Go directly t Electronic Displays: 2021 update | 2016 - original version


Compiled, written, and edited by Al Lowe and David in Mississippi


Go Directly to any of these sub-sections: Introduction | Research 2021 | Pros & Cons Summary | Software Mentioned | Hardware Mentioned | Group Discussion (anonymized) | Testimonials



This article is a summary and compilation of a question asked on the Big Band Charts discussion forum and the responses to the question. The question was cross-posted to the Community-Music forum, and some of those responses are included here as well.


Group Member Research 2021

The article in this section was submitted by our own group member Oliver Hagerman in June 2021. He does a marvelous job of explaining the whole thing, so I'll let him tell it.


How to use a DELL Inspirion 2-in-1 17inch as an eReader for Big Band parts



Since 2015, for lead sheets (fakebooks) I have been using the Apple iPad Pro with these apps:





This works well for combo gigs, jamming, and learning tunes. The iPad display is 7.75in by 10.25in (195mm by 262mm), which is nearly a standard Letter-size (8.5in X 11in) page. For viewing two pages at once, rotating the device to landscape view switches the display to "two pages up" at half page size. At this size, it is difficult (but not impossible) to read. The ability to carry a filing cabinet filled with fakebooks in a tablet computer has been valuable.


For big band parts, many of which are more than two pages, with page turns, I decided to look for a solution that can display two Letter-sized pages in portable tablet form, and with a touchscreen for page turns. (I have experimented with Bluetooth wireless page turning footswitches, but for simplicity, touchscreen page turning is adequate).


At this writing, Apple does NOT offer a Ledger-size (11in X 17in) iPad, which would be ideal! On the other hand, there ARE foldable notebook computers with 17" displays and a touchscreen that run Windows 10. So I decided to look for eReader app with page-turning function for that type of computer.


DELL INSPIRION 2-in-1 17 inch COMPUTER running MobileSheets

I settled on a DELL INSPIRION 2-in-1 with a 14.75inch by 10inch (372mm by 254mm) display, which is close to 2-Letter-page size. The computer folds over to act like a tablet. It has a touch screen. It weighs just under 6 pounds (2.6kg). Minimizing weight is always an issue when loading-in and -out of gigs in one trip. The computer can also run Finale, Abode Acrobat, BandLab, LibraOffice, etc..


The battery life is at least seven hours. Plenty for a 4-hour gig. Or you can always plug in the power supply.


The keyboard is back-lit, with shiny keys, which reflects the screen, which makes it hard to discern the keycap symbols. To fix that issue, I turned off the keyboard back-light by pressing F5, which cycles through off-half-full brightness, until back-lighting is turned OFF.

Installing Windows 10 Pro went smoothly. I opted-out of everything. I set Desktop background to black.


I installed LibraOffice, which is a free office suite. It is able to read Microsoft Office formats. It is very useful for making index spreadsheets and exporting them to CSV (Comma-Separated Value) files, for input to eReader apps.


I installed Adobe Reader, Google Chrome, and a backup client I use with a Synology file server.


I installed Finale 26, with some my existing templates and project files.



The eReader software is MobileSheets Pro, It cost $12.99 in the Microsoft app store.


It is geared for compiled books of sheet music in PDF format, matched to an index file that you create (details below). The index can also be derived from existing bookmarks in the PDF file, but I did not experiment with that. Unfortunately, there was not a way to specify PDFs filenames for a batch load, so while individual part PDFs can be managed, entering the filename and metadata is a manual process. It is more effective to compile one big PDF of all the parts, and provide an index CSV file to bulk-load the data.


Incidently, index files for most of the popular fakebooks are available as sharware in the MobileSheets user forums. Some are of varying accuracy, so be careful.


As was stated above, loading with individual Guitar parts and entering all the index information for each part would have been possible manually, but there's no way to automate it, because you have to manually enter a PDF file name for each PDF that you load. MobileSheets copies your PDF to its own file space, with optional cropping of white-space and annotation of the image, preserving the original PDF.


The approach I took for big band purposes was to collect all the Guitar parts for each band book into a large PDF for that band. In MobileSheets terminology, each band book can be designated as an 'Album'. I prepared an index for each Album in the form of a CSV file. I play in five big bands, and occasionally the same chart appears in multiple bands, but the disk space wasted by a few duplications of a part is insignificant.

For chart number, I used MobileSheet's field 'Custom'. In the app, you can rename this field to be called 'Number' or whatever you wish.

The MobileSheets fields named 'Title', 'Composers' and 'Pages' are exactly what you expect. The Pages field can be a single page number, or a range of pages. Quick examples are:

43 a single page
45-46 two pages
48-48 a single page


In MobileSheets, you can search on Title, Composers, or Custom (i.e., Number). You can create Setlists. You can format the MobileSheets menus, title display and so on. It has proven to be flexible and works well.


