Is this the last stand for the printed score?

Is this the last stand for the printed score?


norman lebrecht

September 14, 2016

At the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival last week, several performers came on stage with electronic devices, which they parked on their music stands, or just inside the piano lid (Kirill Gerstein’s preferred option).

Last night in Bucharest, a cellist won the Enescu contest, playing off a tablet and using an electronic pedal to move on to the next page of unprinted score.

Orchestras are trialling them.



So is that it? Is 2016 the year that paper began to vanish from the stage?



See also: Kirill Gerstein: I take a tablet between two sheets


  • Will Duffay says:

    Another new system – Tido ( – was launched recently, and that automatically turns the page by listening to what you’re playing. Apparently the sensitivity can be adjusted so that it turns earlier or later as the performer prefers.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A newer, interactive system even, called ‘Maestro Multi Mind’, changes the notes during the performance and adjusts them to the performer’s current taste.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Hmm, not sure. It’s just something else which could go wrong. Apart from foiling the wind during open air concerts I can’t see any attraction in playing off a tablet. Maybe it’ll catch on, maybe it’s a fad; but it had to be tried out.

    • George Butler says:

      I’ve seen the wind blow a jazz vocalist’s tablet off of the music stand during a concert at an outdoor venue in Finland. It’s not a pretty sight. 🙂


      A centrally controlled computer can feed the scores in an 18″ tab in front of each player in a big Orchestra seperatee scores for each instruments

  • ketzel says:

    The French film “The Page Turner” illustrates why this is a good idea.

  • Eric says:

    There’s nothing hugely new here. Orchestras were trialling playing from tablets some years ago, I remember the CBSO doing it. There’s no doubt it is the way forward and that it will happen, but it is taking a while – longer than people thought it would. More manageable for soloists and quartets than it is for larger groups.

    I’ve found that a lot of conductors carry their library of study scores with them on an iPad but still conduct from a large hard copy in the concert.

  • Mikey says:

    I hope they come with 18″x 12″ screens (for 2-up, or at least 9″x12″ for 1-up).
    I’d hate for the “new standard” to be smaller output than MOLA standards for printed music.

    I also hope all these e-readers permit the musicians to amply annotate their scores. I have yet to have parts returned that were not fully scribbled with notes from the conductor, fingerings, etc…

    • Scott Fields says:

      The systems do allow for annotation. The score itself is a PDF. The annotations are in a separate layer, or layers.

      The advantages of the tablets is the ability to carry just about every piece you are working on everywhere, to have everything, and its annotations, backed up (and in the cloud), increased readability in low light (although outdoor day concerts or bright stage lights demand a hood), and the elimination of the sound of page turns, a real victory in the recording studio.

  • lachera says:

    Not till the hire libraries of major publisher are ready to switch. However, having a single player playing from a tablet is easy. Doing it with a full orchestra doing three different programs a week, one of them with choir, and keeping them charged six hours a day is a completely different matter. You could even discover that paper is cheaper.

  • Nicholas says:

    Tido (nb, I’m involved with this product, just so you know) does handle annotations already, and is going to introduce additional abilities for this in the near future. But Tido is not just about getting music onto a screen instead of paper. In fact, a printed score does a fine job doing what it does. The point about Tido is that it combines the score with a whole range of other material – text, recorded sound, video, master class, others – which is cross-linked with the score and other resources. This provides a heavily enriched experience both for performers and actually also for music lovers, whether they actually play themselves or not. It is extremely inclusive in that sense. But it is doing things that cannot actually be done on paper, and providing an ‘experience’ that can only be accomplished with digital. We don’t believe that attempts to replace paper scores with digital screens will ever have much traction unless the user gets substantially more out of the experience of using it than having the music on paper. You certainly can play from Tido, and it does indeed turn the page itself wherever you specify it should do this. But it’s much more than this, and over the next months, more and more content and capabilities will be added, so that studying – say – the Well-Tempered Clavier is a much richer experience, and access to important information, educational material, and other resources is made easy.

