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This is Part 2 in a three-part series on virtual music staff paper for your iPad or tablet.  Read Part 1, Virtual music staff paper for your iPad, method #1: Penultimate.

Last time, we learned how to use the staff paper option in the Penultimate iOS app in order to be able to handwrite on virtual staff paper using an iPad.  In this post, I’ll show you how to import PDF files of music staff paper into your iPad so that you can write on them using the iPad.  Android users, you can easily adapt this method for your Android tablet.  Of course, if you need to do more heavy-duty music notation tasks on the iPad, you’ll probably want to use something like Notion or Noteflight – the methods in this blog post series are more appropriate for doing simple sketches or taking quick notes, or if you just prefer to handwrite your music notation.

Before we begin, a quick follow-up on the Penultimate post: Blog reader Brian reports that you can get free staff paper for Penultimate from, rather than buying it from the Penultimate in-app store.  (You can get other kinds of Penultimate papers from too, not just staff paper.)

Now on to the main topic.  To get started, you’ll need to install a PDF annotation app on your iPad such as Notability or GoodReader (and there are many other choices out there).  Android users, iAnnotate PDF is a possible option.

First, find a PDF file of staff paper on the web. There are various free sources of PDF staff paper online. Here is a good one with several kinds of staff paper, courtesy of Perry Roland, librarian at the University of Virginia:

You can also make your own custom PDF staff paper at  This website lets you customize the staff paper by selecting number of staves, clef types, key/time signatures, bar line options, portrait or landscape orientation, and colors.  Note that the website won’t work on an iPad, so use it on your regular computer and then transfer the resulting PDF file to your iPad using Dropbox or another method.

Since the websites above only generate a single-page PDF that’s printer-friendly, I created a PDF file that has multiple pages so that it’s easier to make your own “notebook” of virtual staff paper.  I also created a version with cropped margins that’s more tablet-friendly.  You can find them here:

If you’re using a PDF from the web, bring up Safari on your iPad and tap on the link to the PDF file to display it in the browser.  Then tap “Open In…” in the top right corner and select the PDF annotation app you want to use:

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(If you’re importing a PDF file from Dropbox, you can use the Dropbox iPad app to navigate to your file and access the “Open In…” menu.)

For example, here is how to import the PDF file into Notability.  Tap on “Notability” in the “Open In…” menu.  Then tap on “Create new note”:

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Next, tap on “Ok” to accept the default page range:

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Your staff paper will be imported into Notability.  You can then use the annotation tools in Notability to write notation:

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Here is a screenshot of me using Notability’s zoom feature and palm guard for better precision and fewer stray marks while I’m writing the notation (I’m also using the Adonit Jot Pro stylus for better precision):

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Note the microphone icon in the upper right corner of the screenshot above.  Notability allows you to record audio and link it to your notes – a feature that may be handy when you’re writing music notation.

Alternatively, here’s how to import the PDF file into GoodReader.  In Safari’s “Open In…” menu, tap on GoodReader.  The file will be imported, and you can use GoodReader’s annotation tools to write in notation:

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The first time you attempt to write on the staff paper, you’ll get this prompt.  I suggest choosing the “Create an annotated copy” option.  That way, you can keep reusing your blank staff paper file in GoodReader to create new documents.

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Like Notability, GoodReader also has a zoom and palm guard feature:

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If you use forScore as your PDF music score reader, you could even import the staff paper directly into forScore and then use forScore’s annotation tools to write in music notation.  That way, your handwritten score goes straight into  forScore’s music library where you can organize it with the rest of your scores.

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Courtesy of Chris Russell at Technology in Music Education, here is an excellent and detailed writeup of how to create all the needed resources to set up iPads for use in running choir sectionals: Using iPads for Choir Sectionals (many links!)

Thanks, Chris!

Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Now that my music performance commitments for the holidays and the fall are behind me, I’m coming up for air and for a report on how things went from a technology perspective:

1. Regular choir rehearsals & concerts

The process used by our de facto e-music librarian for scanning and distributing PDF scores has really become quite smooth and streamlined (thanks, Steve!!).  You can read about his scanning workflow in his guest post on my blog.  He makes the scores available for download on a private website in two formats: as a forScore .4sc file for iPad users in the choir (since we are all using forScore) and as a PDF file for non-iPad tablet users.  In the forScore version of the file, Steve packages the scores into a forScore setlist and adds metadata (mainly title and composer) and links (for handling repeats, D.S./D.C. etc.) before he sends them out.  This is a huge boon to us tablet users – our music is already organized when we import it into forScore, and when sight-reading, it only takes us one tap to navigate to the right spot in the score while everyone else is madly flipping paper pages and hunting for the repeat sign or the second ending (I especially love this perk).  I did learn, however, that I personally prefer to keep the printed page numbers in the PDF score rather than cropping them out with the margins to make the music notation display bigger and more readable.  (Ask me in 20 years if I feel the same.)

I was astonished to learn that 20% of our choir has adopted tablets for reading and performing music.  It helps that we are in Silicon Valley, and it also helps that Steve has been a low-key evangelist of sorts and has made the onboarding process very easy.  I like to think that my forScore tutorial series, which I have shared with fellow choristers, has also helped.

Our conductor owns an iPad, but so far he has not conducted from it yet.  I don’t blame him – when you need a musical “roadmap”, it’s not so great when you can only see one shrunken page at a time, and it’s even worse if you need to read anything more complicated than a simple vocal score with piano.  A larger-format iPad would help, or even (if you can afford it) two iPads showing two adjacent pages of the score, but with synchronized page turns (the unrealBook music reader app supports this scenario – wow!).

The iRecorder app for iPad came in handy during one choir rehearsal when we had to learn a traditional African song by ear.  I used my iPad to record a live performance of the song by our guest artists who came to rehearse with us, and then I uploaded and shared the recording with fellow choir members for later review.

2. Working on art songs & arias in voice lessons and coachings

One of my big projects this fall was to get Claude Debussy’s song cycle, Ariettes oubliées, under my belt in its entirety (it’s still in rough form, as my coach will attest).  I bring my iPad with my music on it to lessons and coachings (and a normal binder with paper copies for my pianist, of course).  Despite my complaints in a previous post, I’m facile enough with annotating music on my iPad that I can keep up with the notes I’m being given during a coaching or lesson.  Sometimes I’ll go back through the score later and make things more legible by replacing my messy stylus scrawl with forScore stamp markings.

I prepared my own translations and diction notes, getting the source text from The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, looking up word translations and IPA on the French-English dictionary at (they have many other languages too), and referencing information from one of my diction textbooks that I scanned and transferred to my iPad.  I put this information into a Word document which I then added to my Dropbox folder.  From there, I can access it anytime from either my iPad or my Android phone for study.  I usually also convert the document into a PDF so I can import it into my forScore library together with the actual score. What I’d really like to do is to be able to edit the Word document on my iPad with automatic Dropbox sync so I can work on translations, etc. on the go, but my current Office suite editor app, Quickoffice, isn’t up to the task yet.  When I edit my .docx Word file in Quickoffice and sync it to Dropbox, the document sometimes gets temporarily corrupted and become unreadable in Quickoffice.  Fortunately, opening and saving the document on my laptop fixes it.  I really really hope Quickoffice fixes this issue, but for now I only edit my document on my laptop and use my iPad and phone just for reading it without editing.  Finally, I write my translation into the score using forScore’s text annotation feature:

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I went to the university music library and used my iPad camera, makeshift scanning stand, and Scanner Pro app to scan the chapter on Ariettes oubliées from Pierre Bernac’s book, The Interpretation of French Song.  (Side note: When using my iPad scanning setup, it’s a lot faster and easier to scan multiple pages from a smaller book like this, versus the big, bulky Castel libretto books.)  It was really handy to have the book pages with me on my iPad at coachings.  I checked to see if the Bernac is available as an e-book, but no dice – if I want to have the whole enchilada on my iPad, I’ll need to buy a physical book and then scan it myself.  The Bernac also suggests metronome markings for the various songs, and Chris R. from Technology in Music Education reminded me that forScore’s virtual metronome will remember settings for individual songs or forScore bookmarks, so I’ll have to try plugging Bernac’s suggested tempi into forScore as a way to remind myself of the approximate tempo.

