The best iPad score reader for most people

Reviews

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 revised 2018 iPad Pros now at 11- and 12.9-inch displays, there has never been a better time for musicians to go paperless.

I spent time with each of the leading iPad score reader apps — forScore, Newzik, nkoda, Blackbinder, and Piascore — to assess the current state of the category, and to help musicians decide which of the excellent options best suits their needs.

The five main contenders I tested.

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 has remained largely the same, and my use of the iPad as a music and music-teaching tool has expanded to include classroom teaching as well.

Hardware setup

My current iPad setup, and the one I test with most extensively, is the 12.9-inch 2018 iPad Pro (third generation) with Apple Pencil (second generation).

I cannot overstate the importance of the Apple Pencil to my workflow. Yes, it is very expensive. 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 even come close to matching it for its functionality.

My 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Apple Pencil running forScore

Having said 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 my previous 2015-model iPad Pro, and all work great on my 2014 iPad Air 2.

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 from the base-level of storage as well, especially if you expect to ever use your iPad for anything in addition to reading scores and parts.

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 those who are currently using one of the apps that I will discuss can learn more about what other options are available, and maybe even something new about an app you’re currently using. This is a very mature app category, and there are some fantastic and powerful options available.

This article is not going to discuss any of the apps that may be available for other platforms (notably Windows tablets), nor will it discuss any of the handful of hardware platforms (such as GVIDO) 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 mature, and the operating system isn’t as reliable, in no small part because of all the other software that would be running along side a score reader. The hardware score readers definitely look great, but they’re too expensive for an individual purchase, and unlike an iPad or Windows tablet, aren’t as useful for other tasks.

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, while 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. Moving around files is at the core of any score reader.
  • Organization: How are scores grouped, both archivally in a library and temporarily for individual performances?
  • Stability: This is a deal-breaker in this category.
  • 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 part of the table stakes of 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 priced similarly and very reasonably for the power and utility. I would argue that for software that has such little tolerance for error, anything less than $20 is completely reasonable — and anything less than $10 is a steal.


The best score reader for most people: forScore

forScore
Official web site
Price: $10 from the Apple App Store
Requires iOS 9.0 or later
Compatible with iPad


forScore is probably the most widely used score reader as of this writing. It is certainly the most widely used among the musicians that I know and work with. That’s not to say that I recommend it for that reason. In fact, I started this review searching for a competitor that I could recommend above it. However, the more I dug into its feature set, the more impressed I became with the depth and power of forScore.

Editor’s update: See this review of forScore 11, from May 2019.

Why it’s great

Like several of the other readers I tested, including Newzik and Piascore, there are many ways of getting scores into forScore, including built-in integrations with Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, and the relatively recent Files app built into iOS 11. Bringing in scores via the Share Sheet from another app or another device (even a Mac) over AirDrop also works great, as does drag-and-drop via another app in Split View.

There’s an additional feature called Darkroom, that allows you to use your device’s camera to snap pictures of pages of a score. This could be useful in a pinch, but I would strongly recommend using a dedicated PDF scanning app like Scanner Pro or Scanbot, both of which will do a much better job of processing a photograph into something that looks more like a document.

The file handling feature that I like most in forScore is the powerful metadata options it provides for organizing your scores. In addition to the basics of title and composer, works can be tagged in any number of ways which can later be used 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.

forScore's metadata editor
forScore allows users to include lots of useful metadata to organize their libraries and setlists.

In addition to the archival organization, forScore allows users to bookmark certain sections of large works. This is useful for scores that might include many movements, or score 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 Newzik is that forScore’s bookmarks define a range of pages, rather than a starting point.

This becomes even more powerful when creating set lists. The apps I tested almost all have some form of creating a setlist (or playlist) that organizes scores into a particular order to quickly jump from one piece to the next in a 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 into a single volume, even though only a small handful may be performed at once.

As I wrote above, 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, 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, just like paper.

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, as it’s quite a bit slower than drawing or writing by hand, and part of the reason I’m writing something is so that it sticks out from the markings already in the score. If you use these, you might consider using them in colors other than black so they stick out more.

forScore stamps and color tools
forScore offers a lot of customization for the musical symbols used in annotating scores.

The power of layers

A fantastic feature of digital annotations that forScore, Newzik, and nkoda all feature is layers. If you are familiar with image editors like Adobe or Affinity, you’ve likely encountered the concept of layers. For music annotation, this allows you to have separate levels or contexts for your markings. This could allow a player to have markings that are attached to a particular conductor or performance. An accompanist who plays the same piece for several different soloists might need to remember some things for one singer but not others. Individual annotation layers can be saved and toggled on or off at any time, and new annotations can be written in to 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. And exported files can be “clean” (unannotated) PDFs, annotated PDFs, or forScore’s own 4sc format, which will also maintain annotation layers and other app-specific features.

