iPad Apps for the Jazz Player – Update

It’s been over two years since I wrote my original post on iPad apps that I have found useful as a jazz player, so I thought I would update my experiences. In addition to iReal b and iGigbook, I have added another app to my collection: forScore. All three of these apps do different things, and I find all three of them useful.

iReal b

The developer of this app has continued to improve it over the past two years, and a major update called iReal Pro is in the works, which will be a free upgrade to existing iReal b users. This is my go-to app for practicing.

  • You can configure the play-along feature with the rhythm section you need, depending on the instrument you play by adjusting the volumes of the rhythm section instruments.
  • There lots of styles to choose from, some built in and some available as an in-app purchase.
  • You can loop specific sections of a song to practice on, and adjust the tempo.
  • For piano and guitar players, a lot of new functionality has been added in the way of chord charts.

I play tenor sax in a couple of different big bands, and I can key in a solo from a big band chart to practice on in five minutes or so using the built-in editor. This app also works well for memorizing new songs you want to learn for jam sessions.

iGigBook

This app has also seen continued improvements. In addition to its basic selling point – lots of fake book indexes that you can match to your PDF fake books – it now comes with chord charts for over 1000 jazz standards that are transposable on the fly. This is the app I take to jam sessions to use when I don’t know the tune that well. It’s great for finding tunes on the fly, and it sure beats hauling around a case load of fake books.

My major problem with this app has and continues to be related to page turning. While it is theoretically possible to use this on a gig using the set list function, I find it difficult to use if the lead sheet is more than one page. Depending on the resolution of your fake book scan, the page turning can be so slow that I don’t know if I have really turned the page or not. This has caused me on more than one occasion to turn the page again and then be one page farther than I wanted to be. A recent improvement has helped this situation. With the advent of IOS 7, the app now works much better with Bluetooth page turning devices like the PageFlip Cicada¬†(more about this in a future post). You can now reliably turn pages hands free, but the lag is still annoying to me.

The developer also offers a companion app to use an iPhone or iPod Touch as a page turning device, but I don’t particularly like the idea of stepping on my iPod Touch or strapping it on my ankle to turn pages.

forScore

This is a relatively new app for me, and I am really impressed with it. Unlike iGigBook, forScore is not fake book based. It is really designed to handle individual pieces of music or lead sheets.

I play in a jazz quartet, and we have our own book of sets that come from many different sources. Some are fake book scans, but many come from lead sheets generated from programs like Finale and Band-in-a-Box. With forScore, you load individual PDF files for each song into the app. You can do this by connecting your iPad to your computer via iTunes, or you can connect within the app to Dropbox. I have found that bulk uploads are faster with iTunes, but adding a couple of tunes on the fly is a snap with Dropbox.

The interface is very intuitive, and while the app comes with excellent documentation, you hardly need it. Lead sheets can be assigned to as many set lists as you like. It’s easy to create a set list on the fly. You can assign a key to each tune as well as multiple tags.

Another great feature is the annotation tools. They are easy to use, and you can have multiple sets of annotations for different situations – rehearsals, types of performances, etc. Once annotations have been made, you can edit them at any time.

For me, one of the most important features is that page turning is lightening fast, which I find indispensable on a gig, especially when you have a multiple page lead sheet. The resolution of your scan has little effect on the speed of page turning. The app uses something called “adaptive caching” to pre-render pages before and after the one you are on. When you turn a page, it shows up instantaneously.

forScore also works very well with Bluetooth page turners, including the two leading ones, PageFlip and AirTurn. There are lots of other goodies built into this app too numerous to mention here, but these are the biggies for me. Check their website for a complete rundown.

iPad Apps for the Jazz Player

After saving up my shekels for several months, I recently acquired an iPad 2.

Aside from all the usual things you can use it for – the ones you see in the iPad commercials – the iPad is a great tool for the jazz musician. There are two apps in particular that I want to point out.

iReal Book (soon to be renamed iReal b)

This started out as a chord only Realbook, and came pre-loaded with about 900 different tunes normally found in the most popular fakebooks. It allows the user to edit and add new songs, either through the app or by means of a web interface. You can also easily create playlists from any of the tunes on the app. You can change the key on the fly, and you can globally transpose “the book” for Bb and Eb instruments.

The app web site also includes a forum, where users can exchange tips on how to get the most out of the app and exchange tunes and playlists that they have created.

A subsequent development added a great new feature: you can now create an instant play-along from any tune loaded into the app. The play-along controls allow you to control the style, tempo, and number of choruses. The player is based on actual sound samples, rather than midi generated sounds, and it sounds really good. It’s like having a better sounding Band-in-a-Box on a mobile device. It’s a great way to learn new tunes to call on jam sessions, and I use it to practice big band solos as well.

A couple of months ago, the developer was told by Apple that the app was being withdrawn, pending a redesign to solve perceived copyright issues. It has been generally understood among musicians at least since the Bebop era that chord changes by themselves are not copyright protected. (How many tunes do you know based on the changes to I Got Rhythm?) But Apple (perhaps encouraged by Hal Leonard?) apparently doesn’t see it that way.

So after several weeks of wrangling and legal discussions, our long-suffering developer,¬†Massimo Biolcati, has agreed to change the name to iReal b and take off the pre-loaded tunes. All other functionality remains the same, and some new features are promised. That means that new users will have to add their own tunes, but I’m sure that forum members will take up the slack, and the app will be quickly loaded with a few key strokes. This is a minor inconvenience compared to not having the app at all!

iGigBook

iGigBook is an app that allows you to handle all the fake books that you have in pdf format. It is a pdf reader, but the real power of this app is its ability to index all the tunes and allow you to find all copies of a given tune by searching for the title or composer. You can also set up set lists from any of the books loaded onto the app, so you can plan out a whole gig and have the lead sheets appear one by one in set list order.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that setting up this app is a rather cumbersome process that is not well documented. The key to understanding how the app works is knowing that you have to go to the iGigbook web site, log into a configuration page, and select the indexes that you want to appear on your app based on the books that you own. You can also adjust the “offset”, i.e. the number of pages before song page 1. There are 90+ indexes to choose from.

The second important point to understand is that your pdf fakebooks need to be complete with all pages in the right order. There is no way to adjust the indexes, so if you have pages missing, you need to either scan those pages and insert them or insert blank pages. If you have pages out of order, you have to re-arrange them. That means that you have to have a way of manipulating pdf files. (I’ll post later on some cheap ways to do this.)

If you take the time to do this up-front work, you will have a fantastically useful tool that will greatly simplify your gig prep and set-up.

My wish list for future versions of this app would include:

  • A better slider. Right now the slider attempts to show every page that it slides by. The result is that is is very jerky and difficult to use. A slider that simply allowed you to select a page number then show the page when you let go would be much more useful.
  • Some facility to allow the user to edit existing indexes and make his/her own. This could either be a file to upload to the app or a web based tool similar to the iRealbook tool. This would allow you to tailor the index to the pages in your book, and it would take a burden off the developer, who right now has to do all the indexes by hand.