Even before Apple announced the iPad, seeing the first Amazon Kindle had me excited for the day that I would be able to leave my giant stacks of music scores at home. Since that time, a number of hardware and software products have come and (mostly) gone to serve the enthusiastic but niche market of musicians wanting to read digital scores.
Ever since the introduction of that first iPad in 2010, musicians have been leveraging the uniquely responsive screen and reliable software in rehearsals and performance. With the introduction of high-resolution displays on iPads in 2012, larger-screened iPad Pros in 2015, and the latest iPad Pros now at 11- and 12.9-inch displays and powered by M2 chips, there has never been a better time for musicians to go paperless.
In my initial review of the apps in this category, published in 2019, I concluded that forScore was the best iPad score reader for most people. I’ve continued to test and use a number of the leading apps in the category in the intervening years. Fast-forward four years, and while I still believe forScore remains the top option for most musicians, other apps may be a perfect fit for specific users and circumstances.
Who am I?
I am a composer and university music educator. In my work, I look at many scores in the classroom, in lessons, rehearsals, and performances. I have performed as a trumpet player and conductor using an iPad, and I have used an iPad as a primary (though not exclusive) teaching computer since 2015. The teaching workflow that I detailed in my first Scoring Notes article remains largely the same, and my use of the iPad as a music and music-teaching tool has expanded to include classroom teaching as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, as I write this updated review in May 2023, I am still using the same hardware as when I began researching the original review: the 12.9-inch 2018 iPad Pro (third generation) with Apple Pencil (second generation). Both iPad and Pencil are still going strong as they approach five years old, and only in the last couple of months has the iPad battery capacity begin to feel like it is declining.
I cannot overstate the importance of the Apple Pencil to score readers. Yes, at a list price of $129, it is very costly, and even when it’s on sale for as low as $85 it’s still a sizable purchase. However, the functionality of an active stylus allows for extremely low-latency input, pressure and tilt sensitivity, and most importantly, palm rejection (allowing you to rest your hand on the screen as you write, just like on paper). There are no third party styluses that can come close to matching it for functionality, reliability, and simplicity.
It is worth noting that there is nothing about score reading that requires the highest-end or most-recent hardware available. I have used all of these apps on iPads old and new, and they all run very well on iPads going back at least as far as my five-year old hardware, and most can go quite a bit farther back than that.
In selecting an iPad for music, the most important thing to me is screen size. I don’t need to remind Scoring Notes readers that music tends to be printed on inconveniently large paper sizes, so the bigger the screen the better. I’d recommend bumping up at least one step to 256 GB of storage from the base-level of storage level of 128 GB as well, especially if you expect to ever use your iPad for anything in addition to reading scores and parts, since this is not upgradeable later.
Who is this for?
This article is written for musicians who are currently using iPads for recreation or work, but have not yet committed to using an iPad to replace some or all of their work with paper materials for rehearsal or performance. It may also be useful to those who are considering an iPad purchase to use for score-reading and are interested in some of the benefits of digital performance materials.
Lastly, I hope that if you are currently using one of these apps, you can learn more about what other options are available and maybe even something new about an app that you’re currently using. This is a very mature app category, and there are some fantastic and powerful options available.
The article is not going to discuss any of the apps that may be available on other platforms (notably Windows tablets), nor will it discuss any of the handful of hardware platforms specifically built for this purpose.
In my experience working with musicians, it’s quite rare to find someone using a Windows tablet for score reading (though I’m sure I’m about to hear from both of you now). The larger screen sizes available are certainly appealing, but the score reading software options are not as robust, and the operating system isn’t as reliable, in no small part because of all the other software that would be running alongside a score reader.
Readers may remember hardware score readers that were introduced a few years ago, most notably GVIDO, with a high-glitz marketing effort and equally high price tag. The market for these was and is so niche that it’s hard to see this category gaining any traction. In fact, the GVIDO hardware was discontinued in March 2022, and their cloud service will be discontinued in March 2024.
Criteria for evaluation
Each musician will have a different use case for a score-reading app. Some players may have enormous collections of lead sheets that they need to pull from on short notice; others may have a smaller collection of giant orchestral scores. Some musicians may update their libraries with new works or versions often; others may return regularly to a smaller number of works.
I’ve tried to consider as many of these different use cases as possible, and to that end, I focused on a few broad feature categories:
- Ingestion: How do scores get into the app, and what formats are supported? One of the biggest challenges of working with iOS in general is moving and managing files, and moving files around is at the core of any score reader.
- Organization: How are scores grouped, both for archival in a library and temporarily for individual performances?
- Stability: This is a deal-breaker in this category. Any unexpected app behavior can cause a performance to come to a crashing halt or cost thousands of dollars per minute in a recording session.
- Annotations: How quickly and easily can a performer make an annotation and save it? In rehearsal, seconds are precious, and apps must compete with the immediacy and convenience of paper-and-pencil on this front.
- Rehearsal features: The basics of a metronome and the ability to play back audio while reading the score are table stakes in this category, however, some apps implement them better than others.
- Collaboration and sharing: How easy is it to work with other users and other devices? How can scores, parts, or annotations be communicated to other performers?
One thing I might have considered is price, but I found that the leading options were all priced similarly and very reasonably for the power and utility. For software that has such little tolerance for error, a price of $20-30 is completely reasonable. If anything, I’d be concerned about the quality and sustainability of less costly applications. If I’m only paying $5-10 one time, I’d question the business model of the software for the long term, which makes me hesitant to invest my time and energy building up a library of scores and annotations.
I have personally purchased each of the apps I recommend here, including the premium subscriptions where applicable.
The best score reader for most people: forScore
Official web site
Apple App Store
forScore is probably the most widely used score reader as of this writing. In addition to the anecdotal evidence of its popularity that I have from working with musicians, it is also regularly on App Store top charts. When it comes to musical collaboration, having a shared platform can be of value on its own. But that’s not to say that I recommend it only for its popularity. The more I dig into forScore’s features, the more impressed I am with its depth and power.
Why it’s great
Like several other readers I tested, there are many ways of getting scores into forScore. You can import from any “file provider” that offers its contents to the Files app, including iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, or even an external drive connected to the iPad’s USB-C port. You can also move PDFs into forScore using AirDrop from another nearby Mac, iPad, or iPhone, or by dragging and dropping the file from another app on the iPad.
forScore can also scan scores directly from paper using your iPad’s camera. This works very well in a pinch, but I would strongly recommend using a dedicated PDF scanning app — my favorite is Scanner Pro by Readdle — which will do a much better job of processing the image from your camera into something that looks more like a document (rather than a photograph of a document).
In addition to working with PDF files, forScore has integrations with several external content providers: Musicnotes, Noteflight, Virtual Sheet Music, Carl Fischer, Presser, and BriLee. forScore allows you to log in to your various accounts at these services and download music you have purchased from them. Note: you cannot make purchases from within forScore; you’ll need to do that on the web first.
Some of forScore’s most powerful and practical features involve how you organize scores once they’re imported into the app. I think most musicians will agree that you’re unlikely to ever have fewer scores than you have right now! The more time and effort today that you put into organizing your scores, the easier life will be for your future self.
Gotta get organized: Metadata, bookmarks, set lists
forScore has long had the richest options for score metadata, and with its most recent release, the interface for editing it received a significant upgrade.
Open any score’s properties, and you’ll see that in addition to the basics of title and composer, works can be tagged in any number of ways which can be used later to organize a large number of files. The tagging system may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but all the fields are optional, and its this flexibility that sets forScore’s organization features above the competition.
If you’re used to organizing by folders, you can use tags in the same way. The difference is that with folders, a file can only be in one place, but with tags, a file can be in several places at once. You might have a folder for “string quartet”, “wedding”, “church”, and “lyrical”, which could all be useful in different contexts.
In addition to this archival organization, forScore allows users to bookmark certain sections of large works. This is useful for scores that might include many movements, or documents that are a collection of small works, like art songs or lead sheets. What is unique about the forScore bookmarks compared to those found in other apps like Newzik is that forScore’s bookmarks can define a range of pages, rather than just a starting point. When doing so, the individual bookmarked section becomes another item in your library.
This becomes even more powerful when creating set lists (or “setlists”). The apps I tested all have some form of creating a setlist that organizes scores in order for ease of performance. forScore not only allows for scores to be added to a setlist, but for bookmarked sections to be added. I can imagine this being particularly useful for arranging a “setlist” for a voice recital, where it is very common for a set of shorter works — sometimes dozens — to be collected in a single volume, even though only a small handful may be performed at once.
Annotation and stamps
As previously mentioned, annotation is a crucial feature for any score reader. Performers need to be able to mark up a part instantly in rehearsal without any more fiddling than picking up a pencil and marking a sheet of paper. Of the apps I tested, forScore gave the closest approximation of paper annotations. With the Apple Pencil, you simply write like normal on the score. The app will instantly allow writing when the Pencil touches the screen and continue allowing you to navigate and zoom the document with your hand.
forScore also has an extensive set of musical symbols that can be used as “stamps” in annotating a score. These are mostly common musical symbols like fingering numbers, hairpins, and accidentals. (Not that you, dear reader, have ever forgotten the D-sharp in the key signature. We’re talking about other people.) This isn’t a feature I’ve ever found to be particularly useful personally, as it’s quite a bit slower than drawing or writing by hand; after all, part of the reason I’d write something is so that it would stick out from the symbols already in the score. If you use these, you might consider using them in colors other than black so they stand out more. Colors are a huge benefit of digital markup: you aren’t limited to graphite pencil color if you want to erase later.
