As a student, I am always on the go jumping from class to class, or hopping the bus to get across campus. My schedule does not work in tandem with my compositional desires. I used to revert to my voice recorder to try to grab any kind of melody that would pop into my head, until I met Symphony Pro for the iPad.
Symphony Pro is a fully-fledged music notation app designed exclusively for the iPad. With the portability of Apple’s tablet device, and the ease of use of iOS, let’s see how anyone can sit down and notate professional-looking sheet music on the go.
Starting Off With a Blank Sheet
When you first open Symphony Pro, its entire user interface is laid out in front of you. Much like many apps for the iPad, you have a toolbar across the top and a sidebar to the left. These two elements are wrapped around a giant representation of your sheet music.
The toolbar is broken up into four sections. The first section has buttons that control your document – buttons like “New”, “Open”, and “Save” each represented by easily recognizable icons. The second section contains buttons that choose your editing tools such as the “Selector” tool or the “Eraser” tool. The third section taps into Symphony Pro’s powerful music engine allowing you to play what you have written down, or to start a recording session.
The fourth section of the toolbar is where you can select different views to enhance your piece. You can slide in the on-screen keyboard at any time, or choose to do finer edits.
When you reach the stage of adding dynamics to your composition (things such as making notes softer or louder) tapping the third button switches to the appropriate view.
Below the toolbar is a small scroll bar that enables you to scroll from measure to measure and page to page. You can choose to use this, or the universal two-finger swipe to get from page to page.
The sidebar’s interface changes whether you are tapping in notes, or exporting your sonata. Each view is laid out in a clear and concise manner and is just the right size for any hand.
Symphony Pro is designed to take what is in your head and easily put it down on digital paper. Some might compare it to Finale or Sibelius for the Mac. That being said, knowing a good amount of music theory will help you in the long run when using this app.
When you’re ready to make symphonic history, tap the first icon on the left in the toolbar. This should look like a blank sheet of paper. Once tapped, the sidebar gives you the ability to name your piece and composer, change the time signature, adjust the key and tempo, and add in up to 12 tracks of built-in instruments. Tap done and you should be presented with your blank staff paper ready to be notated.
Now, Symphony Pro has many different ways of inputting music. Here is a list of how you can do it:
- Tap notes directly onto the page.
- Play the built-in keyboard.
- Attach a Core MIDI keyboard through the Apple Camera Connection Kit.
- Import scanned sheet music.
When using the built-in keyboard, one must select the “Pencil” tool from the toolbar and the kind of note (quarter, eighth, whole) from the sidebar. After that, all you have to do is play. Each time a key is pressed, a note of the chosen value will be added to your composition.
This method is fast and easy, however, I have found that it severely limits my creativity if I’m just trying to play around and compose a melody and piano part to go behind it. Don’t get me wrong! If you have everything down or planned in your head, then by all means import your music this way. Inputing a simple one note at a time melody is very easy with this method and can be a life saver when on the go.
Having said that, the iPad is not a good replacement for a full out piano. If you have time and want to use your iPad, connecting a compatible Core MIDI keyboard with Apple’s Camera Connection Kit works perfectly with Symphony Pro.
Another method of inputing music into Symphony Pro is through starting a recording session. This makes it easier on musicians like me, who are not well versed in music theory, to quickly get what they want out of their heads and readable to other artists. Tapping the “Record” button in the toolbar starts a session. Tap the measure you want to record into, and pick a tempo that you feel comfortable playing at. Hit the big “Start” button in the sidebar and Symphony Pro will count you in allowing you to play your music in real-time.
Editing Your Masterpiece
When you wish to edit what you have in Symphony Pro, tap the “Edit” button in the toolbar (the one that includes a treble clef, a staff, and a pencil) and the “Selector” tool (the one that looks like a cursor). You then can manipulate any note you see on the page whether you want to change its value or pitch. If you wish to add even further fine edits to your document, tap the icon that looks like “mƒ”. Here you can make a note soft or loud, add a crescendo, a hold, or even a pedal mark among many other things. Symphony Pro has a very large number of notational elements.
Adding Lyrics and Chord Symbols
Here’s where Symphony Pro really shines against other competitors. When having the “mƒ” button selected tap the tool that looks like a quarter note followed by a capital “T” in the sidebar. A QWERTY keyboard will pop up allowing you to add lyrics to every note. Tap next or the “ – “ key to go from note to note.
When you wish to add a chord symbol, tap the tool that looks like the letter “C” with a “7” next to it (or C7). Symphony Pro’s vocabulary is very adaptable and fluid. If you want it to show an A flat chord above a note, simply type “A b” because the flat symbol looks similar to a lowercase “B”. This goes for many other chords such as A diminished or C sus.
Sharing Your Work
Symphony Pro’s sharing capabilities are outstanding. All of the major file formats are supported. Here’s a list of formats that Symphony Pro can export to:
- Symphony “its own format”
You can email your composition or save it on your device for import when connected to a computer with iTunes. Symphony Pro can even take pictures of each page and save them into your Camera Roll. AirPrint is also supported within the app. Have a compatible printer connected via Wi-Fi? Tap “Print” and you are done.
Also, Symphony Pro can enable you to access your iPad’s hard drive through an internet browser such as Safari or FireFox. With one tap, your iPad’s IP Address shows up. Enter it into your browser, and all of your music is available for download. Make sure that both your iPad and computer are on the same local Wi-Fi network.
If you wish to just show off what you have composed to others without export, turn the device itself into a vertical orientation. Your iPad will then rotate into a page of sheet music with no tools or bars to distract you. You can then use two fingers to swipe between pages.
Symphony Pro is still a very new app. There have been a few updates lately to fix some of the major bugs but overall the app runs smoothly and quickly. I have been running it on an iPad 2, however if someone would like to test out the app on an older generation iPad, be sure to comment on how quickly it performs.
The app does crash from time to time. Be sure to save your work often with the icon that looks like an old Floppy Disk. Also, I have noticed some spacing issues. When typing lyrics, the measures do not compensate their spacing until after you have completed adding or editing lyrics. Also, sometimes chord symbols and notes get out of sync. To fix this, I have found that scrolling from page to page and reaching the end of your piece will fix it. Little things like that do get annoying, but if you are only using your iPad to quickly jot down music on the go this should not be much of a hassle.
The Big Finale
Symphony Pro is a diamond in the rough of music notation software for the iPad. There is nothing currently out there like it. The price for the app is $14.99, which is a great price for an app with such a feature list.
The app does crash from time to time, but the developers have pushed a few updates and are constantly working on how to make the app better and more stable.
Whether you are tapping in a short melody on the bus, or composing a masterpiece with multiple tracks and pages upon pages of music with your Core MIDI enabled keyboard, Symphony Pro will not disappoint. With its three main ways of importing music, its vast stock of music notation elements, and its slew of sharing options, Symphony Pro is a must-have for any composer looking to put their iPad to work.
Currently, this is the best music notation app for the iPad. It has many professional features that rival some high-end desktop applications. With its many input methods and notation elements, Symphony Pro is a must-have for any composer who wants to write on the go.8