Picture of Nicole Martín Medina

Nicole Martín Medina

Gestora Cultural – Abogada/MBA

The digital music stand

The questions are:

Is it possible to turn the page with a green thumb?

Is the use of digital scores sensible from a business point of view?

What are the opportunities and what are the challenges of this new technology?

El atril digital Las preguntas son: ¿Es posible pasar página con pulgar verde? ¿Es el uso de las partituras digitales sensato desde el punto de vista de la empresa? ¿Cuáles son las oportunidades y cuáles son los retos de esta nueva tecnología?
Source of pictures: Pixabay


Digitalisation has long neglected the heart of orchestral activities: the musical art work of rehearsals and performances. Apart from a few particular smartphones, music stands are still mainly filled with paper-bound products. And why not? It has reliably worked that way for centuries.

But now tablets and co. are on the rise and have arrived in Spanish symphony orchestras as well as in orchestras all over the world. More and more musicians are becoming interested in the option of scanning stacks of music books and notes and archiving the musical material as PDF files on the tablet.

It is high time to give some thought to what the market has to offer and the advantages and disadvantages of digital score reading systems.

We can certainly answer the first question positively. Yes, it is possible to turn the page with a green thumb or, in other words, with a foot pedal that advances the page played from a tablet. The other questions are not so easily answered.

But let’s take it one step at a time.


Advantages of a digital score reading system

Both, the advantages and disadvantages of a digital music stand are manifold and, in part, subject to subjective criteria depending on the needs and demands of each individual.

The first advantage is obvious: by having the option of being able to store an infinite number of scores on digital memories, on the one hand, we limit the weight to be carried to an average of 500 grams per tablet (especially if we go on a trip) and, on the other hand, we reduce the cost of paper considerably. No matter how much sheet music you want to have at hand, the weight remains the same. Ipso facto, there is no need to print more sheet music either.

The second advantage is that the digital storage system makes it much easier to store and find again sheet music than in a paper sheet music library.

Similarly, it improves the efficiency of score annotations by being able to store them at different levels and synchronously, both individual annotations of each musician and group annotations (e.g. by the concertmaster for his section or for the whole orchestra). Especially in the string section, which requires bowing, it can be a great advantage to write down them for all colleagues at the same time. What is more, the indications of each production can be retrieved in subsequent productions and, of course, corrected or deleted altogether.

The fourth advantage is the perfect illumination of the scores which, assuming the tablet is working properly and has sufficient battery power available, is always homogeneous and adaptable to each individual.

Another advantage can be the integrated bookmark function. And if we think of open-air concerts, it is also easier to play with a digital score because of the impossibility of the photocopies of the sheet music being blown away by the wind.

Finally, if a foot pedal or bluetooth button is used, there is not even a problem with page turning, as it can be operated with a foot or a finger. There are even options to easily turn the page with your eyes alone.

The biggest advantage of the use of the digital music stand, especially within symphony orchestras, are its benefits for the colleagues in the library or music archive. They will find their work considerably improved due to the fact that they save many hours of work sorting, photocopying and distributing sheet music.

It sounds great. OK, it is.

Still, not all that glitters is gold, and the topic must be seen from all angles. Especially since justifying the implementation of a digital music stand on the grounds of sustainability or long-term savings remains to be seen.


El atril digital


Disadvantages of a digital score reading system

Not all musicians will feel the same way about the use of tablets at the music stand. This will often have to do with the instrument they play. For example, it is not the same to have a digital music stand if you play in the string or wind section as if you play in the percussion section. In the latter case, due to the positioning of the percussion instruments, there will be a much greater distance between the musician’s eye and the tablet.  This is something that cannot be ignored.

Likewise, for the music director, who depends on the large score including all instruments, the use of the tablet should not be very interesting, at least not yet, because it would have to be a giant digital device to be able to read all the musical staves. Something similar happens with 19th and 20th century scores, which are usually quite large and more difficult to reproduce electronically.

On the other hand, both the use of the foot pedal to change pages and other functions (e.g. the pencil function) have to be learned. At the beginning, it can be a problem that the pedal goes into standby mode when it has not been touched for a certain time. It can also happen that the page change is too slow or too fast, which does not depend on whether a pedal or a button is used.

It can be said that not all functions of a digital lectern are intuitive. We already know of real cases where the inappropriate use of the different levels for saving annotations has led to laughter (or tears, whichever way you look at it) when individual notes have mistakenly appeared in all the orchestra’s scores. Or the other way around, when group annotations have been mistakenly deleted for all colleagues.

Similar reactions have occurred in the audience when, during a concert, additional functions of devices such as messaging services, calls, alarms, Wi-Fi, etc. became automated or failed. Mobile phones or alarms being heard during a concert in the middle of the audience is annoying, but seemingly unavoidable. However, it is unprofessional for this to happen from the stage because of the orchestra’s inability to use their brand-new music stand properly. Of course, in order to avoid such incidents, there are options to lock all devices in an orchestra at the same time, if users know how to use this tool properly. Hence, the safe use of the new system requires prior training and an adjustment process.

