Annotating digital scores in real time during rehearsal is still a challenge

Posted: September 12, 2012 in annotation, apps, choral, forScore, iPad, rehearsal, sheet music, tablet

Credit: forScore

So I just finished my first rehearsal in which I used the iPad for an initial reading of the works on the choir concert program.  I acquired my iPad in the spring during the tail end of the last performance season, so at the time I began using it for reading music, most of the notes had already been given for the various shows I was rehearsing, and I could transfer these from my paper score to my iPad at my leisure outside of rehearsal.  I realized that a rehearsal like tonight’s is an entirely different kettle of fish when it comes to using digital scores.  You’re blasting through a bunch of pieces at one shot, sight-reading while taking notes left and right from the maestro and also making your own notes.  This is the kind of situation where you’re using a music app’s annotation feature heavily and really putting it through its paces.

Some thoughts I had while trying to wrangle forScore‘s annotation tools into submission tonight:

  • It takes a good amount of practice and repetition to be able to make annotations at anything approaching an acceptable speed.
  • Score prep before arriving at rehearsal is a good thing.
  • Ninja tricks for speeding up annotation are a good thing.  (See iOS keyboard shortcuts, gesture shortcuts, and custom stamp methods #1 and #2 for starters.)
  • It was hard to take notes quickly enough to be able to keep up with the rehearsal.  Even with all of the iPad practice, score prep, and ninja tricks I brought to bear.
  • It still takes way too many taps and swipes to switch between annotation tools.  Also, you don’t get great cues from the user interface about which tool is currently active, so I was constantly using the black pen when I meant to use the red pen, or I’d leave a trail of random stamps when I meant to draw a line.
  • forScore’s annotation tool is still a little bit buggy.  A couple of times it got into a state where it would not make marks on the page, even though all the correct settings were enabled.  I saw this happen on my colleague’s iPad too.
  • I wish the forScore development team would do extensive usability testing in real-world situations.  Get into the trenches with different musicians in an intense, fast-paced rehearsal environment, observe and videorecord how they use the annotation tools, interview them afterwards about what worked well and what didn’t.  Then redesign the user interface to make it really fast and efficient.
  • The Holy Grail is to make digital score annotation as instant as pencil and paper.  We’re not there yet.
  1. airturn says:

    Two iPad apps that are notable for fast annotations are MusicReader PDF for iPad and Scorecerer by Deskew. Note that Scorecerer for iPad is designed to work in tandem with a desktop program, where scores are converted into the Scorecerer file format, so you won’t be able to export those markings. MusicReader PDF probably wins the “butterface” award for iOS GUI. But if you’re looking for super speedy inking on digital sheet music, you might want to give those two apps a try.

    • Tech4Singers says:

      Thank you for these recommendations. Annotation was really killing me again during tonight’s rehearsal, so I’m going to visit the App Store and give your recommended apps a spin.

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