5 best digital sheet music subscription services in 2022

18.04.2022 Ben Maloney Sheet music

If you’re a musician thinking about securing your sheet music by investing in a digital subscription service, you’ve come to the right place. This article offers a countdown of some of the best options on the market in that category.

Digital is slowly but surely coming to define the way we access and consume - goods through online shopping, media through streaming services or information through our phones. It’s been a few years since these shifts began to affect how musicians obtain their sustenance: sheet music. 

Some will look to YouTube, others to IMSLP, and others still to online marketplaces where items can be bought and downloaded singularly. But many turn to subscription services, sites and apps through which a diverse wealth of premium materials can be secured in one hit - quickly, reliably, legally and cost-effectively.

If you're looking to know more about these avenues, the list below ranks the best options that are availabe to you. 

 

Best digital sheet music subscriptions

 

nkoda

Like all the other entries on this list, nkoda is a sheet-music subscription service. Unlike them, the heart of its service is an app - two, technically, but we’ll come back to that - available on a range of devices: iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android phone and tablet and Windows PCs.

By downloading nkoda’s library app and subscribing to the service, you’ll be effectively placing an entire sheet-music library in your pocket. Their collection contains the sales and hire catalogues of over 140 publishing partners, and with one payment, you’ll be granted instant virtual access to all of it.

And these are some of the most prestigious publishers in the world, their materials some of the most sought-after. We’re talking Faber, Breitkopf and Härtel, Ricordi, Bärenreiter, Boosey & Hawkes, Chester, Novello - the list goes on. And each of these partners has licensed their scores, parts, playbooks, educational texts and more. It’s all there, and the content caters to all but every instrument and genre. 

The app also has a personal library space where you can organise your titles and playlists. This is where the other app comes in. The nkoda reader is where you actually engage with the music, where you can see, save, annotate and organise it. You can also upload unlimited PDF files of your own to here, so you’re not restricted solely to nkoda’s library. This is a free app, and it’s a tool that’s designed to enhance your interaction with your music.  

With cross-platform access across the devices named above, nkoda strives to function as a sheet-music hub, meeting 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.

Start a 7-day free trial and download the apps to see if nkoda could be the service for you - the library’s available on the App Store, Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store, and you can also make use of the web app. Click here to download the reader.

If it is, then beyond that a subscription will cost 9.99 per month, or 99.99 per year. Subs are also available for institutions, and if this is something you’d like to know more about, visit nkoda’s Institutional Partners page.

 

Features

 

  • Instant access to 140 publishers’ sales and hire catalogues, comprising 100,000+ titles
  • Material available for players of all instruments, skill levels and styles 
  • Cutting-edge score-reading facilities suitable for practice and performance, including annotation toolkits and widgets  
  • Manage and share personal materials through playlists, offline storage and unlimited uploads
  • Access to a thriving worldwide community of musicians, including publishers, educational institutions and performing institutions   

 

nkoda library

 

In recognition of the two most important aspects of their offering, nkoda recently moved to divide its service across two specialised apps, each designed to optimise the software that makes these innovations possible. The first of these apps and innovations is the library.

In contrast to most other subscription services, including the majority on this list, nkoda offers access to the official, premium editions of the world’s greatest publishers of sheet music. Not only are these the finest materials in the world, but they also cover just about every musical base imaginable - every instrument, every genre, every skill level.

All at once, nkoda offers access to Ricordi’s vocal scores for Verdi’s operas, Faber’s piano transcriptions of all Alicia Keys’ hits, and sight-reading books for beginner cellists. What’s more, this is all through one subscription, which unlocks all of this and more.

It can be difficult to trawl through reams of content, but that’s why nkoda offers playlists for you to explore, and even delivers a personalised selection to your home page, after you’ve told the app what you like to play and to what standard. In short, you’ll always be discovering new music to refresh your practice and enhance your ability.

 

nkoda reader

 

On top of this, nkoda also offers you the cutting-edge technology to engage with not just their content, but all your sheet music. This is the nkoda reader, the complementary app enabling you to actually view, study, annotate, play and perform your music - whether it’s material from the library itself or one of your own (unlimited) uploads. 

It offers an intuitive interface, easy and Bluetooth-friendly page-turning, layerable and shareable annotation tools, a dedicated performance mode, offline storage and more. Through all of these features, the app strives to simplify and improve every facet of your engagement with your music.

nkoda places a great deal of emphasis on customisation with their reader. You’re able to annotate music freely with a huge variety of specialised toolboxes and widgets, and you can also add and remove these from a personal kit. There’s even an option to configure the right screen orientation for your needs - whatever works best for you. 

Most importantly, you can make use of the reader without needing to have a subscription to the nkoda catalogue. While this may be an article about subs, you probably won’t mind that you can enjoy these features for absolutely nothing. 

