Comparing the best sheet music apps: Piascore vs forScore vs Newzik vs nkoda (and more)

29.04.2022 Ben Maloney Music tech

As we hurtle towards our digital future, our lives are increasingly lived through apps. From all corners of the world - and across a range of app stores - they are emerging constantly to assist us with a widening range of activities in our lives.

Sheet music hasn’t escaped this revolution. All aspects of it are being upturned by these digital developments, and for the better. Apps that you have access to right now have totally transformed, and will continue to transform, the way that sheet music is generated, accessed, shared, and utilised.

With iPad Pro or Windows laptop in hand, you, the music-lover, turn to these technological possibilities. You’ll find an abundance of options in your app store, making for a potentially confusing array. Which is the best sheet music app for you? Which offers the service that will precisely meet your musical needs?

Figuring that out is the hard part. Each sheet music app offers something different to the next, and whether you’re gauging that service by visiting their sites, or downloading and trialling the apps themselves, the selection process can be a long and tedious one. 

This article does all that trawling for you. Laying bare the apps themselves and everything you need to know about them, it will help you choose the right digital companion for your music-making. 
 

The top sheet music apps on the market
 

Sheet-music apps have now flooded the major app stores. Many have been around for some time, refining their service and enhancing their software. Sheet music is consumed and handled in a range of ways, so most of these apps concentrate on one aspect or another. 

And those that do overlap in their remit, approach their corner of the market in subtly different ways. For musicians, the sheet music realm is a big and important one, and they want and deserve to get it right. That’s why you’re reading this article.

Below you’ll find a range of sheet-music apps that - courtesy of their quality of product and user satisfaction - are most likely to be worth your time, energy and money. Every one of them functions as a score-reader for sheet music, but that’s just about the only common denominator. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
 

Best sheet music apps
 

Sheet music apps comparison guide
 

Below is a comparison chart indicating the presence or absence of particular functions and attributes. You’ll see it isn’t an exclusive list, but these are some key attributes that the majority of users consider important.

nkoda
 

nkoda effectively places an entire music library in your pocket. It gives you instant virtual access to the catalogues of over 140 of its publishing partners, which contain some of the most sought-after materials in the world. Scores, parts, playbooks, educational texts - it’s all there, and the content caters to all but every instrument and genre. 

The app has a personal library space where you can organise your titles and playlists, and to which you can upload unlimited PDFs. As a score-reader, it offers annotation tools and performance aids, such as bookmarks and repeats. Subscriptions are for individuals as well as institutions, but neither discriminates: once you’re in, you can access everything. 

With cross-platform availability on iOS, Android and Windows, nkoda aims to be a sheet-music hub that meets the needs of every musician, in study, practice and performance. Founded on the belief that all musicians are made, not born, nkoda aspires to be the companion that supports every individual on their unique journey.

Sign up for a free trial here.

Piascore
 

Piascore, meanwhile, looks ahead to a beautiful world filled with music, and it’s certainly doing its part to make that a reality. By facilitating easy access to popular digital content, it’s meeting the needs of musicians the world over.

The app’s basic, free service offers access to core public-domain repertoire, which can be browsed and downloaded to the app - a few classics are pre-downloaded to start you off. These works can be read, played, marked up and then added to a personal setlist. The app features an in-built metronome as well, to help you in practice and performance.

With its interface and content in mind, Piascore certainly leans towards pianists, who no doubt make up the majority of musicians in need of digital access to sheet music. There are some paid upgrades available too, including a MIDI piano keyboard, chromatic tuner, and content-sharing with other Piascore users.

forScore
 

The scope of forScore’s service broadly aligns with that of Piascore. In other words, this is an app that strives to provide the means to easily access in-demand content, and then to read and play it in practice and performance. 

Unlike Piascore, forScore is a paid service. But this is to be expected of an app that offers a polished interface and a wider range of features, such as enhanced metadata and the option to embed audio tracks. Like nkoda, it’s cross-platform, so one purchase allows you to run it on several devices, but only those bearing the Apple logo - iPhone, iPad and Mac.

It also offers access to a wider range of material than Piascore, which gets its music from IMSLP (see below). Through forScore, you can purchase and download your content from its affiliated online sheet-music marketplaces, such as MusicNotes, which broadens your horizons somewhat. 

