StaffPad wows with long-awaited iPad release and new free StaffPad Reader

Reviews

Listen to the podcast episode

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman talk with David William Hearn, the founder and lead designer of StaffPad, the revolutionary music composition app for pen-and-touch devices like Windows Surface and iPad. Listen now:

Scoring Notes
David William Hearn and StaffPad
Loading
/

 

StaffPad, the music composition app that uses handwriting recognition as the means of music entry, has been released for iPad. Nearly five years since its initial release for Microsoft’s Windows Surface tablet — and only that OS — StaffPad is now available on both Windows and iPad for the first time.

All of the original features of StaffPad have been completely rebuilt for both platforms. In what its developers are describing as “the biggest update in StaffPad’s history,” this update brings with it an impressive set of new features and add-ons, including playback controls, sample libraries, automation curves, chord symbols, a tempo track, score versioning, and a lot of general improvements both small and large.

Accompanying this major StaffPad update is a new digital music stand app for performers, available separately for both iPad and Windows, called StaffPad Reader. Tablets running the Reader connect wirelessly to the tablet running StaffPad, providing a synced performance experience; the StaffPad score is automatically converted to parts for the Reader, and the music can be updated instantaneously. The Reader is free, with an in-app purchase unlocking additional features.

many readers

The history

I recall the first time I regretted purchasing an iPad. It was early in 2015, and I was sitting at my desk reading a Scoring Notes review and watching a demo video of an incredible music app that allowed handwritten notation drawn on a screen with a stylus to be magically transformed into beautiful, legible, computer-engraved notation.

That app was StaffPad. Hardware limitations of the iPad Air 2 — Apple’s then-latest tablet — meant that the power of StaffPad was exclusive to Windows.

The Microsoft pen-and-touch technology on Surface devices, for which there was no comparable Apple alternative, was perfectly suited to help realize the StaffPad vision. In fact, StaffPad became one of the most impressive Microsoft Surface demos at press events and in Microsoft stores for the next few years. In the intervening years, however, the iPad Pro has more than made up the gap, especially with the second generation of the Apple Pencil.

Working under the radar for a long while (the latest public development update was in August 2018), the small, independent team behind StaffPad has finally brought their vision to both iPad and Windows tablets for the first time. Going cross-platform would have been exciting enough, but this release has some fantastic new playback features as well as the free StaffPad Reader app that could power some slick new workflows for many users.

I’ve gotten to spend a fun few days ahead of the launch with StaffPad and StaffPad Reader on my 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2018). What follows is an overview of the features and my impression of the apps as a whole.

The extremely elegant basics

The most attention-grabbing feature of StaffPad at its initial release was its beautiful simplicity, and that has only improved in the intervening years. Co-founder and designer David William Hearn is a composer, and it’s clear that a lot of musical intuition and experience has gone into the app. If you know how to write notes and rests with paper and pencil, you already know how to use StaffPad. I’ve used other scoring apps (and written about them here) that do handwriting recognition, but none of them are as intuitive and easy to pick up and use as StaffPad.

StaffPad welcomes new users with a series of highly polished tutorial videos that cover everything from starting a new score, adding instruments, writing notes and rests, and all the other inputs you would expect.

To see it in action, Scoring Notes’s Philip Rothman has put together a thorough video demonstration, and I’ll link to specific sections in my overview, noted by “(demo)”.

The handwriting recognition itself is very good. As with all handwriting recognition, there is a short learning curve in which you’ll learn what sorts of strokes are the most easily interpreted by the app (demo). The introductory videos included with StaffPad give some helpful pointers there and showed examples of noteheads, flags, and rests. I was pleasantly surprised to find that while some of the suggestions from the tutorials showed a handwriting style different from my own, I could still write as I normally would and be reasonably well understood.

video tutorials
The first of many tutorial videos included in StaffPad’s “Getting Started” series

On the whole, StaffPad is much more accurate and reliable in its recognition than any of the competitors I’ve tried. Unlike most of the other apps that claim to do music handwriting on iPad, StaffPad does not license the technology from another company and instead has built its own recognition engine. This is not to say that the handwriting interpretation is perfect — it’s far from that — but it is the best I’ve used to date by quite some margin.

handwriting demo
StaffPad converts handwritten notation into computer-engraved notation.

One thing that is very clever about StaffPad’s implementation is that it does whole measures at a time. This allows you the opportunity to write, think, and write some more, before it starts processing. Other applications try to interpret your writing almost as soon as you lift the pencil, which can interrupt your flow and make incorrect assumptions based on partial input. StaffPad waits to interpret your writing and converts it to notation instantly when you tap the pencil in another bar. This happens naturally as you move from one bar to the next. (A slight downside here is that finishing a single bar can cause you to accidentally write random dots throughout the score which can sometimes be interpreted as notation.)

In addition to notes and rhythms, the handwriting recognition engine in StaffPad does a reasonably good job of recognizing dynamics, hairpins, slurs, and other articulations. Draw them as you normally would on paper, and they snap into the engraving as smoothly as notes (demo). Dynamics and some other technical information can also be typed as text, for which StaffPad provides a useful typing suggestion bar just above the on-screen keyboard. Hairpins can alternatively be applied via a robust symbol palette.

dynamic suggestions
As soon as I typed an f, StaffPad suggested all these forte dynamics.

All of this notation is rendered in the lovely Bravura music font, and looks really nice. Spacing algorithms seem to be very reliable, even when including multiple voices with opposing rhythms, tuplets, and lyrics.

complex engraving
The spacing and alignment are completely fine: multiple layers, rests, tuplets, dynamics, and articulations are all positioned pretty much where you would expect.

Long-touching on a bar will bring up a contextual menu, that, depending on where you touch, will easily allow you to do things like change the clef, time signature, key signature, or instrument; insert text, chords, or lyrics, or — new in this release — add a divisi staff.

The screen-first vision of StaffPad brings many thoughtful innovations not yet seen in other programs, but which are quite useful. One of those, new in this release, is the display of cautionary accidentals. They’re automatically applied by StaffPad and colored gray, not because they’re hidden, but in order to distinguish them from “regular” accidentals.

cautionary accidentals
The A in the second bar is colored gray, to show that it is a cautionary accidental.

One thing that may surprise users coming from other applications is that stylus input is the only way to enter notes into StaffPad. Other apps like Notion and Symphony Pro allow a variety of input types. I didn’t find this to be too big of a concern until I connected a MIDI keyboard to my iPad and was disappointed to see that I couldn’t use it to play in passages, which might be the only form of input that rivals the fluidity of handwriting.

