Mastering Organization in Rehearsal with iPad

In September, School Band and Orchestra Magazine published an article of mine about using the iPad to be organized while rehearsing a large ensemble. I am reposting it here for readers of my blog to enjoy...

Mastering Organization in the Rehearsal with iPad:

Chances are likely that you have heard of a few iPad apps for use in the classroom. Like me, you may have heard about so many of them that you can’t even remember them all. Or you have made it so far as to download them and now hundreds of little icons have been left un-touched in a folder called “Music,” sitting on your home screen.

There are a lot of fantastic music teaching apps for educators and students. Tuning apps, notation apps, note reading apps, staff recognition, music games, creation tools, historical videos, you name it. The iPad is often positioned in music education as a miscellaneous platform. One that we use for whatever purpose it serves best in the moment, whether that be in our own hands or those of our students. Few of us have an iPad for each of our students though. And several years into owning one, you might still wonder what niche it is really intended to fill.

For me, the iPad become a transformative tool in the classroom when I started to think about it like a digital piece of paper. And it became in-dispensable when I found ways to become de-pendent on it while rehearsing large ensembles.

The apps in this article have turned the iPad in-to a necessity for me. Many of them are not simply portable versions of desktop apps I use elsewhere. They are apps that thrive, particularly on the form factor of the iPad.


Rather than bringing a pile of parent letters, pie sale pamphlets, and field trip documents to the podium, I have taken to queuing these documents on my iPad. Thankfully, Apple has re-leased a Files app with iOS 11. This app func-tions very similarly to the Finder on the Mac. You can view documents, launch them in other applications, and even drag files from one fold-er into another. The Files app works out of the box using Apple’s iCloud Drive, but third party cloud providers get to join the fun too! Installing apps like Dropbox and Google Drive now makes them appear alongside the left sidebar in the Files app. No need to go fishing in the Dropbox app to see your documents stored there. In Files, they are displayed, natively, alongside your other iCloud files. You interact with your documents the same way no matter which cloud service you are browsing.

You can drag your favorite folders to the side-bar for easy reach, regardless of what third party cloud drive provider they are part of. Us-ing the iPad’s split view feature, you can open another app, like Mail, on the other side of the screen and drag files from the Files app, over into the Mail app, to add them as attachments.

If you are looking for a little more control, I rec-ommend an app called Documents 5 by Read-dle. If you have purchased their app PDF Ex-pert (which is amazing), it allows you to use all of the PDF Expert annotation tools right from within the Documents app. You can also open multiple different files at once in a tabbed inter-face, much like a web browser. This is useful for mornings where I need to review multiple different documents with the class at once.


I give my students a weekly rehearsal grade for preparation and participation. I use a rubric to generate this score but I base it off of informally collected data in the classroom. I needed a way to quickly jot down information on top of stu-dents names and then an easy way to view it from my computer later while inputting grades. I decided to design a seating chart using Om-niGroup’s OmniGraffle app (but you could just as easily draw one and scan it into your com-puter as a PDF). I open these PDFs in an app called Notability. Of all the many great note apps on iPad that let you scribble on a PDF, I find Notability to be the least fussy. The mo-ment the PDF shows up on screen you can begin scribbling on it with an Apple Pencil. It really feels as responsive as paper. I write quick notes on student performance on these charts throughout rehearsal. Jimmy is sitting with great posture, Susan is late, John didn’t bring his instrument...When I sit down at my computer, I launch the Mac version and view all of the charts because the edits have been syncing over iCloud. Then I enter my grades.

Going into the Dropbox app each morning, du-plicating the file, and opening it in Notability was getting to be quite a chore. So I decided to automate it...

Workflow (Now Shortcuts)

Workflow is an app for iOS that allows you to string together multiple actions and trigger them with one tap of a button. This all takes place in plain English, using drag and drop blocks to make up your recipe. This app is a real testament to the growing power of iOS as a productivity platform. If this app sounds in-tense, don’t worry. When you download it, the app walks you through the process.

One of my favorite “Workflows” is a two step workflow called “Band Seating Chart.” Step one of this workflow looks into my Dropbox account for a file called “Symphonic Winds.PDF.” Next, it opens that file as a new note in Notability. All in one tap. Workflows can be published as tap-pable app icons on the homescreen for easy use. So to create a new seating chart in Nota-bility every day as described above, all I do is tap once. Pretty cool.