Newzik
 

Another cross-device service, Newzik offers score-reading technology and tools within the package of a personal sheet music library. Through a handful of different products, the platform is encouraging music-makers to go digital by allowing them to assemble, organise and annotate their PDF files in a virtual space. 

The Newzik experience centralises interaction with notation, and will best suit musicians that read or play material frequently and are looking for an alternative and convenient way to handle a pre-existing collection. There are also some nifty collaborative features in the package, which a range of its institutional partners have exploited.

Further to that, the Newzik PWP product is a service geared towards music publishing houses specifically. It allows them to lease and handle their paid content with performing ensembles - or solo artists - who are also subscribed to Newzik. 

OnSong
 

Billing itself as the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of apps for musicians, OnSong can unquestionably rank versatility among its strengths. While, like the apps above, OnSong might focus on curating and customising materials for use in performance, the app’s software offers a variety of features designed to suit the needs of various types of musician.

Through its wide-ranging in-app tools, OnSong caters to the likes of music therapists, singer-songwriters, and live performers. Audiovisual material can be arranged in setlists, MIDI devices can be integrated, and aspects of performance such as stage-lighting and sound levels can be manipulated through the app - just a few examples.

In short, OnSong covers a lot of bases. The app’s available at a range of tiers: essentials, pro and premium. Each comes with a different combination of features and at a different price. Available on Apple’s App Store only. 

SongBookPro
 

With a focus on those who sing songs specifically, SongBookPro can be thought of as a concentrated version of OnSong. The app provides the kind of utilities that are geared towards non-classical performers in the app above, but, dedicating itself to the needs of this type of musician, SongBook provides them with more developed, bespoke tools. 

If that’s you, then it’s well worth checking out. With its emphasis on organisation, annotation and performance, SongBook allows you to build setlists, write lyrics, add chord symbols and make tweaks and scribbles on the fly - with annotation tools reminiscent of those offered by nkoda and Newzik.

Expanding the compatibility field again, SongBook works on Android, Apple and Windows devices. It’s paid, but it can be trialled for free, and if you find that the app ticks every box for you, then take things to the next level with SongBookPro Manager. It’s a free add-on that allows you to manage your content from your PC. 

MuseScore
 

Of all the apps on display here, MuseScore offers the most singular service. That’s because it was designed first and foremost for creating musical notation. While it is technically a score-reader, the app gravitates toward the creative end of the sheet-music spectrum, more aligned with Sibelius and Dorico - also types of music notation software.

But, distancing itself from those premium and expensive options, MuseScore champions accessibility. It motivates even the most casual writers of music to nurture their abilities and inspiration through its free, uncomplicated, user-friendly software. 

You can export your work, and even share it with other users, by uploading it to the online catalogue, where you can of course access their work too. Though it might not be official content, it still makes the catalogue a real asset.

IMSLP
 

Once a library of public-domain musical material, IMSLP - the International Music Score Library Project - has expanded its service in recent years. The project has now produced an app compatible with Apple, Android and Amazon devices, as it continues to offer its traditional web service.

Further to making most of its web content available through the app, IMSLP has also developed an effective score-reading interface and annotation tools. You can also use the app to access IMSLP’s library of recordings, which is a valuable resource often overlooked in favour of the scores and parts it offers. 

Tremendous resource though it doubtless is, issues that have long plagued IMSLP remain. First, as it restricts itself to public-domain, largely classical material, a lot of contemporary content is cut out. And although the music is in the public domain, legalities of access and performance can be complicated, and the user is left to download it at their own risk. 

OKTAV
 

Where Piascore gravitates towards pianists and piano music, OKTAV engages explicitly with nothing else. It’s a specialist app that aims to support pianists in their search for the repertoire they need. It recommends content that’s tailored to your tastes and skill level, finding music that you’ll like and that will help you to steadily refine your ability.

After purchasing OKTAV, you’ll get access to over 20,000 piano arrangements in a range of genres and at a range of skill levels. As with the likes of nkoda, once you’re in, you get access to all of it. Some of it’s official content from publishing houses; all of it’s of a high quality. 

Lots of users love OKTAV for being a very active app. Those recommendations can come daily, keeping you motivated and encouraging you to practise. All this comes for just 9.90 a month - or pay yearly for better value and more perks.

How to choose the best sheet music app for you
 

You’ve completed step one by reading this article, but there are a lot of layers to this process. Think about what exactly it is that you’re after in a sheet-music app - which dimensions of your musicianship you’d most like to streamline. 

