Let’s face it: We all want to have the best tools for our craft, but sometimes it’s just not practical. Sometimes you’re measuring cost vs use; is it worth the value if you only use it once in a while.
Or maybe it’s only necessary only for a gig or two. No need to break the bank.
Whatever the reason is, there’s an app for you (#TechnicallyNotTrademarkInfringement…)
While it’s certainly true that “you get what you pay for” with many apps, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a ton of useful features in a free app.
Do you have a metronome on your smartphone or tablet? Does it do everything you need it to, and more? Did you pay for it?
Most likely: Yes, Yes, and No.
It probably has a ton of cool and useful features in the free version too. Technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, while still maintaining a high level of functionality
If you’re an Android user and are looking for a versatile sheet music app, check out MobileSheets. MobileSheets is made exclusively for Android users, and even has a desktop (PC) app for creating your own scores and songs.
The biggest feature in my mind is the flexibility with the charts. Markups are made very easy:
And if you use Chord Pro files, you can change keys on the fly. MobileSheets lets you use a custom page ordering. Think of it like deleting or rearranging pages in a PDF. Add/delete/move/crop pages as you need.
For at home practicing, the app supports audio files within the sheets. Upload the audio file for the song you’re rehearsing, and play along!
The metronome alone is worth the download. It has a tap tempo (and a slide tempo; different, but cool), click subdivisions, several sound options, audio or visual clicks (or both), and the volume is independent from everything else in the app.
The app is really slick even in the free version. Everything I've mentioned here is included in the free version. Which is pretty crazy. The biggest limitation in the free version is the amount of charts you can have at one time.
Annotating in Piascore
Piascore is an iOS based app for Band & Orchestra musicians. You have your standard compatibility with Bluetooth page turners like STOMP, automatic scrolling, and easy note taking with the virtual keyboard.
The app has keyword tagging for all of your scores. I can’t understate how great this feature is. Add keywords for composer, appropriate events (like weddings, formal occasions, etc), musical mood, difficulty; anything you want to be able to search by later.
Once you get the set you want figured out, you can save it in a separate setlist.
One feature I really like is being able to e-mail notated charts. If someone missed rehearsal you can send them the notated chart or sheet music. This helps to make sure everyone is on the same page (pun very much intended).
If someone forgot their tablet or is still living in the dark ages (i.e. still using paper charts), you can print from the app over Bluetooth.
As a bonus, the Paiscore app supports the IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) and Petrucci Music Library. This gives you access to over 130k works for free.
The built-in tuner is a nice touch, as is the iTunes music player for practicing at home. You can record your rehearsals with the in-app voice recorder.Virtual Sheet Music (Android AND iOS)
Just like the other apps on the list, Virtual Sheet Music is a good foot-in-the-door tool.
With the free version you have the ability to store up to 50 pieces of sheet music. In all, the app gives you access to over 40,000 works. About 16,000 of those have accompaniment MP3s available (you have to pay to access them though...).
These MP3s come in three flavors:
Being able to play along to an MP3 is a great practicing tool. And this app wins in that area.
The entire catalog is keyword searchable. I can’t stress enough how valuable this is! Playing a wedding? Search by a number of keywords (like “wedding”...) and easily put together an event-appropriate set list.
If you have original music, you can upload your own PDFs to the app (sheet music or charts). Like the other apps on the list, Virtual Sheet Music is compatible with Bluetooth page turners like STOMP.
The biggest value with the Virtual Sheet Music app is in its practicing capabilities. It lacks some of the abilities that MobileSheets and Piascore offer for rehearsals and performances. But if you’re looking for an app to use for at-home practicing, you’ll be best off with this one.
When choosing any app, free or paid, it’s important to know what you need. This will help you narrow down the best app to suit your specific needs. A helpful partition of features I like to use is this:
If you’re in a cover band you probably don’t want an app that has an emphasis on sheet music. You need an app that has a lot of flexibility with chord charts. You’ll need to make notes. Create set lists. Be able to change keys with Guitar Pro charts.
If you’re an orchestral musician, chord charts are going to be useless. You need sheet music and the ability to annotate. A massive library of classical pieces is a bonus.
At-home practicing is another consideration. Do you already have a good set up at home for practicing? Would an app that has a metronome and audio files be useful? Do you even need any bells and whistles at all? You may be sent PDF chord charts and just need a way to view them in a setlist.
Whatever your needs, wants, and don’t wants are, you’ll be able to find a good FREE app to hold all of your sheet music and chord charts. Whether you’re using a smartphone or Tablet. Apple iOS or Android.
Just make sure you have a Bluetooth App Controller and Page Turner so you can keep your hands on your instrument, and your focus on your performance.
If you decide you’re willing to spend a few bucks on an app, check out these helpful articles: