The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 now has a powerful sheet music reader – Mobile Sheets

By Stephen Pate – Updated – After years of playing second fiddle to the Apple iPad for musicians, Windows 10 now has the popular Android app Mobile Sheets.

The app is actually better than some iPad apps since it allows transposing text and ChordPro files. MobileSheets has a free companion desktop app for organizing and transferring files to your tablet.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (128 GB, 4 GB RAM, Intel Core i5)  is a newer and slightly larger version of the Surface Pro 3 discussed in Surface Pro 3 Full Sheet Music Reader.

The Surface Pro 4 has a larger 12.3″ diagonal screen which might improve its ability to display a full page of sheet music. It also has an improved pen and other enhancements.

Amazing Savings on Surface Pro 4

Surface Pro 4 with Adobe Touch and sheet music

Surface Pro 4 with Adobe Touch and sheet music (Photo NJN Network)

If you already have a Surface Pro 4, it can be used for as a sheet music reader with no compromises.

A sheet music reader should meet most of the following criteria:

  1. Full page display
  2. Portable
  3. Easy to use in performance or practice
  4. Have a choice of programs or Apps to read music notation and chord charts
  5. Use Bluetooth page turning
  6. Allow annotations
  7. Use a standard operating systems – iOS, Android or Windows 10
  8. Cost less than $1,000

Full page display

The Surface Pro 4 has a 12.3″ screen with an aspect ratio of 3:2 which is not the same as an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of sheet music. A standard 8.5 x 11″ page will shrink 24% to 6.5″ wide on the Pro 4.

As the page is reduced, the fonts become smaller and harder to read. It is possible to fit the page by reducing the left and right margins .75″ each.

Sheet music is also printed on pages larger than 8.5 x 11″ with smaller margins that will require even more reduction in the page and smaller fonts. Hal Leonard music books are 9″ by 12″ with music on 8″ x 11.5″ of the page.  Hal Leonard sheet music will shrink 20% on a Surface Pro 4 screen.

MusicNotes.com, the sheet music download site, would require the same 20% reduction to view a full page. Some people might not mind that but many prefer a full sized sheet of music, myself included.

MobileSheets has automatic page cropping to eliminate the song margins.

You can overcome this by using the Surface Pro 4 in landscape mode. That means you will be paging down with a Bluetooth pedal on each page and at page breaks.

From Paper to Pixels – Your Guide to the Digital Sheet Music Revolution is an excellent guide to moving your sheet music to a tablet. The author has 12 years of experience that saved me months of effort. He is biased towards the Apple iPad but that’s not uncommon. Highly recommended.

Portable

The Surface Pro 4 suffers from the “app gap” any hardware device is limited by software applications

The Surface Pro 4 suffers from the “app gap” any hardware device is limited by software applications

The Surface Pro 4 is reasonably portable measuring 11.50 x 7.93 x .33″ and weighs 1.73 lbs. The built-in kickstand makes it easy to set up in landscape mode on your knee or table top.

If you are preparing your PDF music files on a desktop, you can use it without the optional Type Cover, although it is very handy to have and the Type Cover protects the screen when you’re travelling. The Surface Pro 4 could be your only computer, something not possible with the Apple iPad.

Easy to use in music performance or practice

The Surface Pro 4 uses Windows 10 a desktop/laptop operating system that needs a mouse and keyboard. To create a tablet experience Microsoft bundles the excellent Surface Pen which attaches magnetically to the side.

The free Surface Pen is a necessity but also a great tool for things like annotations on your sheet music. It beats the finger annotations on an iPad Air which is why Apple sells the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro.

Program to read music notation and chord charts

Mobile Sheets by Zubersoft is similar to the popular Android app. It is available from the Windows Store, Android Play and Amazon.com for Kindle.  Amazon customers rate it 4.3 out of 5 stars.

  • Multiple modes of operation including two pages side-by-side, half page turns, and vertically scrolling pages.
  • Hands-free page turns using any Bluetooth or USB devices (including two and four pedal models), or through the automatic scrolling feature
  • Annotations for marking up music including support for free form drawing, basic shapes, text and stamps
  • A custom audio player for playing audio tracks with your scores. Audio player supports a-b looping and multiple sizes.
  • A metronome with multiple display modes and sound effects
  • Bookmarks for quick and easy access to sections in scores
  • Link points for handling repeats and quickly jumping between pages
  • Support for multiple file types including images, PDFs, text files and chord pro files.
  • The ability to transpose chords in text and chord pro files.
  • Manual and automatic cropping to completely eliminate unnecessary margins
  • Support for set lists and collections to efficiently group songs for playback.

Sheet Music by BugBytes – one of the few apps that does not support PDF files. It uses images instead which is clumsy.

Music Reader by Leone Music Reader – PDF based app that has versions for Windows, Apple iOS and Android – which deserves a longer review.

You can also use  OneDrive, File Manager and Adobe Touch reader to see the sheet music, although this is not as efficient as an app.

The steps to display your music are: 1. navigate to the sub-directory with the music in File Manager or OneDrive, the cloud storage; 2. click on the file and 3. the sheet music will open with Adobe Touch, if you make that the default app for PDF files. You only need to set the default once.

The key to making this system work is to keep OneDrive up to date and organize your sheet music in some logical fashion so that you can find it quickly. For example, I use genre and composer as sub-directories. For a composer or songwriter with hundreds of titles you may need another level of organization. For a gig or performance, you can create a performance sub-directory, copy in the music and rename the files with a number prefix.

Use Bluetooth page turning

PageFlip Firefly Bluetooth/USB Page Turner Pedal

PageFlip Firefly Bluetooth/USB Page Turner Pedal

The Surface Pro 4 supports Bluetooth 4.0 and worked flawlessly with the PageFlip Firefly. I also tested the Airturn PED on the Surface Pro 3.  Both pedals work well. They also work on the iPad.

AirTurn PED

AirTurn PED

The differences are the Firefly is larger, has more options and provides more tactile feedback.

The Airturn PED is ultra compact and absolutely quiet. I like both and use them all the time.

Allow annotations

The Surface Pro 4 has an integrated pen but not every application supports free-form annotations.

Standard operating systems – iOS, Android or Windows 10

Windows 10 is a standard operating system but not widely accepted on mobile devices.

Cost less than $1,000

A Surface Pro 4 with i5 processor and 128 GB of storage costs $709 with the Surface Pen. You really need the Type Cover which is another $129. Microsoft often have bundles that discount the Type Cover or Office so your cost may be less.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (128 GB, 4 GB RAM, Intel Core i5)  is sold everywhere – Microsoft, Best Buy, Staples / Office Depot, Costco and Wal-Mart.

You might also find the Surface Pro 3 on clearance with savings of $200 – $300. I recommend staying away from the entry-level i3 processor models which are under-powered.  You can also upgrade the Pro 3 by getting a Pro 4 Type Cover.