Layers and layers
In addition to colors, another fantastic feature that is unique to digital annotations is the idea of layers. forScore, Newzik, and nkoda all feature a version of this feature.
If you are familiar with image editors like the ones from Adobe or Affinity, you’ve likely encountered the concept of layers. Imagine that rather than writing on the score, you’re actually writing on a transparent plastic sheet on top of the score, and these transparent sheets can be added and removed at any time.
For music annotation, this allows you to have separate levels or contexts for your markings. This could allow a player to have their own reminder markings markings, like a reminder of a key signature, that are always shown, while there are other markings that might be attached just to a particular conductor or performance. A collaborative pianist who plays the same piece for several different soloists might need to remember some things for one singer but not others. Individual annotations layers can be named, saved, and toggled on or off at any time, and new annotations can be written into any layer.
Sharing and sync
When working with other players, it might be useful to share scores, either with or without annotations. forScore allows users to export, using the same cloud services or sharing locations as importing. Exported files can be “clean” (unannotated) PDFs, annotated PDFs, or forScores own 4sc format, which also maintains annotations layers and other app-specific features. For example, a concertmaster might send a part out with bowings written in a specific layer.
A limitation of sharing in this way is that there is no easy way to update a score once it has been shared. In the example above, if the concertmaster needs to make a change after the file has been distributed, the file needs to be replaced on the rest of the devices in the section. If this is a critical need for your ensemble, you may want to read on and consider another option.
For users with multiple Apple devices, forScore can sync an entire library over iCloud. Note that this uses your iCloud drive storage, so if you have a very large library and also take a lot of photos and videos, you may need to upgrade your iCloud storage subscription if you want to use this feature. forScore Sync will make sure that your library — scores, annotations, playlists, and other media — are the same on all of your devices. I find this to be particularly useful when it comes to importing files, since it’s much easier to move files around on a desktop or laptop than an iPad or iPhone. And since I don’t usually keep a keyboard connected to my iPad, it’s nice to type in my metadata on the Mac as well. After the initial upload/download when setting things up, updates get sync’d across all my devices within seconds.
Even if you only use forScore on a single device, Sync provides a nice bit of redundancy against your iPad getting lost, stolen, or damaged, since your library will be in iCloud. Just log in on a new device, and your library — including scores, metadata, and annotations — will be downloaded.
Use in performance and rehearsal
forScore also includes the very clever ability to use two iPads as the left and right pages of the score using the separately purchased forScore Cue app ($5 in the App Store). Cue allows the next page of the score to be shown on a “follower” device. This device can also take care of pages turns by tapping, just like in forScore. The only caveat here is that the Apple Pencil can only be paired to one iPad at a time, so you might have to switch pairing back and forth between devices to work this way. As absurd as a costly dual-iPad setup certainly is, I find it to be functionally reliable and strangely delightful.
The benefit of Cue is that you get the paper-like experience in performance of being able to look ahead to the top of the next page. It’s really handy, but probably not worth cost of a second iPad for most users.
If like me, you tend to perform from a single iPad at a time, the “half page turn” feature of forScore (and other reader apps) can be very handy. Using this feature, the screen is split so that the bottom displays the last few lines of one page while the top displays the first few lines of the next page. The advantage is the ability to better look ahead, even where a page turn would make that impossible on paper, but at the cost of having to turn twice for each page, once for the top half and once for the bottom. In some instances, especially for performers using an external page turning pedal, this may be worth the compromise.
In other performance and rehearsal tools, forScore offers easy access to the most useful aids: metronome, pitch pipe, and tuner. The metronome can be visual, audible, or both. These features can all be accessed quickly from the score, and the metronome can continue running in the background, making for an excellent rehearsal tool. Users can also get quick access to an on-screen, multi-touch MIDI piano keyboard to plunk out short passages or chords. There’s also a basic record function to capture a lesson, rehearsal, practice session, or performance, right from the score.
Inactive scores become interactive
In addition to the many features and affordances forScore has to simulate working with paper scores, and the conveniences of simulating other devices like tuners and metronomes, some of the smartest (and nerdiest) features involve things that leverage the fact that the device that is now your score is also still a computer.
Some of my favorites are the ability to synchronize audio with a score, connecting MIDI controllers to forScore, and creating buttons within a score. Buttons are a thoroughly customizable feature, and they’re unique to forScore. They can be placed anywhere on any page, and can execute any number of actions when tapped. They can navigate to a different page in the current score, another score, start/stop a metronome, give a pitch, or even open any URL.
You could use this to automatically give the right pitch at the beginning of an a cappella choir piece, start playback of a play-along track, or jump back many pages to the beginning of a movement to follow a da capo.
There are more tools available for rehearsal and markup aids that go beyond the scope of this particular article, but are worth exploring for those using forScore in their work. I’ve had all these apps installed on my iPad for years, and in forScore as much as any other, I continue to discover new features that I could use. Current users might be pleasantly surprised to make their own discoveries by spending some time poking around the menus and perusing the comprehensive user guide. So much of the basic functionality of displaying and annotating PDFs can be found in lots of apps, including those not built for music. It’s the breadth, depth, and customizability of forScore that set it apart from its competitors.
Some minor drawbacks
I mentioned earlier that the feature set of forScore is vast. The app does a pretty good job of hiding the complexity and allowing new users to get started quickly. However, the flip side of that is that some of these more powerful features can be a bit hard to discover. That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make, but others may not be.
Also, if you like to share music as MusicXML, then forScore may not be for you. I’ll discuss a MusicXML option next, but it’s worth noting that as of this writing, forScore is limited to working with PDF files and scores purchased from one of its partners. While PDF happens to be my preferred score exchange format, it may not be yours.
A great option for institutions: Newzik
Official web site
Apple App Store
Newzik is a great app that has gained traction on the strength of its networked features. If you aren’t already deep into a forScore library, Newzik is worthy of your consideration. You can import music files, build set lists, edit PDFs, annotate in multiple layers, and get quick access to a metronome, tuner, and pitch pipe. While it lacks some of forScore’s in-depth organizational features and customization, there are some other features that set it apart and might make it an even better option for institutional environments in which an entire orchestra, band, choir, or opera company decides to go digital together.
Library and sync
The library is one of the biggest differentiators for Newzik. Unlike forScore, which is local-first and only optionally synced in the cloud, Newzik is cloud-forward. Not only does this mean that your library is automatically backed up, it also allows for some extremely compelling collaboration features. I’ll discuss these in the context of annotations below.
In terms of importing scores into Newzik, it shares many features of forScore. You can import PDFs from another application or cloud service or scan using your devices camera. Newzik also has its own set of publisher and distributor partners, some of which are also available in forScore — like Musicnotes, Carl Fischer, and Presser, — and some which are not — like Universal Edition. For institutional users, Newzik has a partnership with the Zinfonia rental and licensing portal, making it probably the quickest way to access rental materials, and earning it fans among orchestra librarians.
Another notable difference is in the way Newzik handles different parts from the same composition. It links them together, rather than treating them independently. For example, if you were to import the score and all four parts of a string quartet to forScore, you’d have five separate documents and five separate entries in your library database. However, in Newzik, all the parts are linked together, which can be a benefit for collaboration, since all players can easily access the score and one another’s parts.
While in some of these ways, Newzik’s library is quite a bit more complex than forScore’s due to the interconnected parts, in other ways it is much simpler due to having less metadata. If you are a bit overwhelmed by the detail of forScore’s database of multiple libraries, tags, labels, genres, etc., you might find Newzik to be a little more comfortable.
MusicXML on the music stand
One of the other biggest differentiators between Newzik and forScore is its ability to interpret music and handle MusicXML.
There are some fantastic things that are possible with MusicXML that are not with PDF. For example, the metronome can follow a score with meter and tempo changes. Music can be resized and reflowed in an instant, which is cleverly implemented within Newzik. A pinch-zoom sets the staff size, and a split-second later, everything reflows so that no matter how big or small you make it, the system is always the full width of the screen, which can be particularly nice if you are reading on a smaller device, or if you prefer to use your iPad in landscape orientation, rather than the portrait orientation used by most scores. This semantic understanding of the contents of a score also allows Newzik to play back a rudimentary MIDI realization of a composition.
Another excellent MusicXML feature is that a player can decide at any time which of the other parts they would like to see, even if only temporarily. Part of my own testing involved a download of Fauré’s Piano Quintet No. 2 from MuseScore’s OpenScore project. I could imagine a violinist in that ensemble sometimes wanting to see the other violinists part alongside their own during rehearsal. Doing so is a simple toggle in Newzik.
I could also imagine this being very useful for sectional rehearsals in schools, where the conductor may want to focus only on the strings, for example. Because MusicXML allows Newzik to be aware of where system breaks occur rather than only page breaks, there is an option to set a Bluetooth page-turning pedal to scroll one system down, rather than a whole page at a time, which could allow a performer to always be able to preview what is coming in the next measure, regardless of where it might fall on the printed page. The flexibility of MusicXML also allows a score to be transposed on the fly, which may not be as useful for orchestral scores, but could be a huge benefit for vocal music.
