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.
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.
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.
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.