nkoda : App Review

The last few years have seen a number of great advances in the integration of technology to the music practice room, teaching studio and performance platform. Going ‘paperless’ as a musician is heralded as a worthy goal to aspire to, but how many musicians really believe that this is achievable?

Well I decided to see if this was possible. With the help of my upgraded iPad and nkoda, I set myself the challenge of going paperless for 2 months.

nkoda is a digital sheet music library, giving unlimited access to publishers’ libraries and integrating editing/annotation features that should allow us to use the music as we want. It is a subscription service – many of these services get a bad reputation for not paying publishers, composers and artists fairly so for this reason, as a music creator, I have avoided them. nkoda however, have a policy of paying publishers based on the amount of time that users were spending on their particular titles. I found this to be a really interesting and fair concept, so decided to give it a trial.

First off, let me run through some of the functionality. After setting up an account (either as a free trial or on subscription), you are asked to give your primary instruments – this is so the home screen and explorer functions are populated with repertoire and playlists that are relevant and hopefully of interest to the user.

By clicking on ‘You’, you get to your own personalised homepage and library. From here you can search for particular composers or pieces and add them into your library. You can also browse playlists put together by nkoda and also other users – this was a great way of discovering new repertoire. The library that you put together is also available offline so that you can take everything with you.

Your ‘library’ is where you can organise and catalogue all of your discoveries, and create playlists of your own. This might be organising recital repertoire, putting your favourite etudes all in one place, or organising orchestral repertoire for the upcoming season.

The ‘uploads’ feature is where this becomes your all-in-one solution. I uploaded my entire pdf library, much of which was actually duplicated in nkoda’s own publishers’ libraries. In this case, I obviously opted for nkoda’s crystal clear and highest quality editions! One small negative that I found with this feature is the processing when you go to upload your own scans or images – you lose a little bit of image quality, with any shadows on your existing pdfs being exaggerated. It is still usable and easily readable though. It is worth noting that you can use this upload feature and all of the nkoda annotation features (set out below) for free without a subscription, and I am told that improvements are constantly being made to these upload features.

The game-changer for me is the annotation tool. Yes, you can type, write, draw and add musical symbols to all of your music. As you can with all of the other digital sheet music providers. HOWEVER the feature that I just loved is the layers of annotations that you can create. In a practise/performance context you can create a layer of practice notes to help you concentrate on the areas that need it, and then create a performance layer, just with notes and markings that you want on stage or in the studio.

In a teaching context, I was working on various etudes and pieces with students and could create a different layer for each student, adding relevant and specific markings for each one. I could also write notes to myself for each student to help me organise and plan future lessons too. This feature is brilliant and is the one aspect that really sets this apart from the competition.

“But I can get most of my music through IMSLP or illegal downloads”, you may be thinking to yourself. Let’s take the second of those two – music publishers have suffered hugely in recent years as things have moved towards digitisation, and in turn so have the music creators that the publishers represent. Surely we want to be trying to support an industry on which we personally rely?

And IMSLP… this is a great resource, allowing you to search for lots of out-of-copyright music, download it and use it for whatever purpose you desire. However, the modern trumpet has not been around all that long in the grand scheme of things so a lot of our repertoire is still in copyright. It is therefore difficult to find good quality copies of the things that we are looking for.

You could compare IMSLP to a physical library. If you know what you are looking for, you search for the piece, download it and print it off. nkoda is different because not only can you search specifically for what you are looking for, but thanks to their explore tool and personalised curation feature you can discover a whole range of new music too that you might never have come across otherwise. It’s great for finding new music.

My two months of going paperless has been great. Practising, teaching and performing have all been enhanced by this digital experience. I strongly recommend that all musicians check out nkoda for a free trial, and as I mentioned earlier, some of these features are actually available without subscription.

To find out more, please visit the nkoda website, where you can also find links to get the apps for you phone, tablet or desktop.

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