Choosing a Sheet Music Manager for iPad

Hi folks! I’ve spent about 6 years trying to manage sheet music on my iPad, and I thought I’d share some tips with the community. Maybe you will also have some suggestions for me.

Why Do I Need A Sheet Music Manager?

While I play a bunch of styles of music, what got me going down this path was getting into Jazz music, where there are probably a dozen “Fake Books” that players fetch their music from. And if you don’t have the music, you simply won’t be able to join into an improv session.

I have one friend who plays winds, and carries around literally a duffel bag full of these Fake Books. But besides the bulk and weight of that, and trying to balance such heavy books on portable (flimsy) music stands, you also face the very real problem (pun not intended) of not knowing which book a song is in. To solve this problem, Hal Leonard does have a PDF that indexes across multiple books:

But that only covers books published by them.

There’s another tool that lets you search across more books:

Of course, you need a live internet connection for the latter. And both are clumsy because even after you find the book, neither one tells you the page number. So you have to fetch the book, look in its index, then go turn to that page and plop this giant book on your music stand. By that time, the rest of the players are probably half done the tune.

Other friends make giant 3-ring binders with plastic sleeves to house the charts they have collected from all kinds of random places over the years. Per the number of songs, this is even bulkier, and it’s also limited to only those songs you already have collected, likely from having done them before. Plus, you probably have them in alphabetical order, which is useless once a Set List is prepared for a gig.

The Rise and Fall of iGigBook Pro

Enter iGigBook Pro.

Available for both iPad and Android tablets, this app quite beautifully solves these problems. Built into the app are dozens of indexes of all kinds of Fake Books for jazz, blues, even classical, Christmas music, Bossa Nova, etc. What you have to bring is a PDF scan of each book you’re interested in and load it into one of the built-in indexes. These indexes include at least Song Name and Page # data. You can then repeat the process with all your other PDF books, many of which will overlap by presenting different charts of the same songs; but each book will always bring a bunch of distinct songs as well. Once you load the PDF, you can now search for a given song name and it will show you every match of that song across every PDF book you have loaded into the app. You can then compare the charts, pick the one that you like best, and create Set Lists for gigs, or just rehearse. And all this fits on your iPad. No more duffel bags full of books, or binders with sleeves to haul around. And most importantly, no more fumbling to find songs: they’re a few taps away.

I used iGigBook Pro for about 6 years quite successfully. But I accumulated a bunch of problems that finally caught up with me.

  1. No sync options - All your iGigBook data is stuck on your iPad. There is no support for sharing your library via iCloud, Dropbox, or anything of the sort. There is even an iPhone app, but remarkably, no way to get your songs and charts and set lists to sync between that and your iPad.
  2. No backup options - There is no easy way to backup your data. You can use iCloud or “iTunes” backup. But this doesn’t always work right (more on this below).
  3. Clumsy process to update PDFs - Fake Book PDFs don’t change. But I also make a lot of custom scores (using MuseScore… worthy of a separate review). Why? Sometimes there is no chart that is ideal, and I want to combine details from multiple charts. Or I have to make one from scratch that is better than anything out there. Since iGigBook is essentially a PDF manager, any PDF can be imported and used. In such cases, there is no underlying “index”; the app will simply search on the filename of the PDF. So, I make a lot of these custom PDF scores, and these are always a work in progress, frequently getting updated as needed. But once a PDF is loaded into iGB, added into multiple song collections, such updates are not easy. Importing a PDF of the same title is SUPPOSED to replace an existing one; but it doesn’t work right, and the developer insists it’s the fault of Dropbox or iPadOS, even when I described how the app should be able to work around it. The result is all kinds of stray files that don’t belong in my library, and lots of extra steps to get songs properly “replaced”.
  4. No easy way to find where a song has been used - Remember, I have lots of versions of lots of songs, and I spend a lot of time curating which ones to use when I prep various gigs. Have I used this song before? If so, where? This is particularly important when I’m trying to decide whether to remove a PDF completely. But in iGB I have no way to know this. To its credit, iGB will show “Orphaned Song Entry” where it used to be in a set list or collection after the PDF has been yanked out. But that means I’d have to go scrolling through dozens of places to find such “orphans” and fix them, which, of course, would only be after the damage of deletion was done.