    • Scott Fields says:

      My previous comments referred to earlier tablet-based sheet music readers rather than Tido, about which I know next to nothing.

  • Soda says:

    The last stand.


    How many thousands, not to say tens of thousands classical performers are playing today, Tuesday September 14th? How many of them will use a tablet?

    A handful?


  • Eric says:

    I think it will take a long time until this becomes “regularly used.” For starters, not all scores are the same, and neither are publishers. Heck, not even every score is printed on the same size paper. These little but significant differences will result in much disagreement as to how to uniformly create the equipment and transference of information (music scores) on to each stand. In addition, those with union halls will likely have to face new agreements about plugging-in. And librarians will have to adjust to those digitally-made notes and adjustments on individual scores for a later performance. There are solutions to all of these, in time, I imagine. But I’m not yet convinced that the industry is ready.

    • Nicholas says:

      It seems to me that it is worth remembering that the first iPad only came onto the market six years ago, and since then more than 250 million of them have been sold across 12 models. Tablets of all sizes have become ubiquitous in the western world and are a common feature of so many people’s lives. And yet before the start of this decade, they just didn’t exist. Now phones are crossing over to create phablets, and larger and larger but thinner and thinner screens are being produced all the time. The larger iPad Pro almost gives you the same space you might find in a typical piano publication, for example. Before 2010, the idea that you might stream films and TV programmes on demand in HD hardly seemed likely, and I recall a music publisher declaring confidently that you might be able to download and stream 3-minute pop songs, but we would be unlikely ever to do that with Wagner operas – which is now perfectly easy.

      Developments in screen technology are very fast right now, as is development in other relevant areas such as batteries and easier access to networks. Now there is very high quality content and facilities in the software that are extremely useful to musicians and music-lovers alike. It’s taken a long time to get tot he tipping point, but it seems to me we are there now, and acceptance is going to pick up a lot over the next few years.

      • Eric says:

        It’s the rapid tech shifts and developments that will make this very difficult for orchestras to embrace. There’s a LOT of cost to invest in this as a sweeping change. Every orch will have different needs, and I doubt they’ll all embrace one uniform piece of equipment. Chamber groups will adapt much quicker.

        • Nicholas says:

          This depends on how useful the digital facilities provided by the software are to the orchestra and the conductor. It also depends on the price of the necessary technology, which is inevitably falling consistently, making it much easier to cope with the cost. The list of facilities we have planned for the orchestral version of Tido will, in our view, make it very worth using. It’s not just sticking a PDF on a screen…

          • Rodolfo says:

            Several years ago, Siemens tried such an experiment with the Bamberg Symphony. They tell me it was a bit of a hayride, but everyone came out happy with a brand new laptop. Clearly the technology wasn’t ready back then. Things may be different now, but the music printing industry doesn’t have the pockets to research, nor is the general public interested in large size tablets. I am still waiting for a double screen device with endless battery life. I would imagine that, when such devices come to the market, the transition will gain steam and become irreversible.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    Has anyone mentioned the cost? The last time I checked, costs were still fairly high for just the software. It seems as though outfitting an entire orchestra would be prohibitive.

    No one has mentioned conductor’s scores either, which, although getting smaller (and significantly more difficult to read), need to be getting larger.

  • Doug says:

    Can you imagine in the middle of a performance seeing the message flash in front of your notes: WARNING battery low.

    • Nicholas says:

      Well, of course, that would be a sign of incompetence rather than anything else, because one would presumably make sure not to go on with a discharged battery. In any case, I suspect that, rather like many stands with lamps attached, there would often be power available on the stand. One thing that will doubtless come in the next years is for cable-less re-charging to become normal. Electric toothbrushes have been doing this for many years, but now the first mobile phones that just need to lie on or against a pad to re-charge are on the market, and this is going to become a big thing, so that the need to plug in to re-charge will disappear. It would then be easy for the stand to provide power directly to the tablet or other screen device and remove this fear completely.

