Best Music Notation Apps for iPad

Best Music Notation Apps for iPad

 

What is the best notation app for me and my students?

One of the most common questions I have from teachers with iPads is: “what is the best notation app for me and my students?”. There isn’t a straightforward answer because the three main notation options each have different benefits and features. And one of the three isn’t even really an app. So my answer to that question is always – “it depends what you want to achieve”!

 

The reasons for wanting an iPad notation app are varied:

  • I’m a teacher who composes and arranges music for my students and I want an iPad notation solution so I can work “on-the-go”
  • The iPad is my school’s device of choice for my middle school students and I want them to be able to use it to compose music
  • I’m an elementary teacher and I want to print student compositions, but I want them to learn how to handwrite notation
  • My older students want to be able to sketch their musical ideas wherever they are

There are solutions for all of these scenarios. Below are my thoughts on the three best iPad notation options and their different strengths and purposes.

If you use any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below so that we can all learn from one another.

 

Noteflight

Noteflight

(Free for basic account; varied paid options for education accounts)

First of all, it’s important to point out that Noteflight is not actually an iPad app that you will find in the app store. Noteflight is a web browser-based app: open Safari on your iPad and visit the Noteflight website. You will need to sign up for an account, but there is a free version which is ideal if you’d like to “try before you buy”.

Noteflight is the best all-round option for K-12 students, and especially for middle school students. It is used by teachers and students in K-12, higher ed and by private music instructors. The company has a strong focus on education and support for teachers and students and there are lots of support materials and lesson plans available for download.

The interface is intuitive and easy to use. Notes can be added to your score by selecting a rhythmic value and tapping on the stave to place the note on the correct pitch. You can also use an on-screen keyboard to enter notes.

Noteflight on iPad

Because Noteflight is browser-based, student scores can be accessed from any device (iPad, Android device, laptop, desktop computer) as long as they have an internet connection. This makes is the ideal choice for schools that have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.

The IT staff at your school will be happy that there’s nothing to install and you never need to worry about updates or upgrades because they all happen automatically, behind the scenes on the Noteflight website. This also means that you and all of your students will always be using the same version.

Signing up for a school account is an economical choice for schools with 1:1 iPad programs (you pay an annual subscription fee based on the number of students) and means you can take full advantage of the education features. Your students are grouped into classes and you can view and assess their work from your teacher login. There is no need for students to email scores to you or export them to Google Drive or Dropbox, so in this way, Noteflight overcomes many of the workflow difficulties usually associated with using iPads. For more information about school accounts, visit Music First.

 

A little tip: add a Noteflight shortcut to your iPad screen. The shortcut icon will sit alongside all your regular iPad app icons and it makes it easy to access. To do that, open Safari and visit Noteflight. Tap the Share button and then tap Add To Home Screen.

Notion icon

Notion for iPad

(Notion is USD $14.99 at the time of writing)

The Notion app is useful for older students and for teachers who want to create compositions and arrangements on a portable device. If playback sound is important to you, this will be your app of choice: scores are played back using top quality sound samples from London Symphony Orchestra.

Notion can either work as a standalone notation tool, or as an “on-the-go” option: start a score in the Notion iPad app and then continue to work on them in Sibelius, Finale, the free notation program MuseScore or the desktop version of Notion. Conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen can be seen using Notion on his iPad in this Apple ad.

It’s a feature-rich app and if you’ve ever created a score in Sibelius, Finale or MuseScore, you won’t have many problems picking up Notion. Musical elements can be selected from a series of palettes and added into your score with a few taps. You can use an on-screen keyboard or guitar fretboard, or plug in a MIDI keyboard.

This video takes you through the basics of entering notes into your score:

Transferring scores between music notation apps is done by importing and exporting scores in the MusicXML format – the standard open format for exchanging notation files between different musical applications. In addition to MusicXML, you can export your Notion scores as MIDI, PDF, WAV or AAC.

Notion comes with a limited selection of sounds and you can access a wider range of extra sounds via in-app purchases.

Notateme icon

NotateMe and NotateMe Now

(NotateMe Now – free version and NotateMe – US$39.99 at the time of writing)

If you prefer handwriting notation, or want your students to handwrite scores and exercises, then the NotateMe app is ideal. What’s more, it will transform your handwriting into “printed” digital notation in real-time, while you write on your iPad screen. I know this suits a lot of composers and arrangers who “think through their pencil” and there is definitely something magical about seeing your handwriting transformed instantly, not to mention being able to play it back. It’s also useful when you want your students to produce digital notation, but still keep up their handwriting skills – the best of both worlds really.

The promotional video from Neuratron (makers of the app) shows how it works:

There are two versions of NotateMe –

  • a free version with just one stave and limited export options (no export as PDF option)
  • a full version (US $39) with unlimited staves and multiple export options

NotateMe works best with a stylus, but if you or your students don’t have a stylus handy, use of the zoom-in option to make the stave as large as possible on the screen.