I made detailed petitions and requests in the forum to the dev for all these and a number of other areas. Occasionally, I got help. But enough times, my suggestions were dismissed or at least indefinitely postponed.

But the real sinker came when my iPad ran out of storage (see my other thread :-) ). So I made sure to successfully complete an iCloud backup before erasing and rebuilding the iPad. But Apple screwed up and the iCloud Backup it claimed completed was not available when I went to restore from iCloud. There were many hours of work that were lost because of this. iGB told me that I should have plugged the iPad into my Mac and used the “Files” tab in Finder to drag all the files to the Mac as a backup before proceeding. Well, coulda shoulda. Now I know not to trust Apple. But I was also pissed at iGB that, unlike pretty much everything else in my life, I had no easy way to have cloud-redundancy for my data, to help protect me from just such issues.

Hunting for Alternatives

Faced with having to redo a lot of work from scratch, I started looking at alternatives. The two names that came up the most were forScore and MobileSheets.

forScore seems to have the reputation as the king of the hill in this market.

One of my bass players uses it, and is pretty happy with it. He also plays big shows professionally, so that must be worth something. Feature-wise, it’s pretty loaded.

MobileSheets has also been around for a while and also gets a lot of attention on the Net.

It also looked pretty feature rich. Also, one of my sax players had been happily using it for about a year, and told me it had some type of feature to sync to his PC, which sounded intriguing.

So I emailed both of the developers with some of my specific use-case scenarios, and the problems I was facing with iGB, hoping to cut through potentially many (more) hours of research, not to mention outlays of cash, in order to figure out which of the two to pursue next. I was already on a tight schedule when I lost my data, and gigs were coming up.

This is when my results diverged. forScore took a full week to even reply, and their reply was fairly brief and corporate. MobileSheets replied within a day, was written by the developer himself, and was a full and detailed, addressing of my questions and concerns.

MobileSheets had my attention, and I followed up with several feature/function questions, and he continued to respond and address my concerns. Within a couple days, I decided to lay out $15 so that I could test drive the product.

Exploring MobileSheets

Now, MS doesn’t have indexes built-in the way iGB does. Neither does forScore, for that matter. That is apparently a feature unique to iGB, and certainly worth noting. But it turns out that all the (CSV) indexes you need for popular Fake Books are available for free online. You just have to go hunting for them. You can find some here:

Index of /unrealbook/csvindexes

forScore says they don’t have any, but I found these:

MS has a particularly nice set of user-contributed indexes:

There are even some commercial versions that have more metadata:

Indexing Real Books On iPad | Alec Katz Music

So if you go with forScore or MS, you will have to fetch your own CSV indexes, and these links will help.

A book index is a CSV file with at least Song Name and Page # columns. But additional metadata can also be tracked in additional columns, such as Composer, Genre, Year, etc. You can make your own, and I have done that for some short, obscure books. But the process is tedious, especially when you’re dealing with close to 10,000 songs, which is what I currently have indexed. So the resources above were very welcome!

Anyway, I aggressively dove into loading my PDFs and the corresponding indexes and experimenting with MS features. I ran into issues and questions, and emailed the developer directly, who responded promptly, often within hours. Some of my concerns were legitimate bug reports, and he took them seriously, found the root cause, and often within a day said I could plan to see that in the next release. And releases seem to come out every couple of weeks (there have been 12 just in the past 3 months!), and they do include fixes to the problems I raised. Compare this to the response I got from forScore. THIS IS WHAT SOLD ME. It almost didn’t matter what other features or bugs I might find in MS (or would never bother to find in forScore). I had the attention of a developer who was intelligent and responsive. I knew I could help make this the best product on the market, and that I’d never have that type of relationship with forScore.

But I haven’t told you the biggie.

Recall that I do a lot of custom scores in MuseScore (which has no iPad version), and would sync these to my iPad using Dropbox so I could load them into iGigBook (which has no Mac version). So when doing this, I constantly had to switch between devices. Well, MobileSheets for iPad is enabled to run on Apple Silicon Macs like my M2 MacBook Air. So for no extra cost, I was able to download and run MS for iPad on my Mac and use it there, alongside the work I was doing on MuseScore, making the process of loading modified scores back into MS much less hassle, with both apps running on my Mac. The ability to do all this work on my MacBook without having to touch my iPad is a huge productivity boon.

And this is where I will feature the “Swap File” feature of MS. Remember my complaint #3 above about updating modified PDFs into iGB? Well, the “Swap File” feature in MS is designed just for this purpose, and it works exactly how you expect: the underlying PDF is replaced, but all the metadata and memberships in collections and set lists are preserved. What a relief to have that headache behind me!

So with all this going on on my Mac, how does any of this get to my iPad? Great question. The first part of the answer is that MS does not have native iCloud or Dropbox sync support either. Like iGB, you can import files to the library from Dropbox or any other “Files” app. But, also like iGB, the library itself cannot be share via a sync service. HOWEVER, MS does have a home-grown sync feature that allows you various types of sync solutions, including a peer-to-peer sync between devices. This is designed to allow ensembles of musicians to all get the same score updates. It even has ways of keeping everyone’s pages turning in sync. But I’m not interested in all that fluffery :-) But I’ve got what I need: a simple way to sync everything I do on my Mac to my iPad, and vice versa.

And not only that, MS has an app-level Backup/Restore function. It will export a self-contained backup of all your PDF books and metadata to an archive that you can put anywhere, and later restore. So that problem is now also solved, giving a tremendous amount of peace of mind, not to mention an easy way to “roll back” if you make some bulk change that you regret.

At this point you might wonder why iGB could not also run on an Apple Silicon Mac? The answer is that it could. Apple provides developers of iPad apps a “checkbox” that controls whether iPad based apps can install on (Apple Silicon) Macs. I can think of at least 2 reasons why a dev might NOT want their iPad app to run on a Mac:

  1. They also have a native macOS app, and the latter will have a better UX than an iPad app running in a cropped window, and gestures designed for a touch screen
  2. Their native macOS app may have a separate price associated with it, that could be cannibalized by people using their iPad apps on their Macs, albeit with a diminished experience.

And I got into the weeds with the dev about this. But let’s just say that iGB does not have a macOS app available, and he gave no indication that he ever would. Checking the forum now, I see that that my conversation, "Hoping for macOS Apple Silicon support”, has been completely removed :-) But the main takeaway here is that what could be a massive selling point for iGB has been deliberately denied by the developer. Meanwhile, MobileSheets has embraced their macOS port. I have also been providing essential QA feedback to them, and they recently bought a MacMini so as to properly support it.

But wait, there’s more to love about MobileSheets!

Consider my complaint #4 above about there being no way to tell where a song was “used” in iGB. Well, in MS, all such “group memberships” are treated as metadata for a song, and all metadata is viewable and editable in MS. In fact, there is so much flexibility in how you can search and make bulk changes in your library in MS, you won’t realize how much hassle you tolerated before. Famous computer scientist Dijkstra said “A prisoner falls in love with his chains”. Thankfully, I was still aware enough to not be “in love” with these problems; but I certainly didn’t realize how much greener the grass could be elsewhere until I explored MS.

More about iGigBook

I would be remiss if I failed to point out another fatal flaw in iGigBook that MobileSheets solves: iGB has no way to search both your indexed books and your individual scores in one place. They are two separate islands. So if you’re looking for a song, and you don’t recall if it’s in an indexed book or if you downloaded a custom version from the Net, you always have to search in two places. This is truly unforgivable in a year when operating systems, apps, and the Internet itself have, for decades, provided a one-stop-shop for searching. Again, I raised this with the developer and he failed to see the value of it, or was too lazy to do anything about it, or both. But of course, MobileSheets offers this, and it works beautifully.

iRealPro: Mostly for Rehearsal

It’s worth mentioning another app: iReal Pro.