Another thing that I found quite frustrating about the handwriting-only input philosophy is that there is no fallback if the handwriting recognition misinterprets what I wrote, which even after several days of use still happens with some frequency. When you tap to edit a bar, its staff lines turn green to show that it has focus. As soon as you move away, the staff lines turn orange in a bar that can’t be recognized.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to tell why the music in such a bar is unable to interpreted, or any way to teach the app how you write. In a bar with a lot of notes, there is no way to figure out which of my pen strokes is causing the problem or why. When this sort of thing happens, you just have to erase and rewrite bits and pieces until you figure it out.

uninterpretted ink
I think any human musician would read this flawlessly, but StaffPad is confused. By what? We’ll never know. Sometimes it feels as though the algorithm is simply mocking my penmanship.

It also become very difficult to hand-write very high or low notes, or dynamics below even slightly low notes, without the input jumping to the instrument below. If there is a way to write a double-flat in a way that StaffPad will recognize, I haven’t found it yet.

In discussing these concerns with Hearn, it was good to learn that he is aware of these limitations: “Now that the mammoth rebuild process is done, we’re planning on returning to a cadence of more regular updates; the first few of which will focus almost entirely on fixes, performance and recognition improvements.” Despite the fact that StaffPad has been around for nearly five years, this new version represents a complete rewrite, both for iPad and Windows.

It seems as though many of the issues I ran into in testing are high on the StaffPad team’s to-do list. In some ways, this version of StaffPad is a “1.0” all over again, but with the benefit of a more experienced development team than most other initial releases.

In the meantime, I would really like to see an alternate form of input, even it’s a slower method, reminiscent of mouse-input in a desktop notation application.

Still, once you get the hang of the idiosyncrasies, you can write music in StaffPad with fluidity and speed. Here’s a screen recording of Philip writing out a brief passage of music in real time, copying it from a printed score. He had not attempted to write this music before filming this video, and the video was not altered in any way, other than to crop it for the screen.

StaffPad adds a couple other ways to enter passages of notes that are a bit like copy-paste shortcuts. First, you can highlight any measure by double tapping it with a finger. Expand your selection to larger passages by continuing to tap. Then, you can drag out repetitions (demo) of the selected passage in a way is reminiscent of dragging out looping passages in a digital audio workstation (DAW). Similar, a selected bar or passage can also be dragged around, just like sliding a region of audio around in an editor. These are just the first of several DAW-like features that I will point out in StaffPad.

Another quick duplication technique involves using StaffPad’s lasso tool, which you can tap in the menu or reach quickly by double-tapping on the Pencil (demo). Once you’ve grabbed a group of notes with the lasso, you can tap anywhere to create a copy of those notes. It’s a very quick way to copy a passage to another bar or into another part for doubling. It even works between voices.

One thing I found a bit weird is the way StaffPad deals with erasing. To erase a note, rest, or other symbol, you press with the Pencil to switch into erase mode (demo), which lasts until you lift the Pencil again (though you do not have to continue pressing hard). I found this to be really alarming, as I felt like I was pushing way too hard into my iPad screen, and I was genuinely concerned about cracking the glass on more than one occasion. Moreover, it bothers me that this is not the standard iPad and Apple Pencil gesture for erasing.

In all of Apple’s first-party apps and in every other app I use the Pencil with, double-tapping the side of the Pencil switches between drawing and erasing. To me, this is the equivalent of a desktop app developer deciding not to use the standard keyboard shortcuts for copy, paste, and save. On the whole, I might get used to it if I used the app for longer, but it’s still different than the apps that I spend hours a day in every day, and that’s a cognitive dissonance which I don’t imagine would ever go away completely. After all, I often find myself trying to pinch-zoom on sheets of paper! In any case, I’d like to lower the pressure threshold for switching into erase mode.

Utilities and alternate inputs

Notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations are input types that are common to all scoring applications. In addition to these, StaffPad has a few that are quite novel and show some really creative design ideas. When setting up a score, these are in a category of Utility staff types, which include a click track, film session-style bar numbers (big, centered on the bar), chord symbols, and tempo.

utility menu
StaffPad offers a small collection of utility staff types in the instruments list, which can be arranged just like any other staff.

The Chords staff was a surprising bit of technical wizardry. It does an uncanny job of interpreting the notes you’ve written into the score and determining a chord symbol that fits. It does this by looking at not only the downbeat, but also the notes the follow. In this way, it picks up arpeggiations and even does a reasonably good job of picking out embellishing notes that aren’t part of the chord. (In doing so, this algorithm could get at least a B on my Music Theory 2 midterm this semester.)

The analysis happens lightning fast, too. As soon as a bar is engraved, the chord track is recalculated instantly (demo).

chord staff
The Chords staff is doing a surprisingly good job of analyzing the harmony here and showing chord symbols automatically. I haven’t altered these or changed the defaults.

Of course, users are free to enter and edit chord symbols manually. The system for doing so bears a strong resemblance to Dorico’s chord popover introduced in Dorico 1.1. Type the chord symbol as you think it probably would be interpreted in simple text, and it will be converted into the proper symbols when you tap away: lowercase b becomes a flat sign, 7 changes to superscript, etc. Unlike Dorico, you don’t get much control over the display. For example “maj7” will always get converted to the “geometric” style triangle, but even if it’s not your style, I didn’t ever see it write anything that looked wrong to me.

The other type of utility “staff” that I want to make special note of is the tempo staff. This is very similar to the tempo track that you might have used in a DAW before, and it works similarly. You can input tempo markings here, and you can get very precise control over tempo changes.

This kind of precision can be critical for writing to picture. You can even import a tempo map from a MIDI file to get working straight away. When it comes to displaying tempo, you have a choice of four levels of detail, depending on the amount of information you need to convey to whomever is reading the score and parts:

There’s more to say about the playback of tempo and session workflows below.

Sounds and playback

Notation apps have always had a complicated relationship to audio playback. Finale and Sibelius have always existed in a mushy middle here, never quite being pro audio apps and competing for the best of good-enough. Dorico added a big set of playback controls controls in Play mode, which asks the user to context-switch into a notation-free view.

StaffPad has constructed a clever compromise between the two by carefully realizing notation, along with the addition of DAW-like automation curves and direct, built-in application of major sample libraries.

automation curves
These automation curves for velocity were created automatically when I entered the dynamics. They’re freely alterable, but it’s nice to have a starting point based on the notated dynamic.

These automation curves (demo) will look familiar to anyone who has worked in ProTools, Logic, or Cubase. You can toggle the curve editor in StaffPad’s toolbar and easily add and move nodes around to precisely control note expression using lines and curves.

If you change the curves from the defaults, the notated dynamics will turn orange (in automation view only) to inform you that they’ve been overridden. Long-pressing in the staff will give you the ability to cycle through expression, pan, and volume curves, and you can reset the automation to defaults based on the musical notation if you get too ahead of your skis.

The tempo “staff” also gets an automation curve to control tempo changes.

These controls wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful if it weren’t for the sample libraries that are available within the app, as additional purchases. StaffPad’s Store tab (demo) includes over twenty different sample libraries, including some from major “name brand” vendors like Cinesamples, Spitfire Audio, and Orchestral Tools. These are the same instrument samples you would buy for serious audio work, streamlined for StaffPad workflow to interpret music notation symbols without the need for MIDI CC or keyswitching.

