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Top 9 reasons why you should use digital sheet music

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

We all know that paper scores are impractical, but we all learned music using them! We can’t help but remain attached to them, at least sentimentally. As you read this article, you’ll discover nine reasons to leave them in the closet, and try out digital scores.

Reason #1: to have clean and readable parts

Working on a piece is above all annotating the part in order to see more clearly, to highlight traps or where to pay attention. Each musician has his own way of annotating his parts, which is why Newzik offers a wide range of professional and customizable tools.

On a paper part, the musician must use a pencil in order to be able to erase their annotation if necessary, which greatly limits the possibilities and prevents him from creating his own color code. However, it has been proven that using a color code (and sticking to it) allows you to work more efficiently and memorize more easily (more information about the relation between color coding and memory right here). In fact, it is estimated that 80% of information reaches the brain through visual channels: in this context, using colors to categorize information allows your brain to cut it out better and remember it faster, which is a great help when it comes to remembering that complicated passage you worked on during many hours.

On the other hand, annotating, erasing, rewriting (and so on) your sheet music will damage it very quickly and make it unreadable. This problem simply does not exist with digital parts: in a few seconds, you can annotate and erase without affecting the quality of your partition.

In addition, you can easily copy and paste annotations aswell as select and move them. These seemingly basic tools radically change your approach to annotations, opening up new possibilities while saving you time and making them easier to read. This way, you can make sure you always work in the best possible conditions, on stage and in rehearsal.

For an optimal experience we recommend the use of an Apple Pencil, but of course there are cheaper alternatives.

Reason #2: To turn pages more easily

Every musician knows the nightmare that page turning can be. Of course, there are techniques to get around the problem, such as sticking your pages together and ending up with a 1-meter-wide score… but there is a much more efficient solution - going digital!

First of all, it is possible to turn pages with your finger. There is already a difference with paper here, because you just have to tap the iPad with your fingertip, without worrying about aiming right, grabbing only one page, or turning so hard that your part falls off your stand. This saves you time and reduces the risk of error. Far from being a detail, this advantage changes everything during use. Give it a try, you’ll see!

On the other hand, it is possible to connect a bluetooth pedal to your iPad to turn pages with your foot. This is a considerable advantage of digital over paper and eliminates a major stress for the musician on stage, who no longer needs to “let go of his instrument” to turn pages. In this regard, we have written a guide to the best page turning pedals available on the market in 2020.

Another flagship feature is the half-page turn. You may have to play several lines of sixteenth notes and turn the page in the middle. With the half-page turn you can display the top part of the next page while keeping the bottom part of the page you are on, which allows you to anticipate complex turns and avoid having to memorize several lines that are already difficult to play.

The advantage of digital over paper is clearly felt on this point because it completely erases one of the biggest sources of stress for musicians. You can now concentrate entirely on you performance when you are on stage.

Reason #3: because paper is heavy and space-consuming

One of the most obvious issues when using paper sheet music is that it takes up space - a lot of space. Who doesn’t have a cabinet full of parts that you can’t sort through?

In addition to taking up space, paper quickly becomes very heavy. It’s not unusual for a musician - or worse, a conductor - to find himself carrying tons of parts to every concert, so you could say that going digital is good for the back. This is what Tom Hammond (who is the conductor of the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia and a great fan of digital scores) told us in an interview:

“One of the great benefits of using Newzik is for my back because being a conductor means that you can have really heavy luggage”

The great advantage of switching to a digital library such as Newzik is that you can centralize all your parts in one place, and access them everywhere at anytime, even offline, on a device weighing less than 500 grams. Thanks to the Newzik Cloud, your digital library is also synchronized between all your devices: all you have to do is to connect to your account from any iPad or iPhone to find all your parts! This also means that even if you lose your device, you won’t lose your sheet music. Securing the musicians' library is one of the first reasons why we developed Newzik.

This huge sheet music library, no need to sort it - you just have to scan it. And to do this, we have written an article on the different methods of scanning sheet music in the Newzik app.

Reason #4: To easily organize your library

Who says paper sheet music, also says binders, folders, notebooks … This requires a strong sense of organization. Rather than spending hours organizing parts in different folders, a digital sheet music reader allows you to sort them in several ways.

First of all, from your library it is possible to sort your pieces in alphabetical order or by composer in one click. You can also create setlists for your next concert. Finally, in Newzik, you can store different parts within the same piece: either different instruments, different versions of your piece or different arrangements. This allows you to keep as clear an organization as possible, and will save you precious time when you need to find a specific part among the hundreds or even thousands of parts in your library. Think about this at your next jam: renting a studio is expensive enough, don’t waste time looking for the next grid in the middle of your 150-page binder!

