In what sometimes seems like another life, I was a music student and then a professional musician (for a little while) and a teacher (for longer). I was a percussionist all through middle and high school and absolutely loved it. I won some awards over the years and made several honor bands, including All State my senior year. I got scholarship offers to several schools and ended up attending Louisiana State University for four years to study music. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance and then got my Masters’ Degree from Florida State after that.
A blast from the past
During those six years of school, I continuously taught music lessons to make money on the side. I also taught high school marching band drum lines over the summers. Between this and my music theory classes in school, I can’t even begin to tell you how much staff paper I went through for assignments, both to turn in for school and to give to my students.
After I graduated I ended up taking a different career path for multiple reasons, but primarily because I got really into technology during my grad studies and discovered that I was just as adept and even more comfortable doing this kind of work. I just never got used to being on stage alone. Some people are born with that, but most people, including many musicians, just aren’t.I had no issue playing with ensembles of all kinds, but solo recitals were a problem.
Despite my day job, I still taught students and ensembles on the side for several years after stepping away from music full time. I wrote and arranged more during this time than any other while I was a full-time student or musician. I hand wrote a lot and had a borrowed computer with Finale, which I always found very difficult to use. None of it was fast or ideal. I spent a lot of late nights cranking out drafts of this or that for a rehearsal the next day.
A better mousetrap
Why am I rambling on about this? Because a really cool looking music notation app called StaffPad was released for the iPad today, and I can’t help but think back to what such an app could have done for me 20 years ago. This app allows you to hand write music notation with an Apple Pencil that is then converted to standard musical notation. While Finale was a pain, computerizing the process of notation was helpful and it certainly was easier to read than my hanr-written chicken-scratch. But being able to use a massive touchscreen and an accurate stylus? Sign me up.
StaffPad also allows you to play your compositions back using authentic sounding instrument samples. You can even beef up your sound library with in-app purchases after the fact, depending on what you need. You can then export the files out to be played and used elsewhere.
StaffPad would have saved me a world of time and staff paper during my musician years. If I ever decide to dust off my chops and decide to teach again, rest assured this app will be my first purchase, without question.
The road less traveled
There are a couple of interesting details about StaffPad to be aware of. First off, unlike many touch or Pencil-centric apps, this one didn’t get its start on the iPad. Rather, StaffPad was originally developed as a Windows app and was geared toward the Microsoft Surface and its Pen.
This is definitely unique. Despite the protest of John Gruber and Ben Thompson over the last week, the iPad’s ecosystem of touch-centric and stylus-enabled apps is far more robust than what exists for Windows. I know this because I own a Surface and Surface Pen and I’ve kicked the tires on the Microsoft Store. Depending on what task you are looking to perform, its often slim pickings in there.
One thing that does make sense about StaffPad starting life as a Windows app is that a lot of musicians who work digitally already use that platform for scoring work. Starting where the market was, rather than forcing people to buy another device, made sense to get the product off the ground. That said, the iPad is also very popular among musicians today, so it makes a lot of sense for StaffPad to be available for both Windows and iPadOS.
The cost of doing business
And now we come to the payoff. Literally. StaffPad isn’t just unique in its features and origins. It’s pricing also makes it an outlier among iPadOS apps. The base price is a whopping $89.99, instantly placing it in the highest tier of App Store pricing.
While $89.99 is definitely a high price to pay, this app isn’t designed for people looking to casually scribble a few notes. This is a professional tool designed to output professional quality work. Based on the reputation of its Windows sibling, I have no doubt that StaffPad is worth this price. Also, bear in mind that $89.99 is significantly less than pro composing and mixing software available for Windows and macOS.
I find it ironic that an app with a reputation for professional quality and a price tag to match would show up the week that a couple of well-known Apple pundits fired away at the iPad’s shortcomings. The tablet’s app ecosystem and lack of such pro-level software was a main point in their criticism.
I’ll be the first to admin that StaffPad is definitely the exception rather than the rule when it comes to iPadOS apps. However, its timely arrival does present an opportunity. If it is successful in the App Store, even with just a niche audience, it could be a sign of progress. It could help to demonstrate that there is a place for pro software with a pro price in the iPadOS ecosystem today.