The main differences between the “StaffPad Editions” of the sample libraries and their big brother counterparts are that they contain a single recording perspective or “mixed” microphone position, and are curated from their full articulation set to focus on things that make sense for notation. They are unique to StaffPad, produced exclusively for StaffPad under license.

instrument store
The featured instrument libraries in the Store tab include some formidable brands!

The smaller instruments start around $10–30, and the big libraries are priced around $70–100. To give you an idea of how good these playback controls can be, here’s a demo of a film cue created by Scoring Notes’s Philip Rothman using StaffPad’s playback controls and instrument libraries.

As a composer who has spent many hours massaging virtual instrument tracks in Logic Pro X on my Mac, I must say that these instrument libraries sound great. Best of all, they’re extremely easy to use. Because they are implemented directly in StaffPad, I found that I didn’t have to work nearly as hard to get the same results that I would expect from my usual workflows. Many of the advanced tweaks available in a DAW aren’t in StaffPad, but the audio directly out of StaffPad might even be good enough to use straight away in certain cases. The initial volume, pan, and even reverb can be controlled by tapping on the instrument name.

It’s worth noting that the Cinesamples VOXOS choir library even tries to interpret lyrics attached to the staff. The quality-to-effort ratio is hard to beat, and you can easily swap between two instruments in different libraries, and mix-and-match libraries within the same score, through StaffPad’s score setup interface, or even through a mid-score instrument change, like you would in desktop software.

I could easily swap a Berlin Brass horn sample for a Cinesamples horn sample just by tapping “Swap”, and StaffPad takes care of the rest.
A mid-score instrument change

Loading samples is practically instantaneous, and playback is smooth. You can scroll and zoom in the score while the music is playing back, and solo and mute instruments on the fly, just as you would in any DAW.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the costs associated with sample libraries, I’ll just share that my favorite vibraphone samples for my desktop DAW cost $130, and that’s just one instrument — and a relatively small one at that. When it comes to high quality piano and string section sounds like those now available through StaffPad, four-digit price tags are common. The issue is not the price, but the portability and lock-in.

StaffPad’s sample libraries come at a steep discount — the same ones would cost five times as much in their standard versions — in part because they are locked to StaffPad. The developers have gone through and implemented the playback engine directly in StaffPad — the equivalent of building their own version of Native Instruments Kontakt Player or EastWest Play from scratch, except without the confusing buttons and controls that are off-putting to many users accustomed to working more with music notation.

Even with the hefty discounts, if you go down the road of acquiring these samples you could find yourself spending considerable cash. If you were to get, for example, all of the available Berlin libraries, it would set you back more than $600; purchasing every IAP library available through StaffPad would cost a total of $2,000.

Storage for all these samples may also be a concern for some users. On my desktop workstation, I have a few USB 3 solid-state drives which I use to store my samples, but that’s not possible on the iPad. Perhaps more pointedly, StaffPad offers no tools or settings to manage local storage of samples. Once you’ve purchased them, there is no way to remove them without removing all of the app data completely, and there is no indication in the app of how much storage each library will take up once installed. It’s entirely possible that a user could purchase a library and only discover then that they don’t have room to install it.

The good news is that these libraries are considerably streamlined compared to their desktop counterparts. To test this, I downloaded as many of the big libraries as I could, including some that would be redundant (three different strings libraries, three different woodwind libraries, and three different brass libraries). Upon checking the total app storage in device settings, I found that it still using less than 30 GB. For comparison, the individual vibraphone that I mentioned earlier is 15 GB on my desktop. While the StaffPad collections are comparatively svelte, it would be nice to have a bit more transparency and control, especially considering that many iPad users probably didn’t plan for sample library storage when they purchased the hardware. Additionally, Hearn tells me that iPadOS is clever enough to offload less-frequently-used assets to the cloud to be downloaded later as needed, and that controls will be coming to the iPad Settings app that will allow users to manually offload app data.

A few other limitations to be aware of

As impressive as StaffPad is, it’s not without its limitations.

It’s not currently possible for a StaffPad score to have  an “open” or “atonal” key signature, although we’re told that this will be added in a future update. Scoring Notes readers know that C major is not the same as an open key.

Users of desktop scoring applications may also miss the layout controls they’re used to. StaffPad is always in the horizontal scroll view (a.k.a. Panorama, a.k.a. “Igor’s View” for all my long-time Finale friends).

Yet, it’s important to remember that StaffPad is not trying to compete with the “Big Three” of Dorico, Sibelius, and Finale; Hearn would be the first to point that out. So it’s probably not fair to hold it to those standards. In fact, having layout controls would actually hinder one of the most practical features of StaffPad: the free StaffPad Reader companion app, which I’ll discuss in detail below. Philip says it really well in his demonstration video: StaffPad is focused more on composing than engraving.

Finally, in order to write this review on deadline, Philip and I tested pre-release versions of StaffPad. It crashed occasionally, which is not atypical in the course of beta software. But it did give us pause to think about the calamity of losing music when composing. While the crashes have been fewer after the most recent update, they haven’t been eliminated. And to be fair, I get a handful of crashes from each of my favorite desktop scoring applications each week! Thankfully, StaffPad auto-saves continuously, so you should never be able to lose more than about sixty seconds of work. I also didn’t experience any crashes in StaffPad Reader, where it could be truly calamitous in production.

The import of export

From the share menu, you can select PDF, audio (MP3, WAV, or AAC), MusicXML, MIDI, and a cross-platform StaffPad file for moving between iPad and Windows. You can also save an existing file as a template for quick setup in the future.

Users with an AirPrint-compatible printer on their network can print directly from iPad, and it’s worth noting that the Print/PDF dialog is the only area of StaffPad that offers layout controls, including page size, orientation, staff size, margins, bar numbers, and a few other parameters.

Various settings for printing and PDF export are available, and the most common European and North American paper sizes are supported.

Scoring Notes readers accustomed to doing detailed music engraving in desktop software may wish to begin composing projects in StaffPad and then finish them in their favorite desktop scoring application. To test the StaffPad-to-desktop application workflow, I put together a simple piano score in StaffPad that had dynamics, articulations, multiple voices, ties, and a triplet. I then exported the score as a MusicXML file and opened it in Sibelius Ultimate (2020.1) and Dorico Pro (3.1).

The results were quite promising for Dorico users, but not so much for Sibelius users. This is expected, as Dorico brings in the bare minimum pieces of XML files and relies on its own layout and spacing algorithms. Sibelius, on the other hand, was also tested, and it was found wanting. This is not StaffPad’s fault, but it may be a problem for those wanting to try out a StaffPad-to-Sibelius workflow.

pdf export
This is a score exported directly to PDF from StaffPad.

In Sibelius’s case, there seems to be a little bit more cleanup than would be required to make this a very practical workflow. Dorico could do the trick in a pinch, but it might not save much time. In any case, you shouldn’t anticipate being able to round-trip between mobile and desktop.

Sibelius-Dorico comparison
As a test, I exported a MusicXML file from StaffPad and imported it into both Sibelius Ultimate (left) and Dorico Pro (right) using the default settings for each step.

On the flip side, since the additional sound libraries you can purchase for StaffPad are so good and easy to manipulate with the automation layers, you may find yourself with the reverse workflow: finishing your notated scores in a desktop program and exporting the MusicXML to StaffPad in order to create a quality audio demo.

When it comes to saving your work, StaffPad auto-saves in the background once per minute. These files are stored in your iCloud folder if you’re an iPad user, or in your OneDrive folder if you’re on Windows. There is no actual “save” icon, although if you navigate back to the Home screen, StaffPad will save your score.

There’s also a Versions feature, which works as you’d expect. You can name each version whatever you like. The current version is bulleted and its name boldfaced. You could use it as a “fork in the road” as you compose, to send out alternate versions of a take to players using the Reader (more on that shortly), or perhaps to test out different sample libraries for playback, as shown here:

versions

StaffPad Reader

One great feature that StaffPad is unveiling with this iPad release is actually its own app! StaffPad Reader is a free app that does exactly what you would expect based on the name. It reads score files created in StaffPad, and allows for some extremely powerful synchronization features between users on the same local network, a set of features that StaffPad calls ScoreSync.

ScoreSync (demo) has two basic components: sharing and playback synchronization. To share, any StaffPad user can start a ScoreSync session, and any Reader user on the same network can join. The reader is asked to choose to view the full score or just a part (any part is available), and they can quickly set up their view however they like. The part will instantly reflow based on device size and orientation. Reader users can even increase the staff size to see more clearly from a distance, or decrease it to see more on a single page. It all reflows, and the results are pretty good, especially considering that happens so quickly.

StaffPad Reader in use at a recording session (image provided by StaffPad Ltd)

This may seem trivial so far, but it gets much, much cooler. First, any edits to the score from the “host” device are propagated instantly (well under half a second on my local network), which could come in handy for quick changes that need to be made in the heat of an expensive recording session. The host can even jump between Versions of the score for everyone in the whole ensemble to quickly rehearse or record a few different variants of the same passage.

Next, there are some very handy and powerful annotation features. The session host (likely a conductor, producer, etc.) can choose any of three markup tools: the highlighter and red pen are private, and the blue pen is shared instantly to other connected Reader users.

What’s particularly neat about this feature is that the annotations are sized and positioned exactly appropriately to the part each user is viewing. So if the conductor, reading from a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, circles a note in the viola part in the score, that circle appears around the same note for anyone else reading the viola part, regardless of the size of their screen, its orientation, or the size of the staff. No one else in the ensemble will see the marking if it was only made on the viola part.

reader markup
Conductor’s score in StaffPad (left) and viola part in StaffPad Reader (right). The blue annotations made by the conductor appear as you would expect on the part, even though they were drawn on a 12.9-inch landscape display, and are being copied to a 9.7-inch portrait display. The gray marks are made by the Reader app and will show in all other viola player parts as well as the score. Red marks are private and not shared to any other devices.

Similarly, each player has both private and public annotation tools, though the “public” tool color for Reader users is gray. In that case, the conductor will see gray markings made by players, as will all the other players reading the same part, which could be useful for a section leader wanting to make momentary changes to bowing or something similar. Just like the leader device, follower devices have private annotations as well.

The conductor felt strongly about this — but not strongly enough to share the opinion with players, and thus made use of the private red pen.

In addition to markup features, another really cool feature of the ScoreSync is the ability to synchronize playback. When the ScoreSync host starts playback, that shows a progress bar and syncs a metronome to all the connected Reader devices — even through multirests. This can be really handy for precisely timing a recording to picture, either visually on the screen or with audio sync. Any player can connect headphones to their device and hear the virtual playback, a metronome click, or both. I can imagine this saving a lot of time and energy in setting up complicated sync systems in the studio. What’s more, StaffPad will begin a page turn before the end of the page but leave enough of the existing page so that you can seamlessly keep playing.

Seeing is believing:

The last benefit of using ScoreSync for recording sessions is that the performance materials are never permanently transferred to the players’ devices. In certain circumstances, a publisher or other company may have very strict restrictions on scores and parts leaving the studio with players for reasons of legality or just plain secrecy. In these cases, any annotations made by players is stored locally on their devices, but the scores and parts themselves are only viewable while they are actively connected to the ScoreSync session on the local network. If they leave and return to finish after a lunch break, all their markings will show up again as soon as they log in to the session.

In case a StaffPad Reader user needs to run their own ScoreSync session (and they don’t have StaffPad installed), a $13 in-app upgrade will allow Reader users to run their own ScoreSync sessions. This could be useful if the person running the session isn’t the composer or preparer and so may not need to purchase StaffPad. The Reader upgrade unlocks a few more features such as full score playback (along with solo and mute for practicing); a dark mode that reverses the dark and white elements of the page (for theatre pits, say); and the ability to view the full conductor’s score.

In this way I’ve come to think of three levels of StaffPad, even though they are not quite marketed as such:

  • StaffPad “Creator” for composers, arrangers and preparers;
  • StaffPad Reader “Pro” (Reader with the $13 in-app purchase), for bandleaders, session leaders, etc.;
  • StaffPad Reader, for performers and everyone else

In the time I’ve spent with StaffPad and StaffPad Reader, ScoreSync might be the feature that I’ve found the most impressive and the most novel. We have seen some reader-only applications do similar things — Newzik most notably — but StaffPad is really leveraging its semantic understanding of the score and its playback technology to go beyond the capabilities of most reader apps.

Availability and US pricing

StaffPad is available now for iPad and Windows tablets, from the App Store and the Windows Store, respectively. A comprehensive description of all of its new features is provided in this blog post on StaffPad’s official site (which has also been redesigned along with the app itself).

It would be unfair to readers to ignore the price. At the same time, it would be unfair to StaffPad to fixate on it. Here’s the thing: at $90 (same as the Windows version), StaffPad is likely to be the most costly app you’ll buy in the App Store. On the other hand, this is absolutely an app for professionals and is priced accordingly. For composers and session musicians working regularly in studios, StaffPad will save them time and energy, which is one way of saying that it could be an important part of the way they earn money. That’s why I find the pricing to be completely reasonable.

Due to App Store limitations, you can’t test it out beforehand, but this is a bone to pick with the App Store, not StaffPad.

Excellent news for existing StaffPad users on Windows: you’ll get this massive upgrade completely free, even though the price as of today has risen $20 from its previous $70 tag.

As just mentioned, StaffPad Reader is free, with a $13 in-app purchase that unlocks additional features. It is also for iPad and Windows tablets, from the App Store and the Windows Store, respectively.