So don’t be put off by the library subscription - nkoda can still help. Start with the reader, get a feel for nkoda, and see if this is a digital music space that you might be comfortable in.

Virtual Sheet Music

Virtual Sheet Music is in a different category to nkoda, in that it isn’t an app, but an online sheet-music marketplace. These are sites where you can search for, purchase and download individual titles. You’ll then own a digital version of that score, part or playbook, and sometimes you can even receive a physical counterpart. 

These kinds of services are great for musicians who are after particular pieces of music, and who don’t necessarily find themselves looking for something frequently enough to warrant paying for a full subscription. 

In the case of Virtual Sheet Music, what’s on offer is an impressively wide range of titles spanning a variety of instruments and genres. The primary categories for the former are piano, flute, guitar, violin and voice, as well as ensemble works. 

As for the latter, the big guns are well represented - classical, popular, jazz, folk and so on. But you’ll find a quite substantial breakdown of these options, right down to - to name just a few - hip hop, oldies, musical theatre and Hanukkah music. In light of this choice, if you are after something specific and niche, there is a good chance you’ll find it here.

Importantly, however, Virtual Sheet Music does offer a subscription. A payment of 37.75 will grant you a year’s worth of free access to many of these titles, and discounted access to the rest. From there, renewals cost just 25.99. Seeing as VSM’s publishing providers include the likes of Alfred, Schott and Hal Leonard, you’ll find plenty of high-quality materials.

So, if you’re a musician who needs the wider and more regular access to sheet-music materials that a subscription provides, this is an option to consider seriously. 

 

Features

 

  • Download and print music for a variety of instruments in a range of genres at competitive prices
  • Subscription facilitates free access to certain types of content, and discounted access to everything else
  • Original publications by VSM come with an MP3 and MIDI files, and video content
  • Downloadable piano accompaniment for numerous titles

 

Membership

 

As stated above, the membership will set you back 37.75 in the first year, and it’ll cost 25.99 to renew each year following. Pay this and the majority of the classical repertoire will be freely accessible. This really sets VSM apart from other sheet-music marketplaces of its kind. Many providers still require users to pay for an item post-subscription, albeit at a discounted price.  

Of course, VSM does just that with many works inside, and most outside the classical remit - usually materials provided by one of the publishing partners mentioned above. The inverse applies to the free content - in other words, most of the classical scores are free with a membership because they’re original VSM editions.

With a membership, the price of that largely non-classical sheet music licensed from VSM’s partners is reduced by up to 70%. You may see this as a caveat but it’s still a good deal as services similar to VSM will not only offer a smaller reduction on the original price but also charge a more expensive annual subscription fee.

 

Video resources 

 

Also a massive entry in VSM’s ‘pro’ column is the availability of video content, which can be found alongside details and audio files that pertain to each title - also useful. Many titles come with a scrolling score or part with a live audio realisation, demonstrating how the music should be realised in correspondence to the notation. You can watch many of these for free.

Downloadable piano accompaniments are also available, an excellent resource for solo instrumentalists or vocalists who benefit from having an accompaniment in practice and performance, but don’t always have a piano or pianist to hand. These clips also feature scrolling notation and audio, allowing you to more easily follow the accompaniment.

These media exhibit VSM’s admirable commitment to providing comprehensive tools to supplement their notated content and assist in your music-making. It’s a great resource for sheet music.

Sheet Music Direct

Sheet Music Direct provides a similar service to that of Virtual Sheet Music. In short, it’s an online sheet-music marketplace through which individual pieces can be bought and downloaded individually, which also grants broader privileges in exchange for a subscription fee.

Its collection spans around 20 primary genres and 35 instruments - as well as music for various types of ensemble. It’s a big collection too, comprising over a million arrangements.

It’s really strong on popular-music transcriptions in particular, so if that’s the kind of music you tend to play then fair to say that it probably trumps VSM in that department. This is because Hal Leonard is the primary content provider, a heavyweight publisher that really specialises in this kind of music.

The downside is that the site isn’t so hot on free content - there’s not a wealth of stuff that you can access without paying anything, though individual items are quite reasonably priced. 

A subscription (or ‘Pass’), meanwhile, will bestow you with unlimited online access and 50% off prints and downloads. This will set you back either 9.99 a month or 99.99 per year, but you are entitled to a free 30-day trial. 

