Hands-On Review:MusicPad Pro Plus
Sheet music for the digital age
By Christine Martin
Freehand Systems is revolutionizing the way musicians look at sheet music with MusicPad Pro Plus—a portable tablet that stores all your sheet music and more. A touchscreen about the size of a piece of paper lets you make marks and notations right on the page of music. It comes with software to organize your digital music portfolio and to transfer scores between your computer and the tablet. To me, it sounded like a dream come true, so I was thrilled when Musician’s Friend shipped me the latest-and-greatest MusicPad Pro Plus Version 4.0.9 with increased USB memory to review.
Inside the box I found the touchscreen pad with a stylus, power pack, 128MB external USB memory module (upgraded from the previous model’s 64MB), USB cable, software installation CD, and the optional footpedal. There are two USB ports on the MusicPad tablet: one to transfer music from your PC or Mac, and one to attach external devices like the USB memory module or a USB wireless device. There’s a video out, a jack to connect the footpedal, and an audio out. MusicPad Pro Version 4.0.9 also comes equipped with premium tools that you can unlock with an optional $49.95 product key from freehandsystems.com. These tools include wireless networking, a metronome, pitch pipe, and an audio player for MP3s, plus additional pen colors and annotation tools.
After installing MusicPad Manager software on my computer, I downloaded some music (including guitar tab) from freehandmusic.com’s selection of over 100,000 scores, scanned in my sheet music library, and imported music files from Sibelius and Finale directly into MusicPad Pro. Then I transferred my music library onto the MusicPad via USB and all my music was ready to go anywhere!
As a guitar teacher and gigging musician, my musical life is always busy and in the past it has been a huge headache to organize and manage all the scores I needed. I took the MusicPad along on a busy Friday with a class in the morning and a gig at night and I was amazed at how much the MusicPad helped me get organized. I can use it for guitar tab or even just lyrics and other performance notes.
Getting ready on Thursday, I created playlists of all the different scores I needed at each event, so I could bring them up in order when I needed them. It was easy to find the scores I was looking for using the familiar computer-like controls, the touchscreen, and the browse capabilities, which let me set the search criteria for file, title, composer, instrument, date, or size, and add/delete more levels as needed. I could also sort search results by simply tapping the top of the column, plus I could save the search to pull it up again later with the QuickFind tab. Once I found the score I wanted, it was easy to add it to a playlist with the tap of an arrow or just by dragging-and-dropping it.
Next, I tried out MusicPad Pro’s annotation capabilities and was really impressed. There are plenty of tools to annotate a score any way you want—you can add handwritten or typed notes; highlight sections; and add notes, rests, and more, all in different colors. You can even zoom in on the score for precise annotations. There are a variety of eraser tools—so you can erase your annotations, marks that were picked up when you scanned the score, everything but the staff lines, or everything including the staff lines. You can even hide annotations and turn them back on easily.
I also marked specific musical passages by adding rehearsal marks and Teleport Pads at convenient intervals throughout the pages. Teleport Pads let me jump to a specific location in the score by simply tapping on them, making it easy to navigate quickly during practice sessions and performances.
Scores to go
During my guitar class on Friday, I used the video out with a portable projector to project the scores so my students could follow along and see the annotations I had made. The versatile page-turning abilities of the MusicPad were great and I definitely didn’t miss fumbling through my papers. I can see a MusicPad Pro coming in really handy in the studio where you don’t want to hear papers shuffling or get CRT interference from a teleprompter. There are six ways to turn the page with the MusicPad: touch the right half of the screen to turn forward and the left to turn back; or use the toolbar, page navigation bar, rehearsal marks navigation bar, Teleport Pads, or the optional footpedal. You can even record repeats and cuts, so the MusicPad knows where to go in the score when a repeat appears or to skip a section where there’s a cut.
Later that night at the gig, the lighting was really low and red, so I changed the MusicPad’s color and the brightness of the background to match. It was far more aesthetically pleasing than my usual music stand and light and much more legible. I also switched the view from portrait to landscape orientation. In portrait mode, I could set the score to display look-ahead pages, which show the bottom of the current page with the top of the next page. The landscape mode also offers look-ahead pages and let me view two pages side by side, which I prefer for performance.
I was thoroughly impressed by MusicPad Pro. I can spend a lot less time managing my music library and more time and energy doing what I love to do. The productivity gains are similar to that with a computer. Can you imagine living without a computer these days? Well, now that I’ve used the MusicPad, I can’t imagine life without it either. I will never again forget a piece of music or have a page blow in the wind. And I’ll never have to cart around piles of music or deal with turning pages by hand in mid-performance! MusicPad Pro Plus is the ultimate tool for any musician.
Features and Specs:
- 12.1" TFT LCD backlit, low-glare color touchscreen
- Resolution: 1024 x 768
- 64MB external USB flash drive
- 32MB internal flash memory
- Video/audio out
- AC power and rechargeable battery
- 2 USB ports (1 host, 1 device)
- Built-in jack for optional footpedal
- Size: 13-1/3" x 9-9/10" x 1-4/5" (just over 4 lbs.)
- One-year limited warranty