Unfortunately, MusicXML is not a perfect vessel for all kinds of information, and certain scores may look better than others. If you’ve ever used MusicXML to exchange files between Finale and Sibelius or another application, you will be acutely aware of these limitations. In my testing, I also used a score of mine exported from Sibelius and ended up with some less-than-ideal results. As hard as the Newzik team works, they’ll never have the level of expertise in music layout algorithms as the teams building Dorico, Finale, or Sibelius. (If you want to see some truly impressive algorithmic layouts, import a MusicXML file into Dorico.) And all of the flexibility gained by using MusicXML scores is lost the moment you add any annotations to the score. Annotations are in a fixed position on the score, so they are incompatible with reflowing, resizing etc. In many ways, your MusicXML score becomes functionally a PDF the moment you write on it.
Even aside from those more complex issues, I’m not wild about some of the design choices that Newzik uses in rendering scores: italics in time signatures, system dividers for any view of more than one part, misaligned dynamics, and dotted half-rests in 3/4, to say nothing of all the subtle spacing and layout tweaks you spent hours on. And of course, none of those clever Dorico/Sibelius/Finale workarounds you may have learned about in Scoring Notes are going to come through MusicXML translation.
Having said all that, if the score you’re working with comes willingly into Newzik as MusicXML, you’ll have a lot more options for working with it than you would in PDF. That may be worth a few aesthetic quibbles to many, many users. And it’s worth restating again that Newzik still does handle PDFs, just like the other readers here.
A score reader that reads scores
For most musicians in most contexts, MusicXML files aren’t available for the materials they are performing from, which is why Newzik introduced Maestria, their machine-learning based optical music recognition (OMR) feature in 2021.
By virtue of its ability to read scores and export/import MusicXML, Newzik can make for an interesting pairing with a iPad notation application like StaffPad or Dorico (Sibelius for iPad can import but not export MusicXML at this time.)
Newzik Maestria isn’t a perfect replacement for a dedicated OMR application, but it can help out in a pinch. And the most interesting thing to me is that it can be used in an additive way. Newzik calls the resulting document a LiveScore, which strikes me as apt. It has some of the semantic understanding of a MusicXML import, but it still holds the PDF as the primary graphical display, with all music preparer’s detail and care intact.
Like many other OMR applications, Maestria isn’t perfect, but there isn’t anything like this feature in any other score reader app that I have used. In fact, the only other iPad app that comes close is PlayScore, which is more-or-less a dedicated OMR tool.
Collaboration in Newzik
Aside from MusicXML, the most notable differentiator between Newzik and forScore is collaboration. This is made possible by the cloud sync that is already built in for every score in your library.
Setlists exist in all of the apps I tested, and Newzik has these as well, which can be shared by a simple link. However, doing so simply sends an independent copy of the setlist to another user. In addition to Setlists, Newzik provides a collaborative feature it calls Projects. Projects have all the same basic functionality of Setlists, plus a few more tools that are specifically for ensembles that adopt Newzik as a group. To me, this is the best reason for choosing Newzik.
A Project organizer creates a new Project, adds scores and parts to it, and invites collaborators. Adding collaborators is as simple as sending a link in whatever way is easiest, by email, text message, or AirDrop. Once in a Project, players will have access to all the scores and parts for that Project.
However, the real power of Projects is in shared annotation layers. For all scores in a shared Project, there are now three kinds of layers:
- private layers: visible only to the person who creates them
- public layers: visible to everyone in the group
- shared layers: visible and editable by everyone in the group
Private layers work just like you would expect, each player can make as many private layers as they want as though they were using Newzik on their own (and just like in forScore).
Public layers could be a great way of conveying bowings to players, cuts or vamps in a musical theatre work, or translation changes in lyrics without manually rewriting the changes through many copies of the same part. Since these annotations sync to the cloud, they can also be changed quickly. For example, if the guest conductor’s unexpected tempo dictates a different bowing, the concertmaster can make the change and sync it to the rest of the section.
Shared layers seems a bit dangerous to me, and I’m not sure most large organizations would want to commit to the Annotations Thunderdome that could ensue. However, I think changing a layer to be “shared” temporarily could be useful, or maybe in the context of a chamber ensemble, where all players might occasionally make shared notes in the score but mostly play from their own parts.
Collaborative Projects can be a bit tedious to manage, especially at the stage of uploading all the scores and parts for a whole concert, and for that, Newzik provides a web interface called Newzik Web. It doesn’t have all the features of the Newzik app, but it will run on any platform that has a web browser, and it makes setting up libraries and groups far easier than trying to do so on an iPad. I wouldn’t suggest trying to perform from Newzik Web, but it is very useful for administering groups and organizing lots of scores. And since Newzik keeps track of all the scores and parts for each piece, this can save a lot of time. When you drag a stack of PDF files into Newzik Web, you can quickly group and label them all at once.
Projects are available to all users, but organizations who purchase institutional cloud service subscriptions — called Newzik Ensemble and Newzik Education — have some special features that can make it easier to quickly add members from the organization to a project and manage permissions. The details of these features are beyond the scope of this article, but it’s worth noting that Newzik is the only one of the apps I tested that has special features large, top-down adoptions.
Documentation and training
The last point where Newzik really shines is in their online support documents. It’s not as exciting as the app’s features or content partnerships, but I think it’s particularly important, especially if you want to deploy Newzik all at once across an organization, which is how Newzik really wants to be used.
To support this, the company provides a series of short “courses” called Newzik Academy. These courses are organized in such a way that users can focus only on what they need to know without being overwhelmed by all the details that don’t apply to them. For example, an orchestra librarian might need to know how to set up an a Project across an organization, but a violist just needs to handle navigation and annotation.
Newzik is a highly polished, feature-rich application that is absolutely worthy of consideration for anyone considering digital score readers. However, many of it’s best features, like collaboration, rely on having an Internet connection on a somewhat regular basis. Yes, absolutely can use Newzik offline, but doing so really misses the point of why you would choose it over forScore. And of course, anyone who has worked in a concert hall knows that they often don’t have the most advanced network setups, and if you’re taking your show on the road, connectivity becomes even less reliable. Furthermore, these features also need all (or nearly all) members of an ensemble to be using Newzik on an iPad. If you and your organization are making this digital transition in a piecemeal, bring-your-own-device kind of way, Newzik’s best features won’t matter as much to you.
Some other, more minor drawbacks: it’s just slightly more cumbersome to deal with annotations in Newzik compared to forScore. If you have an Apple Pencil, you can still just start writing and you’ll be in annotation mode, but exiting that mode is not automatic like in forScore. And erasing annotations is not as slick. If you touch any piece of a line with the eraser tool, the whole line goes away. So, you can’t use the eraser to go back and shorten a line that was drawn too long, something I find myself doing regularly in forScore. And while Newzik has a metronome, tuner, and pitch pipe, it doesn’t have a multitouch piano keyboard, which I see my students frequently using in forScore, though this may not be essential for everyone.
Still, if you value the collaboration features, have reasonably consistent wifi in your most frequently used spaces, and you’re in an organization where almost everyone can make the digital transition together, Newzik is worth considering. In many circumstances, I think it could be the best option for ensembles and institutions.
An impressive music library: nkoda
Official web site
Apple App Store
Both of the other apps that I have mentioned so far require each user to bring their own library of scores and parts into the software or connect to other digital publishing partners. That’s not the case with nkoda, which occupies a unique position in the category of iPad score readers. As part of a monthly or annual subscription, nkoda users can access a huge library of hundreds of thousands of pieces, most of which are under copyright and hard to find anywhere else (legally) in a digital format.
As a score reader, I don’t think nkoda would warrant a mention in an article about the best in the category. The user interface is slow, difficult to understand, and clunky to use. I have been writing about the nkoda experience since the app launched in 2018, and each time, I have been told that the nkoda team is aware of the limitations of the reader and that they are constantly working on improving it. Five years later, I can say that the reading experience has undergone many significant changes since it launched, but I can’t say that it’s anywhere near acceptable for rehearsal and performance. It often takes a minute or more to launch, and many touch interactions are slow enough to respond that I wonder if my touch has registered with the device, only to touch a second time and then have both interactions. Even the score rendering is poor.
In spite of my criticism of the nkoda app, I can honestly say that it is an excellent service, and one that I happily pay for regularly. Yes, you can upload your own PDFs into the app, but to do so is really to miss the point of what makes nkoda great (and it is) great. It’s the unmatched content library that earns the app a place on my device.
I would recommend nkoda for a few different kinds of users. One group would be users like me who want to study (or teach) from scores of compositions of the last few decades that can be hard to find quickly, even among research libraries. For example, I just used nkoda recently while teaching a composition lesson to instantly bring up the score to Julia Wolfe’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Anthracite Fields. I’ve spoken with orchestra librarians who use nkoda to begin preparing for a performance before rental materials arrive from a publisher. But I can’t say I would recommend it for performance in place of either of the other picks mentioned above.
There are plenty of other score reading options in the App Store. I would identify most of these in the category of “specialty apps” that are mostly designed for specific use cases or to handle specific score formats.
StaffPad Reader provides quick ways to read (not edit) native StaffPad music notation files. It has some interesting features around collaboration and synchronization that are beyond the scope of this article.