If designing workflows seems tedious, never fear. You can download these pre-made from a user submitted gallery.

Note: Workflow was purchased by Apple and was integrated into iOS as the Shortcuts app with the release of iOS 12 this past fall. Look forward to more posts about this awesome app in the future.


forScore is my app of choice for all score read-ing and annotating now. I keep all of my music in it. Since the app added the ability to index long Real Book style PDFs last year, I even store my method books and longer form teach-ing materials within it. Indexing these files means that I can search for individual song ti-tles in the forScore search, even if they are within the body of a larger single file. forScore takes me right to the exact page I want to be on.

Of course my more obvious stuff goes in for-Score as well — things like band scores, meth-od books, sheet music for the next gig, you name it.

I am a messy note taker. While I miss the tac-tile feeling of post it notes and pencil on a pa-per score, doing it with forScore allows me to be as messy as I want and just erase it later in the tap of a button. forScore allows me to an-notate with my Apple Pencil right on the screen. With my seating chart open on the other half of the iPad screen in Notability, I can actually an-notate my seating chart and my score simulta-neously. And for the workaholics out there, have you ever tried score study in bed? You don’t need to keep a messenger bag of paper in your bedroom anymore!

forScore is full of fun bells and whistles. My cur-rent favorite is to embed press-able buttons in my scores that initiate tuning drones and met-ronome clicks. And forScore works with all the new iPad features of iOS 11. So, for example, I can open the Files app on one half of the iPad screen, forScore on the other, and drag and drop scores from Files right into my forScore library. These are just a few of the many pow-erful features in forScore.


One of the most stressful things in rehearsal is tending to all of the student needs. Not to men-tion my already spinning head, struggling to keep all of my teaching responsibilities togeth-er. Drafts is a note taking app that focuses on simplicity at the front end, and unlimited power on the backend. Launching into this app brings the user to a blank white space and a key-board, where you can instantly begin typing. Once you have accumulated a bunch of unpro-cessed “drafts,” you can swipe to the right to reveal numerous custom “actions.” These ac-tions can process the text in your notes by rout-ing them to other third party services. Your draft could become the body of an email or text, a Twitter status, or a calendar event. It could be exported as a task to a todo app or become the basis of a Google search. User ac-tions can be created much like workflows in the Workflow app, even including multiple different steps. I use one of my favorite Drafts actions to take meeting notes and then, in one tap, save them to Evernote, email them to the members of my music team, and parse out the actions relevant to me and save them to my todo app of choice, OmniFocus. As with Workflow, you can download user created actions from an online gallery. When the whirlwind of rehearsal starts, and students begin telling me about bro-ken valves, missing music, and the like, I simply start brain dumping all of my thoughts into Drafts. Then later, I sit down at my desk and process all of these thoughts by sending them to the apps they need to go to.

My iPad Homescreen - August 7th, 2016 Edition

There is nothing more fun for an app nerd than discussing their homescreen. The homescreen is the screen on a mobile device that contains the most essential apps for the conscious user. I am always changing this screen depending on the time of year, apps I am using frequently, and new apps I am trying out. Here is what my current homescreen looks like...

My current homescreen.

My current homescreen.

And a brief description of some noteworthy apps on it...

The Dock

Messages - With iMessage, my iPad is just another window into my text conversations. I use this app just as much on the iPad and Mac as I do on the phone.

Spark Mail - One of my favorite Mail app replacements. Spark has enough power features to merit its own blog post, but the feature I am finding quite useful right now is the ability to filter just the important notifications so I am not bothered by junk email throughout the day.

Notes - The Apple Notes app is increasingly becoming my go to for most of my note taking needs. I love using it for checklists, outlines, and sketching. The action extension (accessible from within any iOS app by pressing the square with the arrow pointing out of it) allows me to clip whatever I am looking at, no matter the app, into a new note or existing note.

OmniFocus - This app runs my life. I keep it on the dock for easy access to my tasks and projects.

Drafts - Most of what I type on the iPad starts here and then later gets filtered into the app that best suits its content. I am often sending drafts to Twitter, OmniFocus, Notes app, and my blog app.

Other Essentials

Dropbox - Pretty much all of my documents live here. This is where I browse, edit, and share them from my iPad.

Documents - Think of Documents as the missing Finder app on iPad. It allows you to work with files locally on the iPad but also from various cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive. In fact, it allows you to see all of your content from all of your cloud drives all in the same window. Right now this is crucial for me because I am using a personal and professional Google Drive account simultaneously. Documents allows me to be logged into both of them at the same time, something not even my Mac can do.