I also bought and listened to multiple recordings of songs from Ariettes oubliées on iTunes on my iPad.  I used forScore’s feature for assigning song tracks to scores, which lets me listen to the track while reading the score.  I wish forScore had a way of assigning multiple songs or a playlist to the same score.  That would make it easier for me to do comparative listening of different artists performing the same song.  Also, I purchased piano accompaniment tracks for Ariettes oubliées from Your Accompanist and for practicing when there’s no pianist available.  As for basic learning & note-bashing of the vocal line–my iPad, forScore’s virtual piano, and a pair of headphones let me do that anywhere, and it’s been useful for turning my occasional train commute into productive music-learning time.

I’ve also been using forScore setlists as virtual binders for lessons and coachings – I can quickly swap pieces of music in and out depending on what I want to work on during a particular session.  (I set up “virtual binders” for a lot of other things too – audition rep, concert/recital programs, new musical projects that I’m working on, etc.)

And speaking of teaching studios, those of you who have one might like to check out the online service, Music Teacher’s Helper (description on their website: “Designed by music teachers, for music teachers, to help you manage the business aspects of running a private music teaching studio”).  I recently scheduled a lesson with a teacher who uses it, and it sent me a helpful little automated reminder email before my lesson.  It also does other useful administrative tasks, and I’ve heard other teachers recommend it.

(I have more to share, but it’s time to call it a night…to be continued in part 2…)


[My choral colleague, Steve Roth, contributed the guest post below on how he scans and distributes sheet music to the iPad/tablet users in our chorus.  He includes detailed step-by-step instructions – note that you’ll need to have some proficiency with command-line tools in order to use his process.

Listen to Steve – he’s da man!  I scanned and prepped my 264-page vocal score of Handel’s Messiah using some basic compression methods and it ended up at 57 MB (will write that up later).  Steve scanned and prepped a 175-page vocal score of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion – and it came in at under 7 MB.

Steve, many, many thanks to you for sharing your knowledge with us!]

Hi, folks,

Tech4Singers and I sing in the same chorus, and there’s a steadily growing proportion of iPad sheet music users in the chorus (currently about 20%). We all use forScore, which is a superb sheet music reader for the iPad, and as you’ll see below, there’s considerable advantage in having everyone use the same software. I’m the guy who’s (unofficially) responsible for providing the electronic music for all of those singers. Often that involves scanning paper music. Following up on Tech4Singers’ recent request, I thought I’d share here the full details of how I do the scanning. Please note that I make no claims that this is the best way; it’s just one way that works, using tools I’m familiar with.

Before diving into the details, I have to offer a note on legalities. Most paper music is under someone’s copyright, and scanning the music for use on an iPad is in a legal gray zone. Personally, I content myself with following the spirit of the copyright law: I only scan works for which I actually have a paper copy. If the paper copy is borrowed (e.g. from our chorus library), then I only keep the scan for as long as I have the paper copy checked out. And while I don’t attempt to enforce it, I remind my fellow choristers using my scans that they should do the same. I am not claiming that this is compliant with copyright law; I’m not a lawyer and I haven’t found one that will give me a straight answer. But I do assert that it gives due respect to the copyright holders, and that’s good enough for me.

Most sheet music is in one of three formats:

  • 8½ by 11 inches, single sheets
  • 11 by 17 inches, folded (each side of each sheet has two 8½ by 11 pages of music)
  • 10ish by 14ish inches, folded (each side has two 7ish by 10ish pages)

The single sheet music can be handled by pretty much any scanner with a sheet feeder. For the other two formats, though, you need a scanner that can handle large format paper. In this post I’ll discuss handling a 10 by 14 inch folded score, because that’s the most complex case as well as the most common.

