Apps for a non-techie music teacher and performer

I finally converted my wife from paper to digital. She is an accomplished voice and piano teacher and renowned soprano soloist - but she resists technology like the plague. I’d like to introduce her to apps that could enhance both her teaching and performing. She has students of all ages and she is a choral conductor as well. She performs mostly with orchestras, but occasionally does local gigs with local musicians. Are there teaching apps, music apps, etc. that I could get her to try on her new iPad and/or her new MacAir?

I use GarageBand and a midi keyboard setup with my daughter, who’s only 4. She’s progressing a lot and loves the range of instruments. It’s so easy to use it took less than an hour before she understood how to record her performances.

For more mature learners and professional work though, Logic Pro is the way to go.

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Korg has some pretty good apps for keyboards, synths and pianos. The Korg Gadget is the best DAW I have found for iPad, I found it quite intuitive once the basic premise was explained. I also like the Moog line of synths, even though I really have a hard time moving beyond the presets. Using the Lightning to USB connector, you can attach external MIDI USB keyboards as well. Too much fun, too little time…

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For sheet music definitely ForScore.

I have been using it for years with more than 1.000 pieces of music, some of them partitures of almost 100 pages that had been a pain to carry with me before getting rid of the paper music sheets. @MacSparky has recommended it in a recent MPU episode, too.

Basically, it is a PDF app that has been extremely optimized for musicians.

A nice metronome app is Taptronome.

Notion is a very nice music notation app.

There is so much more, but together with @airwhale’s mentions it should be a very good start.


I guess the question is what problem are you trying to solve with her (or for her). For private teaching, I’ve used Microsoft one note because it was easy to visualize the notebook structure and it’s pretty accessible for non techie people across all platforms. For reading music, forscore is good, but so may be other PDF apps that allow for side by side viewing. Nothing will compare to paper and pencil for marking up scores and what not (Apple Pencil comes close).

Music is pretty stuffy and traditional, especially the classical side, so if you get her into the management side of the teaching, it may be the gateway to the other possibilities.

So it’s expensive, but having access to professional scoring software is wonderful for a teacher. In 2018 I recommend Sibelius (Ultimate) or Dorico (Pro). I regularly pump out simple arrangements or transpose things for my younger students.

My goal is to eventually learn FileMaker for my students. I’m a new middle school band director, but it seems like there’s a lot of useful power.

TonalEnergy is the best tuner I’ve ever used. FrozenApe tempo is my metronome of choice, but if you’re on iPad more than iPhone, it doesn’t multitask well.

ForScore is great, particularly with the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, but there are lesser apps out there like Newzik.

Not as familiar with FileMaker, why not DEVONThink?

I posted about this in a workflow thread, but I have a really cool lesson notebook system for my music composition students (university students and some private students). I’ve helped a friend set up a similar system for his saxophone teaching studio.

Basically, each student has a Goodnotes notebook using a lesson “paper” on which I take notes, write suggestions, and list what they’re expected to prepare for the following lesson. I wrote about it here.

For reading music, forScore is the way to go. You can get a page-turning pedal, but I’ve known some pianists who find that to be a little bit too much stuff at their feet. It’s just a matter of preference. If she’s playing and teaching mostly classical music, she might also want to look into a new sheet music subscription library called nkoda, which I reviewed just last week. It’s like Spotify but with sheet music. They have deals with most of the major publishers.

For writing music, there are some attempts at scoring software for the iPad, but they’re not good enough for professional use (yet). I’ve used Sibelius (Ultimate) for nearly 20 years, and I’ve recently been working more in Dorico (Pro), and they’re both great. Notion is ok, but it’s not as powerful as those other options. The best thing about Notion is that it has a companion iOS app (and it’s relatively cheap). Still, I’d recommend ponying up for the big-kid applications (as @ehler mentions above).

Some other smaller apps:

  • Pro Metronome by EUM is a nice metronome that has a Dr. Beat-like UI.
  • I also really like Pulse for a beautiful-to-look-at UI. It has a really cool feature where it will synchronize a click across several iOS devices running pulse. So each person in a chamber ensemble can have a click track in headphones. This has solved some rough rehearsals for me in the past! (Also, it’s free!)
  • There are lots of tuners, but iStroboSoft is the best I’ve found. It’s actually made by Peterson, the same company who makes all the gigantic strobe tuners like the ones I had in school.
  • For recording, I really dig Ferrite. Even on iPhone, the simple recording UI is really nice, and it plays nicely with external microphones if you ever go that route.

My goal with FileMaker is to make detailed data entries for individual students for tracking school fees, select event participation, instrument rentals, and qualitative feedback on their progress that can’t be reduced to something for our grade book.

From what I know of DEVONThink, it’s not the same kind of tool. While DEVONThink could handle organizing existing documents or advanced note storage, it’s not a database program.

FileMaker is like Microsoft Access if you’re familiar with that, but with more of a focus on the entry experience as “being an app” itself.

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@davemacado do you have any iOS microphones you really like for working with your students?

Have you tried AirTable for that instead of FileMaker? It’s got a functional iOS and web app, so it might be better for what you’re trying to do. I have a friend that uses it for his private lessons studio.

Regarding iOS microphones, I’m usually just recording my voice, and for that I mostly use a cheap lav with the Lightning headphone adapter. This one has been pretty reliable for me. For recording music, I prefer a standalone thing that I can hand to someone else while I’m on stage, and that I’m comfortable leaving on a stand or in a seat unattended. I really like my trusty ol’ Zoom H4n for this. I’ve had it for probably six or seven years, and it’s never failed me.

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I owe it to myself to give AirTable a shot. I’ve heard good things, but from screenshots I’m not sure it’s got the features I’m looking for in FileMaker. It’s certainly less expensive though.

Thanks for the mic recs!

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Thanks for mentioning this, @davemacdo. I had not heard of this app. Question, if I download a score using nkoda, can I save it as a pdf and then import it into forScore? I know it says you can save for offline use, but it doesn’t say what format it is in and/or if it can be exported to other apps. Thanks!

No. It is super-encrypted to protect the publisher IP. However, you can mark up the score and do some other fun things. I reviewed it for

Thanks @davemacdo. That was my assumption, but I wasn’t certain. For me, the inability to import into forScore is a non-starter. I love the idea of it, and don’t mind paying extra for the convenience. But the reason I’m using forScore is so I can have all my music in one place.

Occasionally, my group performs a mass or other very large work and scanning each page can be cumbersome. I’ve been looking for a way to legally purchase/rent a digital version of the same piece/arrangement the rest of the group is using. (I’m the only one in my group that is not using paper). Alas, it seems we’re not there yet. Thanks for your review and introduction to nkoda!