Reason #5: because it’s cheaper

A few years ago we conducted an extensive study on paper costs for a symphony orchestra composed of 80 musicians and two librarians. The conclusion of this study was striking: the orchestra in question spent more than €35,000 just on paper for one season. We identified four main items of expenditure: costs of paper for the library (printing, photocopies…), costs of temporary external resources (to copy bowings manually), costs of ordering scores, storage costs (renting additional space to store parts).

Using paper costs an orchestra tens of thousands of euros. While the initial investment is significant, going digital brings a true cost reduction for orchestras in the long run. Many ensembles and orchestras have already understood that and asked us to help them make the transition.

Reason #6: to collaborate in real-time with your band, your students or your orchestra

When we created Newzik we noticed something fundamental in the way an orchestra works today. When receiving parts, librarians must copy every single bowing by hand on every individual string part, which can be a colossal task even when the pieces are short.

We wanted to facilitate this tedious work by creating features for sharing parts and annotations in real time. Thanks to this unique system, you no longer need to spend days copying bowings : just write them on a single iPad, and share them with the rest of your section. To distribute sheet music to each member of the orchestra, it’s the same principle: once imported into a single iPad, every musician can access them immediately.

More and more music teachers are using this feature to work remotely with their students, a trend that has accelerated since the COVID-19 crisis. It is now possible for a teacher to annotate his or her student’s part live and remotely to indicate the passages that need to be worked on, potential pitfalls, etc. It is also possible to work simultaneously on the application and in videoconference via the split-screen mode (viewing two applications on one screen).

That being said, any musician can find his interest in this system. Are you preparing your next jam? Use Newzik’s collaborative features to write down a grid or riffs and share them with your band members so they can add their personal touch. To get a clearer picture, each musician can work on a dedicated layer, which you can show or hide on the fly. Think about a Google Docs for sheet music!

Reason #7: to work with enhanced parts

An “enhanced part” is artificially enhanced sheet music giving you a unique musical experience. You can add an audio file and synchronize it with your score to automate page turning, or add an audio accompaniment to play along, or a video file – or a YouTube link – to follow your favorite tutorial channel directly from the part.

For example: to work on your jazz improvisation skills, you can use a grid and an accompaniment. The integration of audio content (a rhythmic, an accompaniment) to your sheet music or grid is a real step forward for those who want to learn or perfect their improvisation without the need of resources outside the part.

Reason #8: to access a large catalog of parts from trusted publishers, without having to wait for the post office to lose your order…

Although we do not sell sheet music directly in the app, the simple fact that the publisher goes digital reduces the printing, distribution and storage costs and therefore reduces the cost of purchase. In addition to paying less, it eliminates the wait for the physical part to arrive, so the process is much faster.

The purchasing cost is reduced especially by the disappearance of shipping costs, which can constitute up to 30% of the final price!

The transition from paper to digital greatly simplifies this transaction and allows musicians to easily access the world’s largest catalogs, but also allows publishers to reach more musicians.

Here is a small anecdote that shows the advantage of digital on this matter. Carl Fischer, a major publisher of educational material, cannot send paper scores to Guatemala because UPS (Carl Fischer’s delivery company) does not deliver in that country. A few months ago, we launched a partnership with Carl Fischer, allowing customers to receive their parts directly in the Newzik app when purchasing them. Thus, for the first time ever, Guatemalans gained access to Carl Fischer’s catalog via our application, thanks to digital technology.

Once again, switching from paper to digital simplifies and smoothes an unnecessarily costly and tedious process. If you wish to visit the catalog of some of our partner publishers selling digital sheet music, please click here:

Reason #9: for the conservation and diffusion of musical heritage

For some years now, the famous Salzburg Mozarteum has been digitizing its entire Mozart catalog. This represents more than 25,000 pages, many of which are manuscripts. But why have they embarked on such a major undertaking? The first reason is to facilitate access to their library. An easier access but also a better quality of score, facilitating the study of this legendary composer.

Moreover, the Salzburg Mozarteum is basically the largest reserve of sheet music written by the famous Austrian composer: digitizing them also means protecting them. If the Mozarteum were to be destroyed or burned, and if the scores were not digitized, humanity would lose some of the greatest musical work ever written.

On another level, the Paris Contemporary Music Documentation Center has embarked on the same digitization project. This institution holds a unique collection of scores written by great contemporary composers. However, since contemporary music is not very accessible to the uninitiated, these composers (although extremely talented) and their work are far from famous. For the CMDC, digitizing its collection means promoting the work of these unfairly anonymous composers.

The existence and protection of this legacy is absolutely fundamental for Mankind. Going digital means taking advantage of a privileged access to thousands of scores, but also contributing to the perpetuation of the legacy of the greatest.

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Aurel Beaumann

Marketing manager