Like StaffPad Reader, MuseScore for iPad is designed for reading files created in its file format. Neither StaffPad Reader nore MuseScore for iPad these apps can handle PDF files, and so they probably can’t serve as a replacement for any of my main recommendations.
FlipFolder from J.W. Pepper is an option that has a very particular set of skills targeted specifically to the needs of marching bands. It connects directly to J.W. Pepper’s publications library, and it is designed to display individual parts to performers on phone-sized devices mounted to their instruments (like a traditional flip folder, hence the name). It includes some other neat network communications features for marching bands, but again, a bit too narrow in scope to compete with Newzik or forScore.
UnReal Book is very popular among jazz musicians, but I can’t recommend it based on how cumbersome it is to add files and the clunky interface for setting up metadata, playlists, etc. In general, it less fully featured than forScore and Newzik, and it is much less polished. Additionally, although it’s received regular maintenance updates, its core design and features seem to not have been updated in a very long time, so I’m not sure I would trust that this app is going to be around for the long term.
Another app that is targeted specifically to jazz and commercial musicians, iReal Pro is a great way to keep track of chord sheets (note: not lead sheets). Notably, it doesn’t handle music notation, so it isn’t really a competitor to the top picks here, but it is an excellent app in an adjacent category. Not only does it allow you to create and organize chord sheets, you can transpose them and even practice with a MIDI rhythm section, much like a simplified version of Band-in-a-Box (which I am delighted to learn is still going strong!).
It’s also worth mentioning two lower-cost alternatives that are more general in nature: PiaScore (free download with $5 unlock) and digitalScore (free download with various subscription unlock options) are both lower cost than forScore and Newzik, and are similarly broadly targeted. They both handle PDF files, page turns and annotations. However, neither of them has the powerful organization and automation features of their premium counterparts, and they lack annotation layers, which is one of my favorite features of digital scores. One place it’s worth mentioning that PiaScore shines is in its slick IMSLP integration, which can be a huge benefit to those working with public domain editions.
If nothing else, I hope that this comparison demonstrates that despite the relatively small (but growing) number of musicians using digital performance materials, the category of score readers is broad and vibrant. There are new apps and services, and existing app publishers are continuing to push one another with innovative new features.
In particular, I’ll be paying attention to dimusco, which emphasizes some of the networked collaboration features of Newzik alongside cross-platform client applications for Windows and Android as well as iPad, and Enote, which focuses on semantic score documents like MusicXML but which is currently limited only to their score library.
Additionally, I’ll be continuing to follow the developments of the recommendations I made above. Even though the category of iPad score reader apps is quite mature already, I expect that these top picks will continue to grow, add new features, and adapt to new hardware and platforms. I look forward to continuing to explore this space and keeping Scoring Notes readers apprised of new developments.
I’m still reading this very thorough review – and I’ve already learnt about a new feature in ForScore (which I already use), so thank you.
I’ve also been advised to check out BandHelper – have you tried it?
12.9 inches, that’s not even 8.5X11… very small!
Thanks for reading. You’re right that the largest iPad screen is smaller than a standard North American sheet of paper. That’s a barrier to using it for something like a large conductor’s score (though I know people who do, including me!). However, I think there are some great solutions to make it work. First, it’s very common to crop the margins of a page in all of these readers. When you remove the margin, the music ends up being nearly the same size as it would be on 8.5×11, which is still smaller than most sheet music, but is getting closer. Another thing that most of these apps do, including my best overall pick forScore, is that you can turn the iPad in landscape and view part of the page at a time. This doubles the number of “page turns”, but it makes the music even larger than it would be on most printed parts, and if you’re turning the page with a foot pedal, the number of turns isn’t as cumbersome as it might seem.
Having sad that, the day Apple releases an iPad as large as my 27-inch iMac is a day I’ll be several thousand dollars poorer!
Hi! I’m wondering whether you could answer one question:
I just bought my first iPad pro, but it’s the “smaller” version. But the landscape is perfect, since it turns the sheet music bigger than most and the added light makes it so perfect for me. For now I mostly use it when I practice by myself, so I can afford the extra page turns. However, especially during etudes, but in general in fast pieces, when the line is important ( :) ) I’d like to be able to play through, to get the desired effect.
So I got a foot pedal.
But what it does now is: it’ll start in the zoom in of my choice. then I press the pedal and it scrolls down to the second part of the page. But when I press it again and to scroll down it has to switch the page, the zoom goes back to the default, which is small.
Is any of these apps good for that? i.e. do any of them allow you to stay in the same zoomed in state you set at the start of the document?
Thanks for reading, Katya. As far as I know, all these apps will stay zoomed in. I just tested it with our top two picks to be sure.
What app are you currently using?
Thank you for replying!
I was just using GoodReader, because I use it for all my PDFs for non-music classes and this is my first use of the iPad as a sheet music device :). I’ll give ForScore a try, since it seems to be very good in many aspects.
Thanks and have a good day!
I’m ADiS Music’s CEO and, as Rudolph Boehm said, we developed a professional solution for classical Music. It is based on very large devices to fit every one’s need, soloist, orchestra members and conductors. The size of the displays is up to 32 inch with 4K resolution. With such size you can render “modern” music with dozens of staves within the conductor’s score.
Most musicians in amateur community bands and amateur big-bands cannot afford to buy a 12.9 inch IPAD PRO but a few of them make do with the smaller screen of an cheaper Android tablet. Bands will not stop issuing paper music and will not require band members to provide their own display device until devices at least as large as the 12.9 inch IPAD PRO become available for less than $500 USD. That time will come. Bands will want to scan their existing paper library into PDF files but copyright rules need to be updated to recognize the existence of personal computers, IPADs etc.
For $9.99 per year forScore PRO lets you turn pages by turning your head to the side or if you are not a wind instrument player you can move your mouth to the side to turn the page. I have wireless pedals but I would have to remove my shoe in order to find the pedals without glancing down at the floor.
Sorry but that’s a fairly ridiculous comment. I’ve been using these apps (plus Notion iOS), since the 1st gen 12.9” iPad Pro came out three years ago or so. The 12.9” model iPad Pro is in fact, for all practical purposes, the size of an 8.5” x 11” sheet of US Letter sized paper. The screen is approximately 8” x 10” (photographic paper size). This 1/2” difference is negligible and not noticeable in my opinion. And I use my iPad Pro in orchestral rehearsals, while composing, while teaching music theory lessons, and I conduct from it. I also make YouTube videos directly from the screen of the iPad Pro. Plus, as David said, when you ignore the margins, which the iOS notation apps allow you to do, you get that 1/2” back. Anything much larger than 12.9” wouldn’t be mobile enough. This iPad Pro feels like a letter-sized clipboard as I carry it around while working.
I have never found the 1/2” difference to be of any significance and it’s certainly nothing that needs an apology for. Many computer monitors that are 1920×1080 aren’t necessary friendly to desktop music publishing, but it’s nothing to complain about. Granted there are wide and curved monitors now, but the new iPad Pro can connect to an external monitor via the USB C port. Bottom line: the 12.9” iPad Pro is great for music notation. It’s practically doubled the overall efficiency of my workflow. That’s what’s important.
Is Komp still alive?
Thanks for reading, Tom. Komp has been receiving regular bugfix updates over the last year, but relatively few new features have been added recently. It didn’t make it into this roundup, as it is in a different category from these. Komp is for creating scores. These five apps are for reading them.
Thanks, David. I appreciated the thoroughness of your review and especially the clear advice that people need to pay close attention to their particular needs and workflows in deciding what will work best for them – none of the apps is best for everybody.
Thanks for the great, in-depth research. I’ve been a happy ForScore user since the early days, and it’s good to see that I’m not missing much by sticking with it!
Thanks for this comprehensive market overview and review, which took me some days to look deeper into it! And as I feel addressed as one of the (two?) poor windows-guys, I of course have to comment here and well, it almost makes me cry… I’m still searching for a windows app even as good as XODO, wich feels slow, does not seem to be developed for years and is nothing more than a pdf-reader supporting stylus annotation. Not to mention annotation layers, tagging, playlists or damn-complicated things like Music-XML-import…
I really don’t like the idea to carry around two mobile workstations though: It seems I need a tablet AND a laptop to view my scores and edit them in the major scoring apps. That’s quite ridiculous, I think, since both of the hardware types could handle all of these without problems (attaching/detaching a keyboard and maybe trackpad/mouse – the rest is mostly identical anyway) and being forced to sync different machines has never made anything better or easier. The MS Surface is designed to be exactly the hardware fitting these needs, but it seems (nearly) nobody wants to use it that way and develop corresponding software… why? I’d love to pay for it!
Thanks for reading. I have heard a few comments from Windows users who are using MobileSheets. You might give that a shot. I don’t have a Windows tablet to test with, but if anybody at Microsoft wants to set me up with a Surface and Surface Pen for a couple of months to test things, I’m available. ;-)
While I agree that it would be nice to be able to do everything on one device, I’m pretty happy carrying around two for the moment and using each for what it is best at. I’m not sure I would want all the background processes that are part of a desktop operating system to be hanging around during a performance with a score reader. (Maybe as a geek I have more of these than most users, but I still like the idea that they won’t derail a performance.)