Begin by removing any staples or bindings so that you can feed the sheets through the scanner’s sheet feeder. You should also briefly counter-fold them (fold them the opposite way from the way they came) so that they are relatively flat when they go through the sheet feeder; that helps prevent jams. (By the way, yes, a sheet feeder really is a requirement, and so is removing the binding. If you try to put pages on the scanner glass yourself, I guarantee you your pages will not be exactly straight. It’s even worse if you put a bound score on the scanner glass.) [Editor’s note: there are tools that will help you deskew crooked scans – but it’s preferable not to have them be crooked in the first place.]

My scanner settings are 200dpi, black and white. Color (or even gray scale) is not needed for scores, and it makes them vastly bigger (and therefore slower). I have found 200dpi to be a good compromise between size and sharpness, but you could consider using 300dpi for scores with tiny print. It is critical not to let the scanner use any form of lossy compression (like JPEG). Scans should either be uncompressed or should use some lossless compression (PNG, GIF, TIF).

For the rest of the process, you can use any tool that allows you to make batch changes to large numbers of image files at once. My preference, used in the examples below, is the ImageMagick suite.

Step 1 (if necessary, depending on your scanner’s output format): Separate each side of each sheet into a separate image file. (Assuming your source was folded sheets, each image file will have two pages.)

$ convert +adjoin multisheet-file singlesheet-filename-prefix

Step 2: Crop the images to the appropriate width. Measure the width of the double-page sheet and multiple by the resolution of the scan. For our 10×14 example at 200dpi, that would be 2000 pixels. Crop the height of the images to that amount, keeping the width unchanged.

 $ identify file
 $ mogrify -crop widthxheight+0+0 files...

where width is the width of the sheet reported by the identify command and height is the desired height. Note this keeps the top part of the image and discards the bottom; that should be correct for most sheet-fed scanners.

Step 3: Examine each image and rotate them all to the proper orientation. Typically the even-numbered sheets go one way and the odd-numbered sheets go the other. Clockwise rotation is

 $ mogrify -rotate 90 -page +0+0 files...

Counter-clockwise uses negative 90.

Step 4: Measure the height of the sheet, less any margin you want to discard, multiply by the scan resolution, and crop that much out of the middle of the images:

$ mogrify -crop widthxheight+0+offset -page +0+0 files...

where width is the height calculated in step 2 (we’ve rotated it since then); height is the desired height, and offset is the offset needed for that height to be taken from the center of the image, generally half of the difference between current and desired heights (but possibly different if the part you want to keep is off-center).

Step 5: Split the double-page images into single-page images:

$ convert +adjoin -crop widthxheight files... output-file-prefix

where width is half the current image width and height is the (unchanged) current image height. The resulting files will be named with your specified prefix and a numeric suffix. We also need to tell ImageMagick to reset the page bounding box to the image bounding box:

$ mogrify -page +0+0 output-file-prefix*

Step 6: Manually examine the pages and renumber them to correct order. Sorry, it’s tedious, but I haven’t found a good way to avoid it.

Step 7: Create the PDF, using CCITT Group 4 compression (which does a much better job on monochrome, line-art-like images than any other I’ve seen).

$ convert files... output-file.pdf

Step 8: If you’re preparing for use in forScore, add metadata to the PDF so that forScore knows the name and composer of the piece. Use any PDF editing tool for this purpose, setting the “Title” and “Author” metadata respectively. Personally, I use pdftk:

$ pdftk input.pdf dump_data output info-file

[Editor’s note: PDF Info for Windows is another free and slightly more user-friendly tool for doing this.]  Edit the info-file to add key/value pairs for Title and Author.

$ pdftk input.pdf update_info info-file output output.pdf

In our chorus’s case, we’re usually distributing an entire concert’s worth of music at one time, so I take some additional steps to make this easy for our users. I put all of the individual PDFs on a web server and load them into my forScore using its browser. I go through each of them and add any annotations that everyone will want (such as advance markings from the director, or Links for handling repeats).  [Editor’s note: Adding links to the PDF score prior to distribution is an extremely helpful thing for a choral librarian to do.  During a read-through, it saves singers from having to scramble to find the first page of a repeat section, 1st/2nd endings, etc.]  In some cases, for multi-movement works, I’ll make chapters within the PDF file so that it’s easy to jump to a movement. Then I make a forScore “setlist” containing all of the pieces (in the proper order if that’s known), and use forScore’s Dropbox feature to upload the setlist to my Dropbox, turning on the switch that tells it to include the scores as part of the setlist file. The resulting “.4ss” file is a single file our users can install in their forScore and get the entire concert’s scanned music, with annotations. (I occasionally see odd errors with this import, but they go away if forScore is killed and restarted.)

I’m sure there are lots of ways that all of this could be streamlined, and maybe better tools to use for all or part of it. Nevertheless, this is what I’ve been doing, and I hope it will at least give you some ideas.

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(Warning: this is more of a rant than a practical post!)

I had another reminder yesterday of why I am sick of paper music.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t own a printer because the paper jams, ink/toner replacement, and general upkeep were more hassle than it was worth, given the modest amount of printing I did even before owning an iPad.

However, I still need to print out music from time to time for my pianists.  In that case, I use my smartphone to access my library of PDF music scores on Dropbox, locate the score in question, and use the HP ePrint mobile app to transmit the PDF file to my neighborhood FedEx Office.  Then, at my convenience, I can stop by the FedEx Office and enter a retrieval code into one of their self-service copy machines, which then prints my PDF file.  (This is all part of FedEx Office’s Print and Go service.  On a side note, the service supports cloud printing, so in theory you don’t even need a mobile device to use Print and Go – a Dropbox or similar account would be sufficient.)

Ok, so this sounds all high-tech and super-convenient, right?

Not.  The last three times I tried to print scores this way at FedEx Office, the Print and Go software screwed up the print job, and I had to wait in line for a cashier so they could 1) process my refund for the cost of the screwed-up print job, and 2) print it correctly on their own printer.  What was touted as a fast, convenient printing system ended being a time suck and a big pain in the backside.  In fact, when I tried this yesterday, I got the result pictured above, with the print size doubled and rotated into landscape mode.  Um, well, maybe that’s cool in a Digital solutions for low-vision musicians sense…but it’s not what I needed for my repertoire binder.  To add insult to injury, I was running late for a coaching and didn’t have time to stand in line for a refund, so the copy machine just ate my money.  Grrr.

The PDF score files that got messed up in printing came from various sources.  A couple were from IMSLP; one was from the Notion music notation app for iPad.  Now, I get that not all software generates clean, compatible PDF files that play nice with printers and US letter-sized paper.  But how hard would it be for FedEx’s Print and Go kiosk to give customers an option to auto-scale and rotate the PDF pages to fit on standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper?  Surely such an option makes more sense than the silly printout pictured above.  It was just this sort of paper printing stupidity that earlier this year drove me out of the FedEx Office store and into the Apple Store to buy an iPad and go paperless (or as paperless as possible).

***end of rant!***

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Earlier this week, @Lorskyfink kicked off a brainstorming session on guidelines and tips for iPad use in choir rehearsal.  Here’s how it went down.  What are your thoughts on how best to use iPads in choir?

Here’s a basic how-to on getting your PDF scores in and out of forScore using Dropbox. This is the score import method that I use the most. It takes a small amount of effort to set up, but then you’re all set for moving small or large numbers of scores back and forth between your computer and iPad easily. Very handy for managing your personal score library.

Video: forScore Tutorial: Import PDF scores with Dropbox (5:29)

I’ve got more video tutorials in the pipeline, but they are on hold while YouTube sorts out a problem that is affecting all of my videos (and many other people’s). I’m also waiting for the bug fixes in the upcoming forScore 4.1 so that I can move forward with tutorials on stamps and email/web PDF import.

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