This was a BIG project, requiring collecting scans of all the parts and creating a spreadsheet of the parts with all the information for the index. Helpful apps were TinyScanner on the iPhone to capture PDFs, DropBox to transfer PDF files from the iPhone, Adobe Acrobat to prepare and assemble the parts, and LibraOffice to prepare and generate ("Save As->.csv") CSV index files that are an input to MobileSheets.


Quick sidebar for any fellow computer geeks out there: The Python programming language has some interesting tools for processing PDFs. The pyPDF4 function library can count how many pages a part contains, watermark pages (with band book numbers), and merge parts into Albums.

Here is a comparision of eReader metadata and how I chose to map the Big Band books for iGigbook, ForScore and MobileSheets:


Comparison of E-Reader MetaData


Another tip is, at the gig, to preserve the computer's battery and eliminate radio noise coming out of any nearby amplifier, you can quickly disable WiFi and Bluetooth by clicking the WiFi symbol in the TaskBar, and clicking on Airplane Mode. Same idea as with iPhone (use Airplane mode).


Hope this was helpful.


Oliver Hagerman
Guitar Jazz
Cincinnati, OH, USA


Pros & Cons Summary

Here are the pros and cons gathered from various responders. There may be more than these; if you know of any, let us know.


  • Whether for a player or the conductor, having the music on a tablet means you don't have to lug around a folder or many folders full of music. One responder said his paper-based library weighs more than 500 pounds.
  • Tablets are becoming more and more available. Many people already have them.
  • Large enough to SEE. The larger tablets, such as the iPadPro 12.3", display music at nearly the same size as an 8.5x11" sheet of paper.
  • The light comes from inside the tablet. This is especially good for older musicians with less-than-youthful eyes. This also means you do not have to lug around and set up stand lights and the electric extension cords to power them.
  • Can hold all needed music. Even smaller capacity tablets can hold all the music you could imagine having. 32GB tablets are fairly common, and these will contain thousands of charts. Some tablets have the capability to accept memory cards, such as SD or micro-SD cards, that will expand their capacity even more.
  • Digitized music (so they can display the PDF on the tablet) means no more lost parts.
  • Battery Life - on most tablets, a fully charged battery will last several hours, many will go six hours or more.
  • No Wind Problems. When you are playing outdoors or in a breezy venue, your music won't blow away, and you won't have to chase it.


  • COST. This is the biggest drawback. Even the least expensive tablets cost about $300, and it is easy to approach $1,000 per tablet. There are two things that make this less of an issue: First is that many people already own a tablet they can use. Second is that for those that don't yet own a tablet, it is good for them to know that the tablet can be used for much more than simply reading music. They can conduct much internet business on the device, including email, texting, browsing, shopping, banking, watching videos, and gaming.
  • Not Good in Bright Sun. While the internal lighting is good in most situations, reading music off a tablet in bright sunlight can be a challenge. But a piece of paper folded to make a shade is much cheaper and easier to handle than an electric stand light for indoor gigs, which you need for paper.
  • Glossy Surface. The display surface of all tablets is made of glass, and is highly reflective. If there are bright lights behind you so they reflect off the tablet into your eyes, this can make the display a challenge to see.
  • Needs some small amount of technical proficiency. Currently, each tablet user is responsible for obtaining and charging their own tablet, and for getting the software needed to display music, and for getting the music to display loaded properly on the device. While this is not an issue for most people, there will always be a proportion of people in any band who are technophobes and either can not or will not learn to use one properly, or at all.
  • Requires a Digitized Library. The two main challenges in this element are (a) copyright issues, which are still very much up in the air; and (b) the physical challenge of digitizing your entire library, and then setting it up so the right people get the right music. This is one of those TQM (Total Quality Management) issues, where there's more work up front, but tons less work down the road. Digitizing your library and setting up the distribution of parts is a huge load of work at first, but once it's all set up, it is much less work than maintaining a paper-based library.
  • Vulnerable to water. If you're playing outdoors and it rains, the water might damage the tablet. This can be overcome by putting the tablet into a plastic zip-top bag. The ones I've tried, you can still finger-swipe through the plastic.


Software Mentioned

This section lists all the various music reader software applications mentioned by group responders. If you know of other music reader software, please let us know.


Hardware Mentioned

This section lists the various tablet computers (hardware) mentioned by group responders. If you know of other tablets good for music reading, please let us know.

BE CAREFUL: a standard size sheet of music has about a 4:3 aspect ratio. Many tablets advertising as being 13" have a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means they are tall and narrow (or wide and short), and might have a screen width of barely more than 6". DO NOT buy one of these without being able to hold it in your hands and seeing if the display is large enough for you to read when you put it on a music stand.