If you’re one of the dozen people that own both an iPad and a Surface, and you want to run StaffPad on both devices, you’ll have to purchase each version separately; this is a way of life with apps, because the app is actually sold by the distributor (Apple or Microsoft) and not the developer.

Pricing for the optional sample libraries varies and is set by Cinesamples, Spitfire, Orchestral Tools, etc. Generally speaking, section libraries such as strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, and choir cost $100 apiece, while individual instruments such as organ, harp, and piano are $40-70 each.

Compatibility

For StaffPad (not the Reader), Apple Pencil / Windows Pen support is required. You won’t get very far writing music without one!

All new iPads support Apple Pencil, and this is the list of all iPads that StaffPad will run on at the time of release:

  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st or 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad (6th generation)
  • iPad (7th generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation)

The last two in the list work with Apple Pencil 2nd generation; all others work with the 1st generation Pencil.

StaffPad does not run on an iPhone.

StaffPad for Windows 10 requires a Windows 10 device that supports active pen and touch. Surface products are recommended.

StaffPad Reader is compatible with all iPad and Windows 10 devices, and does not require a Pencil/Pen.

Conclusions

As I spend more time with StaffPad, I have become both more impressed and more frustrated with it at the same time. The challenging thing about giving an evaluation of the application is that there is very little to compare it to. StaffPad isn’t trying to compete with Dorico, Sibelius, or Finale as an engraving solution. At the same time, it’s not trying to replace forScore or Newzik on the reader side. Yet it absolutely includes features from both categories.

StaffPad’s founder and designer David William Hearn says that StaffPad is an app that is built to solve problems and improve real life workflows for many composers and musicians. To understand StaffPad is to understand Hearn (or vice versa):

There are great notation programs out there, but they’re often designed for music copyists, librarians, engravers, music publishers etc. In other words, the core focus of those programs is to provide a hyper-flexible and custom layout for existing music. Those programs have a high degree of flexibility for sure, but they can also be very complex to use. Whilst you’re composing, writing and experimenting with ideas, the flow is different; you’re focused on the music itself, rather than how it looks on a page.

StaffPad was designed from day one to keep that natural flow. It functions almost like a painting app for music.

However, StaffPad was also designed for getting stuff done. As a working composer and arranger, I’m often called upon to write large amounts of music quickly; demo it well for producers, directors or collaborators; then record the final result with studio musicians quickly and efficiently. StaffPad has been designed to streamline this process. The music written for these jobs will only be performed a couple of times – as “takes” on the recording session – and will often be changed right up until the final take. StaffPad and StaffPad Reader allow me to navigate the whole process with a speed, fluidity and ease of use that was previously simply not possible.

Ultimately, Hearn says, “The overall goal is even more simple: make writing music easier. We wanted to tackle not just the process of writing the notes down, but also the process of then hearing that composition performed.”

The ScoreSync features are delightful to use and are indeed designed by musicians who both know what problems working musicians encounter and have creative solutions for them.

The inconsistencies with handwriting recognition and occasional glitches temper my enthusiasm for this first public release just a bit and leave me awaiting the “cadence of more regular updates” that Hearn promises for the future, at least before entrusting a live session to it.

But the main “problem” I ran into while writing this review is that StaffPad is so engrossing and fun to use that I needed to remind myself to take a break from the app and write up my thoughts! StaffPad’s powerfully appealing combination of handwriting, the glorious sample libraries, and the live networking features made it hard to put the app — or my Pencil — down.

Comments

  1. Antonin Prihoda

    Impressive!
    Perhaps one day out will be ported to Chrome OS too.

  2. Steve Steele

    Thanks for your article David. I’ve been so busy I had no idea this was in the works. I’m glad the StaffPad folks saw the light (and Apple continued developing the A-series SoC and iPad Pro/Apple Pencil line up to give them no excuses!)

    I’m going to give it a shot and see how it compares with Notion iOS and Symphony Pro 6 (both which have come a long way and are moving forward as well), and see where we stand.

    These are great times for us educators and iOS based composers!

    Steve Steele

    1. Steve Steele

      I have to say, I REALLY like the approach of a composing app. I‘ve been preaching the virtues of an iOS notation based “composing” app for years to anyone that will listen. I compose mainly with notation. Especially with orchestral ensembles, I move more quickly with notation for some reason. So, I really appreciate their approach. It’s real world. One can tell a composer who spend a lot of time around orchestras is responsible for this app. Bravo.

      And bravo the sound libraries from the best sample library developers in the world (I do miss VSL from the list for things like Hecklephone, Oboe d’amore, Contrabass Clarinet, etc..). Still, bravo.

      Love the way the reader app interacts with the main app (conductor/player). Bravo on that too. That’s innovation.

      My only gripe as of now – MusicXML. Not again! Not being greedy, but why not go all the way, to partly eliminate the need for MusicXML which has saved lives, but taken a few too, and code a macOS version. Ok, it’s not going to change much, having the same feature set – there would be no additional engraving features with a macOS version I suppose, but I don’t know that. Maybe I‘m thinking Notion too much, which is the only notation app that basically has parity between desktop and iOS versions (no keystrokes in iOS version, layout is trickier, and there’s a two voice max per staff in Notion iOS, but you can use Vienna Ensemble Pro with the desktop version after composing in the iOS version. So maybe I’d still be exporting via MusicXML to Finale for a session of pain. Arg!

      Right now that’s the great divide. Notation apps that are good enough, that have the potential to go from concept to print all on iOS vs apps that always need to go through the Music XML transition. I’d like to see that divide bridged. Maybe a StaffPad Pro for the desktop that’s $399 (or whatever pro price). But it won’t happen. Finale for iOS? Nope. But that’s not StaffPad’s raison d’être. Not their job. Still, those of us cursing at MusicXML every day, will still be cursing.

      Still. Onward and upward.

      1. David MacDonald

        Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Steve!

        I agree that there is a lot here to be excited about. And I’ll say that MusicXML isn’t your only option to get things out. If you want to move a file around without conversions, StaffPad has its own native format as well. As far as XML itself goes, I think it’s a critical first step for _any_ creation application to give as many ways to get data out in a way that can be brought into another application. Otherwise users are trapped and can have their creative work held hostage!

        MusicXML is far from perfect, but it’s the best we have. Hearn told me explicitly that there is _no_ presentational data that is encoded in the XML files from StaffPad. So anything that looks weird or wrong when you import into another app is coming from the import side, not the export. So I didn’t test Finale just because I don’t have a copy on my computer, but it will be the same as any other MusicXML file you could load up.

        Regarding desktop, Hearn was also really clear that he did not want to add any other forms of input beyond Pencil, so I would say it’s more likely that you get a Reader app for desktop than a StaffPad Pro edition. And as you say, it’s not really what StaffPad is for.

