Vector illustration of colorful music notes on a staff.

Tips for reading music on an iPad with low vision

Tips and tricks for reading music on an iPad, and how to set up an iPad for reading digital sheet music for musicians with low vision.

I received a reader question today asking about tips for reading music on an iPad with low vision, and if there was anything that they would need to do to make music easier to read. I’ve used my iPad to read music for many years, and have many friends with low vision who have done the same as well. Here are my favorite tips and tricks for reading music on an iPad, and how to set up an iPad for reading digital sheet music.

Does the type of iPad matter?

Musicians do not need to purchase a special type of iPad for reading music, though some people prefer larger screens. I use an iPad Pro with a 9.7-inch screen for reading music, though it’s worth noting I didn’t buy an iPad specifically for reading music- it’s the same iPad I use for everything else. My best friend uses a 12.9-inch iPad Pro for reading music and highly recommends it for musicians who play instruments that have lots of eighth or sixteenth note runs, as they can easily display larger portions of music on the screen, plus it is easier to center on the stand.

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Important high-quality scans of music

One of the most helpful things a musician with low vision can have is high-quality digital scans of music that do not get blurry when they zoom in to read it further. While many music publishers and ensembles have shifted to providing digital copies of music for everyone, physical copies of music may still need to be scanned into a digital format so that they can be read in an accessible format. I recommend scanning in music at the highest resolution possible and exporting it as an image or PDF. Musicians can also use a free scanning app such as Microsoft Office Lens to scan music and other types of content directly to their device.

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Add additional markings as needed

After scanning in music, I like to use the built-in Markup app on my iPad to add additional markings or notes to my music so I can easily keep track of information. This includes going over accent marks and tempo changes in a bold tip marker and circling measure numbers in different colors for each page. Markup can be opened by either taking a screenshot of an image and using the pen tools that appear at the bottom of the screen, or by tapping the “More Options” button after opening a PDF and selecting the Markup option.

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Use a gallery folder or Apple Books to organize music

When I used my iPad to read music in a concert/symphonic band setting, I preferred to have my music saved as images in a dedicated gallery folder, arranged in the same order that I would be playing it in. Since we played music in the same order every time, and I wasn’t playing a lot of different songs, this system worked well.

My best friend uses their iPad to read music in an athletic/pep band setting, and has their music saved as a PDF, which they imported into Apple Books (formerly known as iBooks). This works well since they rarely play music in the same order and have over 90 different songs, so it is easier for them to scroll through music this way.

To add music to Apple Books from iPad, follow these instructions:

  1. Open the PDF
  2. Click the share button
  3. Select “Copy to Books”

The file will be shown within the Books library when the user opens the app.

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Horizontal or vertical orientation

Another question I frequently receive from other musicians with low vision is if I prefer to use a horizontal or vertical page layout/page orientation when reading music on an iPad. Personally, I find it more natural to use a horizontal layout and use the pinch-to-zoom gesture to magnify music as needed. Another reason why I prefer the horizontal layout is that I wear lined bifocals and can easily read music through the “reading” part of my glasses.

Some of my musician friends prefer to read music in a vertical layout because they have more limited peripheral vision and prefer to have their face close to the screen while playing. It’s easy to switch from horizontal to vertical layouts or vice versa, so I recommend trying out both layouts to see which one works best for individual users.

Make sure the stand can’t be easily knocked over

While I don’t have much experience with my iPad being knocked over, I once completely destroyed a cell phone after it fell off my music stand and directly onto my bass clarinet- the phone wouldn’t even turn on afterward! Because of this, I exercise extreme caution with my iPad and making sure that my stand won’t get easily knocked over. This includes putting it away from standard walkways and holding onto my iPad or putting it in a secure location when it is not in use, as well as keeping it inside its case. One of my friends added velcro strips to their stand and iPad case to help secure it more easily while playing, though since I don’t typically use my iPad in a setting where people are moving around a lot, I haven’t done this myself.

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Use display accommodations to make music easier to see

One of the benefits of reading music on an iPad is that users aren’t limited to reading black notes on a white background. By exploring the Display menu within Accessibility settings on iPad, users can tint their screen to be any color of the rainbow with color filters, enable Classic Invert to reverse the colors of the display, and reduce the white point to help make bright colors seem less intense. I strongly recommend documenting accessibility settings used for music so that they can easily be enabled whenever a user needs them.

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Practice page turns

One of the first things I do when I get a new piece of music is practicing when to turn the page, which is as simple as swiping one finger across the screen. However, it’s important to time page turns so that the user doesn’t skip ahead too early or too late- I typically memorize the first and last line of each page so this isn’t a problem.

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Other tips for reading music on an iPad

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023

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