Touch Notation by Kawai: A promising music handwriting app for iOS


More musical symbols, barlines, clefs, time and key signatures, text

In addition to the basic musical symbols described so far, Touch Notation can also recognize fermatas, pedal marks, and arpeggios, and plays them back accurately too. Keep in mind that each of these must be drawn using the compulsory gestures.


Trills and octave lines are also supported. Once drawn and recognized in the score, they can be selected and then expanded or retracted in the same manner that slurs and hairpins are.

Although barlines are pre-drawn, you can add additional ones in anytime by simply drawing them in. Double barlines, final barlines, repeats, and first and second endings are supported. If you need to delete a barline, simply tap and hold it and tap Delete, or, if you’re looking for more fun, just channel your inner Beethoven again and scratch it out.


You can add special repeat marks to your score such as “D.C.”, “D.S.” “Fine”, segno, and coda symbols. Touch Notation will interpret these upon playback.

It is interesting to see how different handwriting notation apps deal with the fundamental musical elements of clefs, time signatures and key signatures. Both NotateMe and StaffPad favor pre-selected methods in favor of handwritten options (although you can draw in your key signature in NotateMe).

Touch Notation relies entirely on gestures to enter these items. Clefs are drawn in, and can be changed at the beginning of the score or anywhere in. Curiously (and perhaps in deference to the way one would write naturally), if you change a clef, say, from treble to bass the app won’t change the position of any of the notes already in the music. However, they will be recognized properly as different notes and played back as such. If you’re used to existing desktop software, this is a significant difference, but if you’ve only ever used pen and paper, it will seem entirely natural.

A clever approach is given to key signatures. Draw in one sharp for a key signature of G major — straightforward enough. But if you want a key signature of  F-sharp major, there’s no need to draw in all six sharps. Simply draw the first sharp, then draw the numeral “6” underneath it:


Key signatures with flats work similarly. To enter the key signature of C major, draw the numeral “0”. To delete it entirely, select and delete it in the usual way, or scratch it out.

Time signature changes can be entered by drawing the numeral for the numerator first, if no time signature already exists. Touch Notation will make a reasonable guess as to what the denominator should be: a numerator of “3” or “4” will return a time signature of 3/4 or 4/4, respectively; a numerator of “6” or “12” will return a time signature of 6/8 or 12/8. Once a time signature exists, you can overwrite either the numerator or denominator, so most esoteric combinations are possible. Common time and cut time are also supported with straightforward gestures.


A nice touch: you can select a key signature or time signature and easily drag it to another bar in the score. A not-so-nice touch: although a time signature applied in one staff will apply to all other staves, the same is not true for key signature changes. While advanced composers may welcome the ability to apply independent key signatures per staff, most users will find it cumbersome to add a key signature change to every staff in the score.

Dynamics are also drawn with gestures. These were hit-or-miss, in my experience: sometimes I was able to draw several in a row without error; other times it seemed near-impossible. Unsurprisingly, the more careful I was with my gestures, the more accurate the recognition was. Dynamics can be selected, dragged and repositioned.

Metronome markings are simply written in as numerals above the staff, without any preceding note value. Touch Notation will automatically choose the note value in the denominator of the time signature.


Tempo text is approached in an interesting fashion, by drawing a lowercase “e” for expression, and then typing the desired text. If desired, the font style and size of the text can be adjusted further. However, text entered in this fashion seemed to be applicable only to the entire score; I could not find a way to enter in staff-specific technique text like “pizz.”, for example.



  1. Gregory Winters

    What I find interesting about these ‘handwriting’ notation apps is that they are coded from the basis of the interface – they have to be. What this means is that the excuses we’ve been fed from the developers and pundits of the standard notation software as to the inconsistencies of the performance of their interfaces we’ve used is pure blarney. With the handwriting app approach, the logic begins with the user’s intent as communicated to the program in terms of the type and placement of a musical element. Next, the program translates that element into its digital counterpart. Lastly, the program ‘examines’ the element in terms of all of the rest of the elements already present on the screen.

    With the non-intuitive traditional notation software, however, everything is precisely backward. Although the user enters a musical element to start the process chain, instead of faithfully interpreting the entry, the programs instead force-fit the entry into a set of complex, pre-defined parameters all inter-relating with one another. The final rendering of the ‘digital counterpart,’ so to speak, is what the *program* wants it to be, not the user. Thus, the user is forced to do things the program’s way, and all one has to do is Google the major notation software players to observe the massive amount of dialog related to confusion and problems with using these programs.

    I’m rooting for the handwriting apps. I already own StaffPad and if it can get past the nuances of the stylus, then I plan on using it as my composition tool, then export to Sibelius for format and cleanup.

    The enthusiasm already generated for this technology speaks for itself.