Writing notation on the iPad screen is quite a different experience to using pencil and paper and you’ll need to decide whether it will work with your students. I tested it with my 7 year-old some time ago (link to previous post ) and you can see the results in this Using NotateMe with Students video:

US teacher Christopher Russell has been using NotateMe with his middle school students in their music theory classes. He has a series of videos on Youtube which serve a dual purpose – to teach them how to use the app and to reinforce their music theory knowledge.

For those that like to handwrite, I think NotateMe is the perfect “idea sketching” app. Once you have created your NotateMe score, it easily transfers to the Notion app on iPad or desktop, or to Sibelius or Finale where you can expand your ideas, add more details and perfect the formatting.

For some tips on using NotateMe, take a look at John Hinchey’s article NotetateMe Tips: A Great App For Handwritten Music Recognition.

Neuratron recently added a scanning feature to NotateMe which allows you to take a picture of a printed score using your iPad camera, import it directly into NotateMe and then playback and edit the score. It’s a separate add-on which costs US $29, but you can try it for free (with a single-stave score) in NotateMe Now.

Christopher Russell (Technology in Music Education blog) wrote about the Photoscore add-on here and more recently here and Paul Shimmons (iPad and Technology in Music Education blog) gives a detailed step-by-step walk-through of the process here (including transferring the score to the Notion app and to Sibelius).

NotateMe and NotateMe Now are also available for Android devices.

Your experiences?

If you use any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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More iPad Music Project Ideas!

iPad Projects for the Music Classroom includes 22 step-by-step projects you can use straight away with your music students. Take the guesswork out of choosing apps and discover how you can use iPads in an engaging and meaningful way.

Click on the image below for more information.

iPad Music Education Ebook

By | 2017-02-23T15:19:35+00:00 July 16th, 2014|Music Tech Tips, Music Technology Resources|33 Comments

About the Author:

I love to simplify technology for music teachers. I help teachers from all around the world through the Midnight Music Community - an online professional development community where teachers can take online courses, ask questions and receive personalised help for the music tech goals.

33 Comments

  1. Linda July 16, 2014 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    I think NotateMe is fun and useful. If I want a quick audio playback of a particular melody, I can just quickly jot it down and play it back to the class. I use the free version- but was thinking of purchasing: I thought the price was 29.99- did it go up?

  2. […] The 3 best music notation iPad app options for teachers and students  […]

  3. Paul July 17, 2014 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie,

    Nice write up. I think two more items are very important to note with these music notation apps on iPad. First, I really like Notion but it is a HUGE space hog, 2GB’s last time I checked. That is because of the awesome sounds included. I really like where this is going though, with a fully functional desktop AND iPad app along with the integration into the PreSonus family.

    Second… Symphony Pro has to be mentioned as an alternative to Notion because of the fact that it takes WAY less space! Of course your article is titled the best THREE apps.

    I wonder how long until Finale or Sibelius comes out with an app? Or are they going to leave that up to the others, it certainly seems like we have plenty of choices currently.

  4. […] Best Notation Apps for iPad by Katie Wardrobe (@katiesw1) – A review of Noteflight, Notion, and Notate Me for use on iPads by teachers and students. […]

  5. Jai September 4, 2014 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Thank you!
    A great recap that has saved me time ~

    • Katie September 5, 2014 at 9:18 am - Reply

      Thanks Jai!
      – Katie

  6. Phil Holmes September 19, 2014 at 4:43 am - Reply

    Please have a look at the MusicWriter app for iPad. It is a great tool for writing songs quickly, or for learning how to read music. It is very simple to use with a very intuitive interface. Best regards.

  7. Phil Holmes September 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    Please check out our MusicWriter app. It is a great fast songwriting tool that allows you to easily write songs and print out or email the finished music score. It is also great for learning to read music quickly, as it helps you see the relationship between the notes on the piano, the notes on the score and their note names. It can save and retrieve dozens of songs you create.

  8. Jason Greenwell October 29, 2014 at 2:26 am - Reply

    Scorecloud is great app for students who need to sing or play their ideas and have them instantly notated. They can then login to their account and import into Notion, Sibelius etc on PC.

    • Katie November 13, 2014 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Hi Jason! I haven’t found Scorecloud to be highly accurate (quicker for me to notate from scratch), but I need to give it another go. I hear it might have improved. It’s a kind of “notation utopia” for many 🙂
      – Katie

  9. Dan Swirsky November 6, 2014 at 3:31 am - Reply

    Sonja® is great for those who don’t know music theory and notation. Sonja® let’s anyone read, write, record, and edit music easily. Sonja® imports audio, MIDI, and MusicXML files. It’s also a great learning and practice tool for singers and musicians, and has a built-in Virtual Ensemble feature for performing along with other Sonja® users.

  10. Hannes December 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the writeup. Last time I checked, there was iWriteMusic and it sucked. Now there seems to be a whole world of usable apps, so I don’t need do fire up Sibelius if I, being a bass player, want to write down a little bass line and import it into Setlist Maker (a very useful music stand with metronome and cross-band synching.)

