Digital Sheet Music: Why It's Time To Go Paperless

by Rob Hampton November 28, 2018

Why It’s Better To Use Paperless Sheet Music

Did you start to learn an instrument before the early-mid 2000s? If so, tell me if this sounds familiar (if not, take a look at how things used to be back in the stone age).

When I first started playing guitar, I would carry around pages and pages of paper. I would have lessons, tabs, chord charts, and random theory notes. My “filing” system was throwing them in my case. When I ran out of room in my cases I’d move them to folders and store them in my closet.

When I started to gig I would hand write set lists on blank paper. If I needed a chart or notes I’d also print that out. At the end of the gig it all would end up in the trash or recycling. I’d write notes and bring them to the studio or rehearsal space. I just couldn’t get away from all of the paper.

Can you relate to this? As musicians our lives were controlled by paper. But...

A New Age Is Upon Us

We have paperless bank statements and insurance cards. We communicate almost exclusively via some digital messaging. We rarely have a need to print or write.

But as we go paperless is other areas, why not go paperless with sheet music and charts?

Prior to the early 2010s, paper was the only real option. It was wasteful, time consuming, and literally weighed us down. But thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, we’ve entered a new world of convenience.

Equipped with the right software or app, and a Bluetooth foot pedal controller/page turner like STOMP, you have a whole world of paperless possibilities. While I can think of no less than a dozen reasons why you should go paperless, here are my top 6:

  1. No Extra Bulk/Things To Carry

Have you ever pulled into a venue, started to unload your gear and said, “I wish I had more things to carry”? If you did, let me know. I could always use the help loading in!

I’m guessing you said a very strong “No way!”. What if you could replace your charts/notes/setlists with something you’re already taking to the gig?

If you already have an iPhone or iPad, Galaxy, or any Android equipped smartphone or tablet, you can completely replace your binder of charts/sheet music/notes.

Store your entire sheet music library on a hard drive or in the cloud. Pull in the charts you need on a gig by gig basis.

  1. Cleaner Stages

Rather than laying your charts out on the stage on a Sunday morning, or using a giant music stand, why not use your tablet or smartphone? You can have all of your charts with apps like Planning Center, Music Stand, and OnSong.

With a tablet stand like this you can neatly and discretely have your tablet on stage. And since most of us play on dark stages….

  1. Tablets Are Easier To Read

Have you ever tried to reference a setlist in between songs when the lights are low? Black ink on white paper, 5-6 feet away from your eyes. Or maybe you have notes like the key of the song. I definitely haven’t misread the key and started in the wrong one….

But a backlit screen is clear and easy to read. Not just for setlists, but for song or key notes as well. Speaking of notes….

  1. Cleaner Note Taking and Edits

You’re at rehearsal and are running through your set. You need to make a note about a transition, backing track trigger, or the song itself. What do you do?

Probably dig through your bag searching desperately for a pen and useable paper (that hasn’t already been scribbled on).

Why not pull up the virtual keyboard on your charting or note software (hands-free) and type it in (this part will take hands)? You won’t just save a lot of grief, you’ll also save paper, which is very…

  1. It’s Environmentally Friendly

Look, I think most of us can agree this is something we need to talk about. We waste a ton of resources, not just paper. But when we can, we recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste.

Musicians need to have one-off setlists, tons of charts, and notes galore. But we can minimize our impact by using resources we already have. Like our smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

  1. Turn Pages Hands Free

Have you ever had to change pages on your sheet music while playing piano? How about changing chord charts while playing guitar? It’s a challenge and can take away from your playing and performance.

But imagine being able to use a footswitch to turn to the next page of music. Or the next song in the set. Or even trigger backing tracks. There are hundreds of apps compatible with iOS and Android devices to do just about anything a band needs. And a Bluetooth controller to perform the commands.

You don’t change amp channels with your hands, or add in effects with your hands. You have footswitches for that. So why would you take your hands off your instrument to change charts?

Thankfully, you no longer need to.

Do you have any stories of being bogged down by paper? The reason you went paperless? Let me know on Facebook and be sure to use the hashtag #codamusictech!

Related articles: Best Tablets for Reading Digital Sheet Music and Chord Charts

Rob Hampton
Rob Hampton