The MusicXML Format

Considering that one of Newzik’s many goals is to be the best MusicXML reader among the sheet music reader market, let’s take a closer look at this very promising file format. Here are many reasons why it completely outperforms any other file format when it comes to reading sheet music.

A brief history

This format was invented by Michael Good at Recordare in 2004 and was developed since by a community of musicians and software developers. Its first purpose was to become a reference exchange format for sheet music files to be read and edited from a software to another, such as Sibelius and Finale. As you probably know, each notation software uses its own native format to maximize the user retention. Sibelius uses the .sib extension while Finale uses the .mus extension and each software is specialized in his own file format only. The MusicXML was created to be the first “All-compatible” format for digital sheet music in order for the musician to send his composition written with Sibelius to his friend who uses Finale.

Why is it great?

MusicXML is an exchange format that includes interesting features. It can be edited and loaded with metadata, and it is readable. In opposition to the PDF format, which is only a final version of a document, the MusicXML format is not a final form of a sheet music.

Let’s assume you are rehearsing with your band/orchestra and you simply realize it would be better to play this piece in Bb instead of C. If you are a paper-based sheet music or a PDF sheet music user, you will have to find another sheet music for that piece in Bb instead of C (well…if it exists). What if you had written this piece yourself? Then you will never find a sheet music in Bb unless you write it yourself. So next thing to do: rewrite the whole piece. It could take hours, not to mention you are taking the risk of making mistakes. Now, assume that you are a MusicXML user and in the same situation: you wrote your piece with a notation software and exported your MusicXML sheet music in C. You simply use the transposition feature, each note and chord will automatically be changed to the one corresponding to the Bb scale. It takes you less than ten seconds to make this change, and you make no mistakes.

As a consequence, sheet music reader applications do understand the potential of using MusicXML sheet music instead of PDF. This is why, today, MusicXML is transitioning from an ‘’exchange format’’ to a global ‘’sheet music reader format’’. PDF is an image with no musical knowledge whereas MusicXML is an editable interactive optimized file that can be opened with a text editor, and even read by humans in its source code form.

What else could we hope for?

The MusicXML format is in a continuous development process. That is why you will see a peculiar craze for innovations concerning this format. But it is important to clearly differentiate inner innovation from outer innovation. MusicXML is a format based on a code that makes it editable. This is a specification of the product itself it is an inner innovation. Later on, developers were able to create platforms to display it, read it and edit it. This is an outer innovation, it does not come from the product itself but its inner technology is what made it possible in the first place. These are called incremental innovations.

This being said it is more than likely to witness a higher level of incremental innovations regarding MusicXML than of inner ones. Several reasons explain that the main one is that incremental innovations such as file synchronization or transposition are developed by companies competing against each other while the W3C Convention, in charge of the MusicXML format’s development, is a non-profit organization with different incentives. Over time the MusicXML format will present many disruptive features that nowadays are still among our ‘’Technological Challenges’’. Keeping this in mind, why not think about combining manual file synchronization with polyphonic sound recognition technologies so as to get a MusicXML file that automatically synchronizes itself with an audio or video file? It would also be possible to have a MusicXML file that writes itself automatically, as you are playing the piece, no matter the number of musicians playing simultaneously.


The MusicXML format is the disruptive invention that will bring life to dozens of innovations. Not only does it create a link between notation software and sheet music reader applications, by allowing people to import their own content, but it is also the basis for new products to appear such as MusicXML reader software like Newzik.


What next?

Want to try it out in real-time? Download Newzik for free and open the MusicXML gift titles. You will be able to transpose them, select the tracks you want to display, reorganize your bars, and even synchronize it with an audio or video file.

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