  • SCORA - Very Large Touchscreen Displays: https://scorashop.com
  • iPad Pro - 4:3 aspect ratio, large as a sheet of paper: on Amazon here
  • Dell 17" Inspiron 2-in-1, combo computer/foldable tablet (about $1,350 6/21) here (writeup here)
  • Large tablets on Amazon here
  • Large tablets on eBay here
  • Samsung Galaxy Pro 12.2" tablets on eBay here
  • RCA Galileo Pro 11.5" 32GB touchscreen tablet computer with keyboard Android 6.0 WiFi Blue-tooth on Amazon here
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 5th Gen with Windows 10 - this is a full computer, not only a tablet; on Amazon here
  • Foot pedals Bluetooth page turners on eBay here

Group Discussion (Anonymized)

Below is most (but not all) of the discussion we had on the group. The responses have been anonymized for privacy.



I have managed a big band for over 25 years and, over that time, have accumulated a library of over 500 physical charts. It’s no longer practical to lug 500 pounds of music to gigs. I’d like some sort of digital way to manage the library.


This means, I think, scanning to PDF, then obtaining some sort of reader that can be placed on a regular music stand. The reader would contain all the charts in the library and be able to access them quickly by number or title. It must be able to turn pages easily.


Does such a thing exist? I’m too old to wheelbarrow these charts from gig to gig, not to mention the storage required.




We keep our archive digitally and have the players decide whether to use a physical book or a tab-let. Only 2 of us use tablets and I’m one of them. I only load my own parts onto my tablet. I also keep a band tablet with all the parts in case someone has lost a part.


The scanning to PDF was a huge project but, once done, it’s easy to keep up with new ones pur-chased.


I use an iPad Pro, regular 8x11 size. There are multiple options for score management. I’ve tried 3: DeepDish Gigbook, iGigbook and PiaScore. They all have plusses and minuses, but I mostly use DeepDish for big band and iGigbook for fake books because it has built-in indexes for the tunes. You can write on all 3, which is critical for personal notes.


Is everybody coming clean? For those of you who have invested hundreds of dollars to use some form of digital display on the bandstand, what are some of the things that have gone wrong?


I’ll come clean: I invested money and considerable time to make my lead sheets digital. Bought a big tablet, scanned charts, bought a foot pedal and mount. But when all was done, it was easier to use paper. I have several notebooks, but these still work best for me.
I know several other musicians who have reverted back to paper after trying to go digital.


The several bands I play in have a lot of people using tablets. They all use Android 13.3" tablets with displays very close to 8.5x11 paper. They use an app called MobileSheets. It does everything other apps do and more. If you can afford it, it will handle two 13.3" tablets like one, displaying two pages at a time. One finger or foot pedal press causes both displays to advance.


This is a very cost-effective way of going digital. If you hunt around, you can find a 13.3" tablet in the $200 range or cheaper, if you buy used. The MobileSheets app is $15.95.


I believe it is the way of the future. In years of playing and viewing band discussion groups, I have never heard of anyone being bothered by the copyright police. I think the big music houses have bigger fish to fry.


The problem I encountered with Android 13.3” tablets is that everyone I found came only in the 16x9 aspect ratio, which is widescreen in landscape mode, but far too narrow (6.5" ?) in portrait mode.


Please name some Android tablets with displays close to 8.5x11. And some sources where we can buy.


Look for the Hanspree HSG1281 or the Azpen A1320. They each have a 7x11.25 display. That’s pretty close to 8.5x11. I don’t know a source. Probably used on eBay. A lot of guys use the 13.3" Androids with the 6.5" wide portrait display. They don’t find them too narrow. They only use them in portrait mode. A few are actually using 10" tablets successfully but that’s too small for my old eyes.


Thanks for all of the responses; unfortunately, I have issues that complicate the matter:

1. Personnel varies almost every time we meet so making each musician responsible for their own part isn’t practical.
2. Storage capacity of the device. I guess the entire library consumes ~15 GB.
3. $$$$$$ Given #1 and #2 above, I’ll have to buy 19-20 if these devices.
4. The elegant solution to me is to make each device’s content identical. I don’t want to figure out which device has the 1st trumpet parts... they all do.
5. Battery life. Must I recharge to get through a 3-hour gig with breaks? Switch batteries?
6. Player open multi-page charts to show the first two pages. Those pages are laid out so that by the end of page 2 there’s a rest that allows for a page turn while the horn is off their face. I know of no device that could accommodate that. An out of this world solution would be a device that auto-scrolls the pages as the chart progresses.


Responses to 6, above

1. If personnel changes, then it might be most effective to go with preloaded tablets.
2. Storage shouldn’t be a problem. I have hundreds of charts spanning a dozen or so different en-sembles and I haven’t filled up my internal memory yet. Granted, I have only my part on my tab-let, but if you find a tablet that accepts an SD card, you can add extra memory very cheaply.
3. Yes, the cost adds up, but it’s a cost-benefit thing. Will the upside of storing thousands of charts be worth the long-term investment?
4. I disagree. Load a tablet with first trumpet parts and put a label on the back; load another for second trumpet, etc. Of course, your method would work, too, but then you’d have to trust your musicians to pull up the right part and the right chart. With Orpheus, I create setlists ahead of time.
5. Not a problem. I just played a weekend of musicals, two shows per day, 5+ hours of screen time, and I have 50% battery left. It’s only a problem if you don’t recharge between gigs.
6. With my 12" tablet, I only display one page at a time. I can change pages by swiping forward or backward, but I’m lazy so I use a Bluetooth pedal. I only touch my tablet at the start of the gig and the end. And maybe at intermission, if I switch the screen off.