In a related feature, forScore also allows players to network with other users of the same app to synchronize page turns, as do Newzik and Piascore. In the case of forScore, page turns are sent from a designated “leader” user to “follower” users. The followers must have the score on their devices already, and in fact, the feature works even if the users have two different scores up. (This sounds weird and not terribly useful to me, but it’s nice to have the option.)

Use in performance and rehearsal

forScore also includes the very clever (though admittedly absurd) ability to use two iPads as the left and right pages of a score using the separately purchased forScore Cue app ($2 in the App Store). This allows the next page of the score to be shown on the “follower” device, which can also take care of page turns by tapping on the screen. 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, assuming both of your devices support the same Pencil, which they may not. As impractical and silly as the dual-iPad setup certainly is, I find it to be functionally reliable and strangely delightful.

In 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 MIDI piano keyboard or even make a recording of a lesson, rehearsal, practice session, or performance, right from the score.

forScore’s performance and rehearsal tools include an on-screen piano keyboard.

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 already in their work. I’ve had all of these apps installed on my iPad for months, and forScore is the only one in which 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 user guide.

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 talk about some MusicXML options later in this article, but it’s worth noting that as of this writing, forScore is limited to working with PDF files. That happens to me my preference for exchange, but again, it may not be yours.


A close runner-up: Newzik

Newzik
Official web site
Price: $10 from the Apple App Store
Requires iOS 9.1 or later
Compatible with iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch


Newzik is a great app that has gained traction mainly in Europe, but is seeking to expand in the United States and elsewhere. If you aren’t already deep into a forScore library, you should really give Newzik some serious consideration. You can import music files, build set lists, edit PDFs, and annotate in multiple layers. It’s not quite as feature-rich as forScore in some ways, but Newzik has some really handy features that set it apart.

Library and score sync

First of all, the Newzik library is simpler. If you are bit overwhelmed by the complexity of forScore’s database of multiple libraries, tags, labels, genres, etc., you might find Newzik to be a better fit.

While other score readers have access to external sources of scores (either for sale or free), I really like Newzik’s interface for searching IMSLP, the International Music Score Library Project. Scores can be downloaded for free and added to a Newzik library instantly.

Newzik IMSLP search
Newzik presents IMSLP in a slick, store-like interface.

Another differentiator for Newzik is that all scores in the library are saved to Newzik’s cloud sync and backup service. (This is one of the main reasons that Newzik requires you to either create an account or link to your Facebook account; I chose the former.) That means if you use Newzik on multiple devices, you can have your library and annotations in sync. Furthermore, dropping your iPad in a swimming pool won’t cause you to lose your score data. Just log in to Newzik on any iPad, and your library will be right where you left it. This isn’t the case with forScore, which does have a backup feature, but it’s a little bit more fiddly. In Newzik, this is taken care of without any interaction from the user.

The MusicXML factor

Perhaps the biggest differentiator between Newzik and forScore is the ability to read MusicXML files in addition to PDFs. 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. The music can be resized and reflowed in an instant, which is implemented very cleverly in Newzik. You can pinch-zoom the screen to set the staff size, and then a split-second later, everything reflows so that no matter how big or small you make things, the system is always the full width of the screen, which is particularly nice if you are using Newzik on a smaller screen, or if you prefer to use your iPad in landscape orientation, rather than the portrait orientation used by most scores.

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 wanting to sometimes see the other violinist’s part in rehearsal. Doing so is a simple toggle in Newzik.

I could also imagine this being very useful for sectional rehearsals in school, where the conductor may want to focus on only 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.

Newzik XML features
Using MusicXML instead of PDFs in Newzik allows users to change keys and layouts on the fly, either temporarily or permanently.

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.)

Even aside from those more complex issues, I’m not wild about some of the design choices that Newzik used in rendering my score: italics in time signatures, system dividers for any view of more than one part, misaligned dynamics, and forget about any subtle spacing tweaks. And of course, none of the clever workarounds for open meter or dangling ties that you may have learned here on Scoring Notes is going to come through MusicXML to Newzik.

Newzik XML rendering
A score of mine, exported from Sibelius and imported to Newzik.

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.

Collaboration

Aside from MusicXML, the most notable differentiator between Newzik and forScore is the collaboration aspect. 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, but Newzik also allows these setlists to be synced among different users. Setting these up is as easy as sending a link to another user, and once established, any user can edit the list. With a solid Internet connection, these changes will be synced instantly.