  3. Peter Roos

    Great review, thanks Philip. I agree that it’s addictive and frustrating at the same time, handwriting recognition is the biggest issue. It would be better if the app would learn my chickenscratch, rather than me having to learn the app’s way. S

    1. David MacDonald

      I talked about this with Hearn, and he says that they have some planned updates that will resolve some of these issues, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to adopt any tech into their toolset based on what it will do eventually. To me, this was the biggest frustration from the testing process, especially without any more specific feedback about _why_ something wasn’t being read by the app.

  4. Jorge Grundman

    I’m sorry to wake somebody, but I returned my brand new Surface 4 beacuse Staffpad promises what it can’t do. Expect to see too much delay in correct what you have written in order to be converted right. Expect to see to many problems exporting to Sibelius, so the most of the time you will have to rewrite the score again. Last but no least, the price is far to be fair for a product that simply do not work as someone who write music expect. In my humble opinion, Notion, with it’s flaws, do it better than Staffpad.

    On the other hand, the sample libraries are too much priced for how it sounds compared to the real ones like Adagio or East West acccording to the youtube version Philipp has uploaded.

    I have Staffpad for Windows and I do not use. It is a pitty that I can’t donate it to somebody.

    Finally, why the need to pay twice for something which really don’t work? If you have Sibelius for WIndows you have Sibelius for Mac: if you have Dorico for Windows you have Dorico for Mac; and so on…

    So: do not let them the higher price shines you as a proffesional software, it is far from this.

    1. David MacDonald

      I think it really depends on what your expectations of professional software are and what your workflow is like. StaffPad isn’t trying to compete with Dorico or Sibelius. And I would argue that the StaffPad features that are the most interesting are the ones that the Big Three desktop applications don’t even try to include.

      Regarding the libraries, I think they’re pretty reasonably priced for what they are, but I’m also really glad that I don’t need anything like that for my particular use cases. I don’t think I would buy them for my own work, but I do think it’s really cool that they’re available for people who would use them more than me.

      Regarding import/export, exporting MusicXML from one software and importing it to another involves two steps, and as you can see from my examples above, it can make a _big_ difference! The import one is much closer to the issue in this case, since StaffPad is really not giving a lot of information about how the score should be displayed, just what is there. Dorico was built using that as a test: the team at Steinberg started testing their layout algorithms before they’d even thought about the user interface. So Dorico does this much, much better than Finale or Sibelius.

      Regarding paying twice, I agree that it totally stinks, but it’s also not something StaffPad has any control over. The App Store doesn’t have a way for a developer to allow you to buy an app anywhere else, so you can only get it by paying them. There are a few weird workarounds to this, but they all cause more problems than they solve.

  5. João Luiz

    Thanks for your article David and Philip. It would be good to know how are the results in Finale for the exported MusicXML file from the Staffpad.

    1. David MacDonald

      Thanks for reading, João! I didn’t post a test of Finale, but only because I don’t have a copy on my computer. Hearn, the co-founder of StaffPad, told me that they don’t put any presentational data in their MusicXML export, so it’s most likely going to look like every other MusicXML file does when you import it to Finale, for better or worse (probably worse).

      1. João Luiz

        Thanks David. It seems the future is very bright for the handwriting input recognition of music (until it reaches a point it is like writing music on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil). It will be very important the development of the MusicXML, the more precise it will be the more freedom for the user to start a project in one software like for example Staffpad and polish it or finish it in other software like Dorico, Finale, Sibelius, etc.. and vice-versa.

  6. Palle Louw

    Is the price for IPad depending (reduced) for buyers of the Surface version?

    1. David MacDonald

      The App Store does not allow for discounts like this, so unfortunately no. If you’re a current Surface user, though, you’ll get the update for free.

  7. Bob Zawalich

    This was an incredibly detailed review. Thanks to David and Philip for all the work that was obviously put into it.

  8. Sanifu Hall

    Good news!!

  9. Jim

    I have to say, based on this review I am *very* curious. But I think I’ll be waiting. Some of those annoyances you describe just make me too hesitant to put down the hefty price they’re charging for it. It sounds like they plan on putting effort in to fixing them, so I hope you’ll put up a new review when that happens. Until then I just can’t justify the risk.

    Another big sticking point for me is the lack of any free or trial version. They are asking an enormous amount of money for a piece of software that is inherently going to perform very differently for different people based on the type of music they write and on their handwriting. Not being able to evaluate it to see if it works for me, especially combined with the issues it has, makes this a very hard sell.

    1. David MacDonald

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jim. I’m sure they would love to offer a trial, but it’s just not possible in the App Store. I hear you that $90 is a lot for something that you may not be able to test beforehand. If you’re wanting to try, you might want to know that the App Store does have a refund policy, but it takes a bit of effort (only a little) to do. In some countries, they’re obligated to honor refund requests within a certain window after purchase.

      I’m hopeful that Apple’s policy will change on this as they try to attract more professional users of iPad. They actually just made a pretty sweeping App Store policy change (unrelated to this) the same day this review was published, so it may be possible.

      1. Chris Krycho

        Actually, the App Store has allowed trials since early 2018 for subscription-based apps, and many developers of single-purchase apps have designed in-app-purchase that behaves the exact same way for one-time unlock. StaffPad have *chosen* not to take advantage of those (and that’s their prerogative), but they shouldn’t pin that on the App Store at this point: the option exists.

        1. Chris Krycho

          I see from your comments below that you’re aware of these. Argument modified accordingly!

        2. David MacDonald

          That’s not exactly true, Chris. What the App Store has is (at best) a workaround for free trials. You can’t actually have a free trial for any app that has a regular straight-ahead purchase, only for apps that are unlocked with in-app purchases.

          The App Store doesn’t allow IAPs to be shared by families, purchased by institutions, or gifted to other users, all of which would be pretty important for this kind of app.

          It’s an over-simplification to say that the option exists.

  10. Christophe T

    Hi,

    Great review. I have bought the application and overall it is great but one thing that makes me almost crazy is the way eraser is managed on IPad. Like you said, I am worried to break the glass of my screen. And there is no visual feedback on whether you activate or not the function… That is mostly why I don’t buy the expansion libs for now. Especially when you have your iPad (mini in my case) in one of your hand and you want to press for the eraser…

    I have contacted the developers and they don’t have this issue… Rather strange. But I hope they will do something quick because I will then buy the expansion libs!

    1. David MacDonald

      I found it helped if I started scribbling and gradually pressed in, kind of like rubbing with an eraser and then pushing until you see it disappear. It’s still not great, and contradicts Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, but it’s how I keep from pushing too hard.

      You know there’s a problem when StaffPad’s own help docs say in bold letters “Don’t push too hard!”.

  11. Graham

    I am curious if anyone has tested export of MIDI and/or XML to Logic. I’m only asking this in the case of “hybrid” scoring. I tend to think in terms of the orchestra but still appreciate the addition of electronic elements for particular effects. Has anyone tested out the translation of the MIDI data for use in a standard DAW environment and how well the performance lane data (automation) comes across?

    1. David MacDonald

      I just tried it and was able to see both tempo and expression automation open in Logic.

