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.

Apple Power Users Rejoice!

Another topic I intended to blog about months ago and have been sitting on throughout the spring.

The Mac Pro Lives!!!

John Gruber wrote a great post at Daring Fireball recently outlining Apple’s plans for the future of their desktop computers.

The Mac Pro Lives:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

This is fantastic news. No matter how late Apple is releasing this machine, or how late they are in realizing that they need to release this machine, it is good for everyone that they are releasing it. I own the 2008 Mac Pro. I love it, but I don't think I will buy another desktop Mac in the near future just because my needs have changed so much since 2008. But Apple making a modular pro level machine gives me hope for the platform. It means that creative professionals will be able to rely on Macs as their primary workstations for years to come. It also means that Apple is committed to macOS, an operating system that I have a lot of affection for and rely on to perform high level tasks and operate professional music software. This really is good news for anybody who loves the Mac, whether you need something like a Mac Pro or if the MacBook Air is enough for you.

This, in combination with Apple's recent acquisition of Workflow, lead me to believe that Apple really cares about putting powerful tools in the hands of their users, both traditional professionals who use Mac Pros, and edge case iOS power users.

Apple Acquires Workflow!

I am still playing spring catch-up. A lot has happened in tech over the winter and early spring, a lot of it I wanted to write about but was lost in them sea of band concerts, assessments, conferences, and the like.

This one was very exciting for me...

Earlier this year, Apple acquired iOS productivity app Workflow (Download Link). You can read the general details of that acquisition here.

MacStories has a great write up of what this could mean for both Workflow and Apple here.

Workflow is one of the only reasons I can use an iPad to get work done. It is a standout app and anyone reading this should immediately stop and go download it from the App Store now that it is free. Workflow is at the core of a number of tasks I do on my iPad that are essential to teaching band on a daily basis. I wrote about it in my book, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers. Actually, one of the workflows I am most proud of including in the book is made in Workflow: by tapping a single button, a clean copy of a student seating chart is copied and exported into the Notability app where I can annotate it on half of the screen while I read my scores in forScoe on the other half of the screen. These annotated seating charts are later archived by date and used to help me remember information about my students and generate weekly rehearsal participation grades.

It's hard to say what this Apple acquisition could mean. I think the best case scenario is that the Workflow will get deeper access to the features of iOS, allowing even more powerful automations, perhaps even being rebranded "Automator" like the macOS app that functions similarly. Time will tell. In the meantime, go download Workflow!