Calypso Score,the perfect iPad music score reader

One of the good reasons for jazz players to own an iPad is the ability of using it as a score reader. Unfortunately,finding a score reader app that satisfies all your needs might not be as simple as you might imagine. Before diving into a more detailed review,let me briefly outline the features that,in my opinion,the ideal music reader app should have to appeal a demanding jazz/rock/pop/fusion player.

The primary goal for such an app is replacing tons of fake books and paper scores,therefore the most obvious feature is ability to store,browse,search,annotate,and bookmark large PDF files,such as the many editions of the Real Book and other fake books you can find on the Internet. If you play original compositions or songs that aren’t included in those fake books,adding your own PDF should be a very quick and simple process.

Secondly,I want the ability to associate one audio file to each score,so that I don’t have to switch to the iPad music player to listen to the original song or practice over a play-along version of the tune (e.g. Aebersold or Hal Leonard CDs). Ideally,I’d like to associate a given score to multiple audio files,so that I can quickly reach different versions of the same song,or play-along tunes with different tempo or harmonization.

Another important feature is the ability to quickly e-mail my scores to other musicians,backup them on the desktop computer (or the cloud,Dropbox,etc.),move scores and associated audio files to another iPad,create song subsets (great for creating the song list for a gig),and print them when necessary. Additionally,a perfect score reader should automatically turn pages,or at least give you the ability to do that with a foot controller.

There are a few other,less critical features I’d like to see in a music reader app:a metronome,a tuner,a virtual keyboard (very useful if you are a singer or a choir director). Being an alto and soprano sax player,I’d also like the capability to store multiple versions of the same song,one transposed in Eb and one in Bb.

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As I anticipated,finding the music reader app that fulfills all my needs hasn’t been simple.

The first one I tried was forScore. It features an elegant and simple user interface,an integrated music player,the ability to turn half-pages (i.e. displaying the upper half of next page while you read the bottom half of current page),and an impressive arsenal of tools and music symbols for annotating a PDF score. Unfortunately,forScore doesn’t provide indexes for the most popular fake books,therefore you have to create such indexes manually. (Alas,the app occasionally crashed when trying to organize and re-arrange large PDFs.) All in all,forScore is a good app that addresses the needs of classical music players,yet it is less useful for jazz and rock musicians.


My next attempt was iGigBook,which claims to be the perfect replacement for jazz and rock fake books:it comes with the index of 70+ popular fake books (including many editions of the Real Book,with Bb and Eb versions),plus over the chord progressions of 1,000+ jazz tunes that can be transposed to any key. While these indexes are theoretically very useful,in practice they work flawlessly only if you own exactly the same PDF used to create the index,which isn’t often the case:iGigBook provides a way to define a page offset and compensate for missing pages near the beginning of the PDF,but if your PDF lacks one or more pages in the middle or if own a PDF of a different version of the fake book used to create the index,the iGigBook index is useless. (Needless to say,the iGigBook documentation can’t include links to the PDFs used the create the index,because it would infringe copyright laws.)

In practice,only few of the PDFs I own perfectly match iGigBook indexes,thus I had to create my own indexes. Unfortunately,creating a custom index is a slow and an (unnecessarily) contorted process:you must upload the PDF to the iGigBook website (after creating an account),then enter information about individual songs (title,start page,number of page,etc.),one by one. If your Internet connection isn’t optimal,the workflow can take a lot of time. There is the option to upload a text file in comma-delimited format,containing data of multiple songs,but quite absurdly this simplified procedure can be used only for PDFs with 50 or more songs. This threshold prevents me from using the simplified upload method for many of my scores (e.g.,none the Aebersold booklets can be uploaded in this way). Once you have (painfully) created your indexes,you must download them from the iGigBook site to your device,which happens automatically the next time you launch the app.


On the plus side,iGigBook (as well as forScore) allows you to bookmark any page in the score,can import bookmarks scored in PDSs,and can search your music library for music tracks that match the name of the song title that you are current viewing with the option to automatically play the track and repeat it. (Thank you Phil for correct me on these points)

iGigBook has other shortcomings too:its interface isn’t user friendly,it doesn’t offer context-sensitive help and,more importantly,it lacks many other features which I consider as essential. For example,it has limited sorting capabilities,no integrated tuner or metronome. Conclusion:after wasting a lot of time for my tests,I decided to delete iGigBook from my iPad. For sure,it isn’t worth the $15 I paid for it.

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There are a few other score reader programs in the App Store,but their feature list was too short and/or readers’ comments were negative,thus I was about to abandon my search for the ideal iPad score reader when I finally bumped into Calypso Score.

