Electronic Sheet Music vs Paper: Why You Should Make the Switch

Electronic Sheet Music vs Paper

Did you start to learn an instrument before the early-mid 2000s? If so, tell me if this sounds familiar (if not, take a look at how things used to be back in the stone age).

When I first started playing guitar, I would carry around pages and pages of paper. I would have lessons, tabs, chord charts, and random theory notes.

My “filing” system was throwing them in my case. When I ran out of room in my cases I’d move them to folders and store them in my closet.

When I started to gig I would hand write set lists on blank paper. If I needed a chart or notes I’d also print that out. At the end of the gig it all would end up in the trash or recycling.

I’d write notes and bring them to the studio or rehearsal space. I just couldn’t get away from all of the paper.

Can you relate to this? As musicians our lives were controlled by paper. But…

electronic sheet music

Do you have sheet music piled up everywhere?

A New Age Is Upon Us

We have paperless bank statements and insurance cards. We communicate almost exclusively via some digital messaging. We rarely have a need to print or write.

But as we go paperless is other areas, why not go paperless with sheet music and charts?

Prior to the early 2010s, paper was the only real option, so electronic sheet music wasn’t really in our thoughts.

Paper can be wasteful, time consuming, and literally weighs us down. But thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, we’ve entered a new world of convenience.

Read more: Teach your students without books for weeks!

Equipped with the right software or app, and a Bluetooth foot pedal controller/page turner, you have a whole world of paperless possibilities.

We’ll dive into how one actually goes about converting music to digital and which apps to use for reading but first let’s look at why you should go paperless and turn to electronic sheet music; here are the top 6.

  1. No Extra Bulk/Things to Carry
  2. Cleaner Stages
  3. Tablets Are Easier to Read
  4. Cleaner Not Taking and Edits
  5. It’s Environmentally Friendly
  6. Turn Pages Hand Free

Cut Down on the Bulk

Have you ever arrived at a music lesson, started to unload your gear and said, “I wish I had more things to carry”?

I’m guessing you said a very strong “No way!”. What if you could replace your sheet music/charts/notes/set lists with something you’re already taking to your lesson?

creative piano teaching

Cut down on the bulk by moving your sheet music to a digital platform.

If you already have an iPhone or iPad, Galaxy, or any Android equipped smartphone or tablet, you can completely replace your binder of charts/sheet music/notes.

Store your entire sheet music library on a hard drive or in the cloud. Pull in the sheet music as you need it, from lesson to lesson.

Cleaner Teaching Spaces

Rather than laying your sheet music out in a lesson, or getting your students to haul criminal amounts of sheet music and books, you can have everything you need stored on apps like Planning Center, Music Stand and OnSong.

If you aren’t already using iPads in your studio, then read more here on their benefits within a modern music studio.

It’s Environmentally Friendly

Look, I think most of us can agree this is something we need to talk about. We waste a ton of resources, not just paper. But when we can, we recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste.

Musicians need to have one-off set lists, tons of charts, and notes galore. But we can minimize our impact by using resources we already have. Like our smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

Hands-Free Page Turning Ability

Do your students get stressed playing pieces that might be seven pages long? How do you fit that on a small piano stand!?

With electronic sheet music, that worry is gone, completely.

Everything is on the iPad and with one quick swipe, the next page of music is up on your screen.

Forget about sticky taping seven pages together and unfolding it across basically half of the piano!

Imagine being able to use a foot switch to turn to the next page of music. Or the next song in the set if your students are performing.

Or even trigger backing tracks.

There are hundreds of apps compatible with iOS and Android devices to do just about anything, including making backing tracks for your piano students.

With an iPad, you can switch between sheet music and backing tracks, queue up pieces of music without worrying about trying to find the next piece of sheet music either.

Now, let’s talk about going digital with your music.

digital sheet music

So many things are digital now, why not your sheet music too?

How to Convert to Electronic Sheet Music

To get started using a tablet for reading music you need to convert your music into some sort of digital form that is readable by whichever app (more on that below) you’ve chosen.

There are a number of ways to get your “analog” sheet music into digital form, the easiest is going to be using a scanner.

Simply take your sheet music and it using any standard desktop scanner, or even by using a scanning app on your iOS or Android device.

The scanner will produce a PDF version of the sheet music, which you can then import into your desired app of choice. Another way to convert your sheet music into digital form is to take a picture with your device’s camera.

The ability to open JPEG files is limited in some apps so I recommend converting the JPEG to a PDF afterwards. You can convert a JPEG to PDF using your computer’s print options or by using a web tool like this.

Pro Tip

I recommend using Dropbox or Google Drive to store your digital catalog.

This gives you both a reliable backup and a very easy way to import your songs into your app of choice as nearly all of the reputable apps allow for Dropbox/Google Drive sync abilities. Additionally, this will allow you to easily share your catalog with others.

Which App Do I Choose?

Choosing the right app is entirely dependent on your needs and preferences. First off, consider which type of device are you using? iOS, Android, Kindle, Mac, Windows?

Next consider what type of features you need, editing, cataloging, Bluetooth foot control?

Lastly, of course, there is the price consideration. As with anything you get what you pay for in life and the best apps are not generally free. Ultimately the decision as to the best app for you is, well…best left up to you.

As a quick recommendation of different device types, prices, and features, I’ll give you my top 3 recommendations for each platform:

For iOS Users

ForScore is one of the best options available on iOS for those reading sheet music. It costs $14.99, which in my opinion is a great price for such a versatile tool.

OnSong is an equally great option, especially if you’re using chord charts. It’s available on iOS and cost $29.99

Paperless Music is a great affordable option for iOS and features a really convenient song import option by simply taking a picture with your device’s camera. At $5 you really can’t go wrong.

BONUS: If you absolutely must have a free app, Piascore is a good option for iOS as well.

For Android Users

OpenAppSong is a wonder option for users looking for a free option. It’s got most of the same features as other apps but without the price tag.

Orpheus App is incredibly simple, user friendly, and functional. You don’t get bells and whistles but you get everything you need to read digital music and a really clean and reliable app for only $6.99.

Mobile Sheets is a robust app that comes in free and paid options. It gives you the features you need to manage your library with ease and perform at your absolute best – also compatible with Windows.

For Windows Users

Power Music is one of the top options if you’re using your computer or a Microsoft Surface. The price can be steep and varies by device type, but the features are near-limitless and the support is top-notch.

SongRepertoire is a simple and highly intuitive app that can manage music sheets, playbacks and set lists. The price is right around $10.

There you have it. Hopefully with this breakdown you’ve seen the potential with going digital.

If you’re ready to make the plunge and want to get yourself a quality page turner then be sure to check out Coda Music Tech.

For the apps mentioned, you’ll find them at the iTunes Store and Google Play.


Would you consider moving completely to electronic sheet music, or do you still enjoy paper sheet music?

Let us know in the comments.