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The key to classical music
Access scores of sheet music
nkoda: the sheet music library
All on subscription
Seeking out a piece of classical music used to mean a trip to a dedicated music shop. Since those shops have almost ceased to exist, finding the scores you want has involved trawling the internet. Until now.
Nkoda is the first ever subscription service for sheet music – designed for the iPad. It contains 100,000 pieces of music, from the most well-known classical composers such as Debussy and Rachmaninoff to modern artists including Philip Glass and Ludovico Einaudi. There are piano pieces and operatic scores alongside complete orchestral arrangements.
The app has been created by Lorenzo Brewer, a 23-year-old self-taught pianist from north London.
“Nkoda provides something that has been missing for a generation of musicians and breaks down the barriers to a genre of music that tends to be exclusive,” says Brewer.
As well as sheet music for multiple instruments, “we have all the parts for performance,” adds Brewer. “Nobody has ever had access to this before without renting the music from the publisher. It was a very archaic system.”
Brewer has received enthusiastic feedback for nkoda from some big names in the classical music world. Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi is a subscriber. London-based, American-Korean violinist Esther Yoo says the app “will facilitate and encourage musical studies for all levels.”
Renowned British conductor Sir Simon Rattle adds: “Nkoda is really clever... Its technology gives me the ability to access scores and parts wherever I go, and to be able to share my markings with other musicians.
“It could change our lives immeasurably for the better.”
Brewer’s journey into music began aged 11, when he heard a boy playing Chopin in a school assembly. He turned to the internet to learn it. “The internet allowed me and a whole generation to teach themselves,” he says. “But when I wanted to find music it was impossible, or cost prohibitive.”
Instead of pursuing a music composition degree, Brewer set about developing nkoda along with his co-founder and chief technology officer, Sundar Venkitachalam.
On the app you can search for pieces, explore playlists (“Russian Piano Music” or “Movie Soundtracks”, perhaps) or browse categories such as chamber music or even pop hits. You can create your own playlists and scores are downloadable for offline access.
When you open a score you can add annotations to the music (breath marks and dynamic or finger instructions to yourself, for example). The app snaps your freehand markings into the shape of known annotations.
Brewer is also working with artists, such as American opera singer Joyce DiDonato, to add their annotations to pieces, which nkoda users will be able to add as a layer on the music to aid their own practice.
Nkoda is really clever... Its technology gives me the ability to access scores and parts wherever I go, and to be able to share my markings with other musicians.
Sir Simon Rattle
“I still get a rush out of marking up my score, and I imagine that if a person were to read my scribblings, they would almost be able to hear my interpretation,” says DiDonato. “I’m tremendously excited to think of young singers, without direct access to classical music training, using this application.”
It made sense to create nkoda for iPad first. “The best way to consume this type of music is on tablet devices,” says Brewer. “It’s becoming much more common to see people using an iPad in concert, but they are compromising on experience – using PDF readers which are not built to handle this kind of content.”
Nkoda solves this. Files are condensed so that you can flick through the pages as you play, with no delay. Tapping a repeat in the music will automatically take you back to the relevant phrase.
“The tap areas are purposely restrictive but safe” explains Brewer. “The feedback from musicians was that they don’t want anything to go wrong while they are playing. They don’t want to accidentally activate the navigation area or close the music.”
The app is all about making musicians’ lives easier. And in the process, nkoda is helping to bring access to classical music into the modern age.
Wait, there's more.
Check out the classical music available on Apple Music, including the playlist below.