I’ve actually chosen the devices that I use for their software more than anything else. I’m hoping we will eventually be able to use something like a Fin/Sib/Dorico on iPads. Though, as I pointed out in my post about the iPad Pro in November, the available revenue models are tricky to navigate for pro apps. iPad Pros definitely have enough hardware power to support anything my laptop can do; it’s just a matter of finding a company willing to take the risk and make it.
Thanks for your reply. I completely understand your point considering background processes (it’s difficult to say in kind words what I think about windows updates). I also chose the surface (in the End of 2016) because of the software: The most specific reason was StaffPad. Another was to be flexible to use windows software. At Home I’m greatly enjoying my iMac.
Now I have the impression that the once working environment of PDF-viewer Xodo and StaffPad with the desktop-scoring-apps always at hand gets worse (slower and less reliable) the longer I use it while the applications I don’t use get better and better (only exception: Dorico still gets better. Now kill that damn dongle-depending license management and it will be great and hopefully become even better). The “MobileSheets” app you mentioned looks definitely promising (some reviewers state it even “functionally comparable for forScore”), I’ll try that thing out!
Thanks again for your tip Mobile Sheets (pro)! I got used to it now and it has many really useful features, but the best thing: A very responsive and engaged developer who really pushes this thing forward. It’s already multi-platform with Android, Windows 10 and (new) even E-Ink-Devices; an iOS-Version is in the planning. Since it’s another platform, it’s not really missing in this list, but it’s definitely worth mentioning!
Thanks for following up. That’s really great to hear! I’m glad there is a solid app out there supporting Android and Windows users. I don’t have a great way to test it, but if it comes to iOS, it’ll definitely be in a future version of this round-up. I’ll see about getting in touch with the dev.
…just because somebody else asked again and this thread is necromanced again and again: In case you did not notice: Mobile Sheets is now available for iPad, too, for a few months and you may review it, too. Its maybe biggest feature, being cross-plattform for all three major platforms, should not come too short, though. ;-)
I’am afraid of windows reboot for updates when reading score during live concert. iPad is the best choice for misicians (stability, reading score, synth etc)
You can have unrivaled experience with ADiS solution. We don’t use Windows Operating System. We don’t use any iPad. We have the device matching your instrument. Sizes are 16, 27 and 32 Inch (used by conductors for very high-density contemporary works). Everyone in tempo without any pedal.
Thanks David for this thorough investigation. I admire the effort you put into it. I am an amateur pianist, proudly using the 1st editons of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and I have been using forScore for more than 3 years now. I couldn’t imagine doing without it anymore, and I would be completely lost without the bookmars being a range of pages, for instance. And I also learned from your review that I should definitely re-examine the use of layers.
The comparison with the competition is very useful too, and it has strengthened my conviction that forScore is the tool of choice for me.
I was really interested to read this view. Having got an iPad Pro some two months ago. I first bought ForScore, and then followed it up with Newzik (on seasonal offer) and Piascore (plus nkoda for the library!). One really key point about Piascore, which was not mentioned in the review, is that, alone amongst these readers, it allows for vertical scrolling of scores, which is key if you want to perform in Portrait view. I find that if you set a slowish scrolling speed, you can use a Bluetooth pedal to push it forward where needed, and this is a great way of doing away with the tyranny of page turns. The Android/Windows MobileSheets also does this (with a very sophisticated interface), and I am surprised that ForScore and Newzik haven’t followed suit. ForScore does have a facility for a single stave to scroll horizontally, but I am not sure that you can save the scroll speeds, and this seems to be something directed towards visually impaired players.
Philip — thank you for this! I am a violinist/violist who wants to try and play from the full score more often (e.g. of a string quartet). Piascore’s vertical scrolling, with landscape mode on my iPad Pro, seems just the thing :-)
David Prescott Thompson
I lost my Sibelius 6 and Scorch when I bought my new laptop to replace my old one. I work with singers and each has a separate range, so I was able to transpose, but now cannot except with real staff paper. Anybody aware of the transpose feature on reader software like the varieties in this great article. I use ForScore a lot but I’m stuck with the chart or lead sheet. iRealPro transposes the harmony, giving chord symbols, but not the actual music, chord voicing, etc.
Thank you for the extensive coverage of various options available for music score writing.
I have recently purchased iPad pro 12.9 inches mainly for score writing for composing church based songs.I am thinking of buying forscore.
All the best!!!
I just use iBooks on my iPad. It’s easy to import pdfs or any other content from the internet. The library system is very intuitive (not surprising as it’s apple designed software). The content is available on my iPhone and other devices via iCloud (something you have to pay for with forScore). The annotation features are sufficient and it has the same swipe to turn page (as well as compatible with foot pedals). It doesn’t have the ability to put in page links for things like D.C. and D.S. which is one feature I miss though.
Also has the advantage of longevity in that you won’t be left high and dry if the software developer goes bust.
Thanks for the review. As a jazz player, one of the most important features I look for in a reader is the availability of indexes for common fakebooks. The best app I’ve found on that front is Calypso Score (http://www.calypso-score.com/). Calypso Score also has excellent tools for organizing scores and creating different presentations of the same score for different playing situations (e.g. different bands, etc.). It’s approach to managing scores is different than ForScore, but it has an equivalent set of features and some that make it more suitable for jazz musicians (I used to use ForScore extensively before discovering Calpyso Score). In particular, the ability to view a single PDF (e.g a fakebook) as a set of songs that can each be managed separately is essential, and much more powerful than ForScore’s bookmark feature.
For Jazz players nothing beats iGigBook, the app that introduced the concept of indexing that many other apps now make lackluster attempts at duplicating. iGigBook is an targeted at the working pro who on Monday may be playing classical gig, Tuesday a pop gig and a Jazz gig. The app literally lets a musician with a large cache of PDF music not only carry it with them but pull out a song out of thousands in seconds. The app was created in 2010 and still to this day there isn’t an app that come close to what it’s offering. forScore is a good app, well designed in places and has the edge of iGigBook when it comes to annotation however when it comes to set list management, indexing and transposing chord charts nothing beats iGigBook. Different strokes for different folks and no app is the be all and end all for all musicians.
Unfortunately, instead of increasing screen size in the same general device’s size (as was with 10.5″ to 11″ screen version), for the new 12.9″ version Apple left the same screen size in a smaller body. That’s a bit disappointing for me. For me screen size is much more important than device’s dimensions. Yes, I’m OK with current 12.9″ screen size, but still dream to see 14″ iPad which would be just perfect for me.
Thanks for reading, Alex. I’m totally with you. I want an iPad the size of my 32″ iMac like the Surface Studio.
“my 32″ iMac”
…what did I miss there?! I always thought my (27″) was the biggest! :-p
Anyways, I agree that Apple should build bigger displays. In iPads as well as their tiny laptops.
Whoops! I’ve had external displays on my mind! All I want is to run iOS and macOS in parallel on an unreasonably large display. Is that too much to ask?!
“I want an iPad the size of my 32″ iMac like the Surface Studio”.
Sounds cool, but not real. ) And such an iPad would be not transportable for traveling, performances on stage (imagine person, who appeared on stage with 32″ device. :) It would be even impossible to put such a big iPad on music rest (on piano or separate music stand). I want to have all my sheet music always with me, for all those reasons mentioned above I’ve never considered any monitors for such task. Like this, for example:
Looks cool, but not my option…
Conductors need a very large screen but instrumentalists would be better served by hinged dual screens that display two life-sized pages and can be folded shut to protect the screens during transport. I love my 12.9 inch IPAD PRO but an even larger screen size would be good for the eyes of elderly musicians.
For me, a 15-inch iPad would be ideal for portrait orientation (one page mode), and an approximately 21-inch (maybe a bit less?) iPad for landscape orientation, to display two pages at once, just like in books. Here are some links about iPad with an even bigger screen:
Just found this:
That’s what I’m talking about! )
I cannot calmly look at this big iPad, even if it is still photoshopped. )
Thank you for the great posting.
I am an arranger for a band, and it really bothers me when people don’t download the updated charts.
Is there an app that automatically updates the newest version of the music?
Newzik sounds like the app, but not really sure.
I want to control the parts that everyone has, and when I print the music, i could do 100% way..
Not anymore.. frustrating..
Thanks for reading, Kay. Newzik is probably your best bet for this, but the best way to do what you’re asking about requires that your score be in MusicXML format, rather than PDF. Basically, you can share a score over the local network. You share the _full score_, but then each player can turn off all the staves but their own. They’d still have the old versions of the arrangement on their devices if you pushed a new one, but as the “leader” you could at least force all the “follower” users to have the same version open as you do.
I forgot to add this: you may want to take a look a the Newzik User Guide. There’s a section called “Collaboration” that you will likely find interesting!
Wow, Thank you so much!
I will check out!
I speak everyday with high level classical music professionals. They told me that ADiS Music, a company based in Vienna, is preparing something BIG. They developed dedicated hardware up to 27 inch with a lot of accessories that make you able to scroll automatically while you’re playing. Actually they have more than 7000 digitalized scores, chamber music, orchestral and even operas. It doesn’t run on iPad. It is not PDF. It seems really amazing. It worths waiting.
You are promoting apps infringing copyright law.
It’s civil and criminal offence.
That horse is too tall for you!
