I will have two files, one for the score and one for the parts. I tried creating a separate PDF for each part but have decided that gave me too many files to keep track of and properly label. It is so much easier to just create one PDF with all the parts in it. So now when I need a part for a student, I simply find the correct page and print off a part. The beauty of this is that I can do this very quickly from my iPad. If I have all the current songs we are playing in my DropBox account, or even better right on my iPad, access is quick and it is easy to print out that one sheet. What used to take a trip off the podium, to the music cabinet, digging through the box of music (and hoping there was still a part in there) and then a trip to the copy room is now boiled down to about 30 seconds. I will of course have a much larger collection of all the songs I have ever created PDF’s for on my computer. I suppose there really isn’t any need to carry al those with me on my iPad though, just the current pieces we are working on.

The second workflow involves songs that are in Sibelius. I have quite a few songs that I have Sibelius files for. With Scorch for the iPad now available I can see that I will be creating even more files soon. Yes it will take time to put those songs into Sibelius but I think it will be worth it in the long run. These will be songs that I will use in future years, not just a one time thing. Having the piece in Sibelius opens up flexibility I would not have otherwise. For instance, I currently have a freshman horn player. She is very capable but young. She needs some assistance and backup on a few important riffs in her part. Since I have the parts in Sibelius I can take those sections and mix them into the trombone part, where I have a very strong upperclassman player, and come up with a new part so everything is covered! One thing about Sibelius files though that is going to change this year. In the past I never made PDF files of the parts for those pieces. I made a PDF of the score for my iPad but not the parts. I would go open Sibelius and print the music from there. From now on I will be creating a PDF file with all the parts in it too. Why? Access and speed. It is so much faster to open a PDF then it is Sibelius.

Third point I want to bring out is the annotation of PDF files from my iPad. It has been discussed, very heatedly in some cases, about whether or not musicians should be annotating their music. I am of the opinion that this is a no brainer. My students know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they should be writing on their music. My students see me writing in my music. During marching band I write drill notes in my music scores. When I play my euphonium I am constantly writing in fingerings, notes from the conductor, circling passages to practice more and making marks to help me be a better performer. All these annotations should be kept for future reference! The trouble is that they only live on my iPad until I export them out. ForScore does a great job of this for instance. After annotating pieces, I go to the email icon under “Share Files” and select “with annotations” and email myself a PDF. After renaming the file so I know there are annotations in this version I file it in the proper spot with the original, clean PDF. If you have the right software you could just print the file to your computer as well. For this sort of solution check out Printopia. (

So the moral of the story? PDF files for all! Life should be easier and more fun!

6 thoughts on “Using your iPad and PDF’s to make music in the classroom more efficient.

  1. Making one PDF absolutely is the way to go with a band score. Mac users can make one PDF out of many do so very easily with Preview.

    Does Sibeluis have a “page layout” that is optimized for the dimensions of the iPad? That would be a good suggestion if they haven’t done it already.

    As a Finale user, I’m waiting for an equivalent of Avid Scorch for the iPad. You’re a SmartMusic guy, though, aren’t you? I suppose you could MusicXML your Sibelius files to Finale, and then create SmartMusic files from Finale.

    Always an option with Sibelius 7 (although you had already owned the Recordaré plug-in.

    Great post. Keep up the great work.

  2. I should have mentioned the use of Preview to create 1 PDF out of many as I do end up with all the individual parts as separate files when I print them out from Sibelius. Good catch!

    I went in and looked at the settings for Sibelius for page layout. There is not a pre-set already there for the iPad size. It would be very easy to create a pre-set though. I have not really worried about this though. Using Scorch and ForScore the music just seems to work with whatever layout I had already set up for printing to paper with. From Sibelius, I have my marching band scores set up to print in landscape on a 8.5×11 size page and the parts set up to print in portrait as 5×7 marching band size (which really just means they print out on an 8.5×11 but it only uses part of the paper – but this way it is the correct size to put into our marching band folios.) When I was using Scorch this past week during band camp Scorch never even hesitated on page layout – for the scores I simply turned my iPad on the side and the score filled the screen. When looking at parts I would turn the iPad into portrait mode and again the music filled the screen. If I had the iPad the “wrong” way then Scorch would default to the width of the page – which meant I could see the entire score in portrait mode but it was small and the parts in landscape mode would be actually bigger than normal but I could only see half the page.

    When using ForScore it is the same scenario… The app looks at the width of the page first – of course when I am using ForScore everything is saved as a PDF from Preview as an 8.5×11. ForScore does a great job of picking up on whether or not I am dealing with a landscape or portrait file.

    In UnrealBook I can zoom in or out to make whatever file I am working with work. It does not seem to understand landscape settings vs portrait when I load in a PDF from my computer though. ForScore handles landscape quicker and easier.

    SmartMusic and Finale…. ah yes…. I think this year I am just simply going to have my students record themselves into SmartMusic using an audio file if we are working on a piece that is not in the SmartMusic repertoire list. Of course this means that the computer will not be able to “grade” them using the wonderful green and red notes BUT I think it will be just as effective. Plus I will save a ton of time trying to go from Sibelius to Finale to SmartMusic (even though Sibelius 7 now handles XML). I will let you know how that goes. 🙂

  3. I’ve been using Notion for the ipad. It’s a great app for composing. You get an entire orchestra at your fingertips so there are many options for quality audio sounds. I’m not only learning a lot about writing notation but I am now composing scores. Love this app!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s