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Yamaha NoteStar for iPad
Review by: Jason Buchwald


3.5 Stars


Yamaha NoteStar Digital Sheet Music App for iPad

The 2012 Winter NAMM Show was remarkable for a numbers of things, and one interesting observation was the emphasis on iOS apps and cool attachments for your iPad or iPhone. Yamaha, long known for its excellent instruments, is now also playing in the mobile music space. NoteStar marks their latest iOS contribution, a digital sheet music application that is sure to be of interest to anyone needing to learn cover tunes.

Not only do you get a scrolling on-screen treble and bass, two-part piano arrangement with chord notation (and a third clef for a vocal/melody line), you also “get the whole band.”  That is, all of the other backing instruments and vocals have been professionally recorded and play (or not, if you choose) along with where you are in the song.

Before getting into a little more detail, let us jusy say we were somewhat skeptical about how useful or pro-level this app was. However, the more we dug into it, the more it became apparent that this is a useful tool for players at any level.  For a gigging musician doing cover tunes — particularly a keyboard player, this app can be a huge time saver.  For example, this reviewer has had the priviledge of being in both original and high-end cover/wedding bands. At one point, as the keyboard player, I was asked to learn nearly 200 cover tunes for a wedding band in just a few weeks, without being able to meet all the musicians to even rehearse (they lived in a neighboring state!).  Having Notestar back then would have been a huge help: the keys parts are right there to see and learn, and being able to practice with the “live band” feature would have been great to familiarize myself with the song prior to the live performance (which was essentially the first rehearsal).

The program consists of its own iTunes-like store in which you purchase and download songs for $3.99 appiece (the app itself is free).  We were pleasantly surprised that although there is room for the catalog to grow significantly, at launch there was already a decent selection of songs in many genres.  There were Frank Sinatra classics, Billy Joel, Adele, Lady Gaga, The Doors, Katy Perry, and everything in between. You get a 30 second free preview of every song before you purchase, so you can both see and hear the notation before purchase.

The Yamaha NoteStar Digital Sheet Music Store

Once you make a purchase, the full version download to your library. Once you select a song, a black and white notation page appears.  When you touch the play button, the music starts playing and a blue line scrolls to the corresponding position on the sheet music “page.”  No page turning is needed, and a larger white line trails behind the first blue line to represent the page coming up (which scrolls automatically as well).  This way, you never have to stop playing: page turning is automatic.  You can control the size of the notes as well, so anyone should be able to find a comfortable size.

Playback options include turning the keyboard/piano transcription On/Off with volume control, turning the backing intruments/vocals On/Off with volume control, metronome, count in, and speed.  The speed feature was interesting, too. You can slow down the standard tempo by ¾ or ½ original tempo, allowing you to learn and practice at an easier speed.  This is similar to other guitar-based, riff learning programs.

You may also insert your own comments anywhere on the sheet, on any page, so you can place helpful reminders if you need them. Another cool feature is that you can change the notation to any of eleven different key transpositions!  This is particularly useful, for example, if your lead singer can’t hit all those classic high notes and you need to take the key down a few steps. Just select it and your music is transposed.  Finally, for those with curious minds, the “i” icon gives information about the actual song: title, artist, and copyright information including year and publisher.

Notestar is a very useful and easy-to-use program, and could be a great help for professional cover band musicians with limited time on their hands to learn new material or rehearse with the whole band.  Having said that, other features we would love to see include being able to print the sheet music once you’ve purchased it, and the ability to import music already in your itunes library into notation form. Why pay to download a song when you already own it?

On that front, there may be some debate about the pricing of the songs.  In the era of 99 cent iTunes downloads, $3.99 a song may seem like a lot.  However, if you were to purchase actual sheet music for the same song, it likely would cost even more than the $3.99 just for the sheet music without an audio reference. In that context, this may be a reasonable buy.  Still, it would be great if musicians could get some sort of discount if they buy in volume, like purchasing an artist’s songbook instead of individual singles.

All in all, we enjoyed Notestar and see great potential for it. We look forward to version 2! In the meantime, we must get back to practicing our Hanon piano excercises…

Pricing & Contact Information

Yamaha NoteStar App: $Free
Songs: $3.99 each

Yamaha Music Interactive Inc.

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