Responses to 6, above

1. 20 iPads in a case is a whole lot easier to carry around. Setup takes some time, especially since you’d load each iPad like a regular music folder, but if you kept possession of the tablets, varying personnel is no concern. Even at-home practice isn’t a concern if you take the folders you make and throw them online to something like Google Drive.
2. The smallest of these tablets will have 32 GB, which is more than enough to store everything, even if you load it with complete arrangements.
3. Money is a valid point and, while it’s getting cheaper, you’re looking at an outlay of at least $4K.
4. Bingo.
5. I’ve had tablets batteries last longer than 3 hours at a gig. I’ve played entire musicals with mine, even on half a charge and been fine, so long as I reduce my screen brightness.
6. This is why there are foot switches. Also, most programs flip pages with a simple tap. Some will do a half-page, allowing you to make a tough page turn as long as there’s a rest somewhere on the page.


My thoughts:

• Apple products are too expensive for this unless you’re in education and they’re subsidized.
• You can get a Windows 10 Chuwi 12" tablet for about $US200. The battery lasts for ages. I leave it on full brightness for multiple gigs and don’t even turn it off during breaks. Also, when the lights go out (and this has happened to us), the band keeps on playing!
• Bluetooth pedals cost about $US20 on eBay.
• Dropbox is an awful interface, but cloud storage is the way to go. You want a single repository for all charts.
• If everyone use the same cloud storage (OneDrive or similar), can automatically sync and have everything available locally all the time.
• Even 500 charts are storable on any modern device. Our >500 sets and parts are only 3 GB.
• For outdoor work, get an Onyx Boox Euclid 10" e-Ink for about $US350. It’s a pleasure to use in bright sun. For some reason, large e-ink readers are rare. This is the best I could find after much research.
• I use Acrobat for display as it has manipulation tools for notation and I’ve created custom stamps for doing things like key signatures and accidentals quickly. I use the red pen for all my marks. They’re really obvious. You can delete any markings completely as needed.
• If you organize your charts in Explorer, you don’t need additional expensive (and often non-intuitive) software. Create a folder for each gig and number the charts in the set list.
• Get a tablet stand as they are much smaller. Audiences love being able to see the players in-stead of a wall of big music stands.


The biggest negative of all this is copyright. Many pieces come through with the traditional copy-right notice and also including “storage in digital media” as things which are not permitted. As to whether or not that is enforceable, there haven’t been enough court cases to establish clear case-law and, in typical legislative fashion, the copyright law and its many rewrites are cloudy as to whether that might be allowable. As it reads now, from what I understand, is that digital storage of copyrighted materials is in violation of the copyright law for everybody except certain specific li-braries which are designated as archival libraries.


While it might be ideal to have everyone on a touchscreen, even more ideal would be for a central hub to send the music to each display, such that the alto sax 1 tablet gets the alto sax 1 part, etc., for every tune in the current gig, but as far as I know, this isn’t possible yet, without really expen-sive software, and even then I think it would be a custom solution, costing well into five or six fig-ures. (I could do it, but no one has yet offered to pay me to do it and there’s no way I will invest that much time without being paid. (Professional musicians understand this.)


Harry Connick Jr. has such a setup, but it cost many thousands of dollars. And Harry’s arrange-ments are designed for his specific band and every part is always covered. Many community bands have variable attendance at both rehearsals and performances, so the same people don’t always play the same parts, which would make such a setup really hard to design and hard to run.


I use ForScore and it’s got amazing abilities to mark the music up and even rearrange the pages, so that if a piece has a huge leap back for a repeat or D.C. or D.S. I can copy the pages that need to be played again and insert them immediately following the D.C./D.S. marking. I simply keep turn-ing the pages forward as I play.


The downside is that screens are highly reflective and can be totally unusable outdoors if the sun-light is shining over your shoulder onto the screen. The same with bright overhead stage lights. [Note: Scora sells matte screen covers for €30-40.)


I’ve used UnRealBook and also MusicReaderPDF in addition to ForScore and I find ForScore su-perior for my uses. Ultimately the end user should try several and make up their own mind.


But getting your library into PDF format is still illegal for most copyrighted music. Buying “print on demand” editions means that the publisher provides the PDF files, which makes it more legal. As I’m archiving older pieces which are long out of print, with no trace of a publisher, I put every-thing (score and all parts, in score order) in one file, which makes it much easier to file and to find the right parts. But my band is still all using paper music so it’s easy to print what’s necessary. There is PDF software which can make either the breaking up of a single PDF file or the creation of a single PDF file from multiple smaller files. PDF Converter Pro from Nuance Software is a worthwhile investment. (I think it’s just under $200 for the Pro version.)