IMSLP and other sources have public domain sheet music. Plus a lot of contemporary composers choose to release works without copyright, for promotional reasons, or maybe they married well…
lmfao fuck off
Can anyone recommend a lightweight monitor to mirror the 2 uo feature in forscore and still have the same size as one page would look in ipad pro forscore? Thank you
Nice review, David. Do any of these apps have an auto-scroll feature? I’ve been using SetList Helper for Android and although it’s buggy, you just press play and it will vertically scroll through the piece and you can set the scroll speed. I use mainly for vocals and not music scores.
PiaScore has a basic mechanism. However, by far the best scrolling mechanism available is on MobileSheets for Android, which is very configurable. I would like to see that incorporated into the leading iOS readers.
Calypso Score has an “auto-layout” capability to handle multi-page scores. With auto-layout set up for a song, Calypso will automatically scroll through the pages, responding to tempo changes and jumps between sections (codas, segnos, repeats, etc.). If you have a bluetooth pedal connected, the pedal can be used to accelerate or decelerate the scrolling speed as needed to adjust to the current performance tempo.
How many gigabytes do you recommend? I’m a full time piano accompanist.
Good question, Ernesto! It depends on what else you might be using your iPad for. If you’re not using it for _anything_ else, you could probably get away with the smallest (64GB). Score PDFs are usually not too big, but they can add up if you have a lot of them. I would say that if you want to be safe and make sure that you’re going to be comfortably using this iPad for several years, it’s worth upgrading to the next highest storage option (256GB).
I will say that I use my iPad for several hours every day between teaching, reading, browsing the web, studying scores, and watching YouTube/Netflix. I have the 512GB iPad Pro and it’s not even half full after about a year of use.
So after all that, I think I would recommend the 256GB for most people.
Thank you for sharing your research! I am a 70 year old intermediate to advanced pianist and have been playing for 62 yrs. Needless to say, my sheet music collection is enormous and I love sight reading new pieces and often like to master them. But the books fall on the floor, the page turning is annoying and I do own a Mac Retina, not an Ipad. I do use my Mac for business as well as browsing, editing pictures, etc. It is my primary computer. So the idea of buying a tablet just for reading sheet music means that I would probably not use it for anything else and if I do buy one, I would buy the biggest one, 12”+ just because my visions is not ideal. So, do I make the investment of an Ipad Pro 12” or look at the less expensive Samsung. My husband has a 9” Ipad, HIS Ipad and he won’t share, understandingly. However, in his words, he tell me:”Look, piano is your main hobby, just by the Big Ipad and enjoy it.”
Just curious to get your thoughts.
Hi Anne-Marie. Thanks for reading! I agree with your husband. If you’re already used to your Mac and your husband has an iPad already, I think you might find a different kind of device frustrating, especially when it comes to software. None of the options I mentioned above are available on a Samsung device (except nkoda), and I don’t think I would trust another kind of tablet to be as reliable as an iPad for this kind of use. I’ll also add that as a long-time iPad user, I suspect that having one around and getting used to using it, you might start to find some other uses for it as well. I would recommend the 12.9″ iPad Pro (the big one) and the Apple Pencil stylus. Lastly, there is a 14-day return window on anything you buy from Apple, so you can always return it if you change your mind!
Hy, Your post is awesome.Best Piano Learning App
David, enjoyed reading your very comprehensive overview of this topic. I have been procrastinating far too long to upgrade because I have tons of uniquely annotated freehand files (“.fh”) that otherwise require a dedicated musicpadpro machine to be read, unless they are converted to “.pdf” files to save the annotations. I know of way to “manually” make the conversions — that is to say — one file at a time that I walk thru the process myself — which is why I have been procrastinating; it is a very labor intensive process, and the thought of actually doing it this way is horrifying. Do you know if any of the software you listed here, or otherwise did not mention has the capability to “import” the above mentioned “freehand files” into a .pdf format or perhaps the “MusicXML” option you mentioned, or something else? Thanks again for your very informative overview!
Hi Michael. Thanks for reading. I can’t say that I have any personal experience with Freehand files or Musicpad Pro. I would say that your best bet is to get your FH files converted to PDF and import into something else. I’m not sure if the Freehand format used by those devices is the same as the old Macromedia Freehand format, but you could try this online converter, and possibly purchase the application there to do a batch conversion. https://www.coolutils.com/online/FH11-to-PDF
I think a PDF is going to be more reliable and more portable, and the longer you wait to do this, the harder it will be to get your FH files moved over.
David, great overview of all these applications! Thanks for writing this. It’s nice that there’s choice in this market right now, but of course that can create a little difficulty when choosing the right tool for your needs. I’m a trumpet player and have just started the process of looking into working from an iPad mostly for practice (maybe I’ll be brave one day and use it for work too). It was really helpful to hear specifically about the differing feature sets of each application, helped me determine that only ForScore has some of the features I need. Much appreciated!
Great post. Trying and liking Newzik now, thanks to your info. I already have but never really succeeded with Forscore, Onsong, and some others, and I didn’t see any recent development for features I want.
Newzik seems pretty smooth for me to use so far, auto-scrolling through PDFs and making notations on two iPads simultaneously. Seemed like the best current option for those features, for me. I’m often very sensitive to GUI glitches when I’m trying to do other musical work, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m the only one like me ;)
I’m using Newzik to prepare for a show early next month, so I’ll really be putting it to the test.
EDIT: just now noticing the comments calling out some other superior-scrolling PDF apps…so I may need to check those out too…. (and maybe buy an Android!?)
Thanks for reading, George! You’re right that a critical thing that Newzik does very well is sync. forScore doesn’t currently do this, but I know it’s something that is coming (probably soon) now that they’ve also released a Mac version. I tried to make this clear in the post, but the differences between Newzik and forScore are narrower than ever before, so it’s really a matter of which suits your needs and preferences best. Let us know how your show prep with Newzik progresses!
I’ve been using computers since the mid eighties. I can honestly say that for me this has been the worst program to download so far in all my 35 years of computing. I can’t comment on the program because I never got as far as actually downloading it!
It might be an Apple thing more than Forscore but as it appears you can only go through the Apple App. If Forscore is as good as the downloading program I would waste the money!
Thanks for the great article, clearly researched and well articulated. The Google search that led me here was “music reader app for older iPad”, so I was inspired by your mention that Newzik required only iOS 9.1. Sadly, that is no longer the case as recent downloads will work only on iOS 11.0 and later. I wonder if there is a market for a limited functionality version (read-only with annotation capability, perhaps) so that iPad 2 and such (very inexpensive in the secondary market) could be used. I would think that high school orchestras and others with limited budgets would find this useful.
I’m currently using Newzik successfully to support my small praise and worship ensemble using iPhones and iPad Air 2. I could expand our team with some cheap iPads if only we had software support!
Thanks for reading, John!
I would say that if you are working with an iPad 2, there are lots of reasons why you might want to consider upgrading to a more recent (even used) iPad. iPad 2 uses a 30-pin dock connector, which is pretty fragile, and if that cable breaks, you’re going to have a hard time replacing it. You’re also looking at a non-retina display, which makes a _huge_ difference when it comes to reading all the details of a score! I’d be concerned about the lifespan of a nearly ten-year-old battery as well. Batteries are chemical devices and have a limited number of charge cycles in them. At some point they can really cause problems with heat and just very short-lived charges.
The current iPad (8th gen. not Pro or Air) is often under $300 on sale new, and that would allow you to use an Apple Pencil (1st gen) to markup scores, which is a much better experience than a passive stylus. I’m sure you’d be able to find a use iPad 6th or 7th gen well under $150. This would give you a Retina display, a larger screen size, Touch ID for security, a more modern connector (Lightning), faster page turns, a more capable operating system, better compatibility with peripherals (like page turners), etc.
FWIW, in addition to my 2018 iPad Pro, I also tested all these apps on my iPad Air 2, which is approaching the end of its life now seven years after I bought it. I consider that to be a pretty good ride for a piece of computer tech!
The reason new applications drop support for older operating systems is precisely that there actually _isn’t_ a market for it. Apple doesn’t give developers a ton of data about the people that download their apps (for user privacy), but one bit of data developers do get is the operating systems of their users. When they drop support for an old version of iOS, it’s because they see that almost none of their users are on that OS anymore, and it’s a major cost (in development time) to support them for some features.
Sorry for the long reply. I think you asked an important question, and so I wanted to give you a thorough answer. I know new gear is costly, and I think you can find a good compromise with the iPad line covering most price points starting around $300 new, and much less used. I would also encourage you to follow the Apple Refurbished store. They are all out of stock now (they tend to get bought out around Christmas), but you can find refurb’ed iPads and Macs there. The cost is a little higher than just plain “used” or third-party refurbished, but when you get a refurb from Apple, it comes with exactly the same AppleCare warranty as a new device, which can often save a lot of money in repairs down the road.
Take care, and hope you get a solution to your Newzik P&W group! That’s a really great example of where Newzik’s strengths are!
Thanks for your detailed response. To add to your comment on refurbished iPad devices, you are absolutely right about using the Apple Refurbished store. I had an absolutely miserable experience purchasing two refurbed Air 2’s from several Amazon merchants. One was perfect and is still in use today, the other cycled back and forth through the refund/repurchase cycle for months. No money lost, but what a waste of time! The quality control provided by the Apple Refurbished store is well worth the extra cost. I’ll use them next time!