  12. Bill

  13. Paul

    Which of the tird party string libraries did you prefer?

    1. David MacDonald

      They’re all good, just different. If you’re not sure, you can take a look at all the vendor’s sites for demos. Personally, if I could only use one, I might lean toward OT Berlin series for strings, but for the other libraries, I like Spitfire brass and woodwinds a lot.

  14. Eduardo

    Hi guys!

    Anybody tried with old versions of iPad like 7 gen, iPad Air 2…?!

    Thank u!

    1. David MacDonald

      Whichever iPad you use, it must have an Apple Pencil (either first or second gen). The Air 2 is not supported (no Pencil), but the 7th gen is actually the current iPad as of Feb 2020. You can buy it new from Apple! I haven’t tried StaffPad with it, but I would imagine you’d want a bigger screen.

      The compatibility list for StaffPad Reader is a little bigger and _does_ include the Air 2. In fact, my old Air 2 is what I used to test Reader while I was writing this review.

      1. EDUARDO FILIPE DOS SANTOS

        Thanks for answer, Mr. MacDonald…

        But, how does it work in other versions? more precisely in sensibility of Apple Pencil either first…

        I’ve been watching videos, but only on newer iPads…. :(

        Thank u!!!!

    2. Adrian Lyndsay

      I recently bought an iPad Pro with a huge storage and then purely by chance stumbled upon one of Philip Wrothman’s reviews of Staffpad for iPad. I thought “That’s what I’ve been looking for for years and now I have the device to do it on”.

      But I’ve been alternately wowed by the videos and then knocked back by the negatives raised in some of the comments on these web pages on what seemed at first like an exciting new product for musical composers.

      I am a classical guitarist and would love to be able to use this exciting new app for my guitar compositions but can find only one reference in all this feedback to using Staffpad in this way. That was in a comment by Brett Rosenberg 4 months ago but with no response since from anyone at all yet.

      Does anyone know whether Staffpad can actually deal with the idiosyncrasies of writing for classical guitar? e.g. up to 6 notes on a single stem; contrapuntal writing with voice separation clarified with stems down for the low notes and stems up for the highest notes; frequent need to clarify fingerings, string choices and fret positions – and lots more – and all of that being managed on a single treble clef stave?

      Perhaps it’s too big an ask of Staffpad in its present incarnation to be able to manage that? If so, I wonder whether David William Hearn could comment on the viability of ever producing a guitar specific version of Staffpad for iPad Pro at some time in the future?

  15. Brett Rosenberg

    Great review. Observation re instruments – I wanted to add a guitar stave, and the only way to do that was to buy the guitar library. I’m not crazy about having to purchase libraries just to get access to different sounds, particularly instruments that I consider really should be included in the base set. As well, there are no options for any ethnic instruments.

  16. Steve Steele

    I wanted to add one more thing to this conversation. I gave an interview with the iPad Pros Podcast about a year ago where I said App Store customers are going to have to get used to $100 – $150 apps. Users got spoiled by the cheap apps on the App Store because the hardware was so limited 8-10 years ago, and iOS devices were making up for the low cost of apps because Apple was selling a lot of iOS devices.

    Now, the hardware is getting powerful enough to handle professional workflows and iPad OS apps are becoming more and more sophisticated every year.

    Pro users need to brace themselves for a justified price increase. Apps such as StaffPad, Cubasis 3, the FabFilter plugins, and many other recent releases are justified in charging $50 – $100 for these apps and plugins. We the customers need to realize that the pro apps are going to settle into that near $100 price (and IMO the developers have earned it).

    I also believe that Apple needs to be more developer friendly, by relaxing sone controls and also paying developers more.

    Apple has become one of the wealthiest companies in the world. Customers have become a bit spoiled with free apps (or expecting much for free). But I believe it now time that the pendulum swing in the direction of the developer. I’m not saying 1990s boxed software prices, but the era of the $100 iPad OS app is upon us.

    We costumers need to except this and embrace the power of the modern iPad Pro and the pro apps by understanding that these apps and workflows are worth $50 to $100 (if not more in some cases), and it’s time to thank developers for their hard work by opening up our minds and wallets to these modern workhorses.

    The times are a changin’

    1. David MacDonald

      Totally right. I cut a longer tangent from the article about the challenges of the App Store business models.

      When the App Store was created, the biggest hurdle was the hardware. Since then, the hardware has outpaced desktop and laptop hardware in most measures. Then it was the software, which still has plenty of challenges, but is vastly more powerful than it was at launch.

      Now, the biggest challenge that is holding back the iPad is just App Store policy. It’s reasonable to say that Apple is providing $0.60 of value on a $1.99 app purchase (the 30% fee), but it’s bonkers to suggest that they would offer $180 of value on a $600 sale (the price of a Big Three notation app).

      Furthermore, there are a ton of other obnoxious policies: no free trials, no upgrade pricing, no academic discounts, etc. Who could be blamed for not wanting to spend $600—or even $90 for StaffPad—without the opportunity to try a it? The only workaround Apple offers (in-app purchase to unlock, and free in-app purchase for a limited-time unlock) breaks for family sharing or institutional purchasers, which would be a potentially huge market for a notation app.

      So Apple wants to have professional media creation apps, but is trying to cram them through the business structures of 2010s-era fart sound apps. Cubasis is great, and at $50, it’s the most I’ve spent on an app. The most I’ve spent on in-app purchases are subscriptions (including nkoda) through Apple. I don’t really see that changing until Apple changes its policies, which may never happen if you listen to how often CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri tout services revenue (which include App Store fees) to investors.

      Perhaps this is a topic worthy of a lengthier editorial, but it’s definitely frustrating that Apple did all the hard work to remove the technological hurdles to the platform and are hanging on to these dogmatic ones.

      Short of policy changes, I think software companies that have developed their own subscription systems outside of Apple (like Adobe and Microsoft) are possibly in a really strong position to take advantage of the software, hardware, and current state of the financial structures within the App Store. I’m already paying Avid for Sibelius every year, so they could (if they wanted) tie that to an iPadOS app. They could arguably charge more, but I would instead look at it as a way to bring new users in to the desktop platform. It would allow them to continue to sell directly to customers, avoiding Apple’s fees, and still grow with the new platform and use cases. If I’m Hearn at StaffPad, I’d see that as my biggest threat.

      I could also see Steinberg biting the bullet of the 30% fee if they had a smaller, limited version of Dorico, since they already do this for Cubase with Cubasis for iPad. (Cubasis 3 is incredible, BTW!). Perhaps they could do something like what StaffPad does with add-ons. I certainly think folks would pay extra to have something like NotePerformer. This “Dorico Go” (not a bad name, if I do say so myself) could have interoperable file formats with Dorico on the desktop, and possibly allow the kinds of reader features provided by StaffPad.

      So yeah, it looks like this should definitely have ben it’s own post… (and if you’ve read this far, I owe you 30% of something).

