StaffPad update adds several features and hints about the future of the app


Earlier this week, on July 24, StaffPad was updated, adding several modest features along with bug fixes. The update, officially v, adds support for cautionary accidentals, more printing options and a bar number staff. It also adds forward-looking support for the forthcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which Microsoft expects to launch in October 2017.

In announcing the update at the StaffPad blog, lead designer and co-founder David William Hearn said:

It’s been a while since a major update to StaffPad has happened, but that’s not for lack of activity from us on the development side! In fact, StaffPad remains under the heaviest development phase of its post-release lifetime. Despite working around the clock, we’re still not quite ready to share with you what we’ve been up to just yet. What I can share, however, is that we’re working on completing the original full vision of what StaffPad should be. The mission with StaffPad was to design a system that would use the latest technology to make it easier to create music. I’ve always wanted to cover the whole journey, from supporting the composer during the writing phase through to the performance by the musicians. Thus far, we’ve tackled the composition part of that journey, and now our sights are set on the final destination.

Although David doesn’t reveal the details, a clue can be found in this Microsoft ad from a month ago, a 3 minute video called “Ode to the Commute” where he is shown collaborating with spoken word artist Suli Breaks, performing from Surface devices running StaffPad.

As far as the update itself is concerned, support for automatic cautionary accidentals is new to the latest version of StaffPad. Previously, the app would remove any non-essential accidentals during the printing phase. Now, reminder/cautionary accidentals will be kept in and automatically enclosed in parentheses.

The parentheses will only show up if you manually add a cautionary accidental, or import a score via MusicXML or MIDI.

Another new feature is the addition of the bar number staff, found during score setup or anytime you add or delete instruments, in a new Score Tools category.

Simply select the Bar Number “instrument” and add it to your score, in as many places as you like.

We spilled a great deal of digital ink recently explaining how to do this in Finale and Sibelius. StaffPad now  does it with a couple of taps. If only it were this easy in the desktop programs!

Speaking of bar numbers, the latest update adds the options during printing of numbering the score or parts with every bar, every 2 bars, or every 5 bars, in addition to the previously existing option of every system.

More print scaling options are added, too: 90% and 110% in addition to other levels every 25%, should slight reductions up or down from the default be needed.

When StaffPad was first released — barely two years ago — production and performance considerations seemed like an afterthought; the more obvious workflow was sketching your creations for later polishing on the desktop programs. As StaffPad adds more production-type features and presumably aims to be a one-stop shop for at least some types of projects, it will be interesting to see how new features and settings make their way into the app.

For instance, it’s certainly nice to have an automatic cautionary accidentals, but you could easily ask ten engravers or copyists for their preferred settings and get ten different answers (Sibelius has eight checkboxes devoted to the feature, with dozens of permutations). For now, StaffPad offers no such control — although David did say that they would be “improving the smarts of this system in future updates.”

StaffPad’s certainly got a lot of smarts already, so we can reasonably expect such a promise to be easily kept. In the meantime, the latest update is a welcome indication of progress afoot on this pioneering music creation tool.


  1. Peter Hamlin

    I envision for myself perhaps 3-4 tiers of notation software. StaffPad is fantastic for sketching, and for shorter/smaller things including classroom examples. I love StaffPad, but I can’t imagine using it for a final score beyond the most simple example, and I’m not sure I’d like it better if it was larded with all those features. I like the idea of StaffPad continuing to push toward things that are distinctive and different, and to maintain its refreshing simplicity and uncluttered interrface, rather than replicate the flexibility and density that already exists in programs like Sibelius.

    I’ve used NoteFlight — it’s great for sharing, and it’s nice to have the work based online and independent of application software. But that program also has its limits for me. (I wish I could use StaffPad in my classes, but most of my students have Macs. Noteflight is great for cross-platform situations, online use, and score sharing.)

    Sibelius works for me much of the time and I usually get the result I want. Dorico is interesting — and I think it’d be especially useful next time I have a large ensemble piece — but I’m not persuaded yet to use it for the typical pieces I do (choral pieces, chamber pieces, etc.) I find, first, more overhead (setup) than I need, and I’m also not familiar enough with it to be sure if there is a feature missing or if I just haven’t learned enough about it yet. A complex large ensemble piece might be what I need to fully explore Dorico, but I haven’t been close to jumping the Sibelius ship yet.

    Very thoughtful comments, Philip.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Peter, much appreciated. I hope to do a further exploration of the changes and needs of the music notation field and its consumers sometime in the future.

  2. Martin Taylor

    If David William Hearn really wants to support the majority of composers he should port this to iOS for use with the iPad Pro. The initial argument that StaffPad can’t be brought to iPad because it requires a high end stylus is no longer valid in any way. Time to open this up to as many users as possible in my opinion.

    1. Gabriel

      My suspicion is that StaffPad is being subsidized by Microsoft these days to help promote their recent push toward Windows tablet support and creative professionals. I think it was also just bad timing. If Apple had launched their iPad Pro/Pencil a little earlier, this would all have probably turned out quite differently since the vast majority of touch tablet audio development and users are on iOS. Hopefully the increased competition will push all of the scoring devs to raise the bar as we slowly transition away from the classical desktop.

      1. Martin tyalor

        I certainly share this suspicion. I wish the developers would be up front about it though.

  3. Tom Fort

    Agree; it looks interesting and I’d love to check it out when it’s available for iOS. Until then, Komp is getting better and better…

  4. chuck hughes

    Any thoughts about Staff pad for iPad.

  5. Maureen Chowning

    I’d like to see Staffpad to move to the Mac systems. also look forward to Dorico’s progress, though I’m not a programer, rather a program user.