One of the biggest problems, given the high price of electronic devices, is accidents with water or overheating. It would not be the first time that a tablet has had to be replaced (at a corresponding cost) as a bottle of water has spilled in a test.


General considerations from a business point of view

Everything mentioned so far has been considered mainly from a practical point of view. But my regular readers know that I like to look beyond that and, first of all, to look at business issues.


Today, a digital music stand is a costly investment for symphony orchestras.

By now you will have noticed that the decision to swap traditional paper sheet music for a tablet or digital music stand is not so simple.

If we now add that the decision has to be made by an organisation such as a symphony orchestra and not by an individual professional, it becomes even more complicated. Today, regardless of the wide range of reading applications and devices on the market, for an average ensemble of 75 to 100 people this is a huge financial investment. Most orchestras do not yet have the liquidity to take this step.

On the other hand, I don’t want to hide the fact that, especially at national and European level, there are quite a few public subsidies available to cover the cost of a switch from paper to a digital solution.

We also know that at the moment it is relatively easy to get a private sponsor for the implementation of the digital music stand out of the private industry sector, because there are still few orchestras digitised to this level and companies are interested in putting their products to the test in real life.

This does not change the fact that an orchestra of a hundred or so members requires a six-figure investment to get started.


Buying or leasing?

Once the decision has been made to switch from paper to a 3.0 solution, the question arises as to whether an orchestra should buy the digital reading system or, on the contrary, purchase it on a leasing or renting basis (usually for 3 years). At least we can say that these alternatives exist, but it is up to each organisation to ensure that they are interesting from an economic-financial point of view.

A similar question emerges with regard to sheet music, which obviously still exists also in digitised format for sale and for rental.


Questions of ownership of the device and reality

Let us now assume that our orchestra has bought a digital music stand system with all the accessories such as stands, digital pens, pedals, etc. The following problem showes uo: Who is in charge of custody of all this? The ownership of these assets obviously lies with the orchestra, but if the aim was to streamline processes, it makes little sense not to take the next step and allow the musicians to use the tablets privately. If this were not the case, the colleagues in the archive, instead of sorting and guarding paper, would be managing tablets.

Consequently, orchestras that have shifted to the digital age often leave the devices to the musicians for this reason. If it is an iPad Pro, it will generate a lot of joy among them. However, private use increases the risk of accidents, and we also know that there have been cases where the water accident with the tablet did not happen in rehearsal, but at home. Who pays for the replacement device now?


Are digital lecterns sustainable?

The advocates of digital solutions lead us to reflect on an improvement in CO2 emissions and the environment, i.e. the famous sustainability. In order to be able to compare processes from an environmental point of view, the CO2 emissions of each version have to be calculated.

The Changency[1] publishes such calculations on the sustainability of electronic devices on its website. The question is, however, whether, compared to the use of paper, these gadgets are really environmentally neutral, that means better or worse for the environment. The fact that, for example, Apple plants trees to balance its CO2 emissions in the production of its iPad Pro does not make the device itself neutral in relation to the CO2 content in the atmosphere.

To sum up this point, the actual sustainability of new systems versus paper remains to be scientifically proven.


Do digital lecterns really reduce average costs?

It is also argued that the new systems save a lot of money by streamlining archiving and library processes while saving rehearsal time.

Regarding efficiency in the archive and library, it is clear that the processes will definitely be streamlined, which over the months will lead to actual financial savings. Once the entire archive is digitised and available for tablet users, colleagues will no longer have to photocopy or gather the material, prepare the folders, place them with the sheet music on the music stands on stage, collect it all again at the end and put it back on the shelves in the archive. Without going into too much detail, there is a clear saving.

But what about the argument that by using digital music stands rehearsals or concerts will be more efficient as well?

Of course, there are artistic advantages, such as the synchronisation of annotations that can speed up a rehearsal. It can also be argued that at concerts, the audience sees the musicians much better than if they are half-hidden behind their paper scores. The stage manager is spared having to provide everyone with reading lamps and these with the corresponding light or battery supply.

It is a different matter to be able to prove that real savings in rehearsals and/or concerts can be shown in figures by means of the controlling mechanisms[2]. By now, it is not possible to prove it. Or at least, no orchestra has confirmed to me an actual saving in rehearsal time that could be summed up in days less worked.

So, to summarise this point, it can be stated that the technical or managerial management of an orchestra, whose interest is usually focused on economic-financial questions, will have a hard time justifying the amortisation of the investment at this time.


But what about the argument that by using digital music stand rehearsals or concerts will be more efficient as well?

Of course, there are artistic advantages, such as the synchronisation of annotations that can speed up a rehearsal. It can also be argued that at concerts, the audience sees the musicians much better than if they are half-hidden behind their paper scores. The stage manager is spared having to provide everyone with reading lamps and these with the corresponding light or battery supply.

But it is an utterly different matter, therefore, to be able to prove real savings in rehearsals and/or concerts, which can be shown in figures through the controlling mechanisms.

For the moment, it is not possible to prove it. Or at least, no orchestra has confirmed to me an actual reduction in rehearsal time that could be summed up in days less worked.