iReal is a fantastic app, and every jazz or blues player who wants to improvise needs to own it. It will be one of the best $16 you spend on your ability to be a great musician. But it’s not a replacement for a sheet music manager, like the 3 mentioned here.

iReal gets its name from “Real Books” which are themselves a pun, being alternatives to “Fake Books”. (I believe Fake Books get their name because they don’t show you exactly what to play; just enough to “fake” your way through improvisationally). iReal has tons of jazz, blues, pop, and other built-in or downloadable from the Internet. But those charts just show chords, not melody line. Chords can be enough for rhythm players to “comp” along with a band; and I have friends who use it exactly this way. But anyone who is going to play the lead line will be lost without the melody notes present, the way all the charts in the “Fake Books” have.

iReal’s real value is that it has a “band” built in that will play back the song as accompanists for you while you try to solo. I’m not sure exactly how it works under the hood. But the iReal scores are simply a series of chords laid out on a timeline with a tempo, like:

| Bb7 / / / | Eb7 / / / | Bb7 / / / |…

In fact, you can edit or create your own scores. Then you indicate what tempo you want it played at and click “Play”, and a drummer, bassist, and pianist start accompanying you. You can speed it up, slow it down, change the key, and use a mixer to control the balance of the instruments. For example, if you’re a bass player, you probably want to turn down the built-in bass player.

You can even “drag” to select a short passage of the song to “loop” over and over so you can work on specific sections, either because they are difficult or because you want more time to explore creative options for that passage.

And if you make custom scores, or edit existing ones, you can share them back with the community. They are essentially HTML files that load right into iReal.

iReal Pro is a fantastic app for rehearsal, and some people can use it for live improv. But since it lacks the melody line and it has no way of displaying PDF, custom or otherwise, it has limited use as an alternative to a sheet music manager.

At this point, I should point out a cool iGigBook feature that I don’t think is present in MobileSheets (forScore??): transposable charts. It’s basically very much like the chord chart that you see in iReal in that there is no melody line: just chords laid out over measures. But also like iReal, these charts are dynamic in that they can be transposed to any key with a tap of the finger. This can be quite helpful in a pinch, especially if you have a singer who wants to sing in a lower key. iGB includes a pretty healthy set of jazz standards that support this transposition feature. (UPDATE: just one hour ago, iGB announced that v.9 will include melody lines into these transposable charts).

What about forScore?

So what about forScore? I didn’t test drive it, but I can if there’s enough interest. I found some comparison discussions online, but nothing well done:

forScore may be excellent. But I’m a power user. And as you know, I get into the weeds with products I’m heavily invested in, and I find tough issues, and it drives me crazy when they don’t get fixed. As I mentioned above, it became quickly clear that MobileSheets was going to be more responsive at getting things fixed than forScore, and that’s a big selling point for me. Plus, MS is just an excellent product in its own right.


To be fair, MS has bugs, and does occasionally crash. But I haven’t found them debilitating. And they tend to be reproducible, and the developer hunts them down when I report them and fixes them.

There are lot of other features I could highlight, many of which are common to all the big players (such as using bluetooth pedals to turn pages, or annotation tools to mark up your PDFs), and others that are unique to specific apps. But I covered some issues here which, besides being important to me, could matter to a lot of people, and could save a lot of time in choosing the best product.

So, if you’re a musician who is tired of carrying around a bunch of books or binders full of paper music and want the elegance, power, and simplicity of managing it all on a simple iPad, my vote goes to MobileSheets. Happy jamming!


My mom is a pianist and has been using forScore and an iPad for her music for more than a decade. I wouldn’t describe her as a power user (she’s 82 and not too good with computers), but I’ve helped her with the app and it seems every time she has a need, forScore already has that feature.

I’m no musician and don’t own the app, but forScore seems extremely capable to me. It lets you create playlists of songs (“setlists”), edit PDFs (rearrange, crop, rotate, annotate), add metadata to each song (even custom metadata such as your own keywords), sort everything by title, manual sort, newest, etc., and much more.

