Janet Ingber I recently learned about two iOS apps that can play sheet music, which is a wonderful development for people who are blind or visually impaired. The apps are SM Music Reader and Sheet Music Scanner. SM Music Reader is geared specifically for musicians with vision loss, while Sheet Music Scanner is a mainstream app.

For this article, I used an iPhone 13 Mini running iOS 15.4.1.

SM Music Reader

The SM Music Reader app is available for iOS and can be downloaded free. This app is also available for Android. There are some differences between how the app works with iOS and with Android. The developer of this app is developed by the Sao Mai Center for the Blind

Author’s note: Between April 7th and April 28th, I sent five different emails to the developer asking for assistance. One was answered. I replied to the developer with an additional question, but have not received a response as of May 8th.

The SM Music Reader allows a user to read the music from a Music XML file with a screen reader like VoiceOver. In addition, the app is connected with Sao Mai online music library, containing thousands of music pieces. "XML" is a generic term for "Extensible Markup Language.” Music XML makes it possible for different music notation programs to open and read the same music file. Learn more about this topic on this website

The Home Screen

There are five options on SM Music Reader’s home screen. They are Score List, SM Music Library, Settings, User’s Guide, and About. The About section contains the standard information. On the bottom of the screen is a Reset to Default button. I will go over Settings and User’s Guide. Then I will discuss the other options.


This is a good place to start. The first option is Speaking Mode. Here is where you choose whether VoiceOver speaks note by note or bar by bar. Note-by-note is the default setting.

Next is Speaking Order. Your options are by voice or by time stamp. Below this setting is a long list of features that are all on by default. They include Harmony, Octave, and Technical. The final settings are number of lines and magnification.

User’s Guide

The User’s guide gives basic information including how to contact the developer, a list of what the app can do, and some instructions on how to use the app. Screen reader instructions also are given.

Score List

This section contains some demo songs including Ave Maria and Mozart Piano Sonata. There is a search box at the top of the page and a toolbar at the bottom of the page. The Search box is used to search for files already in your Score List. Toolbar options are Downloads, Files, Favorites, and Reload. The Files section has all the scores including the demo songs. The Downloads tab has all the files you download and the Favorites tab has all songs you have added to Favorites. The Reload button is used to refresh the screen. There will be more information about the Toolbar later in this article.

If you double tap and hold on a title, you can put it in your Favorites list, remove it, or get more information about the music file. Once a song is selected, a new screen will load. If there is more than one part, you can choose which part you want to hear. By default, all parts are selected. For example, Ave Maria has a voice part and a piano part. Both parts were selected. I only wanted the piano part, so I unselected the voice part. Next were a Cancel button and a Done button. At the bottom of the screen are a series of buttons including Options, Loop, and Play. The Options button offers choices including which staff, which instrument, which key, and what tempo you want to use. You can also play a song by flicking right. VoiceOver will say the notes or chord. VoiceOver will also speak the bar number.

SM Music Library

The SM Music Library has an extensive list of scores available for free download. I was able to download most scores but there were many that I could not. Instead of downloading, VoiceOver just told me that the item was selected. Double tap on the title you want to download. It should open in the Score List. If you double tap and hold on a score, it shows additional information such as reporting an error and a button labeled Sheet Info. Selecting the button gives more information about the score.

At the top of the screen is a search form. It contains an Edit box and gives the option whether to search by title or composer. I entered Bach in the search box and selected Composer. My first result was Can Can Dance by Jacques Offenbach. After seven pages of results, I finally reached Johann Sebastian Bach. Results were sorted alphabetically by first name. If you perform a search and do not get results, switch the category from Composer to Title or vice versa.

At the bottom of the screen is a Home button that will bring you back to the main library screen. Next is a button labeled Left. It will bring you back to the previous screen of results. Next is the page number of your results. Next is a button labeled Right, which will bring you to the next page of results. The final button is Search. This does not bring you to the Search form. It brings you back to the first page of search results.