The biggest disadvantages to this technology are: 1) using a screen in direct sunlight; and, 2) mak-ing sure that everybody has their device charged enough to play the entire gig, including unfore-seen slowdowns and pauses. Hearing people complain about their phone being out of juice makes me think that, if a band wants to go fully digital, the band would need to own all the tablets and an equipment manager would need to ensure they’re all charged when brought to the gig. 50 or 75 iPads in cases won’t weigh as much as a 500-piece library, but who brings their entire library to a performance? It would still be a heavy load to shift around that many iPads. They would need to be securely guarded.
One member of my band has scanned all his parts and uses an iPad exclusively for rehearsals and performances. I think this might fly under the copyright radar much more easily than an entire band’s library being digitized.


I do this now, but mostly because I play in several groups (plus some extra on the side) and this way I never forget my folder!
I use an Android tablet with the app Orpheus. I turn pages by touching the screen or via a Blue-tooth pedal (great for musicals!)


I also use an Android tablet with Orpheus. One other problem: big band charts have lots of re-peats and codas. These are more easily navigated when the paper is in front of you. This is not so easy when you have to flip through screens to find the repeat or coda sign.


There are two downsides when playing outside in hot weather: 1) The sun washes out the dis-play if you aren’t covered or shaded; and, 2) The tablets can overheat and shut down if they are in the sun.


That being said I think that the tablets are the way to go.


Responses to 6, above
1. Keep your data on the cloud so all storage is identical. Use part directories.
2. 15 GB is tiny for any modern device.
3. Don’t buy Apple. Get a good cheap tablet. It doesn’t need to be powerful to display PDFs.
4. See answer #1.
5. After a 3-hour gig on full brightness, my Chuwi tablet is still well above 50% battery without turning off the screen at all.
6. A double foot pedal will fix this.


I have 5 years of experience to share here.


I’m a lifelong computer programmer and general tech-nology geek, so it’s quite possible my choices might not be appropriate for everyone.

Besides my community band time, I also play piano as an accompanist for several high school and middle school choirs, plus rehearsal and pit pianist for high school and middle school musicals in our area. Thus, I need to carry around a LOT of music. As a computer guy, I have wanted a digital music solution for many, many years, but it wasn’t until the 12" tablets that this became practical. Those are almost the size of an 8.5x11 sheet.
I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 12.2 [search eBay] in 2014 not long after they first came out. It was, and still is, a very practical choice, especially if you are already an Android person. I used an app called MobileSheets Pro that did the job very well. There is a free version, but I gladly paid $30 for the Pro version because a big part of my life relied on it. I use a page-turning foot pedal which is the best part of the tablet experience. I no longer need to take hands off the keyboard to turn pages. I used this setup for a long time and played a number of musicals with it.


About two years ago, my wife bought me an iPad Pro for Christmas. I reluctantly moved my music over to it and switched to the very popular ForScore application. I continue to run that combina-tion today.


There are a couple of philosophical differences between the two apps, which would probably only matter to a computer nerd like myself. MobileSheets has the ability to use either PDF files or indi-vidual image files like JPEGs and PNGs. I have lots of desktop publishing experience, so I have a good set of tools for manipulating PDF and image files. I like to be able to take pages into Pho-toShop and cut-and-paste from page to page to clean up repeats and make smoother cuts. That was easy to do with image files in MobileSheets. ForScore requires PDFs and only one PDF per chart. I can do that but it’s not as convenient.


Plus, with MobileSheets, if I wanted to duplicate a couple of pages to make repeats, DCs, and co-das linear instead of flipping back and forth, I could just tell it “show me pages 1 to 6, then 2-3-4, then 7 to 10” and it didn’t alter the original file. It just remembered my page order. ForScore al-lows me to rearrange, duplicate, and remove pages, but to do so you have to alter the actual PDF file, thereby losing the original. I dislike that.
MobileSheets does have one very serious problem: Every now and then, occasionally, and appar-ently related to being low on memory, I would flip a page in MobileSheets and it would display a black screen. There’s nothing more jarring in the middle of a performance than to find your music gone. ForScore, so far, has never done anything like that.


Four members of the clarinet section in my community band use tablets. Three use an iPad Pro with ForScore, one is a Windows believer using a Microsoft Surface Pro. I’m not sure what PDF software he’s using.


Yes, there are copyright problems. For now, I pretend those don’t exist. The odds of being sued seem low. In our community band, I still assign a paper copy to each digital user, so we use no more copies than originally delivered. That doesn’t solve the legal problem, but it eases our con-science.


ForScore can have more than one PDF per chart -- simply number them sequentially and turn on the setting to automatically go to the next score. At the end of “MyChart1.pdf,” tap the screen or the foot pedal to turn the page and “MyChart2.pdf” will appear.