  11. L. Harbaugh September 15, 2015 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    I just started looking for a music writing app. to work on some vocal arrangements. Have been using
    Notion for several yrs., but their most recent release has some serious bugs. So, ’til they’re ironed out, I was looking for something to work with in the meantime. I read about Sonia above in the comments by Dan Swirsky and purchased the app. It is not a good app for writing music. The instructions are very clear, bit using the app. is a combo of confusing colours, jumbled sound and a very non-intuitive interface. Come to find out,
    D. Swirsky is the developer of the app. plus there are no reviews on the App. store site for Sonja. Next time I’ll be a little more careful before purchasing.

  12. Karen Campo October 23, 2015 at 1:56 am - Reply

    Thank you for these reviews–they are very helpful! I am looking for an app that will allow me to create music theory worksheets for my students that I can print. They would incorporate music with instructions and I can’t seem to find an app that can go back and forth. Is that impossible?

    • Katie November 5, 2015 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Karen – you would need to use a combination of tools. I usually find that type of thing easier on my laptop (it’s less fiddly than doing it on an iPad) and I use Sibelius to create the notation examples. I then take a “screencapture” of the section of Sibelius score that I need (Sibelius has an in-built tool for doing that) which turns the notation into an image. I simply drag the notation image into Word or Pages on Mac and format the text/images as usual. You can see this in action in this video. Although that video is Sibelius-specific, the concept is the same for other notation programs.

      You can use Finale, MuseScore or Noteflight to do the same thing. Not all have an inbuilt screencapture tool, but there are free screencapture software options such as Jing (or even the inbuilt function on your Mac or PC).

      If there is mostly music and just a little text I would do the whole thing in Sibelius: create a score with all the examples and type the question text into the score.

  13. Adam del MOnte December 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    I just bought the iPad pro after being led to believe by tech support in Sibelius that Sibelius 8 would work on it with the whole stylus pen and every thing…….then once I got it i called Sibelius to help me set it all up…….and low and behold they tell me it does NOT support the iPad pro in the way that it does the Windows Surface Pro…..I was heart broken and dumbfound. I sincerely hope that Sibelius takes this issue up seriously, because it is clearly the most organic way to go as far as composing, freedom and spontaneity is concerned. The only other app that feel professional and as it should be is Smartpad…….also just for surface pro. Apple used to be the leader in all things music. Always intuitive and common sense baed, what the hell happened??

    • Katie December 10, 2015 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      I also wish they would make a version for iPad! Hopefully it will be on the cards for the future given the large number of iPad users.
      – Katie

  14. Martin Emo April 15, 2016 at 8:25 am - Reply

    I’ve just been using the handwriting add-in for Notion 5. It’s great!

  15. […] in: the drawbacks and one huge benefit [you can see this in action in the image on the right] Best Music Notation Apps for iPad | Midnight Music. How To Record Students In A Noisy Classroom | Midnight Music. MuseScore 2.0 Updated – Free Music […]

  16. Alan Sharkis August 23, 2016 at 1:36 am - Reply

    Since your article came out and since the last comment, several more notation apps have been released. Of them, I would especially recommend taking a look at Touch Notation by Kawai, especially for advanced students.

    I also must mention Staffpad for Surface and similar Windows-based apps, although it seems not to compare well to the iOS-based apps.

    • Katie August 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks Alan 🙂

  17. Marcel Rutten August 27, 2016 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie,
    Can I also print the music when I’m ready ?

    • Katie September 13, 2016 at 11:16 am - Reply

      Yes – I believe it works with the apps mentioned, although I haven’t tried it myself. You should be able to use Airprint (if you have an appropriate printer) or simply save the score as a pdf into iCloud or Dropbox (which will sync it to your laptop/desktop computer) and then print it from there.

  18. Sula Maye September 18, 2016 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    I wish someone would develop an app where you can take a photo of your child’s score that they are working on and it colour codes the notes to help them when they are dyslexic and even after five years still struggle to differentiate the note names because they are all black dotes on or between some lines to them! How hard can it be?

    • Katie September 25, 2016 at 11:22 am - Reply

      Hi Sula – I can imagine that must be frustrating. I can’t think of an app that does that. Maybe you should contact some app developers with your idea and see if there’s any interest?

    • Mary March 10, 2017 at 1:47 am - Reply

      I’m not 100 percent positive, but check out MuseScore. I think there are colored notes.

  19. […] :  A well spelled-out look on the best notation apps.  […]

  20. Oscar Teomiro December 31, 2016 at 5:01 am - Reply

    Hi Katie.Can i write a drum partiture with one of this apps ??thanks for The advices.

    • Katie January 2, 2017 at 9:30 am - Reply

      Hi Oscar! Yes – you can write drum parts. All the apps mentioned will let you do that to a certain degree. How easy or hard it will be might depend on the complexity of the drum parts you’re writing. For detailed or more complex parts, I prefer to use Sibelius on my laptop, but if you’re doing something straightforward it should be fine.

  21. Hugo Andrade January 19, 2017 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Hello Iam trying to make drums part and I cannot put in diferentes place like ride Bd and Snare. How I can I make?
    I have the sheet music given for the music director and I cannot make the same as I have in paper thanks

  22. Joseph Ness January 23, 2017 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Can one use Finale on the iPad?

    thanks much,
    Joseph

    • Katie January 26, 2017 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      No – Finale doesn’t have an iPad app version.

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