Not only are changes to the setlist synced, but changes to the annotations in the scores included in that setlist will also sync as well. This is relatively fast, but it does require users to exit the score and reopen it to view new annotations from collaborators. In practice, this could be pretty cumbersome in rehearsal, and I would like to see the Newzik team find a way to update the currently open score without this extra step to make it feel even closer to real-time.

It’s also worth noting that when a new score is added to a collaborative playlist, a copy is made that must be uploaded to the Newzik cloud and download on all collaborators devices, so any changes made will not be reflected in the main library version of the score. You probably don’t want your collaborators changing the files in your library just because you added them to a playlist.

Playback

While several of the apps I tested can bring in audio files to play back with scores, Newzik also has the option of playing a YouTube video on part of the screen. This may seem less useful than some other options, but it could be quite interesting for educational settings, where instructional content could be paired with a corresponding musical score. This limited screen space would be an excellent example of a time that the adaptive layout of a MusicXML score pays off.

A few drawbacks

Some of the bigger drawbacks that made Newzik a runner-up for me was that it was just slightly slower to get in and out of annotation mode with Apple Pencil: you tap first to enter annotation and then you start writing. And erasing annotations is not as slick as in forScore. 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 although the metronome in Newzik is nearly identical to forScore’s, it lacks the handy tuner, pitch pipe, and piano keyboard tools.

Syncing page turns with other players in Newzik works well. In Newzik, the whole score is streamed, so the follower does not need to have the score already loaded, in contrast to forScore and Piascore. The downside of this is that many features, including annotation, are not available when streaming like this in Newzik, which makes it less useful.

Still, if you value the automatic cloud sync, collaborative playlists and annotations, the flexibility of MusicXML, and networked display features, and you’re willing to give up a little bit of the library organization features of and extra performance tools of forScore, Newzik could be the best score reader for you.

Competing options: Piascore, nkoda, and Blackbinder

The other options I looked into all had interesting ideas, but were not as richly featured and polished for score reading as forScore or Newzik.


Piascore

Piascore
Official web site
Price: Free, with in-app puchases from $4
Requires iOS 10.0 or later
Compatible with iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch


Piascore has been around for several years and flown under the radar. It is very fast and reliable, and includes many of the best features of both forScore and Newzik. It has a metronome, tuner, piano keyboard, recorder, audio player, and YouTube player in the score view. Piascore can import music from the camera and all the same cloud services as forScore and Newzik as well.

Piascore does a couple of things as well or better than some of its larger competitors. Its interface for downloading from IMSLP is the most polished of all the apps I tested. Piascore might have been my runner-up if the whole app were as well implemented as the IMSLP integration.

It also has a rather novel feature for turning pages via gestures using the True Depth sensors in the iPhone X/XS and 2018 iPad Pros. This allows a performer to turn pages by shaking left or right with their head, or by winking their left or right eye. I found this to work fairly consistently, but not enough that I would be comfortable relying on it in performance without a reasonable amount of practice.

Piascore supports annotations, but, even with the Apple Pencil connected, it requires users to tap twice to enter annotation mode — once to bring up the tool bar and once to select the annotation tool — making it too cumbersome for quick changes and notes in rehearsals or recording sessions. Piascore CEO Hiroyuki Koike has indicated that this may change in a future update.

The on-screen performance tools, such as the metronome, are skeuomorphic 3D renderings of their real-world counterparts, which I find both harder to use and more distracting than the simpler designs in the other apps I tested.

Piascore metronome
Piascore’s quirky 3D metronome floating above a PDF score.

Piascore, like the previous two apps, allow players to network with other users of the same app to synchronize page turns. Page turns are sent from a designated “leader” user to “follower” users. The followers must have the score on their devices already. Interestingly, in a Piascore sync session, the files are stored locally on leader and follower devices, but if the follower device doesn’t have the score in question, it can be sent wirelessly, a very handy feature that I found to work flawlessly even for large scores.


nkoda

nkoda
Official web site
Price: $10 monthly or $100 annually from the Apple App Store
Requires iOS 10.0 or later
Compatible with iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch
Also available on MacOS, Android tablet, Android phone and Windows 10


nkoda, which I wrote about at length when it launched in spring 2018, has a serviceable score reader, but that’s very much secondary to the outstanding library that it comes with — more than 100,000 pieces and growing, according to nkoda, most of which are under copyright and unavailable anywhere else (legally) in a digital format.

nkoda’s score reader processes all the files you upload in a way that makes them frustratingly pixelated. The annotation tools are decent, but they are the weakest of all the score readers I tested, and they’re very slow to get in and out of. nkoda is also the only app I tested that is not yet optimized to take advantage of the latest iPad screen sizes, as of this writing. nkoda’s Ludvig Alm told Scoring Notes that nkoda is constantly upgrading the app, and that the upcoming builds may address some of these concerns.