You don’t have to save ForScore’s “rearranged” file under the same name. When you’re in the Ar-range dialog, choose “Save As...” instead of “Save” and give it a new name. I use names like “BandScore” and “BandScore-linear” in such cases. I only want usable files on my iPad, so I save the rearranged file with the same name and overwriting the original, but you don’t have to over-write the original if you don’t want to.


The Supersonic SC813 from Amazon is $215.13 and may fill the bill for an almost 8.5x11 display. I don’t know the exact screen dimensions, but its overall dimensions of 14.6x9.8 suggest it’s wider in portrait position than the average 13" tablet. Most 13" tablets are 13.25x8.5.


I have the Supersonic SC813 tablet. The actual overall dimension is 13.25x8.5; the rendered screen is 6.5x11.5. It has a really long battery life, but charges slowly. You can’t go wrong for that price.


I use MobileSheets Pro which is fantastic - check out their website. [see below]


What do you do when the tablet fails?


I recently sang in an avant-garde a cappella choral concert that used a click track for the conductor to stay in sync with a film. It ran off a laptop which failed a minute into the piece. Four laptops and 25 minutes later, we got going again.


In 5 years with a tablet, I’ve never had one failure. I did have one decide that I absolutely needed an upgrade 25 minutes before a performance, but it managed to finish in time. In my school envi-ronments, the director always has paper copies nearby, but I’ve never needed them.


I’ve used a tablet for 3 years and never had a failure. Before the tablet, I had music blow off the stand; music stands tip and drop to the floor, sending music everywhere; forgot the last page to a piece and had to depend on my memory; lighting so dark I couldn’t see the page and had to de-pend on memory, etc.


My point is: my tablet takes care of several problems and is a great tool for musicians.


I’ve been playing Dixieland jazz gigs with three bands regularly -- and subbing with nearly a dozen other bands -- since 2005. All my lead sheets are PDFs on a laptop computer. I use a 15.3" screen so I can display two pages at once, large enough to read. I’ve had difficulty accessing data only once, when the external hard drive with my data failed on a gig.

When I bought my first computer in the late 1980’s, I asked our company IT person, “What should I back up.” He replied, “Everything you don’t want to do over.” Accordingly, I back up my entire computer to the cloud, and to a Seagate solid-state back-up drive, and also back up just the data files to another solid-state back-up drive. When that external drive failed on the gig, I un-plugged it, plugged in the backup drive, and played the gig normally. The Boy Scouts are right: “Be Prepared!”

My new external drive for everyday storage is a 2 TB solid-state drive about 3x1.5x0.5, weighing less than three ounces. I copied my 104 GB of backed-up data onto it in about 2.5 hours and I was good to go.

The moral of the story is just what my former co-worker told me: Back up everything you don’t want to do over! And if you must have access to your data, carry a back-up with you.


I just returned from Cuba where we had an outdoor performance in the afternoon sun. Two of our trumpet players used tablets that shutdown because of the heat. Luckily we had back-up paper copies of the music. These are wonderful tools... but be aware of their limitations


Another lesson we learned long ago: no outdoor concerts in the sun or cold. Know your limitations.



I totally understand. I played that particular venue in Havana several times. It had a wonderful large tree overhanging the performance area. When we arrived, we found out that it had recently been cut down. But the show must go on. All in all, we had a great time performing with and for our Cuban friends.


Every method has its potential weak spots. I’ve had members of my band show up for a concert having forgotten to bring their music.
Shiny glass tablets are horrible to use in bright sunlight or bright indoor lighting. However, I love my iPad and can’t believe how much music I can carry around on it. I’ve got all the trumpet parts available through the CDSheetMusic company, plus all the full orchestra scores that go with those parts (over 450 full orchestra scores!) plus over a dozen fake books, all with between 400 and 1000 songs each, in addition to countless etude books for many different instruments, a vast li-brary of books of fiddle music. I think when I checked last, I have over 6000 files in ForScore. That includes full scores, individual 1-page pieces, and books of music large and small. There is no way I could ever bring all the music I wanted when I travel or go to camp for vacation before tab-lets.

There are still many times I prefer paper. When I conduct my community band, I use paper scores (mainly due to the bother of scanning them into PDFs). More bother than benefit.

As a performer, though, where I might have 20 pieces in my folder, each between 1 and 3 pages, I would definitely be tempted to rely on my iPad.
I’ve never had it fail. (I’m on my 3rd one now, upgrading each time to gain a faster processor and more storage space, never because of failure.) I’m not worried about that potential any more than I worry about losing my folder of scores.

However, one caveat that hasn’t been mentioned—not all members of my community band are technologically savvy and would be frustrated if that was the only way they would get the music to practice and perform. And some of them really are klutzes who occasionally knock over their stands. Having paper fall on the floor is easy to pick up and put back into proper order and contin-ue playing. Having a tablet fall and crack the screen rendering it unusable might be a larger issue.

