Jazz Journey
My journey as a jazz musician
Review of Notion for iPad
Categories: Business, Technology

I bought my iPad in 2010. Since then so many different options have surfaced when it comes to tablets. I played with them all while out shopping with a friend recently. Truthfully, it would take something amazing to take me away from the iPad… and it’s almost to the point where it can replace a laptop.

There’s a few things that the iPad can’t do – and music notation used to be one of them. (I’m a Finale person and have been since I got my first copy of Finale 95 on disk.) Just before Christmas, Notion came out and at the introductory price of $.99 I immediately installed it. I figured that even if it sucked, I was only out a buck.

Official Website for Notion

Overall, it’s easy to use and fairly intuitive. When trying to do something new I was usually able to find what I was looking for on the first or second try. It is deifnitely a HUGE leap forward for an app like this on the iPad. Here’s some of my thoughts.

Pluses:

  • I dig the sliding piano used to enter notes. Very smooth and easy to change octaves. (If you play guitar you can also enter notes using the guitar)
  • There’s a melody mode – for one note at a time entry and also a chord mode – for more than one note.
  • Piano keys darken (but are still usable) when you get out of an instrument’s range.
  • Note entry makes a lot of sense and there’s even quite a few options for note heads.
  • Fixing mistakes is really easy and intuitive
  • You can change key signatures in the middle of a piece
  • Easy export as a PDF or XML file.
  • Can also export MIDI which is pretty cool.
  • Playback is great.

Current Gripes

  • There’s no blank staff option. You have to choose an instrument. Really annoying if you just want to make a lead sheet or exercise in treble clef. Which leads me to my second biggest gripe.
  • You pretty much get a full orchestra of instruments, but extra instruments cost money. Which is fine, except the app designers are obviously classical musicians because I have a free contrabass bassoon included, but no saxophone. As a saxophone player, that’s really annoying.
  • Instruments not in the key of C automatically transpose. (I think this is a fine option, but not being able to turn it on and off drives me crazy. Mainly because you have to make sure to think in concert pitch while writing, but switch to transposing while reading the score. Do note that when you export it and open into Finale, you can then decide if you want to view the score in concert pitch and all is right with the world again.)
  • Different transposing instruments still have the same key signature. You can change how each instrument transposes in the staff settings, but that part of the program needs work. As someone who understands transposing and does it on a regular basis, I found myself getting rather frustrated.
  • When you copy and paste from one key to another, it keeps the original notes.
  • Although fixing notes is fairly easy, there’s no mass transpose option. Very frustrating if you’re trying to create something in all 12 keys.
  • You can only view 2 measures per line. When you export it as a PDF you only 2 measures per line as well.
  • Missing all sfz options.
  • No chord changes – but you can workaround by simply using text. Ok as long as you don’t want to actually hear the chords.

Screen Shots

20120102-210349.jpgThis is a screen shot of what the app looks like on the iPad.

Here’s what the exported PDF looks like.

This is what it looked like when I opened it in Finale.
Not sure why the 8th notes are no longer beamed, or what happened to the title.

So, is it worth it? Yes and no. If the app ever goes on sale again, I would say grab it. But for the regular price of $14.99 (and you’d have to pay an extra 4 bucks to saxophones!) it’s a little steep. There are still a few bugs to work out but I knew that would be the case when I purchased it. If you spend a lot of time away from home and don’t have a laptop, it’s probably worth it. If you’re just looking for something new to do on the iPad, I’d skip it.

3 Comments to “Review of Notion for iPad”

  1. Christian says:

    Hey there,
    Thx for your practicable review!
    Question: Have U tried or found better alternatives?
    Symphony Pro?

    I just need it for piano notation and want onscreen piano for entering. Handling has to be no fuzz. But above all it has to work.
    Would be thankful for advice or opinion,
    Best from Berlin
    Christian

    • Moni says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. Unfortunately, I have not tried anything else, but I did go and check out Symphony Pro on the app store (I remember that not being very impressive a year ago) and it seems like a really strong alternative. There’s a great demo on their website that you should check out. I’d love to try it out and compare, but I’m not able to shell out $14.99 for it. I’ll contact them and see if they will let me have it in exchange for a review! :)

      Good luck on your quest. If I get to try Symphony Pro I’ll let you know! Please do the same and tell me what you think!

    • Chule says:

      Hi Christian,

      I am also looking to use my midi piano but just for creating and sharing sheet music. At the moment, this is the only app I have found that can do this but I’m not ready to pay $14.99 yet. I see that Symphony Pro 3 is coming soon but was curious how this worked for you and if you could elaborate on using it for this purpose.

      Thanks!!

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