      • Eric says:

        It would all have to be plugged in. But, to my point in an earlier post, in some halls, where there are unions, the costs just to make this work will astronomical. Could be an argument towards keeping things as they are in bigger ensembles. Who knows.

  • Bruce says:

    A quick check on the internet shows the price for an iPad Pro with 12.9-inch screen to be basically $800, and a Samsung tablet with 18.4″ screen lists at $650. (Didn’t look for bargains, sales, discounts, etc.)

    Methinks this would be an enormous investment for any orchestra to make, especially since the companies’ goal is to make these machines obsolete as quickly as possible.

    Sheet music in the public domain (i.e. everything on IMSLP) would be very easy to distribute to all musicians in an orchestra. Likewise for music written in the past few years since its original written form is probably digital. There’s a lot of music in between, though — Gershwin, Ravel, and Britten come to mind — where the publisher and/or composer’s estate jealously guards access to scores and parts. And what about things like the (relatively) new Jonathan Del Mar Beethoven edition? Lots of kinks yet to be worked out.

    And then there’s the simple wear-&-tear issues. If you knock your folder of [paper] sheet music off the stand, or drop it while trying to carry it and your instrument at the same time, you can just gather it all up and no harm done. If you get it wet — or better yet, drop it in a puddle — it’s still usable once it dries. Not necessarily true with a tablet.

    Quite an exciting prospect, although I think it will take a while before tablet use will be feasible for large performing groups.

  • Dan Allcott says:

    I conducted with a soloist who uses a tablet exclusively. I asked her if it ever froze? Her answer “no.”
    First time it froze? Our concert the next day. On a very difficult modern piece.

    There you go.

    I call it the tyranny of technology. Change for the sake of change. How is it actually better? As it, music can be delivered electronically and printed locally, which I think is great. But relying on technology for performance? I’m not sold.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The advantage of a paper score and a paper part is that it is stable, does not need electricity, cannot ‘freeze’, and that it is very easy to carry around, and especially: it provides space for annotations. If well laid-out, turning the page is no problem, and this custom works perfectly well since ca. 1760. All the mentioned advantages are very reliable aspects. For orchestral rehearsels, paper work still beats any electronic device.

    • Bill says:

      Speaking as one who uses an iPad Pro and Bluetooth foot pedal for music in 3 different orchestras, I’m going to disagree that paper work beats any electronic device.

      I do not have to print out any parts (one of the orchestras does all music distribution electronically, forcing the musicians to print their own if they want paper, and another hands out paper parts but provides markings only on an electronic copy, crowd-sourcing the part-marking duties). The wind never blows my tablet off the stand, nor does it contribute unwanted page turns. The music is self-illuminating. When I make changes or notations, I can easily distribute updated copies to other members of the section which they can view at their convenience on their computer, tablet, or phone, or just print out a new copy of the altered page(s) if they choose. I can carry an enormous library of music with me, and retrieve more from online sources if needed. My violin is both more fragile and considerably more valuable than my iPad, so I have my foot clamping one of the stand’s feet firmly on the floor when anyone is walking around near it. And the expense of my software? A whopping $4.99! Worries about battery life seem to be little different than making sure that one is rested, practiced, hydrated, doesn’t run out of gasoline on the trip to the hall, etc.

      Yes, there are various things which can go wrong. I have experienced corresponding issues with paper parts in more ways than I care to catalog. Bottom line: While there is still plenty of room for improvement, I wouldn’t be using the iPad unless it worked better for me. As they say in the car advertisements, your mileage may vary.

  • Laura Berman says:

    We used them in our production “Melancholia” last season – great when the musicians are on stage. Enables serious lighting that is impossible with stand lights.

