So you want to read Music on a Tablet/eReader?

By Ellis Hillinger & Liz Lidell
Originally published in Seattle Recorder Society and American Recorder Society newsletters (re-printed with permission)

Some of our members have been working with electronic devices to display music as they play it, and there are lots of stories both good and bad about how well this works.  Among the reasons you might want to consider a tablet to display your music:

  • You don’t have to carry all that paper around
  • Because the screen is backlit you can read the score in poor lighting
  • The notes you write in the column can be more legible

Some of the problems being reported are a result of using the wrong device, and here are some thoughts about it to save you trouble if you want to give it a try.

There are three common types of tablets: Apple iPad, Microsoft Windows (such as a Microsoft Surface) and a large range of Google Android / Chromebook tablets.  These articles will focus on the Windows and Google devices I’m most familiar with.  There are some simple tablets sold for special purposes, like the Amazon Fire, that might be possible to use.  You can confirm whether they can by checking whether you can obtain music reading software for it.  (The ability to read PDF files is usually not good enough.)  For most of these devices look in the App Store or equivalent and see if any music score software is available.

Photos of tablets with scores on them

Your big decision is how big a tablet to get.  Here is a range from a 5” Android Google phone (second from left on the bottom row) to a 15” Lenovo Chromebook (upper left).  

If you already have a tablet that meets this definition (and most do), you should be able test it to get a sense of how well it works for you.  Think about how easy it will be for you to read music on this device when it is two to three feet away from you on a music stand.  The big Chromebook in the photo above is as large a device as I’ve been able to locate for this purpose.

You need to legally obtain music to display on the device.  The complexities of copyright law put this question beyond the scope of this article, but thanks to Peter Seibert for permission to use one of his works as an example of how this system works.

Once you have the device and software (see next month’s article) you should have the option to display one page or two pages at a time by just rotating the device.  Here are examples of music in the two different orientations.  On the left is the tenor part, which fits on a single page, and on the right is a score which is displayed two pages at a time (and easily flipped to a third page – more about that later.)

Finally, as much as we might want to save trees, there will still be times we have to resort to paper, so don’t remove that pencil from your bag just yet.

Next issue we will talk about the software you need to read music.  If you would like to learn more about this before then, please look at “Your Personal Electronic Music Library: Storing and Playing Music on a Tablet” from ARS’s Ars Nova e-mag, May 2017.  There is also a good blog by Christopher Busietta.