Using an iPad to share PDF Music annotations with others (Or for you use later in the future)

I teach Band. That means Marching Season for our area at this time of the year. My iPad is a life saver for me during this time. I keep all my music on the iPad for one thing. I have all of our music and drill books for the season scanned and in PDF form. Directors score for our marching show, all the instrumental parts for the show. drill charts, individual coordinates, and much more.

There are several apps that I use throughout the year for my PDF music that I use during rehearsals and performances. There are benefits to each app and I would like to point out one feature that makes working with others much easier!

Here is the scenario….. I, as director, need to collaborate with the other instructors for the season. I have a percussion instructor, color guard instructor and a parent that helps out with the tuba’s. As I go through my scores I always annotate them so I know what is going on in the drill at any given time. In the past we have then sat down and had a session where I would talk everyone else through those markings and they would then mark their scores as well. The exciting news is that with the advent of the iPad we no longer have to take time for everyone to individually mark their own scores now though! I simply use the export PDF function and they receive my PDF, intact with all my annotations, for use on their iPads!

Here is the way this works….


I work my way through the PDF score marking critical information. With a long press of one finger, the annotation tools pop up. I then mark where each drill chart starts with a blue highlighter, I write the drill chart page number in blue pen, and then directions in red pen. The colors of course are up to you. In ForScore it is easy to add additional colors of pens/highlighters. Realize that if you mark using a blue highlighter and then edit that highlighter later to make it more transparent, the markings already done are not going to change. That means you just need to be happy with the way the pen settings are from the start! Of course you can go back and erase something and re-do it with the new settings. (Check out the blue highlighting in the screen shot below – you will see two different transparency settings)

In ForScore I can move the annotation toolbar up and down the screen if I find that it is in the way while annotating. Since I am using landscape, marching band scores I move it towards the middle of the page.

Annotating in ForScore
Annotating in ForScore

The next step is to get the finished score out of my copy of ForScore and someplace the others can access it. The best options here, i feel, is to look under the toolbox and find the sharing section. There you could email the annotated PDF to everyone BUT I think the best option is to use the Open In feature, save it to DropBox, and then share that link to everyone. This will give everyone DropBox access to a folder that you can then put anything in all season long that you want the others to access, additional scores, medical forms, time schedules and many other items! Make sure you choose to save “With Annotations” when you do this – otherwise this little exercise was all for naught! Here are a couple of screen shots of this….

2013-08-08 16.30.11   2013-08-08 16.30.32


unrealBook LogoUNREALBOOK

This whole process works much the same in UnRealBook. There are two critical elements that make the experience very different though. If you are working with normal portrait scores you may never run into these issues!

ISSUE 1 – When I am using my marching band scores they are all in landscape layout. UnRealBook still handles this very differently than ForScore. I actually love the way UnRealBook deals with these scores EXCEPT for when I am ready to export the PDF score, with annotations and share it with others. At that point things just go wrong. When I export the PDF score with annotations, UnRealBook “smooshes” the landscape orientation into portrait and everything gets stretched out and weird! Here is a screenshot of what happens! It is still useable but not nearly as nice looking as before!

2013-08-08 15.59.24


ISSUE 2 – The other issue is in the way the annotations are handled in UnRealBook vs ForScore. Again UnRealBook handles it’s page layout very differently so when I am annotating in UnRealBook I can zoom in much farther in UnRealBook! This is awesome because when I zoom back out it looks better in UnRealBook. I can also write more at the top of these Landscape pages in UnRealBook than what I can in ForScore.

What does this mean in relation to this blog post? Well it means that there isn’t a “perfect” solution yet in music apps I don’t feel. Of course I could take the PDF score, open it in several other apps that allow annotation – PDF Cabinet and PDF Expert are two of my favorites – and then import that back into the “music” app. It also means that you need to take a look at MULTIPLE apps and decide what your “best case” is for the scenario you are in.


This same process is what you would go through when you have annotations in your PDF music that you know you will want to access in the future. Backup the PDF’s on your iPad with annotations – I would suggest saving the annotated PDF with a slightly different name to indicate that it has annotations in it.

As Always – What’s the moral here? SHARE, SHARE, SHARE – It’s so easy these days to make your life more efficient! Save yourself some work and spend more time with your family!



Since I brought those two apps up I should mention several thoughts about them.

PDF Cabinet is an awesome app that allows you to actually annotate in a collaborate manner with others on the same PDF. It is a “cabinet” to store PDF files in – I throw all that stuff from my principals in here for one thing!

PDF Cabinet info
PDF Cabinet info

PDF Expert is the app that I go to constantly when ever I need to have someone “sign” a document or if I need to fill out a form for something.

PDF Expert Info
PDF Expert Info


If you are not using these apps you should think about it!

Good luck during this upcoming Marching Season/Fall Semester or whatever you call the upcoming excitements! I’ve got one more week before I go to Band Camp – I know some people are already in school!



6 thoughts on “Using an iPad to share PDF Music annotations with others (Or for you use later in the future)

  1. PDF Expert is incredible and has so many uses! ForScore is another fave!
    I use PDF Expert for all of my auditions. I import their music and write on the music and that way it is easy to keep track of progress per student or music passed off or what each student needs to work on. Later, I can print or email the files home.

      1. I keep them for a time in PDF Expert in folders while I consider them “active.” I then store them later on my Dropbox. I generally clean them out at the end of the year but I sometimes keep year to year. I pay to have 100 gig on DropBox so I don’t have to delete as often.
        I also use Soundnote to record the students while I use PDF Expert to write on their music.
        There is an app out there that will allow writing on PDF’s & recording audio but it tended to crash with what I was asking it to do. Using Soundnote and PDF Expert in tandem has never crashed.

      2. Chris Russell just posted about another teacher in MN using Remarks to do this sort of thing… This app seems like he finds it reliable and it records audio and let’s you annotate on PDF’S PLUS it’s on sale for $1.99 for a few more hours. Maybe through the weekend?

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