Great article, I’m still reading through the comments. However I’ve not learned what I wanted, I feel like I am after one simple feature, that I cannot seem to find in any of the available score readers. I’ve just subscribed etc will keep reading your updates.
I’ve recently re-picked up drums again and pursuing with a bit more dedication than as a child, and use ipad for youtube technique videos and scores of mostly exercises and rudiments, not even out and about live/studio work just at home practicing, and it’s great, so handy, without dedicated shelves to drum books, especially when considering the video element of it, I want the ipad anyway as a laptop couldn’t sit on the music stand!
I’m probably in such a small niche, but I can’t believe my reasons are the only ones for wanting a Link enabled score reader, so you can run a backing track on another Link enabled product (ie, ableton live or other ipad apps or midi hardware etc…) and have the score reader trigger a beat-matched play-through along with accompanying tracks; but maybe it just bridges the electronic music producer – classical player gap a bit too much!
Thanks for reading, George! I think you’re in kind of a middle ground as you pointed out. A lot of the music that would be made using something like Ableton is unlikely to be notated (though certainly there is plenty that is). However, if you’re using something like Ableton that can send out MIDI commands, you can use MIDI to turn pages in forScore. (I don’t think any of the other applications in this review can do this.) You’d need to set up network MIDI, which is maybe a bit more computer-nerdy than you were hoping for, but it would allow you to have pages turned automatically by creating a “silent” MIDI track in Ableton that sends triggers to forScore at exactly the right time, though this would require a fair amount of setup and planning for each track.
One thing that I think complicates this a bit, and the reason I wouldn’t want something like this automated in my practice, is that musicians don’t look _only_ at the measure they’re currently playing. We look ahead (and occasionally even back) all the time, and because of that, it can be very important to have manual control over page turns.
If you end up trying an automated MIDI setup, be sure to report back and let us know how it went!
Hello, I am looking for a way to organize music. I have been a pianist, vocalist, organist, church musician and a an accompanist. As a free-lance musician, ….there is a lot of music to organize, transpose, etc. from playing to funerals, quinceneras, weddings, graduation ceremonies and dinner parties and getting music ready for Catholic, Jewish and Protestant services. —not to mention the recitals. So I have made the big expenditure of buying an Apple iPad (8th Generation) 128GB. How do I begin organizing? What do you recommend ? Is there an app that helps with all of this?
Thanks for reading, Chrissy! There are lots of ways you can organize your scores. The two top picks mentioned in the article both have very robust organization systems.
I would say that the tagging tools in forScore would be the best option for what you’re describing. The thing that’s great about tags (as opposed to folders) is that they’re not exclusive. For example, you could have a song that would be appropriate for weddings and quinceneras, and another song that is appropriate for weddings and Jewish services, and another that would be appropriate for Jewish services and funerals.
The thing forScore can’t do is automatically transpose for you. That requires an app that handles MusicXML, which Newzik does, and it has a transposing feature as well. It’s organization features aren’t quite as rich as those in forScore, but the flexibility of MusicXML might be worth the tradeoff. If, on the other hand, you have PDF files of each transposition, perhaps forScore would be a better fit. They’re each intended to be used to organize your whole library, and in either case, 128GB should fit a _lot_ of MusicXML and PDF files. Since you have an iPad 8th Gen, I would also recommend an Apple Pencil (first generation) to annotate quickly in rehearsal.
If your music is already in PDF format, Calypso Score is a great tool for organizing your library. In addition to prebuilt indexes for all the major fake books, Calypso Score let lets you create your own songbooks, pulling together PDFs from multiple sources. It has a host of other features for professional musicians to manage their repertoire.
So very thankful David for your explanation! This helps immensely! The indexing feature sounds great! There is a lot of depth to the article. Let the scanning to PDFs begin:) ( and saving for the Apple Pencil begin )
Thank you, Jerry too:)
ForScore runs great on the iPad, I’d need it for online ZOOM lessons that I do on my Mac, though. Unfortunately ForScore for Mac does not run on Catalina, but only Big Sur.
Are there any PDF editors for the Mac that have music templates for annotation? I don’t need much, but slurs, a few accents, sharps and flats would do the trick.
Hi Florian. Thanks for reading. I too use Zoom to teach lots of lessons these days. It may surprise you to learn that you can actually project your iPad’s display wirelessly, directly to Zoom on your Mac, which allows for you to annotate much more naturally with the Pencil than with a mouse or trackpad.
In Zoom, you can go to Share Screen > iPhone/iPad via AirPlay. You can also select iPhone/iPad via Cable if you want to plug in over USB.
If you really must stay on your Mac the whole time, the kinds of annotation you’re trying to do could be done just in Preview with a PDF of blank staff paper, or you could use GoodNotes, which will also sync to your iPad if you want to use it in both places. For my own work, I use a combination of forScore, GoodNotes, and PDF Expert on both the iPad and Mac.
Groan. After using forScore very happily for two years I tried today to copy the library to my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Oh gosh, what a mess. Finally I succeeded in storing the bsb (?) backup file on the phone, but forScore’s devs and help writers seem to want to make it impossible to import it. I’m looking at Newzik right away pronto.
Hi George, I’ve moved my forScore library many times over the years. You need to be sure to select “Create Archive” on the old device rather than “Create Backup”. Those mean two different things to forScore.
A backup only includes your annotations. It’s in case you mess something up and want to go back to an earlier state, but it doesn’t store the PDF documents, since in this scenario, you’d already have those.
An archive includes both your annotations *and* the PDF documents, so if you’re transferring to a new device, that’s the one you want.
Once you have the archive file (which is in .4sb format), you just open that in forScore on your new device. I’ll also add that the next version of forScore (coming soon, and has been in beta for a while) will synch your library across many devices, which is also something that Newzik can do.
If you have a big library with lots of annotations, I think you’ll save a lot of time by transferring forScore libraries rather than starting over with a new app. There’s not a great way to move all of your content between apps.
Uso ForScore ultima versión, pero en el tablero de control de trabajo en la analítica, cuando cierro la aplicación y al poco tiempo vuelvo abrirla, me ha restado el tiempo de trabajo,
I’ve been using both ForScore and Newzik extensively this year – since upgrading to the iPad Pro in the fall. I wonder if your assessment of these apps has changed in the two+ years since this article was written? I know at least these two apps have evolved.
Hi Jay, thanks for reading!
You’re correct that some of the details in this article are a little out-of-date. I’m just starting to work on an updated version which I hope to have up this summer.
Overall, I would say that my assessment remains largely the same. The network/collaboration features of Newzik are really the main selling point there, which I imagine would be very useful to music librarians. However, I still really prefer the organization features in forScore. I would add some other new features that I’ll mention since this review: a web portal for Newzik makes it possible to organize a library from any desktop computer; forScore Sync allows forScore Pro users to easily move between devices and have their work backed up to iCloud; both have really nice integrations with several online digital score retailers. The retail angle is pretty neat, but it’s still kind of hard to share those purchases with an ensemble (so even if I bought a copy of something on the web to use in one of these readers, there’s not a great way to send the violin part to my violinist).
Look for a more detailed update soon.
Hi David. Loved your article! However, I didn’t find an answer to my question.
My dad gave me his old iPad 3rd generation, and I’ve been looking for an app to read my scores with my pedal turner; no success… Would you know of an app for iOS 9.3.5 for PDF scores?
Thanks a lot!
Hi Marie-Pierre, thanks for reading!
I don’t have any recommendations for you. The iPad you’re describing is 9 years old, and the OS is almost 6 years old at this point. There have been some very significant changes to the way iPads and iPad software work in that time. There just aren’t very many apps that carry compatibility back that far, and any app that hasn’t been updated since then is probably not one I’d want to rely on in a performance.
I know that’s not the news you were hoping for. The good news is that a new iPad (8th generation) is likely to be available on sale (or refurbished from Apple!) for only $300. Another major consideration is that your 3rd-gen iPad isn’t compatible with active styluses like the Apple Pencil, which is really crucial for making quick annotations in the middle of a fast-moving rehearsal.
I have both an iPad Pro and an old iPad with iOS 9.3.5. The good news is that having installed forScore, Newzik, PiaScore and Calypso score on the iPad Pro, I have also been able to install and run them (albeit not in the latest versions) on my old iPad. Here is a link to an article on installing old versions: tinyurl.com/y6k5vwp5 . I have used the second method successfully (ie, installing an old version of iTunes on my PC).
Thank you for the very useful overview. I have a question: I am rehearsing a band where different parts have their own pdf scores. As director, I would like to be able to synchronise all the devices so that they jump to “letter E”, whichever page that might be on on the different scores. Do any of the apps currently have this functionality?
Hi Ralph. Since you asked about PDFs, the answer is unfortunately no. The reason is that unless the user tells the application where [E] is, the application has no way of know that it’s a rehearsal mark. There may be an application that can do this by using MusicXML scores/parts, such as Newzik (disclosure: they have recently been a sponsor of the site and podcast), however I don’t think that’s a current feature. I think StaffPad and StaffPad Reader are capable of this, but again, that’s in their own proprietary format.