There is no order of results for a specific composer. For example, Beethoven’s symphonies are mixed with his sonatas, sonatinas, etc. I went looking for a specific sonatina. I put Beethoven Sonatina in the search box and only got one result. When I just put Beethoven in the search form, I had to manually scroll through all results. I finally found what I wanted on page 20 but I couldn’t download it. I rebooted my phone and took SM Music out of the app switcher but that did not correct the issue.

The Score List Revisited

Unfortunately, the toolbar on the Score List is very inconsistent. The Downloads section usually showed one or two scores that I had downloaded rather than the 10 I really downloaded. The scores section sometimes showed all my scores, but usually only some were listed. Frequently, the scores I favorited were not listed. Taking the app out of the app switcher sometimes displayed all the files, but when I went to Downloads or Favorites, not all the scores were listed. Also, when I went back to the Files tab, not all scores were listed. 


Although the app offers a lot of features, there are some bugs. It is possible to contact the developers, though tech support requests are slow to receive a response. Since the app is free, you might want to give it a try.

Sheet Music Scanner

Sheet Music Scanner is available for $4.99 and developed by David Zemsky. Support for the app can be found here. This app is also available for Android.

This app allows you to scan printed sheet music and then hear it in an audio format using different instruments and formats. I contacted the developer and asked if someone without sight could independently photograph the sheet music. He responded very quickly:

There are some visually impaired musicians who do use the app and there is some VoiceOver support (labels on buttons, etc.). However, I think you might find it difficult to use as you can't compare the result with the original score and see if the app has recognized it correctly, if that makes sense. It relies on optical recognition and there are some technical limitations. There will be some cases where it will make mistakes; without seeing it you won't be able to tell. That is why I don't advertise it as suitable for visually impaired people although it might be helpful.

The Home Screen

There are five buttons on the app’s home screen. They are Help, Scan From Camera, Import, Sheet Music List, Share, and About.


There is a scroll bar on the right that can help you move through this section. The first item in the Help section is a Feedback button.

Next is a heading labeled Support and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions.) This section contains information about photographing the music. Next is a list of music types that are not supported. They include handwritten notation and shape notes.

The next section gives hints on how to optimize recognition and fix some problems. There are in-page links for how to solve various issues. Links include: the app says that the song cannot be recognized, creating a song with multiple pages, and how to play each voice individually. When a link is selected, you will need to scroll down the page to find the answer.

Scan From Camera

When this option is selected, your devices camera will open. There will be buttons to take the picture and add additional pages, but there is no feedback from VoiceOver about whether you got the entire page correctly. I used sighted assistance from a musician to scan my music.


Selecting this button brings you to your photos. There are two options, Browse and Cancel. Select the photo you want and it will immediately be in the app.

Sheet Music List

Here is where all your music is located. There is an edit button in the upper right corner and a section index on the right side of the screen. Near the top of the screen are options to scan or import. At the bottom of the screen is a tool bar with options for help, giving feedback and sharing.

Once you select a song, there is a tool bar at the bottom of the page. It contains options including Play, Instruments, and Settings. In the Settings menu are options to reset pitch to 440HZ, change tempo, and play multiple voices or a single voice. For example, the bass clef and treble clef parts of piano music can be played separately. Unfortunately, this does not work with VoiceOver. The different parts are on the screen, but VoiceOver does not speak their names. Therefore, you cannot make a selection.

In the upper right corner is an Edit/Done button. Next is a button called “Background-tap to pause play”. Next is a control for inserting a page.

Next is a series of buttons all labeled, “Play from this Measure.” Measure numbers are not given. Visually, the music is on the screen so a sighted user can see the measures and choose which one they want. There are four of these buttons. Next is an option to delete a page. This is followed by five more of the “Play from this measure” buttons. Then you return to the Pause play button. As the song plays, each button refers to different measures. For example, if you select the first button and the music starts, that same button may later correspond to a different measure. Flick right and eventually you should hear VoiceOver say, “Selected, play from this measure.”

I contacted the developer about unlabeled measures and the inability to select an individual voice. He is very interested in making this app more accessible.


If you have some vision you may be able to use this app. At this time, it is impossible for someone without vision to scan music and you would need to deal with unlabeled controls. The developer was very responsive to my questions and is working to improve accessibility.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Janet Ingber
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Product Reviews and Guides