  6. Peter Hamlin

    StaffPad is focused on the unique strengths of the Surfaces . My Surface Pro 3 combines tablet size/portability with full-strength computing power, and so along with StaffPad I can run the other “desktop” software I use pretty much daily (Sibelius, Ableton, Bitwig, Max, etc.) I also own an iPad, but it just isn’t the same as having a full-powered desktop OS.

    I keep wondering if the regular iPad will offer pen support at some point. The cheapest iPad lists for about $300. A minimally equipped iPad Pro (small screen version — maybe too small to be useful with music scoring? — with keyboard and pen) starts to approach $1000, which is a deal-breaker for me. A regular iPad with pen support, selling for, say, $500 with pen, would change that market a lot.

    But my impression is that StaffPad isn’t interested in expanding to other platforms and is more focused on creating software that is perfectly tailored for Surfaces — and us Surface owners greatly appreciate that.

  7. Jacob Smith

    I totally agree those comments Staffpad is for sketching ideas perhaps future updates will do more but I use Sibelius for my musical heavy lifting. I’m on the FB staffpad user group and all the major issues people have aren’t issues in Sibelius and Finale. For what staffpad offers $79 is a great price. But if you want premium results you’re gonna pay a premium price.

  8. counterpoint

    I see many comments regarding hope that the Staff Pad team will a design Mac-friendly version. From what I understand, it’s far more difficult to code for the Mac operating system. Other developers of music-related software have made the same statement. I feel if a person has enough desire for particular software with no sign of the developers to expand across both platforms, then you should do what you have to in order to use it. I converted from PC. I purchased a Mac Pro (the tower) in order to use Final Cut Suite. I know. It sounds silly, but I didn’t like the only worthy alternative at the time (Avid). Of course, then, updates for Mac prove it’s very difficult to maintain operation of FCP7 and related programs. I mention this because programmers have said it and consumers certainly say it – it’s very difficult to keep up with the changes in Apple and much less worth it when the changes are less than optimal. If you really want Staff Pad, the solution is get a Surface Pro. Don’t allow the limits of an operating system determine to what software you have access.

    On a second note, I’m excited that Staff Pad implies its goal is to be a one-stop shop. How wonderful it will be to notate by hand a full score without ever requiring an XML export for further work within another notation program. Then, for those who desire a more simplistic version of Staff Pad, the developers have the option to maintain the availability of an express or lite version.

  9. Steve G

    I paid for Staffpad on August 7, 2016, and have never really gotten good enough at using it for it to be useful to me, and I have hoped for improvements that would address my problems- handwriting recognition mainly.

    28 months have gone by with few major updates, in spite of promises.

    To make matters worse, the devs are essentially non-communicative, the blog was last updated in August 2018- and is just as coy as the previous, infrequent blog entries. I mean:

    “Thanks so much for your patience during this big development push. I realise that it may seem that we’re not continuing development on the app, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not a believer in spoiling surprises or revealing what we’re up to before it’s ready to show and be enjoyed by all. However, rest assured that we’re still here, we’re working hard on the next update, and we think you’re going to love it.”

    The development push began, according to them in July 2017, and the above text is from August 2018.

    The coy tone of the entry doesn’t help me either: “I’m not a believer in spoiling surprises or..” “revealing what we’re up to before it’s ready to show and be enjoyed by all.”

    I consider that my $75 was wasted, and to add insult to injury, the app is now available at no cost to any MS account holder on a trial basis, presumably, and when I purchased it there was no trial available.

    1. Steve G

      Just wanted to note that I was mistaken about a trial being available- What happened was I tested it on a different user account on my machine, and Staffpad was actually using the license from the account I used for the purchase.

  10. Peter Hamlin

    I wanted to make a general comment from the point of view of Surface users. It’s very frustrating that the majority of Windows software is actually for Windows 7, oblivious to multi-touch and pen input. Those inputs work minimally ok by default, of course (you can use the pen or one finger like you use a touchpad/mouse) but the potential is so much greater.

    Bitwig is an example of a program that has done wonderfully well with the interface by going beyond the touchpad/mouse paradigm, using multi-finger navigation in ways that are imaginative, flexible, intuitive, and super-useful. 10 fingers are different than a touchpad, and Bitwig is one of the few developers willing to explore the potential.

    StaffPad is a rare example of a program that is optimized for Surfaces — not just the note-drawing, which is pretty wonderful, but the whole concept of the interface, how you get around and use the program. It’s fantastic to use, and it’s an excellent showcase for Windows 10 features that are so often ignored by other programs. And so I appreciate it a lot for that reason.

    I’ve noticed improvements in how well it decodes my writing. I’ve also gotten a lot better with practice. My error rate now is pretty much the same as when I write with a physical pencil on physical staff paper. (I realize I was never perfect even in the old physical media!) I love having the option of sitting in an easy chair with my Surface Book clipboard sketching away.

  11. johannes

    It’s a long time that there is no news about Staffpad.
    Anyone knows what’s happen?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Johannes. If/when there is news, we’ll cover it here!

    2. Steve G

      Back in March I had a lengthy, and ultimately friendly email exchange with David William Hearn of Staffpad.

      I would like to note a couple things since there’s some mistaken info in this thread. First off, I posted that a trial was available, but that’s not so- see my post above.

      David’s response was long, thoughtful and detailed. One of the things he said was that they are entirely self-funded, with no any capital from VCs or tech companies and that they have no deals with anyone.

      That’s it… thanks for reading.

  12. Martin Taylor

    Well, if they’re self funded and have no deals with anyone, the way is clear for them to finally release this thing for iPad. All of the “reasons” for not releasing it have now been addressed with all new iPads having pen input.

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