I will add that as a performer in bands and orchestras, I get why this would be a popular request, but in practice, I don’t think I would ever want the conductor to be able to turn my pages for me for a few reasons. 1) I may be using the iPad to mark something or study another part of the piece when the conductor forces me to a different page. 2) If rehearsal [E] is a multirest, I may want to turn to the next page in my score, where I would have marked the multirest at the top of the next page. 3) Spacial memory is critical to players being able to read ahead, look up from their parts at the conductor, or to one another. As a conductor, I would never want to undermine that expectation for my players for my players.
There are other alternative solutions that don’t use either PDF or XML in order to avoid batch processing on the user’s side.
Musicians stay musicians.
The scores are provided by the publisher, 100% error free as it is with paper scores.
The user just purchases them.
Furthermore, the devices are dedicated devices with sizes ranging from 16″ (one or two displays), up to 27″, 27″ or 32″ (2 displays for conductor).
In that case, it is possible to jump to any rehearsal mark on any part score within the orchestra.
Janet Ann Blair
I play keyboard and sing.
I don’t need all the bells and whistles of the apps you have mentioned.
I just need to be able to swipe pages back and forth and be able to move songs and new songs into certain positions.
I use and I Pad Pro 12.9″ 2015 .
Would the iBook get the job done for my simple needs?
Hi Janet, thanks for reading!
I think it’s totally normal to not need all the bells and whistles. I don’t use most of the features I wrote about above in my own work teaching and directing an ensemble.
You can definitely use the Apple Books app (formerly called iBooks) to read PDF files. I think there are two big things you’ll miss:
1. You mentioned that you need to move songs “into certain positions”, which you can’t really do in Books. The setlist features mentioned in the article are exactly what you’re describing.
2. The other thing I think you might miss is the ability to annotate your score with cuts, reminders, etc. You can’t really write on top of a document in Books, but all of these apps have very easy-to-use annotation features that are designed to be fast, which is important in a fast-moving rehearsal.
Janet Ann Blair
Thank you David,
If you come across a new music app that is not so advanced please let me know.
A very interesting and certainly helpful set of reviews!
What I am searching for is the best music reader for someone who is losing his sight. He needs to be able to enlarge the music as he sits at the piano. We don’t need something ask advanced, just a computer and program that allows him to enlarge the music and turn the pages.
I might suggest you read my answer to a similar question at this link:
Perhaps the information will be useful, as it turned out to be useful for the person who asked a similar question.
The trouble here is that the apps you use are based on PDF files.
PDF format has no idea about your musical content and it may lead to weird things like cutting off the staves.
There are other solutions that doesn’t use PDF files, they use proprietary score file format embedding all the musical information.
These solutions have a smart zoom that only highlights what you want without destroying the score.
Yes, I am aware of these peculiarities. However, for me PDF remains the best solution where I have 100% control over the result, since I create my own scores. And as I mentioned above, the solution suggested on another forum was great for someone who wanted to make PDF scores larger in forScore (“Reflow” feature).
I would suggest to use ADiS Music solution.
For the pianist, we have a 27″ device that allows amazing score rendering.
Since we use a proprietary score format, we are able to render the score in landscape mode to offer the biggest rendering on one page. The systems are automatically recalculated to fit the screen without any scrollbar. To give a better understanding, the score will be rendered like an organist’s score.
For your information, 27″ size is exactly 60 cm wide and 34 cm high.
If you decide having 5 systems per page, it will give you a system of about 5 cm high !
Hi Nancy. Enlarging music notation is considerably more complicated than enlarging text. Basically you have two options:
If your music is in MusicXML format (exported from notation software), you can use a score reader like Newzik, which will try to resize things dynamically as you need it. If your music isn’t too complex, this will work, but I doubt that you have your music in this format.
If your music is a PDF (scanned from paper), there aren’t any easy options. The best is to start with the largest iPad display you can get (the current largest iPad is 12.9 inches, diagonally). Next, you can use forScore or Newzik in landscape mode, so that you’ll see more-or-less the top half of the page blown up, then the bottom half blown up when you advance the page.
Hope that helps.
All very interesting!
I am a professional orchestra musician and I have been experimenting with Piascore and ForScore. They are both more than adequate, but the most significant difference in my experience is that the iPad battery lasts almost twice as long with ForScore.
I don’t like being worried about the battery after six hours of rehearsal. . .
that is so interesting! I found Piascore to be super battery saving. Had all-day rehearsal and an evening performance the other day and my 2018 pro held out fine using Piascore.
The only thing I will say about Piascore is that since an update a few months back, the landscape mode has changed and it’s such a pity! It used to be possible to look at sheet music in parts and pressing the pedal would move the page from first half to next half. Now this doesn’t work anymore. So i’ll be switching from the 11″ to the 12.9″ soon.
The battery is the main issue while going digital for classical music.
The time to discharge the battery depends on several complex factors.
The main factors are the age of your iPad and the load of the processor.
You cannot master the first factor.
The older your device is, the faster discharges the battery for a same processor load.
You already noticed that, the older your device is, the shorter the charging time is.
And it is a wrong idea to think that everything smoothly runs when you reach 100% of charge.
You won‘t never know the time you have in front of you for performance.
The second factor is bound to the way the app has been written.
A source code that is not optimized may effectively induce big difference on the battery discharge.
All apps at the moment only manage pdf files.
Rendering of a pdf file doesn‘t induce a high load on the cpu and you can have 6 hours for rehearsal.
But you have to be aware that the pdf file has no idea about the musical content of your score, preventing you to have access to high-end musical features.
To avoid that you have to use interactive scores and this is another story because the processor load will be far much higher and you won‘t never have 6 hours in front of you.
We, by ADiS Music, have developed a turn key solution involving dedicated devices on very large displays, software and interactive scores as well.
Being aware of all these issues with a battery we developed the solution keeping in mind that professional musicians have to be sure that they will perform without anguish.
Thank you for this detailed article and your comprehensive responses to the comments. I am moving my operatic stage direction notation from paper to digital and am on the hunt for the next iPad and program that will suit my needs. My current iPad is… ok. But I find the refresh in forScore to be a problem, as it shuts down the whole program. I realize that is most likely a hardware concern so I’m moving to a Pro to get that resolved. It was also incredibly helpful to know which programs function with XML files. In opera, I don’t come across new compositions as much as I would like, but I know what program to turn to when I do. Much appreciated.
Really interesting article, thank you!
forScore has an option to sync via iCloud, all my apple devices are synced instantly.
Now that Apple has released the M2 chip version of the iPad Pro, the older, 2021 version is cheaper. And one additional note about ForScore. I have witnessed two major mishaps with ForScore in concert. Both times brought the performances to a halt. In talking with the musicians later, I found that they had neglected to put the app in “performance mode,” which prevents a screen tap in the wrong place from causing a switch to edit mode. Also, make sure to do what you need to do to block phone calls, texts, emails, alerts, whatever. Since I’m an iPad nut, I own two of them. One of them is only for scores, and has all incoming stuff turned off, and is always in airplane mode. The other, older iPad is for all the fun stuff!
Paul, your message consists entirely of obvious things. The fact that when new products are announced, previous models always get cheaper has never been a secret to anyone. As for everything else, these are also obvious things for many.
And one more thing. The name of the application “forScore” is always written with a small letter wherever it appears: in the title, at the beginning of a new sentence or paragraph.
Are the any score readers for PC tablets?
Mobile Sheets pro – which is by the way now cross plattform including Android (where it once started) and iOS. I use it nearly every day, does a good job and has great support on zubersoft.com.
Still don’t understand why reviewers are ignoring Calypso Score. It’s actively maintained and ticks most of the boxes for an iPad score reader, especially for jazz musicians. The app’s new import wizard does a fabulous job of scanning and optimizing sheet music, and its new autoscroll feature is a powerful alternative to swipes and pedals.
You can read a comparison to ForScore here: https://www.reddit.com/r/CalypsoScore/comments/x9nbrt/calypso_score_vs_forscore/
Hi Jerry. Thanks for reading. I’m aware of Calypso Score, but I don’t think it warrants a recommendation in this context. I would say that it has a subset of the features of forScore for the same price. It’s closer to the feature set of something like Piascore, which mentioned in this article, but Piascore costs only $5. I looked at the Reddit post you suggested, and the person who wrote it is simply mistaken. forScore does all the things that the post says it doesn’t, even if it uses a different name for several of them.
Very thorough review-thank you.
As a composer, rather than a performer, my needs are modest and I typically proofread my Finale-notated scores as a PDF in PDF Expert on my iPad Air 3, marking any spacing/notation errors with a faux Apple pencil.
But for those who are performers, what is the best way, in your opinion, to use a dedicated score reader or something like PDF Expert (or other PDF application) to turn pages? I assume most involve a pedal of some kind. Thanks.
That depends completely on instrument and personal preferences. As a trumpet player, I mostly prefer vertical scrolling (which kind of neglects page turns), but if I have to read from e.g. a full score, I use normal page turning (swipe or tap left/right) since it’s faster and more precise for going long ways. I’m lucky though, that I can play my instrument using one hand only.
Most other instruments seem to use bluetooth pedals; for instruments that even need their feet for playing (e.g. organ or drumset), there are solutions like eye blinking or even mouth switches which can be operated via tongue/teeth…
Not all PDF apps offer support for things like that. Since I don’t depend on these, I use my score reader (Mobile Sheets pro) for most of my band projects (there, its metadata-driven library makes most sense), but a normal PDF-reader for most of the one-time-projects.