  • Mike says:

    I started playing from a Windows tablet about 15 years ago. I have access to thousands of scanned scores and I can non-destructively annotate them. They’re all digitally backed up and accessible to me anywhere in the world.
    I can also plug it into the output of my midi-retrofitted piano and extract to score editing software without moving away from the keyboard.

    I’m just waiting on an affordable A4 or A3 tablet to use at piano as a more or less dedicated music device. Sony has an expensive Letter format e-ink device but that doesn’t suffice. There’s a huge untapped market out there.

  • Bennie says:

    IMHO excellent potential during rehearsal … imagine the 1st stand make changes and then the rest of the section see the changes showing up instantly.

    Not so sure about its value during actual performances.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It seems to mean that the principal of a string group has to have a keyboard and mouse at hand, and is given the time to adjust the music, while everybody is waiting, so it does not seem to offer a worthwhile advantage.

      • Scott Fields says:

        Haven’t you ever used a tablet, John. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we are born with a stylus on our hand. Or you can use an electronic stylus. Either way, marking music on an IPad is faster than marking printed music and is more correctable.

  • A cellist says:

    I play in a string quartet now beginning our third season using tablets (two iPad Pros and a Samsung Galaxy Pro Tab among my colleagues) and a computer (me – a fully convertible HP Spectre x360) with AirTurn. For a busy touring musician, this transition has been miraculous. Firstly, given that we carry a large and varied repertoire, this means having literally dozens of works at our fingertips, with no more of the old concern of schlepping a heavy binder on tour; worrying whether we have all the right parts for a trip; making sure page turns really do work in the heat of a concert; repairing ripped foldouts and all that monkey business associated with making reasonable pace turns possible, and so on. Even better, given that we play the standard repertoire as well as a great deal of contemporary music, a device allows rehearsing and performing from the full score, meaning that not only is our knowledge and understanding of a work greatly enhanced, we can eliminate the endless need for cues in the parts; navigate complicated passages with ease; and speed up the learning process. For older works where there’s no authoritative, modern edition, we download from imslp; for repertory works in good, new editions or anything under copyright we borrow/buy and scan; and of course living composers have been universally thrilled to simply email pdfs rather than spending hours and money setting, printing, and binding. Besides this, when I give concerts of works for solo cello (which I do rather often), there’s no more making giant poster size parts to avoid turns. We all use simple, cheap software which does the job of display and notation (besides replacing even the metronome and tuner apps on our phones), and notation is easy with either our fingers or a stylus.

    More and more i see my colleagues – string players, pianists, singers, etc. – doing this, and can confidently assert that among younger artists and the generation to come, the clumsiness and bulk of printed scores will soon be a thing of the past – and thankfully so!

    • John Borstlap says:

      For tours, this indeed seems to be a much better solution than paper work. But for orchestral practice? Or the opera pit? Or the regular recital fare?

  • Dan Frunza says:

    Organist here. At some services I’ve been using a 13.3′ Android tablet for the last 3 years but also printed score at others. The PDF app I use also allows annotations, so fingerings are no problem. Many singers I’ve met also bring standard iPads, and a colleague of mine just purchased an iPad Pro. Just make sure the device is fully charged before work and your favorite app loads and turns correctly.

  • David T. says:

    Well, obviously people play better from real print–it affects your brain in a different way–but the main thing is, if you are going to go digital, use e-ink–glowing screens look absolutely dreadful on the video and it looks bad on stage. Music isn’t about convenience, or we would all use electronic instruments as well.

    • Mike says:


      For a musician who has studied neuroscience I’d love you to connect the fots there.

      • David T. says:

        Well, they wouldn’t have to be dots, would they? They could be lines–no pixels.

        • Mike says:

          Who has eyes good enough to distinguish pixels on a modern display? We already have displays for TV, phones and tablets that go beyond the ability of human eyes to discern differences.

