Interactive Sheet Music App Tomplay Revolutionises The Way We Use Scores
Three hours before a concert a few months ago, my page-turner cancelled on me. I went through my entire phone book, frantically calling anyone I thought might be capable of turning piano score pages. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have enough to do, given that I had barely been able to take a look at the required pieces, and had committed precisely this part of my day to a solid practice session. After the concert, I had to rush home in order to practice a Concerto and subsequently plan a student’s lesson for the following day. Little did I know that there was an app to assist me in all these hectic tasks. I am a firm believer in human effort over that of a machine, but I really wish I had known about the Tomplay app that day.
As a classical musician whose repertoire almost entirely stems from a time before ‘technology’ as we know it existed, it can sometimes feel a little flakey to sit at a church organ, staring at an iPad and playing along. However, given my punishing work schedule, and the overwhelming number of scores I need to carry with me on a daily basis, there really can be no better solution than Tomplay.
Tomplay was released last year by a team of Swiss designers, which goes some way to explaining it as the musical equivalent of a Swiss army knife. At its most basic, Tomplay allows you to download scores for a few dollars a pop from its ever-expanding online database of sheet music. The interface within the score resembles something between an editor and a reader, allowing you to play through a score while following a cursor running, and automatically scrolling, at your desired speed. In a manner that seems impressively thought through, the previous advantages of having a paper score, such as being able to make annotations to any bar at a whim, are wholly catered from within the app. Meanwhile, features that were only possible within the realms of digital audio workstations such as GarageBand or Logic comfortably find a home here: the primary example of this is the looping function, which allows you to select and automatically repeat a desired number of bars from the score until you feel like you have a grasp of the passage.
Well-known apps such as Kindle and Adobe Reader already offer PDF reading services, while direct competitors such as forScore have adapted the look and feel of reading sheet music for the iPad. However, Tomplay really plays along with you. Let’s assume you’re rehearsing a concerto alone, playing the violin part while imagining an orchestra’s accompaniment. Tomplay assumes that very role of the orchestra for you, opening up a whole world of music for the home practitioner. Where one might have been previously limited to playing Sonatas within the confines of one’s living room due to lack of accompaniment, this goes a long way to allowing anyone, regardless of finances, rehearsal space or musical friends, to practice pieces that previously required a multitude of other musicians in the room.
In addition to this, the playback of the accompaniment takes place at your desired speed, so if you need to rehearse slowly before speeding up, you can experiment with the Tempo function until you find your sweet spot. The unobtrusive metronome can also be an invaluable tool when looking to improve your timing on a certain piece, guiding you through the score at your customized speed.
Having said this, the skeptics among you can already hear the ear-splittingly fake MIDI being emitted from the iPad, destroying any sort of feeling with tinny glissandos and synthetic ostinatos. In what could prove to be one of their most invaluable assets, Tomplay has recorded every single one of its scores using a studio orchestra in high quality, the result of which is the most organic musical experience I have had using an iPad to date. The relationship between score and sound within the app is so symbiotic that I would almost liken it to the experience of a vinyl record, with the score providing a visual stimulus to the music that I am sure you could fully enjoy without even being able to read a note of music.
Over the past ten years, it could seem as though, while technology has particularly changed the face of popular music, those seeking to play in a more traditional and notated style have been left behind by a majority of musical software. Even a standard program within notated music such as Sibelius leaves much to be desired, in particular in terms of its truly terrible synthetic piano. It was therefore even more refreshing to find Tomplay arriving as complete as it does, with its passion for real-life musicianship in the absolute lack of synthetic MIDI, and a whole arsenal of tools for any given situation. Given that there were already other score-reader apps out there, it is the aforementioned quality of a Swiss army knife that truly makes Tomplay an app I can’t do without any more. Whether it’s a concert missing a page-turner, a solo rehearsal for an orchestral piece, or practicing a difficult passage of my favourite Liszt pieces in the evening, Tomplay has become an invaluable tool for my repertoire. Having said this from my perspective as a jobbing musician, Tomplay effortlessly caters to any skill level within music. It’s available as an iPad and a desktop app, and there are scores for piano, violin, flute, harp, clarinet, cello, and more.
Harvey Grant is currently completing studies in Music at Goldsmiths University of London and works as a piano teacher.