Calypso has an impressive set of features,which almost perfectly matches my wish list. For example,it can handle large PDFs and associate any number of audio files to any song. In addition to setlists,you can create “books”,i.e. collections of scores that you can then share using iTunes,iCloud,Bluetooth,Dropbox or email. A song can belong to zero,one or more books,and all of them are automatically inserted in the special “All my songs” book (see figure). You can remove a song from a book,but it will be deleted from the device only if you delete it from the main “All my songs” book.

The book list in Calypso

You can assign a color label to a song for your own purposes. For example,I might use a red label for songs I play on alto and yellow label for those I play on soprano,but you can find other interesting uses. You can sort the songs in a book by their title,composer,poet (i.e. lyrics’ author),genre,color label,or creation date.

Calypso comes with indexes for many popular fake books in PDF format and,as it happens for iGigBook,you have to create the index manually if you don’t own the same PDF file used to create the index that comes with the app. However,the workflow to extract a song from a large PDF is much simpler than in iGigBook:you open the PDF (which you must have copied to the device using iTunes sharing),move to the page where the song begins,and press the “Add Page” button once for each page in the song. It took me a relatively short time to index a couple hundred songs from my Real Books. As a bonus,you can quickly create a page from a photo taken with the iPad camera,which is very useful during jam sessions.

Unlike forScore and iGigBook,Calypso doesn’t really create an index into PDF files. Instead,it allows you to browse a PDF and then take “snapshots” of one or more pages,which don’t have to be consecutive. This approach has so many benefits that it surprises me that other apps fail to adopt it. For example,individual pages can be resized,tilted and cropped to better fit the iPad display. These snapshots are stored in a single database and you can later remove the original PDF,so you don’t actually waste any memory on the device. In addition to pages and songs,the database includes books,song information and annotation:you can backup this database to your computer or copy it to another iPad. Even more important,a score can be formed by pages taken from different PDFs,thus I can combine the Eb and Bb version of a song (taken from different Real Book editions) in a single score,so I can switch between these versions by simply swiping to the next or previous page.

Calypso can associate a song with one or more audio files from the iPad music library,a feature that I consider as essential when practicing. These audio files aren’t stored in the database,yet an option allows you to show them in the iTunes folder,so that you can easily backup them and move them to another iPad. By the way,you can also record an audio file yourself using the iPad mic,a feature that might be used to music teachers to monitor their students. Calypso lets you to slow down an audio file and/or modify its pitch,a feature that can be very useful when practicing over a though piece of music. There are other iPad apps that offer this feature alone (and honestly do a better job than Calypso),but having it embedded in the score reader app is a real bonus.

Calypso lets you associate one or more songs to each score

One of the most intriguing features is automatic page layout,i.e. the ability to create jumps and bookmarks inside a song,and synchronize them with the associated audio file,so that Calypso can automatically turn pages for you. The process to associate a measure in the score to a position in the audio file is simple and effective:you just tap an area in the score while the tune is playing (see figure below). Calypso can interpolate between the bookmarks you defined,therefore you only need to tap when there is a repetition or a-capo,or when the tempo gets faster or slower. All in all,automatic page layout puts Calypso ahead of its competitors,even though – admittedly – preparing a score for it requires a good degree of manual labor.

An example of automatic page layoyut (taken from Calypso's user manual)

Calypso includes a simple metronome and the ability to annotate the score with text and markers,even though it isn’t as flexible as forScore in this respect. It lacks a tuner,a virtual keyboard,and a few other frills. It does have the ability to turn pages using a Bluetooth foot controller such as Air Turn BT-105.,yet I would also like to see the same half-page turn feature seen in forScore,that would be useful with scores that haven’t been prepared for automatic page layout.

All in all,Calypso is very robust and can be used with confidence both at home and during gigs. To tell the truth,the program crashed a few times during my tests,but I was impressed by how quickly the offending bugs were found and fixed. Not only that:Siegfried Koester,the developer behind Calypso,was nice enough to share with me some details about future development plans,which are very interesting.

Like any piece of software,Calypso isn’t perfect,even though it gets quite close. Some users have complained that the program didn’t behave as they expected,and wrote somewhat negative reviews on the App Store. In many cases,however,the workflow makes sense once you understand that Calypso stores PDF scores using snapshots rather than indexes. It is essential that you read its manual before trying to use it in a real environment. Calypso’s most recent release offers a more detailed context-sensitive help and introductory screens,thus this is going to be less of a problem.

Context-sensitive help,with links to the relevant section in the manual

Calypso shares with iGigBook the limitation of pre-built,non-flexible indexes for popular fake books. However,the author told me that a future release will make much simpler to modify existing indexes to adapt to PDFs with missing pages or taken from different editions of a given fake book.