          I’d still like an answer to my original question about how one can neurologically, physiologically or aesthetically justify the statement ‘obviously people play better from real print–it affects your brain in a different way”

    • John Borstlap says:

      Much to the point.

  • Scott Fields says:

    The vote!

    Commenters who have used tablets as sheet-music readers: for.

    Commenters who have never used tablets as sheet-music readers (some having the faintest idea of how they work): against.

  • Tony F. says:

    Those people who champion the printed page over tablets are just the same as people who say “I prefer a ‘real’ book over a reader.” The only actual argument against tablets for music performance is fear of them failing at a critical point (power related), fear of crashes (being eliminated with updated bug-free software) and page turns (being fixed with foot pedals if your hands are fully occupied). I am a violinist and use a large android tablet made in China – bought it on Amazon for under $200 and an Air-turn foot pedal. Not perfect but works. I also have a touchscreen two-in-one netbook that I use. I save thousands of scores to a separate hard-drive. Everything is editable on-screen with the right software program. Different edited versions can be saved if you play with different conductors, for example. There is really no going back – trees are too valuable a resource to destroy with no purpose – I am a lawyer by profession and mourn all the paper I’ve destroyed in my career. To me the debate is like the old VHS/Betamax debate – before you know it videotape is replaced by DVDs, and then streaming, etc., etc. Let’s get with it musicians! Embrace progress and accept the march of technology. Just think if Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms could write with tablets, how many more masterworks they would have produced. Imagine if they could have played back what they composed with instant digitally sampled playback, how much more productive they would have been!!! Imagine the certainty about the eternal questions of interpretation if the great composers had been able to infuse their works with inflections and performance indications simply unavailable with pen and paper. Imagine what universes of new ideas it would have opened for them.

  • There are many comments already on the pros and cons for tablets/electronic sheet music vs printed music. Personally, I have used an iPad 2 from 2011 and then recently upgraded to an iPad pro. I have had to work through the screen glare problem, reflections off bright windows in the background of a church, getting an email on stage (stupid, I know..), cracks in the screen, and the pedal failing.

    In the tablet’s defense, the pedal has been more troublesome than the tablet over the past 5 years. As a collab pianist, I have enjoyed the convenience of having all my music along with me at all times, and I have not had an issue of bringing the wrong music or forgetting to bring a piece to a rehearsal/concert. Outdoor gigs are a breeze too.

    Yet – It is a responsibility to keep both my iPad and pedal charged all the time, and accidents have happened before. I have switched back to paper scores once because I couldn’t see (the reason why I upgraded). I know my eye sight has deteriorated over the years. I know I have been distracted by other apps when I practice, which is entirely my fault. I freak out once in a while before a big concert and double check that it’s charged, bring an extra pedal, etc.

    I would say there are inconveniences with or without the tablet. Are we ready to move into an all-tablet culture? I don’t think so. Maybe in our lifetime, yes. For now, I guess, to each his/her own? And keep letting audience members ask “how do you use that!”

  • Ladislaus Horatius says:

    “Tablet or paper?” I believe is just the top of the iceberg here. More fundamental questions lie below the surface.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It may be worth mentioning that, instead of being ‘victimized’ by the oldfashioed publishing business for music scores and parts, embracing tablets for performance means getting into the claws of the IT industry, which forces clients to regularly buy the new version of the gadgets. Buying paper work is one transaction and the result endures for many years. IT stuff means enslavement to industrial exploitation, as we see elsewhere.

    Also, it should not be forgotten that tablets are the product of ARTIFICIAL intelligence.

  • Peter Sheeran says:

    Useful for rehearsal or looking at at home – especially for non-professionals maybe

  • David T. says:

    I have just a few short comments, as one involved in broadcasting music. I do believe that print is better. However, if one wanted to use cutting edge technology, there are some great products from Sony using high res e-inks. E-ink of course has much longer battery life, and many other advantages. But no one really wants that, ppl want to use their phone or iPad, tablet or whatever. As I mentioned previously, the blue-green led spikes and ghastly glow from these types of devices look dreadful on TV, video, etc.
    However, there’s another issue, which is considering the 20 or so software licenses involved in the display graphics, chips, architecture, fonts, device “look”, pdfs, score rights, part rights, individual annotations (which become part of the copyright, of course), and so on, it’s debatable whether anyone can provide a proper broadcast license for all the different parties: read your EULAs, and weep.

