How does digital sheet music work?

19.03.2022 Ben Maloney Music tech

Digital sheet music itself works in the same way as its traditional paper counterpart. It uses exactly the same notation, designed to illustrate how a piece of music is constructed, and indicate to performers what is to be played, sung, or conducted.

What really sets digital sheet music apart is how musicians interact with it – how it is accessed, used and stored. Each of these processes is itself multi-faceted, as different technologies and resources handle digital sheet music in different ways.

In another article, the focus was on what digital sheet music is. In this one it's on the mechanics of digital sheet music, using nkoda’s own unique app functionality as a case study.

How is digital sheet music generated?


Digital sheet music is generated in a number of ways. One method involves scanning physical sheet music – either printed or written – and rendering it digitally. This effectively creates a digital version and copy of a piece of pre-existing sheet music.

On the other hand, sheet music can live a purely digital life from start to finish. Increasingly, music is created using music notation software, then shared or sold digitally, perhaps via a website or a sheet music publisher, before being used in that very same digital form for study or performance.

The exact path through cyberspace that a piece of digital sheet music might take depends on a wide range of things, such as what kind of technology or system is used to pass it on or access it, and how it's intended to be used.
 

How is digital sheet music accessed?


Once again, there’s more than just one answer. After being created, digital music scores could be converted into, say, a PDF file for all but universal access. That file could be casually shared between musicians who play together in an ensemble, or students taking the same lessons at university.

Alternatively, a file like this could be uploaded to an online database, for free access, or rather a marketplace, where paying customers can purchase a digital download for their own music-making.

As long as this file exists in this way, as data – whether it is stored online, or saved to a hard drive – it remains digital sheet music. At this point in the journey, it could be printed off and used as digital sheet music, but its digital existence doesn’t have to come to an end there.
 

How is digital sheet music used?


Depending on what kind of musician you are, you can do all the same things with digital music that you’d do with paper sheet music. You can open up your PDF files on your desktop computer to analyse a piece for orchestra, see how a chord you like the sound of is constructed, or read a song's music and lyrics while listening to it.

You can also use it to perform. Once upon a time a songbook, score or part would be placed on a music stand. Composed, written, printed, and purchased, here the music is read and finally played – the piece comes to the end of its journey and becomes heard in sound as it was always destined to be.

More and more musicians, however, are allowing their sheet music to remain digital to the very end by using electronic devices such as iPads and tablets in performance. Resting on a music stand, the device displays the sheet music just as a piece of paper would.
 

Digital sheet music in performance


It’s more practical than you might think. You can download as many pieces of music as you want on to a tablet and it won’t get any bigger or heavier. No longer any need to stuff tomes of loose sheets into a music bag.

If you like to circle dynamics or need to remember a particular piano fingering, well that’s also been taken into account. You can make unlimited annotations to a piece of digital sheet music, erase them, and make them all over again.

You can even connect a Bluetooth foot pedal to your device, making for handsfree page-turning. It’s the most seamless and elegant way to perform. Going paperless also means you’re doing your bit for the environment. Find out which is the best tablet for sheet music in this article comparing a few leading models on the market. 
 

How does nkoda’s digital sheet music work?


The nkoda app offers a different take on this digital sheet music story. It strives to offer a comprehensive service and universal toolkit for the musician that’s looking to go digital with their music-making.

A major part of the app's appeal is its library. Closely working with over 140 music publishers from around the globe, nkoda compiles and organises their digital sheet music in one unlimited virtual space.

Up there in the Cloud are over 110,000 titles, spanning all genres, that users can instantly access anywhere at anytime on six of the most common devices: iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Macs, and Windows laptops and PCs.
 

Interacting with nkoda’s digital sheet music


If part one of the nkoda experience is the digital sheet music library, part two is the score-reader. Open any score and you’ll see it. This is a uniquely constructed technology that makes interacting with digital sheet music a reality.

nkoda strives to make the interface as smooth and as useful as possible. Navigate scores simply by tapping forward and backwards; you can place bookmarks and install repeats. You can even zoom endlessly into a piece of music without its clarity diminishing even slightly.

The annotation tools have been exhaustively fine-tuned. You can use a marker, highlighter or magic pen to scribble anything on any score, borne out of painstaking research with musicians to develop pre-set symbols that cover absolutely all bases, whatever kind of icons music for your chosen instrument might utilise. Drums? Sorted. Guitar? Covered.

The aim is not for its digital technology to merely replicate the physical sheet music experience, but to enhance it.
 

Your personal sheet music hub


A further significant dimension of the app is the personal space reserved for every single user. This is what transforms nkoda from a digital library and score-reader to a digital sheet music hub.

All the scores you like, want or need can be saved and organised in your own personal library. Playlists can also be assembled, and all of this can be shared with any other nkoda user.

You can load your own virtual sheet music files to this space, and your unlimited storage space is a bonus. So here you can store, access and use sheet music through the score-reader with works that aren't in the library.

Finally, any score can be made available offline, so whether you’re on the move, or prone to finding yourself without internet mid-performance, it won’t matter.
 

A world of digital sheet music


For musicians, digital sheet music works in many ways. It’s a world made up of countless aspects, which are only becoming more colourful and numerous as technology develops, the wider world changes, and the musical community evolves.

nkoda seeks to develop not just a sheet music app, but a service for all musicians, which allows them to more readily navigate this space. With it, they can engage with digital sheet music in a way that helps them to improve as students and performers, beginners and experts, classical fans and pop-players.

As musicians.

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