2014 holiday shopping guide, Sibelius blog style


Mobile apps

Although most of my time is spent in front of a desktop computer (see Hardware, below, for some specs), tablet and mobile apps play useful roles in my workflow, too.

goodreaderLet’s start with one that isn’t even a music app: GoodReader, for iPad and iPhone. I’ve had this app for years, and it just keeps getting better. (Note that this is not a sheet music manager like DeepDish GigBook, iGigBook or OnSong, which I don’t use.) You can read, organize, and manage files with it, and its PDF annotation feature is practical and useful. If I’m unable to carry my laptop to a rehearsal or session, I’ll just drop PDFs of the scores and parts onto GoodReader, or sync it with Dropbox so that I have files handy in a pinch. (It also makes a convincing mockup of a notation app, as readers might recall.) The free Adobe Reader is another alternative, but GoodReader is worth the money for its power and features.
Price: $5.

notion-ipad_iconPresonus has staked out a leading position in the tablet notation space with Notion for iPad, and it received a boost when it was featured in Apple’s TV ad with conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. Whether or not Salonen used the app to compose a full-fledged violin concerto, or (much more likely) used it as an on-the-go sketchpad before transferring it to Sibelius, it’s remarkable what is packed into this app. Of course it’s compatible with the desktop version of Notion, but it can import and export MusicXML and MIDI, so you can still use your favorite desktop app and incorporate Notion for iPad into your routine. If you think of its features relative to its price, and compare it to a full-fledged desktop app with the same price-to-feature ratio, you won’t be disappointed.
Price: $15; in-app sound sample upgrades are generally $1 each.

notatemeThe only viable music handwriting app available at the moment is NotateMe. If you are truly on the go all the time but need to compose notated music on your mobile devices, it’s a worthy addition to your toolbox. It also has seen use in educational contexts, and earlier this year added the ability to recognize photos of scores taken with your device’s camera, available as an in-app upgrade. Personally, I use the app occasionally for jotting down quick ideas but find myself itching to get back to my computer workstation. Still, I’m glad to have it handy. It’s available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices and imports and exports MusicXML so you can use your spontaneous creations in other programs.
Price: $40; PhotoScore in-app upgrade is $30; a free version, limited to a single-staff, is available for iOS and Android.

avidscorchAvid Scorch is the only way to view and play native Sibelius files on your iPad. For the price, it’s a no-brainer if you use Sibelius regularly, but keep in mind that this is a music consumption app, not a music creation app. You can do some things like adjust the tempo, transpose, balance track volume, and even change instruments, but don’t expect to use this app to compose new material. The “music stand” mode is helpful to eke out every last bit of display real estate, and while I haven’t used the feature, you can purchase and download other music in-app.
Price: $2; in-app purchases are extra.

songbookSimilarly, if you want to play back Finale files on your iPad, you’ll need Finale SongBook. Unfortunately, the app hasn’t been updated since August of 2012, it doesn’t support Retina displays, and it doesn’t open the newer .musx files created by Finale 2014. It has fewer features than Avid Scorch, although you can access individual parts, control playback tempo, and do a few other things like make set lists. For a free app, it’s fine, and it’s good to have a way to access Finale files on an iPad. My main use for this app, and for Avid Scorch, is to quickly peruse a file someone has sent me when I’m traveling and don’t have access to either my desktop or laptop Mac.
Price: Free.

logic-remoteLogic Remote is a free iPad companion app from Apple that can work with Logic Pro X, MainStage 3 and GarageBand on the Mac. Logic Remote won’t be useful if you don’t work with those Mac programs, but if you do, and you have an iPad, be sure to download it. I don’t use it much when I’m in front of my two 30-inch monitors (see below), but when crammed for space on a laptop screen, it’s useful to offload the mixer and other controls onto the iPad. Nothing will ever replace the feel of an actual mixing console, but controlling levels with a finger instead of a mouse is at least a step in that direction.
Price: Free.


  1. Andrei

    On this Thanksgiving Day in the US, I’d like to express my gratitude to you, Philip, for your insights, shared experience, advocacy, and for continuing this very useful blog so well. I’m sure I speak for many in our Sibelius and music notation community… Best wishes for the holidays and forward, Philip!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Andrei, same to you!

  2. Justin

    What a great list. I feel fortunate to already have three of these volumes in my library!

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