    • Mike says:

      “But no one really wants that” – the evidence of many practising musicians is to the contrary. We are already living with a variety of display devices, and the e-ink devices (such as the Sony I mentioned earlier or the ubiquitous Kindle) are fantastic for reading a page of print material. That technology is only going to improve.

      “there’s another issue,” – complete non-issue. That’s like saying you can’t show a car on TV because the manufacturer has design patents on its appearance, or hold up a newspaper because of the reasons you cite. Individual annotations don’t become part of any copyright any more than margin notes in a book or scrawls on a map become ceded to the text copyright owner. Are you aware of any such claims being made by anyone in the decades in which it has been possible to re-transmit computer screens?

  • Nicholas says:

    We need to expand our imagination a little about this. Comparing tablets and paper doing the same thing is simply not the point. Paper will generally win on this, because the annotation benefit of a tablet is not sufficient to overcome the cost and inconvenience aspects of a tablet. It’s what else you can do with digital that makes the journey worth it.

    There is quite a long list of things that can be done, so here’s just two examples of things you can do with digital better than with paper. You’re in a rehearsal, the conductor wants to go from eight bars after letter B. Paper: pause while everyone finds letter B, counts eight bars, and gets ready. Digital: the conductor touches the score at the place that he or she wants to start, and all parts instantly align to that place, mark it clearly, and the rehearsal proceeds without delay, or any chance that some people are actually in the wrong place. Or: you have to sit out 48 bars before your next entry. Paper: sit there and count, hoping not to get distracted and lose count. Digital: the software is listening to the music all the time and knows where we are in the score. It subtly indicates the position in the part and cues you in at the right moment; moreover, if there is a useful cue in another instrument, it also brings that up at the right moment and shows you this so that you are ready to respond at your point of entry. Of course, paper is going to survive for a very long time before most, let alone all, repertoire is digital, but these kinds of digital benefits (and these are just two from quite a long list) will save rehearsal time, and allow more concentration on other, more important aspects of the performance, just as driving aids help motorists drive better and more safely. Just for the heck of it: instant transmission of bowing markings from the leader to an entire section, either before or during rehearsal. Instant switching between, say, the markings for Rattle’s conducting a symphony and the Nelsons version. Or this one: bearing in mind that an enormous amount of orchestral playing is done by amateurs, with conductors who are relatively inexperienced, the software in each tablet can listen to “its” performer and indicate to performer and conductor where the performer is diverging from the part.

    These are all things paper cannot do, and they are the reason that people will change to digital, not just annotation layers and the fact that you don’t have to carry around caseloads of music.

    • Mike says:

      There was some free software I used 15yrs ago that allowed you to write music notation and have it converted to “printed” music as you went. The music could be instantly played back via MIDI and it recognised written dynamics and instrument names. The idea is to make smarter paper that responds to gesture and context.

  • Derek Williams says:

    This was and is inevitable.


    I have been rehearsing with a French Orchestra on iPad Pros and in 2 days, they completely got used to the software (the Newzik app) and loved the free page turn and easy mark-ups.

    I think the main issue is to make Publishers understand that there is an inevitable digital transition, and they have to be part on it.

    This video explains the whole project :

    I would love to hear your feedback about it!


    Yes Norman, I do work for Newzik, I didn’t try to hide it, sorry if it looked that way.

    I carefully read all of your previous comments and the project we just had completely matched all the issues raised by you.

    Sincerely hope you don’t feel spoiled by my comment, my goal was only to have your feedback on it.