So, to summarise this point, it can be stated that the technical or managerial management of an orchestra, whose interest is usually focused on economic-financial issues, will have a hard time justifying the amortisation of the investment for the time being.


The amortisation time of apps and devices does not yet coincide.

By the way, speaking of amortisation, this word brings another little problem to mind: amortisation is not only an accounting concept, but also has a another meaning, in fact. Applications and software have a lifespan or amortisation of about seven years, while tablets are amortised in fifteen. What is the problem with that?

Historically, we know from experiences with the technological shift from cassette to CD, from CD to MP3 devices and from there to streaming platforms that not all systems last forever. Analogous to this idea, we should bear in mind that during the lifetime of our digital music stand, the reading application that was purchased at the time may disappear. This can lead to compatibility problems or new software update costs that may complicate our lives in the future.

Furthermore, the companies that develop new technologies are often start-ups whose survival over time is not guaranteed. Even a company closure may mean future compatibility problems between devices and applications, at least until the products are universalised.

I would add other issues:


The score reading applications have been oriented to the musician staff, not to the score archive management staff.

It is necessary to differentiate between a PDF reader and a real score reader. A scanned and archived PDF score is not variable and does not offer access to the synchronised annotation functions mentioned above. In order for the device to actually read the digital score, whether in PDF or other format, you need a special application or special digital sheet music that already exists on the market. But don’t think that by scanning our old paper sheet music and loading it onto a tablet, the digital music stand will be set up.

On the other hand, from an intellectual property point of view, publishers in the industry require safeguards to prevent improper copying through a screen capture inhibition options, and this is currently only offered by the iPad Pro.

This particular device, on the other hand, offers plenty of additional features that make it too expensive for what an orchestra really needs.

A basic problem in this regard is still the business separation of the player applications and the score publishers.

The result for now is that, if we want to do things properly and want to guarantee copyright, too, buying an iPad Pro for each member of the orchestra costs a lot of money and, moreover, it is like buying a Ferrari to drive in a 30 km/h zone.



This entry is inspired by the common presentation of Detlef Gross of the Orchester des Wandels (Orchestra of Change), Maritxell Canela of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (State Opera Unter den Linden) and Markus Korselt[3] of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra), as well as the subsequent exchange of experiences, which took place on 15 May at the German Orchestral Management Conference Deutscher Orchestertag 2023 in Berlin, and from which I gained a number of ideas and arguments. Thanks to them for this.

Detlef Gross told the audience that the Orchester des Wandels has calculated the cost of a score reader, i.e. the cost for the production of a tablet device specially developed for reading scores with no additional functions, not a generic tablet that reads PDFs or scores in other formats. There is no such tool on the market today. Due to the small number of pieces that were planned to be produced worldwide, the budget calculations were not profitable, and a production company could not be found. However, technically, it would not be complicated at all, and it is conceivable that in the future someone will develop such a tool.

I admit that in order to write this post I have not been able to analyse all the products on the market, nor have I had the opportunity to interview all the European orchestras that use digital tools on the music stands. No way, of course! Nevertheless, I have read a lot and talked to many people who have shared their experience regarding a digital music stand on a daily basis with me.

Musicians, especially those who have taken the step to using an electronic device as a score reader, do not want to go back to paper. This opinion has been unanimous. Although, as much as I like the idea, I consider that it is not fully mature yet.

There is still some way to go before the digital music stand becomes a common tool in all orchestras and concerts. As Sebastian Djupsjöbacka of The Finnish Radio Symphonic Orchestra said, “Digital scores will come to orchestras at some point, no doubt. The question is when and how”.


Nicole Martín Medina

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

July 2023

(Originally Spanish/Translation Deepl/ Revision NMM)


This article is avaiblabe in Spansish and German, too: 






[1] See also the German page:

[2]See also my other articles on the subject of controlling in orchestras, here is the first of, so far, 3 articles:

[3] See also the German page:



1. Different  existing products on the arket (both iOS and Android/Windows) 2.

There are many products on the market, that has become clear to me with a simple and quick internet search.  Although, it is necessary to differentiate between applications that were programmed for Apple’s iOS and those that were programmed for the Android and Windows operating systems.

The following list of apps and programs is by no means exhaustive, but a small sample of options currently on the market.







Digital Score




2. Bibliography:







Das OrchesterDigitalisierung im Konzertbetrieb. Ein Überblick (May de 2020). From Gerald Mertens (Digitisation in concert production. An overview ).

Das OrchesterWas angegangen werden muss (June 2022). From Sven Scherz-Schade. (Where to start).


League of American Symphony OrchestrasPage views (spring de 2021). By Rebecca Schmid. Available on:


One Response

  1. Pingback: El atril digital
Esta web utiliza cookies propias para su correcto funcionamiento. Contiene enlaces a sitios web de terceros con políticas de privacidad ajenas que podrás aceptar o no cuando accedas a ellos. Al hacer clic en el botón Aceptar, acepta el uso de estas tecnologías y el procesamiento de tus datos para estos propósitos. Configurar y más información