Writing more music with StaffPad


staffpadgrab1StaffPad, the new music handwriting app for Windows 8.1 pen-and-touch devices like the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3, was announced a little more than two weeks ago. Since then, there has been a lot of interest in it, along with many questions about how it works.

I thought I’d do a more detailed, “real-time” video showing how to use StaffPad to write a few bars of Billy Joel’s “Vienna”, including two-voice music, triplets, slurs, grace notes, duplicating music, using the eraser, and the expression layer — and how to correct recognition errors when they arise.

A couple of things to consider: StaffPad is still at its initial version 1 release, with maintenance updates and feature additions promised by the developers in time. Also, even though I’m “copying” music in the video for the purposes of the demonstration, StaffPad is not really intended as an input replacement for desktop scoring programs, which will surely be much faster at that task with customizable engraving rules. Rather, I see StaffPad’s real potential as a notation-based creative composing and arranging tool, either on its own, or as a complement to the more advanced desktop programs via MusicXML export and import.

I hope to do more structured tutorials in the future, including how to work with StaffPad in conjunction with desktop programs, but for now, enjoy!



  1. Bruce Baker

    I’m just bummed it is not out yet for MAC!

  2. Derek Williams

    Thanks Philip for this demo!

  3. Randall Mauger

    Thanks Philip! You are a virtual fountain of notation software info. I love what you do! Very, very helpful!

    Randall Mauger

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, everyone, for your nice remarks, and for reading the blog!

  4. Kelly Fenton

    Let me join in the “thank you”s as this video very nicely clarified how this program works. This definitely looks really cool and I must admit, I find myself wanting to run out and buy a Surface Pro 3!

    However, when I think about how and when I would actually use this, I’m stumped! It looks like it would still be faster to input digitally in a more traditional way in Sibelius or Finale and lord knows, with how fast and messy I write, it would take the program forever (if ever) to adjust to my writing style as suggested. I know I would never use this for my own composing as I am a purist and will never give up my paper and (favorite Palomino Blackwing) pencil. So other than for the novelty of it, when and how would it be utilized?

    And since part of the program’s flexibility in correcting mistakes means that certain, basic notational rules are not enforced (as with Sibelius), I see potential disaster by those who choose to handwrite it, thinking they are saving time, send it to a copyist who then has to spend more time to clean it than if they had simply just inputted it directly. This is also why I can’t see using it with students (at least young ones).

    I don’t mean to be so curmudgeonly, I’m just having a hard time seeing this as anything more than a cool toy. What are your thoughts, Philip, having actually tried it out?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Kelly! These are excellent questions. In many ways, I think StaffPad’s utility is yet to be discovered, especially once some of the updates that have been promised make their way into the app in the next few months.

      Like any tool, it won’t necessarily be for everyone. Speaking for myself, the most fun that I have had with it so far is not using it in the admittedly artificial way I did in the video (for demonstration purposes), but rather relaxing on the couch, sketching out some music by hand away from the computer or piano, but still having the benefits of copy, paste, and instant playback gratification. Having as much of the screen as possible devoted to music, and the size of the Surface Pro screen, really make it the first usable tablet notation app for me, handwriting recognition or otherwise.

      I’m excited to see where it goes and curious if it ends up being used by most people this way, or in other ways yet to be discovered.

  5. Steve Philipp

    Wow that is cool. I’m still not buying a Surface ;-P but if I already had one I could definitely see using this to sketch out a tune in my head on the train or out and about somewhere. Thanks for this video – very well made as well.

  6. Peter Roos

    Totally cool – thanks Philip.

  7. Ron Puente

    As usual-great information from a great instructor. Thank, Phiip.

    Ron Puente

  8. Wheat Williams

    Surface? Who uses them? I’ve only ever seen one Microsoft Surface tablet actually used by a person, and that person is a friend of mine who is a professional database consultant who works with Microsoft. Everybody else I know has Apple iPads. So this might be an innovative and clever app, but I can’t see it gaining any widespread acceptance. Worse, there isn’t any code base that enables one to port a Windows app to iOS — it would have to be rewritten from scratch for an iOS version. So I fear that very few people will ever get to use this app.

  9. Jason West

    Philip, this is very helpful. Also thanks for making the mistakes! ;-) Showing us how to correct them is almost as informative as if you input them correctly. For those who don’t have a Surface Pro, Microsoft has sold more than 1 million Surface Pro 3s since it was launched. Advertised to replace your laptop and your tablet, unfortunately many Apple users have such a bias, they won’t give any Microsoft product a chance. Since there are over 1.5 Billion (!) Microsoft computers in the world, if all you know is Apple, you should be open to see other options. DW Hearn was right in choosing a Microsoft product because it was the only hardware and software available to realize his dream app. If you didn’t watch this week, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, invited DW Hearn to give a live demo of StaffPad during Satya’s Key Note address in front of 2,500 + top developers (and thousands more watching online around the world) at Microsoft’s recent BUILD (developers) conference in San Francisco. This is a complete validation for the success of StaffPad (and it is still in version 1!). With Microsoft’s goal to have Windows 10 installed on One Billion devices in 3 years, there will be more PC users in the world who will have access app than Apple users. Join us!

    1. Philip Rothman

  10. adriana figueroa mañas

    hi Philip!, Is it possible to work with libraries with this pad? what kind of libraries does this pad´app accept ?

  11. jaedo choi

    Thanks for this film , Philip! It`s very helpful. I wanna know how to write texts of vocal music in staffpad. I usually compose for choir SATB and solo vocal music. I will wait your good answer. :) Thanks!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Jaedo: Lyrics have been promised in a future update to the app.

      1. jaedo


  12. Kasey Peters

    What’s StaffPad like for drum kit notation?

  13. Wally Lord

    Good morning,
    Thelatest update for staffpad was in August 2018. Since then, all is quiet and David William Hearns, one of the main developers has not yet published his long-awaited upgrade (a major rewrite) of the program.

    Do you have any news from David?

    Kind regards,
    Wally Lord

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Wally. Yes. He says: “It’s an ambitious project, still in development, almost done and will be released when ready.” I have good reason to believe that is the case.

Leave a Comment

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