As one example of its flexibility, my mom has arthritis and has been having trouble playing certain songs. So we added a custom keyword “cantplay” and she tags songs she finds too difficult to play any more, which helps her when she’s putting together a song list (she mainly plays at church these days) as she can easily eliminate those from contention.

BTW, she scans most of her songs from hymnals or piano books herself, using her Brother wireless scanner/printer and Vuescan on the iPad, and imports those into ForScore where she crops, organizes, and adds the metadata. Her biggest problem lately is her memory is failing and if she doesn’t do a particular task regularly, she forgets how to do it and I have to help her.

But all in all, she loves her iPad and can carry hundreds of songs in the space of one songbook. It’s been a game changer for her. She wishes she had that tech 50+ years ago when she really could have used it!


Another vote for forScore…wife uses it for 3 different choral groups and has been singing in them for going on 45ish years…switched from paper awhile back and is quite satisfied with the results and capabilities…she both imports pdfs and uses her iPhone or my Fujitsu scanner to get the music into her ipad where she organizes it by group and event function. Syncs nicely so when we travel she syncs her library to my iPad in case hers dies or has some other issue so no need to carry backup music when away or anything but the iPad and her performance outfit for local.

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Great product feedback and Inspiring story!

Wow that is impressive for someone of an older generation! I wonder if you can get hymnals as PDFs and find indexes for them?

Nice. Sync is a complex topic. How does forScore sync between devices? Does it use a sync service like iCloud or some custom code?

This is well-written and thorough. Kudos! It deserves to be published as an article in its own right.


Very satisfied user of forScore here. Zero experience with MobileSheets. Don’t know if it matters to others but a big forScore selling point for me was that the purchase is universal across Apple devices including Macs, and the music library is synced across all devices. I find editing music and manipulating the library easier on a Mac than iDevice. It can be bought outright or you can subscribe to the Pro version which gives access to newly released capabilities throughout the year (and supports its development.)

Yea, I would love a really thorough comparison. It would take a lot of time, because you have to really get all your material into it and use it in real-world scenarios to find the devils that are buried in the details.

It would take a lot of money to make this worth my time, but I’d do it if someone wanted to pay for it :-)

I just added a paragraph about transposable charts:

At this point, I should point out a cool iGigBook feature that I don’t think is present in MobileSheets (forScore??): transposable charts. It’s basically very much like the chord chart that you see in iReal in that there is no melody line: just chords laid out over measures. But also like iReal, these charts are dynamic in that they can be transposed to any key with a tap of the finger. This can be quite helpful in a pinch, especially if you have a singer who wants to sing in a lower key. iGB includes a pretty healthy set of jazz standards that support this transposition feature.

Her church does pay for a service that provides PDFs of hymns and other songs (SongSelect?), but that is too complicated for her to use and it often didn’t have the song she wanted. She has to login to the site, find the song, make sure it’s the right version (lots of hymns have different arrangements), choose the key, and then either print or download the song.

Downloading the PDF on her iPad was so complicated she found it easier to print the song and then scan it, though the quality was worse. The site has all sorts of complicated copy protection stuff that makes it hard to use (like you’re only allowed to print exactly one copy). Printing to a PDF works on the Mac, but my mom can’t really use her Mac as she’s too accustomed to iPhone/iPad. (She’s one of those who taps her MacBook’s screen with her finger and wonders why it’s not responding. :joy:)

Basically, at her age, she stick with what she knows.


I’m a classical musician by trade, and have used forScore with very happy results. Many if not most of my European colleagues — soloist or chamber musician, e.g. a string quartet — also use it, whereas I continue to be surprised to see our American counterparts still lugging scores even on extended tours.

Granted our needs may (or may not!) be considerably different from jazz musicians, while my sister who plays viola in a major US orchestra downloads (orchestral) parts in Dropbox prior to the first rehearsal. (So that musicians can practice at home first :wink:) My guess is that she also uses forScore.

Just my 2 cents.

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I’m a composer and music professor in the U.S., and iPad musicianship is something I spend a lot of time thinking, writing, and teaching about. I wrote a Wirecutter-style comparison of the top options for iPad for Scoring Notes. It’s a few years old, and I’m currently working on a revision, but my conclusions haven’t changed much.