 

Features

 

  • Pay to view, download and print sheet music provided by Hal Leonard for 35 instruments in over 20 genres at various skill levels
  • Subscription allows you to view materials for free and entitles you to a 50% discount on downloads and prints
  • Sheet Music Direct App enables subscribers to view, purchase and organise music, and engage with it interactively
  • PlayAlong App provides a similar interactive experience in which users can play to pro-quality backing tracks

 

Pass benefits and apps

 

Via SMD’s website, you can view, buy, download and print music from any device - another plus. The Pass, however, allows you to exploit SMD’s two apps: the Sheet Music Direct App and the PlayAlong App - both available on the App Store only.

In the first of these apps you do the bulk of your SMD activities. You can search for, view and organise your sheet music in a personal space where titles can be saved offline and to which you can upload external music. Playlists are curated for you to browse, and you can also purchase titles for download or printing through the app. 

The music-viewer comes with handy tools that will assist you when you’re practising and performing. You can transpose the material, change the note size, hear the arrangement played back and play through the music interactively with adjustable tempo. 

The PlayAlong app, on the other hand, is not tied to the Pass. It offers similar interactive features, but users obtain access to thousands of pro-quality backing tracks. These are available in arrangements for 17 different instruments. 

You can download this - and receive 15 starter songs - for free to see if it’s something that complements your music-making. If so, additional purchases are priced at 4.99 for sheet music and audio, and at 0.99 for audio alone.

 

Blog

 

It’s difficult for a blog to resist giving due kudos to another of its kind. SMD’s is exemplary among music blogs, not only for its quality of writing but also its astute content selection, which unremittingly celebrates the music that we all love. Who could resist reading about the top ten themes from Star Wars, for instance?

As that example might indicate, the topics are also geared towards actual titles offered by SMD. In other words, it regularly supplies you with musical suggestions, facilitating and encouraging discovery, just as nkoda does through its in-app recommendations - and its very own blog, which is amazing.

Of course you don’t have to purchase a subscription in order to read the articles, but by sheer virtue of being a regular user of the site, you’ll be able to keep tabs on the posts as they go up - a steady stream of work that, as well as being a pleasure to read, will also point you in the direction of new and inspiring sheet music unlocked through your subscription. 

Musicnotes

Like SMD, Musicnotes is another provider of sheet music that once existed in the main as an web-based online marketplace, but whose remit now extends into the app arena. They are also one of the oldest hands at the game, supplying many musicians with their bread and butter since 1998. 

Over two decades on, they unsurprisingly offer a large and comprehensive catalogue of titles - over 400,000 arrangements. In terms of genre, these span the full range of styles, but once again, they’re especially strong on non-classical repertoire. 

Much of this material is licensed from their affiliate partners. These include dozens of major names in the industry, among them familiar faces Alfred, Schott and Hal Leonard. Handled by Musicnotes’ in-house team of musicologists, the wares are of a high quality - you’re certainly not paying for substandard sheet music. 

When you do purchase a piece, you’ll be able to print one copy, and you’ll receive lifetime access to an interactive version via the Musicnotes apps - more on these below. Pay just a little extra and you’ll be able to download a PDF version, too, in a variety of keys. 

This is available to all who visit the Musicnotes site, but a membership of course comes with enhanced entitlements, as you’ll see below.

 

Features

 

  • 400,000 sheet-music arrangements, many of which are licensed from some of the world’s leading publishers of sheet music
  • These can be purchased individually to print and use through the Musicnotes app, and can be downloaded as apps for a supplementary fee
  • Two tiers of membership offer a range of benefits, including a limited number of free titles and discounts on all purchases
  • Available on Apple, Android, Microsoft and Amazon devices, the Musicnotes app enables cross-platform digital access through refined e-reader technology

 

Musicnotes Pro

 

There are two levels of Musicnotes membership, differing in price and in the range of benefits that users receive: the more basic package is Musicnotes Pro, and the more advanced is Musicnotes Pro - Premium. The respective perks for each membership are actually quite complex, but the most important takeaways are as follows.

Costing 12.12 per year, Musicnotes Pro entitles you to (among other things) 15% off Musicnotes purchases online, $1 off in-app transactions, PDF downloads for each item bought, and three Pro Credits, which you can exchange for one piece of sheet music.

Musicnotes Pro - Premium - meanwhile, costs 40.43 in the first year and 56.60 beyond that. For that, you’ll still get 15% off online and $1 off in-app purchases, as well as PDF downloads for each item, twelve Pro Credits and a new Musicnotes Edition (a curated title) each month. 

There’s no doubt that Musicnotes is a choice subscription service, but it certainly isn’t the cheapest. Free access is limited and you only get 15% off purchases. Relative to some of the other options on here, that’s not a substantial discount. That said, if you are going to be buying items regularly, then those savings will add up. 

Remember that, like SMD and VSM, a subscription doesn’t unlock all content in the collection. It does, however, on nkoda, where all content can be accessed without any restrictions.

