The sheet music reader Newzik has been rapidly evolving in the past several years amidst a marketplace of numerous apps that cater to performing musicians. Newzik focuses on collaborative features for performers, with special attention paid to the relationship between the conductor (or bandleader) and the rest of the ensemble. Their stated mission is to create “a reliable tool that overcomes the limitations of paper scores while at the same time exploiting all of its benefits.”
Newzik supports PDF and MusicXML, with an ever-growing list of annotative features designed to make the app more useful in real-world use. I was particularly interested in the developments in the MusicXML area; unlike some other apps, Newzik does not have a proprietary music format, relying solely on MusicXML to generate music notation within the app. This means that anyone wanting to bring a score into Newzik will first have to create in another program that can export into the open MusicXML format.
While this allows Newzik to be open to practically anyone, it poses some challenges as well. Recently I asked Newzik’s product manager, Matan Daskal, about the opportunities, limitations, and the future of Newzik and MusicXML.
Q.: What are some of the recent MusicXML advancements in Newzik?
We are continuously improving the Newzik MusicXML render. Our main advancements have been to significantly improve the compatibility with Sibelius and Finale exports and to keep the MusicXML score fully flexible, even after making annotations on it.
In terms of new features, we are now releasing the bookmark option that marks not just the whole page but the specific bar. Combined with our collaborative features, a conductor will, for example, be able to open a bookmark at bar 42 which then will simultaneously allow all of the musicians to view this same place on their iPads.
Another very useful feature is the new embedded metronome that is automatically synchronized with the score.
Q.: What are some of Newzik’s features that use MusicXML?
Newzik empowers musicians to transpose on the spot, make a smart zoom that fits the iPad screen, import the full score and automatically get the part extraction, generate a synchronized MIDI out of the MusicXML data, and synchronize the MusicXML score with any audio file, video or YouTube links. As already mentioned, it allows the leader/conductor to bring all the musicians in on the same bar.
Q.: In what context have these features been useful?
I can give three concrete examples that answer this.
1. Live transposition: We are currently working on a project with a TV orchestra who requires constant transposition of music because ten musicians are singing the same song in different keys. With Newzik, all the musicians read off a transposable MusicXML score into Newzik which takes only 1 second to change the key from the iPad while keeping their annotations. It’s a real time saver!
2. Synchronization: With Newzik, you can sync any audio file, video or YouTube link to the MusicXML score. For instance, a lot of teachers use the synchronization feature to prepare and send interactive tutorial videos.
3. Automatic play-along: In Newzik, you have the possibility to mute one or multiple tracks. Jazz players use this feature to make play-along sessions. Another example: piano learners mute the right-hand to practice on it and listen to the left-hand.
Q.: What are some of the challenges Newzik faces?
The main challenges are external: notation software such as Sibelius or Finale hide some information in their MusicXML export. This means that we structurally can’t display all of the information on the iPad screen. We have a great collaboration with all the notation software companies and keep them fully updated with reports of missing elements.
From our side, we do have internal challenges around pagination, fonts and MIDI.
Q.: What are some features you are looking at for the future with MusicXML?
The features we are working on are the results of feedback from recent projects with musicians.
We know that they would love to see cues appearing on their screen. For example, the Violin 2 player could click on a specific bar from his part view, and if he clicks on Violin 1 he will see what he’s playing on this bar and can integrate this bar to his score as a cue.
In addition, we aim at being fully compatible with DAWs such as Ableton Live in order to synchronize the scores with MIDI signals such as lights and sound effects, so that MusicXML can be the hub for any opera or electronic orchestra.
Q.: How does the MusicXML part integrate with the non-MusicXML parts of your app?
Newzik is first and foremost a versatile app built for any type of performer. MusicXML is simply one of the formats that Newzik supports, and this format is fully integrated with the rest of the app.
For instance, within the same piece, you can gather and easily open a MusicXML file, a PDF, or a text file synchronized with a YouTube video.
Q: Do you have any tips for the best way to export your MusicXML files from desktop scoring programs so that they work well in Newzik?
We sincerely hope that notation software developers will collaborate more in depth with us to improve their MusicXML export. Until then, here are two general tips followed by two deeper articles for a best MusicXML export into Newzik:
1) Dolet Plug-in
MusicXML allows us to freely share our musical notation content from one software to the other. Doing so will save us time and effort because the alternatives are to manually copy our score note by note, or export via MIDI, which then means most of the data would be missing (such as dynamics, articulation, text, layout and more). Dolet is a plug-in that allows one to export MusicXML, and is suitable for Sibelius and Finale users.
Here is a summary of what you need to do depending on which Sibelius/Finale version you own:
- Finale 2009 – 2014.5: Although you have a built-in MusicXML export system, it is recommended to use the Dolet 7 for Finale plug-in for better results.
- Finale 25: You will get the best results with the built-in MusicXML export system. It works better in ways that are not available in older versions of Finale.
- Sibelius 2.1 – 5.0: To save your document as a MusicXML 1.0 file, use Dolet 1 for Sibelius plug-in.
- Sibelius 5.1 – 6: To save your document as a MusicXML 3.0 file, use Dolet 6 for Sibelius plug-in.
- Sibelius 7 – 8: Although you have a built-in MusicXML export system, many people find that the Dolet 6 for Sibelius plug-in provides better results than Sibelius’s built-in MusicXML export. It’s best to try both and see which works better in your particular situation.
- Dorico and MuseScore: Both use the built-in MusicXML export system.
2) Transposing score
In case you are using transposed instruments in your score, such as Trumpet in B-flat, Horn in F, etc., be sure to display a transposed score while you are exporting so the transpositions can export correctly. Otherwise the score will be exported as a concert score without transpositions.