As I wrote of nkoda when it launched, the library of scores from major publishers is astonishingly large. Because of this, I have been a satisfied subscriber continuously since day 1. nkoda is not my score reader of choice, but thanks to its unmatched content it earns it a spot on my device.

nkoda annotation drawer
The nkoda annotation tools live in a collapsible drawer along the left side of the screen. Annotation layers can be hidden, shown, and shared.

Blackbinder

Blackbinder
Official web site
Price: $10/month, $48/half-year, or $97/annually from the Apple App Store
Requires iOS 9.0 or later
Compatible with iPad


Blackbinder is a newer entry into the score reader category and has experienced a recent marketing push. I’ve heard about it from Blackbinder directly, Scoring Notes, and even my university’s Apple Education reps.

It has a novel pitch: import your scores in MusicXML format, and then you never have to turn a page again. Blackbinder uses (buzzword alert!) machine learning to listen via the microphone and scroll the score automatically. (An example can be seen at this video, provided by Blackbinder, at the 10:45 mark.)

I found this to work well, but not quite reliably enough that I would want to perform from it, and of course, it only works with scores in MusicXML format, not PDF. More troubling is that the MusicXML rendering is problematic: missing barlines, beams floating apart from any stems, incorrectly or poorly rendered fonts. In their FAQs, Blackbinder recommends not using a score with more than “250 or 300 measures… it could be a file too heavy to manipulate”. Further, the user interface includes several graphics that are not retina-resolution, so they look unrefined alongside the other crisp images.

In recent days, Blackbinder has updated their marketing copy to reflect their current focus away from ensemble use and towards trumpet solo and pedagogical repertoire. For now, the developer is focused on supporting the very narrow market of trumpet players — indeed, all of the library files included with Blackbinder are trumpet concertos and études. For a student trumpeter encountering études by Arban or Charlier for the first time, this collection of scores might be useful enough to make Blackbinder a good second or third score reader.

Blackbinder CEO Sergio Peñalver says that they plan to expand to other instruments in the future, but in the near-term I imagine that the best uses for this technology will continue to be with pedagogical études, solo performance, and small ensembles, since the auto-scrolling score could be more risky in an ensemble setting.

Of all the options I tested, Blackbinder was the only one that froze or crashed, requiring me to force quit several times. On top of all this, Blackbinder was the most expensive app I tried. It’s free to download and use while connected to the Internet, but it requires a subscription of $10/month or $97/year. This is priced similarly to nkoda, but without the huge library, and with a considerably weaker score reading experience than any other app I tested. We’ll be eager to see how Blackbinder evolves, but for now, the app can’t quite match its own hype.

Blackbinder MusicXML rendering
Blackbinder made a total mess out of this MusicXML file, the same one shown earlier in Newzik…
Blackbinder library rendering
…in contrast, this trumpet étude by Théo Charlier is in the Blackbinder library and is rendered more legibly.

Other considerations

Depending on your use, there may be some even more specialized solutions that appeal to your needs. You might find a notation and scoring app like Symphony Pro 5 meets your digital score reading needs. If you’re always working with Sibelius files from a Mac or Windows PC, you might find Avid Scorch to be a good option, as it requires no special export but still allows some of the flexibility of Newzik’s and Blackbinder’s MusicXML approach. I didn’t include these above because they are limited to such a narrow set of content that they could never serve as the only score reader for most musicians. Still, they’re worth considering as part of a larger set of software tools for musicians already carrying an iPad.

Earlier, I mentioned that I was looking for some new and surprisingly useful app, but I think it’s worth considering the “network effect” on an app’s utility and usability. If you are considering adopting paperless scores, it’s worth seeing what other people in your professional and social circles are using. Using the same thing as your peers will make it easier for you to learn the features of the tools you use, solve problems, and exchange scores and annotations. Some features, like the networked page turning features and synced annotations in Newzik even require that everyone use the same apps. And more popular apps with a larger user base are more likely to be continually developed to support new devices and operating systems.

With the technology still in relative infancy, it’s important to consider the longevity of a digital score library. Luckily, the best of the apps I tested are all cheap enough that it is completely reasonable to own several of them, and all support some form of export that would allow for moving scores between reader apps.

Going forward

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. I look forward to continuing to explore this space and keeping Scoring Notes readers apprised of new developments.

