Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Freehand Systems MusicPad Pro Plus

Bottom line: Freehand Systems’ MusicPad Pro is a great new way to view not only sheet music, but also to organize and store it. It’s also one of those rare pieces of technology that has the ability to give its user peace of mind: You will never have to worry about whether or not you’ve remembered all of your music-your entire collection will already be there, much in the same way a roomful of CDs can be stored in one pocket-sized iPod.

My initial concern is that this system really ought to come as a complete package. That is to say, the consumer should not only get the MusicPad itself, but also the foot pedal and the stand to which it attaches. These are available, but at an extra cost (stand $99, foot pedal $49.95). Without the foot pedal and stand, this is not an easily managed piece of technology for a trombonist who generally has both hands working just to play the instrument; frankly, MusicPad is impossible to operate without the foot pedal. The MusicPad stand is also pretty much essential. With it, the ‘Pad is placed at the correct angle for easy viewing; without it and placed on a regular music stand, the MusicPad is difficult to view at the correct angle and more likely to tumble onto the floor. Not a good plan for a pricey piece of equipment ($1,119 retail).

These are minor quibbles with a system that ultimately may supplant sheet music as the way musicians store their music. There are a couple of different ways for performers to load music onto their MusicPad. The first involves buying music that has been formatted and is available for download on the Freehand Systems Web site. The selection is good considering the relatively short time that the MusicPad has been on the market. It reminds me of the early days of MakeMusic’s Smartmusic selection-a healthy collection of essential music that continues to grow. For those performers who already have a considerable library of their own, there is the option of using scanned music on the MusicPad. This is not a simple drag-and-drop procedure, but it is not terribly difficult either. The .PDF file format will not transfer directly, so the files need to be converted via Freehand’s included software into the correct file format. (Again, it reminds me of another technology that I have used throughout the years. Yamaha’s Disklavier has a proprietary file format on its floppy drive that is neither Mac nor Windows.) Once the music is scanned into .PDF format and converted, it goes into the library of the MusicPad Pro. At this point, you are able to call up a piece and view it in full-page format.

Here’s where the foot pedal really comes into play. Without it, you must tap a corner of the MusicPad to make a page turn. With the pedal, it’s simply a tap of the foot. There are different “views” of the music available on the Pad itself. One is the simple single-page-at-a-time view. This was fine for study and even some practice, but not something that I would feel comfortable using in performance. Here’s the great part: The MusicPad allows for a page turn that is one-half page at a time. Additionally, most musicians make annotations on their music. The MusicPad accommodates this easily and allows players to mark the music in their own handwriting with a special digital pen of sorts, though too many markings can slow the performance of the ‘Pad, especially on page turns. The machine also allows you to zoom in on specific bars and open those phrases in a new window.

There are a couple of other considerations with the MusicPad, one being the fact that this system runs on rechargeable batteries. While the batteries in my new demo system retain their life well, my experience with rechargeable battery systems like those used on laptop computers is that the battery will eventually degrade as it ages. In a performance setting, I am more comfortable using the MusicPad with AC power.

One of the greatest advantages to the MusicPad is that you never need to worry about lighting again. There are so many times that my brass quintet will play a gig and the lighting is inadequate. Stand lights will sometimes solve the problem, but they have their own set of problems.

All in all, the MusicPad Pro is a wonderful tool for performers and conductors. The price is rather high for the individual purchase, but for an institutional or group purchase it is within the realm of affordability. Freehands Systems also provides wonderful tech support on its Web site. The whole system is a remarkable innovation.

Originally Published