There are a few other features I’d like to see in Calypso,for example additional fields for song metadata and the ability to filter the song list by these fields;the capability to loop between two positions in the audio files,that would be useful to practice the most difficult sections of a song;an integrated tuner and virtual keyboard (as in forScore);the ability to turn page using the new IK Multimedia’s iRig Blueboard or other MIDI foot controllers (in addition to dedicated Bluetooth page turner foot controllers). These are minor improvements,though,and the author told me that some of them (and many others) are planned for future versions of Calypso.

The bottom line:if you own an iPad,Calypso Score is a must-have! It changed the way I study and play with my band. At just $6 it’s a bargain you can’t miss.

P.S. If you aren’t sure yet,try Calypso Jam:it’s a free version that comes with indexes for 25 popular fake books and allows you to add a limited number of personal scores,so you can see whether Calypso Score is your ideal music score reader app without spending a dime.

10 comments to Calypso Score,the perfect iPad music score reader

  • Kerry

    I purchased Calypso. It opens to the “Welcome to Calypso Score”page but does nothing beyond that. There are two green rectangles and a curved arrow at the bottom of the page which to nothing when I touch them.

  • I’m glad that you have found the app that works best for you as no app is going to be all things to all people. Having said that,I must clear up some items that you have mentioned about iGigBook that do not reflect the current version of the app which is 1.95.

    1. We do not claim anywhere “to be the perfect replacement for jazz and rock fake books”. The app isn’t a replacement for the books,you need the books as PDF documents,what iGigBook does is allow you to locate quickly a tune in any book it may be located in.

    2. The indexes we provide are consistent with the index contained in the actual book. If you download a PDF from the internet,you have no idea if the PDF has all of the pages that it should,which is why you should at the very least verify the PDF against a paper copy of the book (which you should own) or verify it against its own index. There are many free tools available that allow you to add missing pages back to a PDF that isn’t complete.

    3. iGigBook does not and has never checked for indexes every time you launch the app. You do not need to exit the app and return to it to pull down indexes from the server.

    4. iGigBook will search your music library for music tracks that match the name of the song title that you are current viewing with the option to automatically play the track and repeat it.

    5. iGigBook allows you to sort any set list alphabetically ascending or descending.

    6. One feature that you didn’t mention that both iGigBook and Forscore posses is the ability to create bookmarks which makes it easy to excerpt pages out of a larger score and provide a name for that excerpt. Additionally both apps have the ability to import bookmarks that are contained in a PDF.

    • Francesco

      Thank you for your clarifications,Phil. Being a software developer myself (and a hobbyist musician),I do recognize that there is a lot of labor behind iGigBook,and I have seen the app evolve since when I purchased it,with very frequent updates and bug fixes. I have no doubt that many musicians will prefer it to Calypso,forScore or any other iPad app. I made it clear that I had some very peculiar expectations.

      1) You might not claim to be “the perfect replacement for fake books”(word by word),but it is true that iGigBook was the first app to offer fake book indexes;the ability to leave tons of books at home was the primary reason for me to buy it,and one can easily assume that it was the main reason for most of your users. You say that one should own the actual book to produce the PDF,and this is theoretically true. In practice,however,I never met a musician who personally scanned an ENTIRE Real Book from cover to cover,and I doubt that more than a couple dozens persons in the world have done that. At best,one might decide to scan ONLY the songs he/she is interested into,in which case your indexes are useless,because of the missing pages. In practice we all know that one would most likely download all the PDFs from the Internet,in which case they must EXACTLY match the ones you used to create the corresponding index.

      2) I am not saying that your indexes are wrong,I am just saying that are of no use unless one re-scans his/her entire fake book collection,or is lucky enough to find and download the correct PDF version. Even just the fix you suggest (i.e. using an external utility to add/remove pages from the PDF until it matches your index) can probably take many hours. I’d rather not,thanks. Please notice that Calypso suffers from the same problem,and in fact I wasn’t downplaying IGigBook. As a matter of fact,I had to create my own indexes even with Calypso,yet it took remarkably shorter than with iGigBook,because the workflow is much simpler.

      3) I don’t know what exactly iGigBook is supposed to do when it starts:for sure on my iPad it freezes for a while and then displays a message if the Internet connection is missing or has some other problem into logging into my account. At any rate,I assume you are right and that I probably experienced other sorts of problems,thus I decided to remove the offending sentence.

      4) I wasn’t aware of this feature,so I apologize for not mentioning it. Nevertheless,in my opinion the mechanism you describe (which I haven’t tested yet) is a bit too lousy,because (a) there can be false matches,(b) I might want to associate multiple audio files to a give score (e.g. versions by multiple artists or different play-along songs). In this case,too,I edited the review to account for this feature.