Comments

  1. John Barron

    Hi David
    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?
    http://www.bandhelper.com/

  2. François

    12.9 inches, that’s not even 8.5X11… very small!

    1. David MacDonald

      Hi François,

      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!

      1. Katya

        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!

        1. David MacDonald

          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?

          1. Katya

            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!

      2. MICHEL COLLIN

        Hi David,

        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.

        1. Raymond

          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.

      3. Raymond

        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.

    2. Steve Steele

      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.

  3. Tom Fort

    Is Komp still alive?

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  4. Mike Philcox

    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.

  5. Michael Rosen

    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!

  6. Waldbaer

    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!

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

      1. Waldbaer

        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!

      2. Waldbaer

        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!

        1. David MacDonald

          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.

      3. Pascal

        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)

        1. COLLIN

          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.

  7. Joost Wisselink

    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.

  8. Phillip Sear

    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.

    1. Tom Frenkel

      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 :-)

  9. 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.

  10. Joseph Yagappan

    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!!!

    Joseph Y

  11. Adrianm758

    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.

  12. JerryS

    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.

    1. Phil Smith

      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.

  13. Alex

    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.

    1. David MacDonald

      Thanks for reading, Alex. I’m totally with you. I want an iPad the size of my 32″ iMac like the Surface Studio.

      1. Waldbaer

        “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.

        1. David MacDonald

          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?!

      2. Alex

        “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:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxWMFZmVSRE
        Looks cool, but not my option…

        1. Raymond

          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.

          1. Alex

            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:

            https://www.cultofmac.com/735143/ipad-pro-max-cult-of-mac-magazine-388/

            https://www.cultofmac.com/734397/15-inch-ipad-pro-max/

            https://tablethabit.com/why-there-needs-to-be-an-ipad-pro-max/

      3. Alex

        Just found this:
        https://www.cultofmac.com/735143/ipad-pro-max-cult-of-mac-magazine-388/

        That’s what I’m talking about! )
        I cannot calmly look at this big iPad, even if it is still photoshopped. )

  14. Kay

    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..
    Thank you.

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

    2. David MacDonald

      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!

      https://newzik.com/newzik-support/

      1. Kay

        Wow, Thank you so much!
        I will check out!

  15. Rudolph Boehm

    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.

  16. Peter Wagner

    You are promoting apps infringing copyright law.
    It’s civil and criminal offence.

    1. Andrei

      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…

  17. Ray vutler

    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

  18. Scott Jackson

    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.

  19. Phillip Sear

    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.

  20. Jerry Silver

    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.

  21. Ernesto Vergara

    How many gigabytes do you recommend? I’m a full time piano accompanist.

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  22. Anne-Marie Beaudoing

    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.
    Respectfully,
    Anne-Marie Beaudoing,
    Dallas, TX

    1. David MacDonald

      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!

  23. Robert Davis

    Hy, Your post is awesome.Best Piano Learning App

  24. Michael Cook

    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!

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  25. Erik Horne

    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!

  26. George Webb

    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!?)

    1. David MacDonald

      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!

  27. Miss Anon

    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!

  28. John Grant

    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!

    1. David MacDonald

      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!

      1. John Grant

        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!

  29. George Aldridge

    Hi,

    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!

    1. David MacDonald

      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!

  30. Christina Martinez

    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?

    Much appreciated,
    Chrissy

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  31. Jerry

    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.

  32. Chrissy

    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:)

  33. Florian Ross

    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.

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  34. George

    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.

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  35. Jose Flores

    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,

  36. Jay Rozendaal

    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.

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  37. Marie-Pierre Labelle

    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!

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  38. Phillip Sear

    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).

  39. Ralph

    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?

    1. David MacDonald

      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.

  40. MICHEL COLLIN

    Hi,

    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.

    1. 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?

      1. David MacDonald

        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.

  41. Janet Ann Blair

    Thank you David,
    If you come across a new music app that is not so advanced please let me know.

  42. Nancy Broz

    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.
    Any thoughts?

    1. Alex

      Nancy Broz,
      I might suggest you read my answer to a similar question at this link:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/forScore/comments/qnpe23/select_position_to_focus_on_when_turning_page/

      Perhaps the information will be useful, as it turned out to be useful for the person who asked a similar question.

      1. Michel Collin

        Hi,

        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.

        1. Alex

          Hi,
          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).

    2. Michel Collin

      Hi Nancy,

      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 !

    3. David MacDonald

      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.

  43. Rutnip

    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. . .

    1. Kat

      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.

  44. Susan Stone

    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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.