Pages - Of all the basic "office" style applications I work with, Pages is perhaps the most essential. Pages is a beautiful and intuitive replacement for Microsoft Word. I love how it seamlessly syncs my documents across all devices through iCloud Drive.

Byword - Byword is a plain text editor. If I am typing a document of length that doesn't need to look pretty or include any multimedia, I usually type it here. Byword has a clutter free atmosphere that allows me to focus on just the text I am typing rather than buttons and tools.

forScore - My entire mobile score workflow is based on this app. I pull scores from my Dropbox account right into forScore where I can annotate them, perform from them, categorize them, and add all sorts of interesting metadata to them.

Blog - This is the app I use to post to my blog on my Squarespace website.

Notion - Still the best music notation software on iPad. I use it for small projects and defer to Sibelius on my Mac still for larger scale work. Notion allows you to scribble on a staff with the Apple Pencil and then it converts your hand writing into crystal clear notation. It's magical.

Recent Favorites:

Google Drive - I have been deviating a little bit from my entirely Dropbox based workflow recently, in part because some colleagues of mine prefer to use Google Drive for collaboration. I really like the Google Drive app. I just wish that the Google Docs and Sheets app took advantage of iPad Pro split screen multitasking.

Sheets - Of all the a Google Doc apps, Sheets is the one I use the most. There are a bunch of ways to use cloud drives to collaborate with others on spreadsheets but Google Sheets is the only one I trust to sync everyone's data reliably. I use this app very frequently to access docs related to scheduling and inventory.

GoodNotes - Although I am using Apple Notes for most things, I find that a few tasks require a little more power. GoodNotes is great at a couple of things. First of all, it has excellent Apple Pencil support for handwritten note taking and sketching. Next, I love how easy it is to combine my own notes along with other PDFs from my iPad all into the same notebooks. GoodNotes (and apps like Notability, which I was previously using until I started trying GN) does the best job allowing me to immediately scribble on top of PDFs. Many PDF annotation apps offer this feature but typically take a couple of taps to enter into annotation mode. GoodNotes feels more like a piece of paper. Also, while there are plenty of great dedicated score apps (including Notion from earlier in this post), I love that GN has a staff paper option. In fact, it is easy to intermingle a diverse range of paper styles all within the same notebook.

Slack - What is Slack? My favorite communication tool on the planet. Slack is an awesome collaboration tool for teams. I am not really sure this is the place to detail the range of its features, but I will share that the music team at my school has been using Slack for the past few months and it has been a real game changer. It is coming to replace both text messaging and email for us. The basic idea behind Slack is that a team can have multiple different "channels" within their team which are basically conversation threads. Any member of the team can be in any channel. For example, all of the people in our team who teach band or orchestra classes are part of an instrumental music channel where we have almost all of our digital communication about that subject. The choir guy doesn't have to see any of that conversation. There is a general channel for general communication and even a random channel so that my endless gifs do not annoy my coworkers by disrupting otherwise productive discussions. Slack takes the cruft and formality out of the picture, enabling simple text conversation while also empowering us to be way better organized about the way we collaborate on different projects. Slack also has tons of integrations with other services. For example, with the Google Drive integration, I can share Google Docs right from within a Slack channel and other users can comment on it or launch right into it.

1Password - My favorite app for managing passwords, software serial numbers, secure notes, and more. I never forget a password with this app. And Touch ID on my iPad allows me to log in anywhere by simply touching my thumb to the home button.

Scrivener - Scrivener is a non-linear writing tool. I used the Mac version to write my book. I am beginning to plan some other writing projects and am enjoying the ability to sync my projects from Mac to iPad and back again.

comiXology - I pretty much only have time to read comic books in the summer. If you are in to this sort of thing, Amazon's comiXology app is the place to buy and read your comics (actually, because Amazon likes to avoid paying Apple's 30 percent of every purchase, you will have to buy the comics from Amazon or comiXology's website). comiXology has this cool feature I like where it smartly detects the ends of the frames and allows you to scroll through each of them full screen. Right now, I am reading the Walking Dead series.

BusyCal - I am trying out this Calendar replacement right now. Usually, my calendar app of choice is Fantastical but BusyCal allows me to do some interesting things like, for example, associate contacts in my address book with events for better context.