 

Musicnotes app

 

Musicnotes also runs a great blog and a more expansive info space called NOW, with many articles on music theory that are well worth reading. In fact, the company maintains an impressive range of online endeavours, such as the Signature Artist section, where prominent YouTubers present original sheet-music arrangements. These are all well worth checking out.  

However, let’s focus on their app here, which is probably what you would find most valuable as a subscriber. 

The thing to stress is that this app has been really capably put together. It’s slick, reliable and easy to use and navigate. Here you can access all purchases and downloads, which are all conveniently stored in one place. And you can do all future shopping through the app, too.  

The e-reader’s a fine piece of tech, offering annotation tools, hands-free page-turning, playback, and tempo and key adjustment. With ensemble pieces, you even have the ability to raise or lower instruments in the playback mix. Musicnotes has assembled an excellent piece of software here that complements their service nicely.

8Notes

By now you know how these online marketplaces work, so we’ll cut to the chase. 8Notes is another player in this arena, but relative to those explored already, it stands out as the affordable option, and one that offers access to copyright-free materials to a fair extent.

If you need frequent enough access to sheet music that it’s worth paying a subscription fee for - but not often enough that said fee should be too burdensome on your finances - 8Notes could well strike the right balance. 

Your annual subscription fee for 8Notes is 20.00. And, like nkoda, once you’ve paid that fee, you’ll enjoy free access to everything. So assuming 8Notes’ library meets your needs, that amount will cover your sheet-music expenses for the year.

That library is actually pretty reasonable. Of course it isn’t as big or wide-ranging as those of nkoda or MusicNotes, but, relative to its status as the ‘budget’ option, 8Notes offers an impressive quantity and spread of content. It covers classical, jazz, pop, rock and ‘world’ genres, and most instrumentalists will find core repertoire at the very least. 

Its public-domain materials can be viewed for free, and many handy interactive tools can be used without subscribing, including digital audio renderings of piano accompaniment, a transposition feature and a metronome. There are also features that aren’t tied to particular works, such as a guitar tuner and music-theory lessons.

However, you’ll need to subscribe to access high-quality PDFs and unlimited downloads. Membership will allow you to play via an interactive player, receive MP3 and MIDI files for particular pieces and access the full range of lessons and written content.

 

Features

 

  • Copyright-free sheet music library with titles spanning the most common genres and instruments
  • Materials can be viewed online and certain interactive features are accessible without a subscription
  • Tools include MIDI playback, play-along MIDI piano accompaniment, transposer and metronome  
  • Subscribers are entitled to unlimited downloads of sheet music and corresponding MP3 and MIDI files for particular pieces, as well as educational resources

 

Engaging with sheet music

 

You can actually make substantial use of 8Notes’ service free of charge, viewing music and interacting with it through some useful features that could introduce new dimensions to your practice.

This is possible because the content all but comprises copyright-free arrangements and transcriptions of works in the public domain. So there’s little contemporary music, but many musicians won’t be deterred by that. 

As for those features, they’re all contained within 8Notes’ online interactive player, which allows you to engage with the materials through the website. It’s here that you can access MIDI playback of the piece itself - and piano accompaniment if applicable - as well as the transposition feature and a metronome.

This is all available to you for free, making for an impressive package. But, If you want to download PDFs - as most users will unless they plan to practise and perform in front of a web browser - then you’ll have to subscribe. Still, the low price and the diverse range of titles on offer (where else can you find the sheet music for Southeast Asian national anthems?) make this a legitimate route to go down. 

 

Simple website interface

 

A glance at the site may, to the more cynical onlooker, suggest a degree of modesty to the service. But try to think of this as encouraging easy access and effortless navigation.

In the wide and often confusing world of sheet music, the value of helping individuals get to what they need as swiftly and as smoothly as possible cannot be overstated. And that is exactly what 8Notes manages to do. Whatever your instrument and stylistic preference, you’ll find it easy to trace down your sheet music - that’s more than can be said of many players in this field. 

The interactive player itself is also really intuitive to use, and while it might not present the most practicable performance solution, it’ll still be more than workable for the more casual practitioner playing in the comfort of their own home. 

In short, 8Notes facilitates easy access to and interaction with fundamental repertoire, for a very competitive price indeed. If that’s all that your music-making demands, then do check it out. 

Getting started with nkoda digital music subscription

 

If you suspect that nkoda might be the subscription service that will boost your musicianship to ever greater heights, feel free to visit the What is nkoda music page to find out more, or even the sign-up page to start your free trial. 

Perhaps you’re more keen to read some relevant blog content for now, in which case you might find the posts on just what digital sheet music is and how it works of interest. Here we have tech at the leading edge of musicians’ practice, reinventing the way we interact with what we all love - our music. 

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