Then there is the financial aspect: if the band owns the tablets, who’s responsible if one is lost, stolen or broken? You can’t ask a community band member to agree to be financially responsibility for a $500-$1000 piece of equipment just so they can read their music. And there’s no way I could ask my community band members to each spend that much money to buy their own tablet.

Another potential problem is seeing the music for some older members. Yes, you can enlarge what’s on the screen, but then the page can’t be seen all at once, necessitating the user to drag the music around to see the part that’s off the screen. Quite different from going to a copy shop and enlarging the music onto larger paper.

And, if a band uses paper and one section member leaves the music at home, another member’s stand can be adjusted so that both can read the same music. With a tablet, that becomes much more problematic, given reflections on the screen, to say nothing of the fact that until they make tablets with screens that are at least 13.75" diagonal (I just measured a sheet of 11x17 paper and that’s the size) or larger (like printed music which is printed on 9.5x12 paper or 10x13 paper). Tab-lets are excellent for individual use, but it’s more difficult getting 2 or more people reading from the same stand.

All technology has failure points: an unexpected cloudburst during an outdoor concert ruins paper; pages get blown off the stand; paper needs to be clipped so it doesn’t blow off the stand, which means page turns can’t be done in a 4-beat rest.

If there 4 laptops were necessary to make the click track work, that was an epic failure of the technology crew and the technology itself should not be blamed for it. One decently-tested, fully-charged laptop should have been enough for a successful performance. And a second tested and fully-charged laptop should have sufficed to restart the concert in the case the first one failed. That three failed before the fourth one worked was an indication of an ill-prepared crew, not an indict-ment of computer technology.

However, there are people who should never own one or use one because they are inept with technology and have no interest in learning about it. In my community band, there are easily 15 out of 60 who would fail if we moved to tablet-based music. Two band members do use iPads and they’re fine with them. Those for whom iPads work well will use them without encouragement from me. For all the rest, there’s paper.


My name is RM and I conduct two community bands, GCB and The Broad St. Concert Band.


As to your question about the use of tablets. Let me first say that our band(s) have totally digitized it's libraries. We never lose music anymore because of the PDF files we have electronically stored. In each band there are about 10 players who use tablets to read their music. I too use two Ipads for all my scores. The Fourscore app on the iOs platform combined with Cue permit two page view on two tablets simultaneously. With a blue tooth foot pedal I don't have to even touch the screen to advance the pages.


We are in the process of determining a way to push parts to players who use tablets. My goal would be to see an all tablet band. I know there are a lot of things to consider in getting there, but the technology has been ready. (legalities and cost are two main concerns)




Here is some feedback we have gotten from users of these displays.


I have now done two full rehearsals with my IPad and Firefly foot pedal, and I LOVE it. I am using Dropbox to transfer files onto the IPad and ForScore to access them on the IPad. Once again I want to thank David B, David M, and a host of others who provided a wealth of information. A special thanks also to Don C who turned me onto the half page function in ForScore. Took a few moments to get used to using it, but now it is great.

I have had a number of people (some younger than this 74 year old) ask me how I can read the music since it is so small. Well, it is only very slightly smaller than an 8 ½ by 11 piece of music, and is much brighter, so I actually find it easier to read than the sheet music. I'm not in a swing band any more, but if I was, this would totally eliminate the need for the (usually marginal) stand light.

Although my IPad and the foot pedal are Bluetooth, I found that using it wired rather than Bluetooth was more reliable, and not at all inconvenient. We did a concert order rehearsal last night. Since I had moved all of my music into concert order in a set list, the only time I had to touch the IPad for 90 minutes was when I made a note on the music with my finger using the 'annotate' function.

I am a believer!

Bill Perry
Communities in Concert Band, Rockdale Texas
Brazos Valley Community Band, College Station Texas



The following writeup was posted in 2016

Posting by David in Mississippi, January 2016

Electronic Music Displays (2016)

For the entire history of the Big Band Charts Group, there has been discussion about how best to handle paper music.


We have had discussions on how best to print PDFs, how to tote the folders to and from rehearsals and gigs, how to tape paper parts, how to clean up paper parts, what are the best kinds of folders to buy and use, what kind of stand lights to use, how best to run electric cords to all the music stands, and many other discussions of this nature.


There is one solution that will take care of ALL of these discussions, with just one not quite so simple solution. Electronic Music Stands, or more accurately, storing and displaying the music for each player in a tablet computer that can sit on a music stand.


For people who have TONS of music to tote and track and repair and replace, this would be an ideal solution. With each tablet computer weighing between 2 and 3 pounds, carrying all the music for all the instruments would weigh less than 60 pounds, and could be easily packed into a single case. Better yet, have each musician be responsible for his or her own.


On this page is a discussion of the pros and cons of doing this, current as of early 2016.