    1. Jared

      I see this same problem happening in a lot of industries. Consider education now where we teach kids only what’s on the Common Core tests to appease the scan-tron reading robots. Same with a lot of online businesses that worry about courting favor with an algorithm instead of concerning themselves with their user’s experience. It’s an interesting philosophical problem where the key desired outcome is shifted out of the hands of who matter and into inflexible robot rules, whether that’s because of some reward, or as Gregory is talking about here, the parameters and constrictions of the system. Kawai didn’t fall for the trap, because who buys your software in the end? Not robots.

      1. Gregory Winters


        All well and good, but it takes time and strong will on the part of software manufacturers to not give in to the cacophonous clamor for features. You can see that even in this small blog there’s already the assumption that the application should perform advanced tasks right out of the gate, and this is the kind of thing that ends up driving architecture into the weeds.

        Yes, we’d all like to see these esoteric elements included in the application eventually, but I believe that it’s important to make sure that the basics are covered first: pitch, duration, articulation, meter & key, etc. I had to quit using an application that could work with retrograde staves, but couldn’t understand staccato.

    2. Alex

      Maybe it’s correct if person doesn’t have any idea and knowledge how to use traditional notation apps.

      Personally for me traditional Sibelius is still much more preferable. There is one important thing here: I hear a lot of feedbacks from users of various handwriting apps (including StaffPad or Toucn Notation etc.), that you have to be precise. Even with stylus. Otherwise you will get wrong notes etc. And I’ve read a lot of complaints about such applications (including StaffPad, Toucn Notation and so on), that users use many attempts to get right results. And here I see two drawbacks: 1) It is not fast, and it is irritating. Thus work is not effective. 2) Maybe even more important for me: Ergonomics. Working with stylus your eyes will strain much more, because you have to watch screen every moment, and you have to be precise with stylus. While working with traditional Sibelius or Finale, using keyboard, you don’t even need to watch monitor all the time, and you don’t need to be precise. And this fact gives more freedom and makes work more effective. So, I won’t change traditional notation software for any handwriting tools, which looks cool and effective only on promotional videos. I’ve also seen video from Philip Rothman, who was showing StaffPad. And I noticed how slower the process, than I can perform in traditional Sibelius.

  2. Fraser sims

    Im using a boxwave stylus (with a sort of soft rubber baloon tip) and it works quite nicely with this app, though only doing simple melody. I have downloaded the free version to try it and you get the full score ability with cut down save functionality, compared to notatemenow where you only get a single stave ( which is fine for simple melodies). Not sure which i prefer yet.

  3. Bob Zawalich

    I agree that there is much to be said for simplifying what needs to be input.

    It is fun to have so many sophisticated pen-input applications show up at about the same time. Maybe something to do with the alignment of the planets?

  4. Paolo

    Gesture writing seems fine, as far as it are intuitive (and in this case it is). It is also a form of shorthand, that can speed music entering. I would call “music handwriting 2.0”, or any number you like.


  5. Paolo

    Comment: The app is very nice and promising. They did a great work, and the first version is already impressive.

    There are a few things that I would really see implemented soon:

    – Linear/panorama/Stravinskian note entering (not in page, since page layout will be then refined in Sibelius/Finale or the like, and entering notes in a linear fashion is much more comfortable).

    – Appoggiatura/acciaccatura, single and beamed (very important in many styles of music, in particular avant-garde music).

    – Annotations/handwritten marks attached to the notes, and not to the position in page.

    I would hardly need anything else. I wrote Kawai these suggestions but they do not allow more than 140 characters in a comment, so I doube I could explain my view.


  6. Miquel

    Hi Philip,

    I don’t know if this is the right place for such a question, but you seem to know the app well.

    I cannot find the option to create a score template anywhere in the app. Where is it?

    Thank you very much in advance,


    1. Wayne

      Just started to look at this app now, am very impressed. I believe to save as a template you just export it as template instead of pdf etc.

  7. Alex

    So, how the situation now? This article was written when iPad Pro 12.9″ with Apple Pencil even haven’t been announced. iPad Pro 12.9″ is a big game-changer. What news? I don’t see this app develops intensively. I still don’t see any iOS app comparable to StaffPad. What’s wrong with this?

  8. Daniel

    I have used Touch Notation for some weeks.
    But I could not figure out how to add or delete an entire measure (not thr notes in the measure but the measure itself). The user manual just says “use the add measure or delete measure function”.
    But where are these functions to be found ?
    Thanks for any help.

  9. Irini

    I need help because I can’t add lyrics …
    Could you please help me with this?
    Thank you in advance

  10. R. Li

    i fear to upgrade my ipad ios version, could touchNotation run on the latest ipad ios version?

  11. Jonathan

    128th note

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