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

News

Playback

Once you add a new part to the score, or if you want to change an existing one, you can change its sound by swiping a control bar to the right to reveal the part’s playback properties. (If the control bars aren’t visible, you can show them by selecting the Control Bar icon in the yellow circle control.)

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From here you can choose instruments from various categories. Available instruments are colored black; red-colored instruments are available via an in-app purchase. Panning and volume controls are available.

You’ll need to get out your orchestration textbook, though, as Touch Notation doesn’t intelligently link instrument sounds with part names, transpositions and properties, so you’ll have to then add those items as noted earlier. This could be a good thing if you need flexibility, but it could also be a time-waster for many users who are accustomed to easily adding pre-fab instruments as in other programs.

At the top of the part control bars is a master control bar which can modify the playback tempo; loop playback, change the reverb, and apply a metronome click to playback.

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Playing back the score is as straightforward as tapping the play icon in the yellow circle control. Playback will commence from wherever the yellow playback indicator is on the score, and continue to the end of the music.

There is another inventive way to initiate playback: via a gesture. You can draw a triangle in a blank area of the score, and the app will only play the bar in which you drew the triangle (unless the whole score is visible; in this case playback will continue). This can be a useful way to quickly proof a bar.

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Playback was surprisingly decent. Tempos were respected if entered correctly; the sounds were fairly well-balanced, and could be further adjusted via the control bars; articulations and ornaments were generally respected. I didn’t try any of the sounds available for in-app purchase.

Should you wish, you can adjust the reference pitch of A=440, which is set in the app’s settings.

Saving, exporting, sharing, and printing

Touch Notation scores are saved in the app’s native eScore format, and available in the app’s score library. As noted earlier, you can save a score as a template, so that it’s available for future use as a new score.

It’s important to note that if you delete the app from your device, the files will be deleted as well. Some sort of automatic backup would be nice, but for now you’re limited to sharing via the usual iOS ways:

  • E-mail;
  • AirDrop;
  • Another app (including cloud-based storage services like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive).

Thankfully, you can also export your score in more standard formats like MusicXML, PDF, and standard MIDI, and share them in the same ways as you can a native file. You can also print your score directly to a printer that supports AirPrint.

Only the score is available to print. As of now, Touch Notation does not automatically print individual parts (although, curiously, multirests are supported).

Scores are auto-saved every five seconds by default, so you’re unlikely to lose any work if the program crashes or your device’s battery dies. This can be changed in the app’s settings.

In-app upgrades

Touch Notation offers a number of additional features available via in-app purchase for modest fees. Notable among them is the ability to add chord symbols and automatic accompaniment for $5.

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The feature includes 101 styles of automatic accompaniment, such as swing, funk, ballad, rock, waltz, and jazz.

A handwritten font style is available for $3.

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The sound sets mentioned earlier are available for $1 per family, or $5 for all the sounds. 16 sounds are included in each family.

Finally, you can enable Core MIDI output for $3, which allows you to play back your score using any MIDI synthesizer connected to your iPad via a Lightning-to-USB connector (or a Camera Connection Kit for earlier iPads).

I didn’t try any of the features available via in-app purchase, but perhaps I will and review them in a future post (this one’s long enough!).

Final details, thoughts, price and availability

Touch Notation is a very well-thought out music notation app, and it’s available now from Apple’s App Store for both iPad and iPhone. The introductory price of $8 is good until April 30, after which time the app will cost $12.

According to Kawai, Touch Notation will run on iOS 7 and later. Minimum hardware requirements are the iPhone 4 or later; iPad 2 or later, and iPod Touch 5th generation or later, although the best performance of the app will naturally be gained on the newest devices.

Kawai has taken a great deal of care to work with, and around, the existing limitations of the Apple iOS and hardware, which aren’t as conducive to writing music by hand as a native pen-and-touch system like the Surface. If Touch Notation has an Achilles’ heel for now, it’s those OS and device limitations, but that could quickly change if Apple delivers an iPad Pro with a larger screen and pen technology, as has been rumored.

If that happens, Kawai will be very well-positioned with this promising entry into the rapidly changing and exciting world of music notation technology. It’s too early to tell whether its gesture-based approach will be preferable to the other solutions in the market right now. For $8, though, you can hardly go wrong trying it out to see for yourself.

Comments

  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

        Jared:

        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.

    Paolo

  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.

    Paolo

  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,

    Miquel

    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

    Hi
    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

    Hi
    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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