There are many good reasons to use tablet computers instead of music folders. Among these reasons are


SOFTWARE. There is currently excellent software available for Apple, Microsoft, and Android operating systems. This software allows you to load thousands of PDF files into the computer and find any of them almost instantly. The software allows you to organize your uploaded files into play lists or set lists so that when playing through the list, each tune comes up in the proper order after the previous one. Additionally, this software allows the musicians to make their own annotations, such as highlighting repeats or “writing” on the music, even in color so it stands out, such as “Mike’s solo!” or circling a key change or adding a unique dynamic marking. Also, each good software package I have seen gives you the capability to display a full page per screen, two pages per screen (side by side), or half a page per screen, with a “page turn” moving from the top to the bottom half of the page, if you need that.


MEMORY CAPACITY. Even if you have a fairly small and non-expandable 32GB iPad, you can literally fit thousands of songs onto the machine. Most Android and Windows tablets have the capability to add an SD memory card for yet more storage.


NO MORE LOST MUSIC. It will be absolutely impossible for anyone to lose a part. Of course, they could lose the entire machine, but if you have your filing system set up properly, it is only a few minutes work to set up a new tablet with their entire folder.


NO MORE LIGHTING PROBLEMS. All tablet computers are lit from the inside. You don’t ever have to worry about buying, carrying, installing, hauling, or replacing bulbs and/or batteries in or running electric cables for stand lights again.


ADEQUATE BATTERY LIFE. A fully charged tablet computer will easily last through even a four or five hour gig. If you need more than that, there are always external battery/charger packs.


EASIER TO SEE! I say this from the standpoint of someone who used to have USAF Pilot’s eyes and is now closing in on 70 years old, and has trouble sometimes reading even well-lit paper music. I can attest that reading music on a computer display is easier than reading it on paper.


EXPANDABLE DISPLAY. If you need a closer look at something (usually during a rehearsal), you can zoom in the display with an “un-pinch.” (Put two fingers on the screen and move them apart.)


There are still a few good reasons NOT to do this. Some of them include

COST. While you can get some Android tablets for $200 or less, you will be condemned to use smaller screens.


If you have a band full of people less than 50 years old, all with good eyes, this is probably okay. However, I would strongly advise anyone to go with screens of 13” diagonal or larger if they can find them. There used to be a number of Android 13.3” tablets for $300 to $400, but they are hard to find these days. I am currently trying to decide between getting an iPad Pro (starts at about $800) and a Windows Surface Pro 4 (starts at about $900), both of which are just under 13” diagonal and will display an 8.5 x 11” PDF at only slightly smaller than full size. The iPad will not accept external memory; the Windows machine will. If you are looking to outfit your entire band with these tablets, you could be looking at a hit close to $20,000.

If you can find a 13.3” Android tablet for about $200, you could outfit your whole (big) band for less than $4,000. !!! CAUTION !!! If you are looking at 13.3” tablets, be certain the screen aspect ratio is 4:3 (close to square) and not 16:9 (oblong, like a wide-screen TV). Think of the difference between letter-sized paper and legal paper. Stay away from the legal paper-shaped screens. If you get the wrong aspect ratio, then PDF files will display as small as if they were on a smaller tablet, because they will only be as wide as the short side of the screen. These 4:3 ratio Android tablets are just about impossible to find.

Next, there is the cost of the foot pedals. These will run between $90 and $120 each, so you can add another $1,500 to $2,000 to the total cost.

Finally, there is the cost of the reading software itself. Even the most expensive software package is “only” $50, but if you multiply that for everyone in a big band, you’re looking at close to $1,000. Some other very good packages, such as UnReal Book for Apple IOS, are as low as $10, so your cost could be less than $200.


The bottom line on COST is that setting up each player could cost as little as $350 or it could be more than $1300.


Multiply this times the number of players in your band for the total cost to outfit the entire group with tablet computer displays.


SETTING UP THE BOOK. It will take a LOT of work initially to make sure you have all your music scanned, to separate all the parts by instrument, to load the required tunes onto the device and into the software, and to set up your play lists. However, once you have it all set up, it should be relatively little work to maintain it.

THE LEARNING CURVE. It will take quite a bit of learning, both for you to learn how to set it all up, and for each musician to learn how to use it, to build play lists, connect the foot pedal, etc. And face it – some of your musicians just aren’t computer people. It would be harder to get them to use a computer than it would be to pull a duck through a knothole backwards.


As of today, it would seem cost-prohibitive for most big bands to make the move to electronic music displays/ tablet computers.


However, it could still be done. One way would be for each musician to get his or her own. Another way would be to make sure you have your 501(c)(3) designation then apply for a grant to buy them. Another thought would be to mount a fund-raising drive and seek sponsors for the project.

Even so, I feel it is inevitable that all bands will eventually move in the direction of having electronic music displays instead of paper music. It just makes too much sense to do so, when you can afford it.


Please click on any of the links at the top of the page for more information on any of the listed topics.