The best iPad score reader for most people


+1 for ForScore. Syncs via iCloud between Mac, iPad, and iPhone, and easy to get PDFs in and out. Also easy editing/annotation using Apple Pencil. I keep all my scores in a folder in iCloud, adding them to ForScore as needed; I do have 9 or 10 jazz fake books loaded into ForScore, no problem.

Years ago I created a spreadsheet in Numbers for songs in paper sheet music books that I own (not all of which I have scanned into PDF). As far as I know, there’s no way to integrate this into ForScore—it’s basically a souped-up PDF reader—and it’s not clear from the write-up above whether MobileSheets has this capability.

Thanks for the helpful feedback!

This is where I have undersold MobileSheets. Early on when I was chatting with the dev, trying to assess which way to go, he told me many of his users praised the “Library Management” features of MS. I didn’t get what he meant back then. But now, with a lot of hours in, I get it.

I also used to track songs in spreadsheets. I still have them. I would track things like Genre, Key, whether it’s a Vocal tune, which Band(s) I play it with, which Gigs I played it with, etc. Then I could filter and sort in the spreadsheet, and use the result to plan another gig. And I would then use it as my setlist, including notes about who takes the intro, who’s doing solos, etc.

The problem was, besides being very hard to read on an iPad, I had to keep switching between the spreadsheet and PDF music manager between songs, and certainly couldn’t view both at once, which is really what I needed.

Well, MobileSheets has features make most or all of that need for a spreadsheet obsolete. For one thing, for performance notes I now use PDF annotation to put them right on the score so I can see them in context when I’m playing that song. Plus, when I share the set of charts with my band mates, they will also have the same notes in front of them. In fairness, all of MS, iGB, and forScore allow PDF annotation.

But that’s only one part of getting rid of the spreadsheet. Tracking all the other metadata is nicely accessible in MS, but not at all an option in iGigBook. So the Genre, the Key, the Composer, and so many other things, including Custom attributes, are editable and viewable. I’m guessing forScore has much of this support, too? Here’s the metadata for one song I’m working on:

And MS then lets you sort and filter on all this, making it super easy to put together your next set of tunes to work on. Here’s browsing one “collection”, without any additional filters applied (but tons of options available):

And another real beauty here is that you don’t need to show all that subtitle “junk” if you don’t want. For me, it helps me to see what other collections each song is in, so I set things up like that. At least for now. The emoji make things pop off the page, too. But how that list displays, and WHAT it displays, is completely configurable.

Goodbye, spreadsheet!

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As a devoted user of iGigBook since its inception in 2010, I must admit that the app was not without its flaws in its early stages. However, what drew me and countless other Jazz players to this revolutionary application was its unparalleled index capability, which allowed us to locate a song across a multitude of different books - a game-changing feature, to say the least.

Over time, other apps such as forscore and mobilesheets have attempted to emulate this feature, but none have come close to matching the incredible capability found in iGigBook.

While it is true that iGigBook can transpose chord charts like iRealPro, it may not possess the same music tracks or allow for the creation of personal chord charts. Nonetheless, having all of my chord charts in one place is incredibly convenient, and the latest update has brought an unbelievable new feature to the table: iGigBook has secured a special version of “The New Bob Book,” and with it, has introduced the ability to transpose the songs of that book to any key. This is yet another unique and invaluable feature that sets iGigBook apart from any other app on the market.

4 posts were split to a new topic: 3D-printed page turner project for iPad

I don’t know if this will help, but it’s very easy to print to PDF on iPad/iOS (once you know). When the Print Options sheet comes up, it always has a little preview at the bottom. If you pinch-to-zoom on the preview (start with your fingers together and spread them out), it shows a ‘standard’ PDF view. From here, there’s a little share icon at the bottom left and you can save the PDF anywhere you want or send it directly to another app.


Wow good trick! This feature should be front and center!

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This works, making this easily the tip of the month! Thank you!

Note that you can also tap and hold rather than zoom. Then you tap once more to go full screen to get the share feature.