As you can see in the table above, each app’s assets have been grouped into four major and overarching categories. Relating to the most pressing user needs - such as access to certain types of content and compatibility with devices - these are, broadly speaking, the most important things to consider. These are the make-or-break factors.
 

Pricing
 

Is it important to you that you get free access to your digital service, or are you willing to pay a fee for the right one? Is a free trial essential? Would you prefer a subscription fee over a larger one-time payment? Are there in-app purchases?

These are the kinds of questions that can steer you towards some options, or away from others. Admittedly, few apps will allow you to enjoy their full facilities for free, with many offering simplified free versions instead, but in some cases you can get pretty far without paying anything.


Software


Few of the apps above are universally available on the major operating systems and their corresponding app stores. If you are looking to access your sheet music via your Android tablet, for instance, then that immediately narrows the market. 

Are you looking to practise at home? Then web access might well do. But if you’re looking to perform on-stage, then you’ll likely need a more portable device - and cross-platform access (allowing you to log in to the app from a range of devices) wouldn’t go amiss. 
 

Features


This is a really broad one, and it’s an important one, potentially making all the difference. Collectively, the apps offer too many features to include in the table - scanning, plugins, Bluetooth-pedal attachment, and so on. But each one offers a unique and wide-ranging combination of tools to offer a particular in-app experience. 

What exactly do you want to do with your sheet music, and which apps allow you to do that through their features? How do you want digital tools to enhance and aid your study, practice or performance? Each app’s website will supply the information that you’ll need to know about the tools their service provides before you commit one way or another.
 

Content
 

This article may be all about apps, but what are they if not a tool to bring us closer to our sheet music? That’s what it’s all about, and the type, quantity and diversity of the content that these apps offer is sure to be another dealbreaker.

Your instrument, your genre, your skill level - these are all factors that are going to make the content of some apps valuable and that of others inadequate. Do you need premium editions? Do you need copyrighted material? Ensure that whatever app you’re opting for can provide you with the materials you need for your personal music-making. 

How does nkoda compare?
 

nkoda aspires to provide a service that appeals and succeeds in all these categories. It aims to facilitate access to musicians from all walks of life, regardless of their instrument, ability, taste in music, or even their operating system. And it has curated its content, developed its utility, and fostered a growing community - all in pursuit of that objective. 

That’s why the app gives every subscriber access to the entirety of its catalogue. No user is more or less valuable than any other. There is a fee for that access, but only because publishers and artists are part of that community, too. They deserve compensation for the impeccable sheet music they create, assemble, and share with nkoda and its users.

Access to this repertoire is just the beginning. Management and organisation comes next, followed by use in study, practice and performance. nkoda offers a range of tools that will optimise each stage of your musical flow. Whether you’re a student, composer, player or performer, or all of the above, nkoda will assist you every step of the way.

What are customers saying?
 

This being an nkoda blog post, there’s only a certain amount of credibility that can be had without giving others a chance to weigh in. Here’s feedback from some nkoda users who, just like you, were once looking for digital solutions to their sheet-music challenges.  
 

  • “Found sheets for so many of my favorite songs. This is a good looking app with lot of utility” - BoyBoy4231, August 2018, iOS
     
  • “I'm looking to read sheet music on a tablet and this is great. I get most of my music from here, this is really easy to use” - Flueck Autumn, November 2021, Android
     
  • “Very good, really enjoy this program and vast amount of music available” - October 2020, Windows
     
  • “This is such a vast collection of sheet music. I like looking at scores, and this is such a good way of engaging with different music/composers” - Ash1983lfc, November 2018, iOS
     
  • “A fantastic idea, great implementation and good content ... this is a wonderful resource for many musicians out there” - Luis Ramirez, November, 2019, Android

Give nkoda a try for free
 

More information about the app’s package is available on the nkoda website. Everything you need to know about features, pricing, tech and the music itself can be found there. 

But if you’re already convinced, you can start your free 7-day trial right away. Once the seven days have elapsed, the trial will automatically convert into paid subscription, so make sure you opt out if you think the app isn’t for you. For more info on cancellation - and everything else - visit nkoda’s FAQ page.  

The most important thing is to find the solution that’s going to bring you closer to your music. Because that’s what’ll bring you closer to being the best musician you can be.

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