      5) you confirm what I said,that is,iGigBook has *limited* sorting capabilities. I prefer Calypso Score because it allows be to sort by title,composer,genre,lyric author,creation date. Sorting by genre can be very useful in many cases when preparing the song list for a gig,for example. Incidentally,I would like to see more metadata fields in all existing apps (Calypso included) –for example,arranger,album,date,key,etc. –and the ability to filter and sort on these fields.

      6) You are right,I didn’t mention bookmarks. It wasn’t intentional and I thank you for drawing my attention to them. I fixed the review accordingly.

      I hope I replied to all your points and I hope that iGigBook will continue to evolve in the future. The fact that there are competing music reader apps in the Apple Store is always a positive thing:competition fuels innovation and we users can benefit from it.

  • Nicholas

    Hello Francesco,

    a notification in Calypso thankfully pointed me to your great site!

    I’ve read your review very carefully and i must agree in every aspect. Since the early days of the iPad i’m using it as a music score reader. Because both forScore and iGigBook were one of the first apps for this application,i’ve purchased both.

    At those days,iGigBook costs only about 4 USD (don’t know exactly,because i’m from the Netherlands). As you mentioned,to get some fake books into the app is a horrible procedure. So i decided to be happy with just the three Real Books I-III out of the many indexes. Because i’ve read about fake books which do not match with the index,i decided to not import any further fake books.

    About a year ago,a friend hinted me to Calypso Jam,which i instantly gave a try. And i was rather happy with it. Importing and assigning a pdf to an index was super easy. I now have about 15 fake books in my iPad,effectively using just four or five (but it is fun having more in case).

    But the best thing about Calypso is,that i am able to also handle my personel scores with it. As a piano player in a big combo,i often have scores with many pages. And here comes a feature of Calypso i really appreciate:the author calls it automatic page layout. At first i couldn’t imagine,what this should be. Now,as i know it,i would say it is a special blending mode of two pages of a score. Mostly,the next pages smoothly reveals from the top when Calypso assumes you playing at the bottom of the current page. Sometimes a page is revealed from the bottom. When ‘jumping’over several pages because of a D.S. or Coda,the app takes both pages involved in the jump and does the ‘blending’.

    You mention this feature,but in my opinion,you did not emphasize this feature enough,probably because you don’t need it. But i am so excited about it.

    Another feature i use is the capability to sync the score with the audio. When we play a well known arrangement,i’m the man in the band who can always start the audio at every bar we wish to listen.

    The downside of this fabolous featueres is,you have to prepare your scores. To enable the automatic blending,you have to enter the position of every bar in the score followed by entering the jumps. This was a bit tedious,when i decided to port all my scores to Calypso. But the work was worth it. Today i’m able to prepare a song consisting of 5 pages in less than three minutes.

    Synchronizing audio though may be more time consuming. I’d like to see this procedure being improved. You are right:in principle you just have to start the audio and then tap from time to time at the currently played bar in the score. But if the arrangement differs,for example if one more chorus is played,then it is difficult to sync the audio.

    Up to now,two colleges of my band also use Calypso. The good thing then is,we can easily share just the synchronized recordings among different scores of the same arrangement.

    These are the main reasons i switched away not only from iGigBook but from forScore as well,which is otherwise ok or maybe even better than Calypso in some aspects.

    I wrote this to confirm your impression:it is fun using Calypso and i won’t miss this app any more.

  • Francesco

    Thanks Nicholas for enriching my review with your interesting observations.

    I like Calypso so much that I decided to scan my entire Aebersold play-along collection,and associate each score with the corresponding audio file. I am talking about over 60 booklets,thus it was a major effort,but the ability to practice anytime anywhere without carrying tons of scores with me was too appealing.

    I can only add that I recently had some interesting idea exchange with Calypso’s author,and learned about a few intriguing features that should be implemented shortly and that will make this app even more useful,to students and professional musicians alike.

  • Chris Chung

    May I have your email address that I can write to you for some assistance and importantly the experience using the software? Thanks Chris

    • Francesco

      Sorry,I don’t provide any assistance on any software. If you have any opinion to share,please leave a comment here.

  • c

    Thanks for the tip. Just testes the latest version of Calypso Score released and it is amazing fakebook manager and has everything I always wanted to do in iGigbook

  • Jerry

    Thanks to all for your useful comments.

    I just wanted to add that the latest version of Calypso Score (3.X) does allow you to easily adjust the indexes to handle missing or extra pages.

    You can also create your own indexes. That feature is explained on the product’s support forum.

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