  17. Daniel S

    What is the brand of Black slanted stand used to hold the iPad Pro in the video?

    1. Cindy

      +1 for the music stand info – I’ve seen them in European concert videos for years, and I’d love to find out what brand it is.

  18. Cindy

    Has anyone tried this with Finale 26 for Mac yet? I’m looking for an iPad solution. I tried exporting MusicXML from both Notion and Symphony Pro 5 today, and neither would import into Finale; I had to do it via MIDI. Before I drop coin on StaffPad, I’d love some input on whether it’s an improvement in working with Finale (vs Notion or SymphonyPro 5). Thanks!

  19. Carmine

    Hi Folks,
    I am using staffpad on a brand new ipad pro and 2nd gen apple pencil. I think staffpad is amazing! However, I cannot get the erase function to work correctly. I apply pressure but the pencil will not erase? I have tried different amounts of pressure but the pencil just keeps writing. It will erase when I use the erase icon or set it to the double tap function. Is this happening to anyone else? I am open to any advice.
    Thanks,
    Carmine

    1. David MacDonald

      Hi Carmine, thanks for reading. I would recommend starting by scribbling back and forth and gradually increasing your pressure until the eraser toggles on. Don’t worry if you write things when you do this, since you’re turning on the eraser anyway. I found it to be pretty unreliable in earlier testing (though it’s better now), so I stopped using it when the other erasing methods were implemented in more recent updates.

  20. Carmine

    Hi David,
    Thank you so much for responding so quickly. I will give that a try and get back to you.
    Thanks again,
    Carmine

  21. Adrian Lyndsay

    I recently bought an iPad Pro with a huge storage and then purely by chance stumbled upon one of Philip Wrothman’s reviews of Staffpad for iPad. I thought “That’s what I’ve been looking for for years and now I have the device to do it on”.

    I have also just read all of David MacDonald’s review which was extremely informative but for me – as a novice with notation programs – quite daunting to take in all the detail.

    However, I’ve been alternately wowed by the videos and then knocked back by the negatives raised in some of the comments on these web pages about what seemed at first an exciting new product for musical composers.

    I am a classical guitarist and would love to be able to use this exciting new app for my guitar compositions but can find only one reference in all this feedback to using Staffpad in this way. That was in a comment by Brett Rosenberg 4 months ago but with no response since from anyone at all yet.

    Does anyone know whether Staffpad can actually deal with the idiosyncrasies of writing for classical guitar? e.g. up to 6 notes on a single stem; contrapuntal writing with voice separation clarified with stems down for the low notes and stems up for the highest notes; frequent need to clarify fingerings, string choices and fret positions – and lots more – and all of that being managed on a single treble clef stave?

    Perhaps it’s too big an ask of Staffpad in its present incarnation to be able to manage that? If so, I wonder whether David William Hearn could comment on the viability of ever producing a guitar specific version of Staffpad for iPad Pro at some time in the future?

    If you see this David I would Be really pleased for some feedback because I’m extremely interested in Staffpad but unwilling to buy ‘blind’ as it were.

    Apologies also for having posted a similar version of this comment earlier on in these pages – at the time I posted, for some reason I could only find the Leave a Comment section In amongst the comments for February this year.

    1. David MacDonald

      Hi Adrian, thanks for reading. I can tell you that StaffPad can definitely do chord notation with as many notes as you need in the chord, and multi-voice writing is shown in a few of the examples here (m. 2 of my silly “Wind Surge, Oh Wind Surge” example). Regarding fingerings, it depends on what you need them to show. You can type in any arbitrary text, so you could show numbers and letters. It’s definitely not the rich set of controls you’d find for fingerings in a desktop application, but it might be a worthwhile compromise if you want to use the other features of StaffPad.

      Regarding a “blind” purchase, I totally see where you’re coming from there. I’ll just point out that everything you mentioned here you could probably try out and decide whether the app will work for you in less than an hour, and the App Store does have a refund policy (you need to do it through the App Store, not StaffPad). The length of time is different depending on where you live, due to various legal requirements.

  22. Ton Mulders

    I just asked a refund for StaffPad.
    No classical guitar. No guitars at all. Only bass guitar. ???
    I want to write for guitar and strings. On Mac I work with Sibelius. For iPad I think StaffPad is the best.
    I will definitely buy the app with guitar in it!

    1. David MacDonald

      There are a bunch of guitar sounds available in the “Store” section. Under “StaffPad Essentials”, look for something called “Guitars Vol. 1”. It includes electric guitar, nylon guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and charango. It costs $9.99, which I think is the least costly (in not it’s close) of all the instrument samples.

  23. Ton Mulders

    Hi David, if there is a guitar library, where can I find it?

    1. David MacDonald

      From the home screen (not in a score), Store > Essential Collection > Guitars, Vol. 1

    2. Adrian Lyndsay

      Like you, [Ton Mulders] I would buy StaffPad (and the essential Apple Pencil) if there were a sufficiently stocked set of guitar samples – particularly but not exclusively for classical guitar.

      Since last I posted I’ve had some very generous and positive feedback from David Hearn himself as to definite plans in the future to develop the guitar side of the app. He’s no mean guitarist himself so I’m confident it will happen – but I believe there are at present other priorities In terms of the orchestral side of development. Fair play to that – from what I’ve seen and heard of StaffPad’s orchestral capabilities I think that, whatever instrumental capabilities are developed in the future, they will be worth waiting for.

      In the meantime, if you take the plunge with an actually purchase before me, Ton, I should be interested in how you get on.

  24. mcj

    The improvements of StaffPad are GREAT!
    I only wonder why the Windows version does not look like iOS version, in terms of – SCREEN SPACE? (still 2 toolbars instead of Toolbar and Command Bar, so no chevron in the left corner)
    Hopefully Windows users will get soon the same look as iOS StaffPad.
    All the best

  25. David O'Rourke

    Wondering if you can export separate audio files for individual instruments, or more to point voices. Would be great for choral music if this is possible. I figured out how to export a score in audio but not individual files.

    1. David MacDonald

      Hi David, thanks for reading the review! You can absolutely export each staff as a different instrument. StaffPad calls this “Export Stems”. It will spit out separate audio files that you can remix in a separate application (very handy for commercial/film/game music). Here’s the help doc:

      https://staffpad.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360002334577-Export-your-score

  26. Robert Ostermeyer

    No no no! I bought the StaffPad for Surface in 2015 as one of the first. An exciting tool. To speak of StaffPad support would be too much. There is no. The program was simply not developed further for Windows. Inquiries about musicxml not answered. And now a version for iPad. The cow wants to be milked. The idea for such a program, wonderful! Only one small mistake – StaffPad does not work productively at all.

  27. Rodney

    Love what I’ve been seeing and am ready to purchase, Before I do, could you please confirm that a first gen iPad Pro teamed with a first gen Apple pencil is suitable for Staffpad please? Thanks!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *