You’ve seen other musicians performing while using a tablet for sheet music. You’re skeptical about the expense.
Let’s face it. Paper has been around forever. Why would you ever use a tablet when you can just bring your folder of music?
There are a lot of little reasons you might want to make the switch. It’s not the right choice for everyone. Here are some top reasons:
- Never forget your pencil by being able to write with your finger (or connected stylus).
- Don’t accidentally leave the page you were practicing on the stand when lugging your folder around.
- Never mess up a difficult page-turn again.
- Have every piece of music available to you instantly in the size of a folder.
- Never struggle to see tiny music again: blow it up instantly without a copier.
If you’re interested in checking out my top choice, here it is. The Apple iPad Air 2 (check the price on Amazon):
Read on for a guide to shopping for a tablet for sheet music tailored specifically for brass players.
Tablets for Sheet Music Characteristics
If you’re going to get your money’s worth when buying a tablet whose main purpose is sheet music, you’ll need to consider very specific characteristics. These are my general thoughts on each.
Size could be the most important factor to consider. I’ve been using tablets and e-readers for years, and it never occurred to me how different the size considerations would be for sheet music than reading.
Sheet music normally comes on a 9″ x 12″ piece of paper. Screens are measured diagonally, and so this comes out to the equivalent of a screen size of 15.
Now, you definitely don’t want to go that big, because
This means that if you enlarge the music at all, you’re going to only fit a few lines on the screen at a time. You’ll turn the page too frequently, and you’ll be frustrated with spending money on the useless device.
To me, the sweet spot is right around 10.
The exact number is a bit misleading because of borders. The Apple 9.7 actually has more screen space than a Samsung 10.1, but both of these work nicely.
The weight shouldn’t be too big of a consideration. When taking everything else into account, I’d use the lighter weight as a tiebreaker.
Every modern tablet for sheet music is light enough that carrying it around shouldn’t be any more cumbersome than regular sheet music (less than a pound).
The main place weight plays a role is when thinking about practice and performance places. Will you have access to high-quality music stands?
Piano players never have to worry about this. A tablet could weigh 100 lbs and the piano will hold it up fine. Brass players have a different life. We deal with rickety old stands all the time.
If you know you’ll be playing on stands that will have trouble holding a heavier tablet, I’d go as light as possible. For everyone else, this will be a personal preference.
This is where things get complicated. The screen type is going to affect turning pages, marking the piece, and clarity.
As brass players, tapping the screen is not going to be too much of an issue for turning pages.
These days, screens are really good at registering this. Back when I started, you wanted a higher quality screen in case you were sweaty or something.
Little physical things like that could cause the page to not turn, and other things could cause it to register a double tap and turn two pages. Pretty much every modern screen I’ve used hasn’t had this problem.
The far better option for
It’s pretty rare that you need this, but they can be a lifesaver in the right circumstances. Check out prices here on Amazon.
Marking up the score
There are two schools of thought on this. One is that you always use your finger for writing. This can be cumbersome, but it means you never need to remember a writing device.
You never even need to pick up something to make your annotations. I know I’ve flung tons of pencils off my stand unintentionally throughout the years.
On the other hand, a writing stylus allows you to write with your normal handwriting much more precisely.
Because of this, I’d recommend getting a tablet with a built-in stylus (or magnetic one). This way the “pencil” comes with the sheet music automatically, and you won’t get frustrated at trying to read the scribble that happened from your finger.
Clarity and PPI
Glare can be an issue for reading music under stage lights. You’ll definitely want to make sure the screen material is glare resistant, though this is pretty standard on any recent
One of the greatest advantages of a tablet over a physical paper is the ability to get a bigger, clearer image. It’s often misunderstood that this is the screen size.
Clarity actually comes from PPI (pixels per inch).
There are very large screens with low resolution and small screens with very clear images. Do not skimp on PPI. This is what will make your sheet music (and notes) readable.
Speed should pretty much be a non-issue for reading sheet music. If you’re looking for a super budget item, you could run into problems, though.
My first tablet was the cheapest Amazon Fire (now many years old). Within a few months, the page turn had slowed down enough that it was a real problem.
None of my recommendations below should ever run into this, but if you decide to check out older or used tablets to get a cheaper option, you should definitely be aware that page turn lag can happen.
I know a lot of tablets use their battery life as part of their marketing, and many brands charge more for excellent battery life.
Most modern tablets have such a long battery life that this should probably be a low priority. Even if you have three-hour-long rehearsals, you should be fine.
Battery life matters more for truly long periods of time (maybe you’re camping for days without power and are taking field notes on it).
OS and Apps
You should be aware that you won’t be able to use your tablet out of the box for all your sheet music purposes.
The main way to read sheet music on a tablet is to use get your music into pdf form. You will either need to download a digital copy or scan your paper copy for this.
Scanning can be done by taking a picture of the music with the tablet camera. This means you don’t want to skimp on the camera if you aren’t just buying all music in pdf form already.
You will then need an app to read the music. Every Operating System will have a good way to do this, but you should be aware that the options are different depending on which you go with.
If you’re going to be particular about the features an app has, check them out first. I’d recommend the Orpheus Sheet Music Reader for Android devices (Samsung, etc) and forScore or Musicnotes for Apple.
There are a lot of choices these days, and even some popular sheet music sites have their own apps to make integrating the download and reading process as smooth as possible.
Here are my top choices: one for Apple and one for Android.
Apple iPad Air 2
This tablet has all the features I list above. The screen size is in the sweet spot of near 10 inches.
It’s light, has a glare resistant screen, and very clear resolution. The screen is also fingerprint resistant.
The thing that edges this out from its competition is that Apple has so many excellent music-related apps and accessories like metronomes, tuners, forScore, and more.
Apple also has several choices of alternate Bluetooth page turners.
If you’re on a budget, you can trust refurbished ones to run quickly and even go for the smallest storage. At 16GB, you will never fill it up with sheet music alone.
Check prices on Amazon.
If you have an unlimited budget, you might consider going for an iPad Pro for the larger screen and higher-quality camera for scanning the music in. All other comments still apply.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
The main thing that ranks this below the iPad Air 2 is the price. This tablet is almost identical to the previous one.
First, it comes with an attached stylus called the “S Pen.” This allows you to write with much more precision (be sure to select that option if you want it).
This has all the apps associated with Android available to it. The screen size, weight, and resolution are all pretty much the exact same as the iPad Air 2.
The main downside is that the camera resolution is a little lower than the iPad Air 2. This shouldn’t pose any problems, though, as both are high definition (HD).
This factor could come up if you plan on video recording yourself playing, though.
The main reason for the price is that the technology is a bit newer. The processor is faster, and so if you’re at all worried about lagging page turns due to large, memory-intensive apps, this is the tablet for you.
I also just prefer Android these days.
Check prices on Amazon.