What are the best sites
to download sheet music?

It is amazing how many sites now give the option to download sheet music in so many different styles (and at such variable quality!). We can find everything from Classical piano sonatas to rock, pop and jazz pieces composed only yesterday... and much of it is free! This page features the sites I find provide high quality copies that also include any essential information such as dynamics/phrasing/tempo etc.

Of course, you can always get a recording of the sheet music you want and transcribe a copy yourself!

Downloadable sheet music

Enter the Acrobat...Adobe Acrobat, that is! Most downloadable sheet music is delivered in the form of PDF files. These are ideal for music because the files are a reasonable size (even full sonatas) and all original formatting is retained and there are no nasty surprised when the correct fonts are not installed on your system because they are embedded in the file.

download button

The easiest method of finding a site to download sheet music is to search for the piece you are looking for with the .PDF extension. E.g. If you were looking for a copy of Fur Elise by Beethoven you could Google "Fur Elise.pdf" including the quotes. This search gave 773 results. The first two had no fingering and the second of these only had rudimentary dynamics. The third and fourth results produced the best quality scores in that they included fingering and correct dynamics and other performance directions. The fifth was a TAB arrangement for ukulele!

Even though there are a variety of sites on the web where you can find lists of free sheet music I still find a direct search from Google quicker and more efficient. I also find it less distracting! Once I am on a site that allows free (and legal!) downloads of a huge library of sheet music I am like a kid in a candy store and a couple of minutes turns into a couple of hours of browsing and downloading instead of practising! I mean, who knows how long it will be there? And maybe I'll want to play that Schubert sonata one day when i have a little more time... Having said that I love browsing around sheet music sites (and music shops) when I have time. I have discovered some great pieces to learn this way.

Since many of the sites where you can download sheet music use the Adobe PDF format, you need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view PDF files on Windows. Mac users can either user the Acrobat Reader or use the build in Preview program. Click here to download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader if you don't already have it installed

Free PDF Sheet Music

There are many sites where you can download sheet music free. Here are a couple of my favourite sites with a few notes as to what to expect from each site.

The IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) also known as the Petrucci Music Library A fantastic resource for music which is officially out of copyright and in terms of 'classical' music, probably all you could ever need...which kind of makes the other links a bit irrelevant in a way...but who knows! There is so much music I doubt if one site could ever catalogue all of it and different editors have different opinions and agendas as to what is important. As of 21 October 2012 the Petrucci Music Library has: 60,631 works · 219,333 scores · 21,097 recordings · 7,810 composers! And if you have the free piaScore HD app you can download directly from the site and annotate on your iPad, or even iPhone with the piaScore Air app. Finally! This is how music should be.

The pros: All scores are available for download and are all FREE. No subscription, no pay-per-download, no restrictions - totally free. The library is supported by Amazon affiliate links and donations (do donate if you can). If I am going to buy music tracks from Amazon I often go via the IMSLP to see if they have a link I can follow. As well as the scores there is an active forum with discussion of arrangements, score requests, analysis, other sites to download sheet music and much more.

The cons: None as far as I am concerned!

Overall: For out of copyright classical music: there's none better!

The Sheet Music Archive - This site has over 22,000 scores available as PDF files. Many are free downloads but to access all of them there is a subscription fee of $29.95 per year or $3.95 per month. I list in US$ here although the subscription charges seem to be $29.95 or €29.95 or £29.95 which is slightly confusing since these are clearly different amounts in real terms! I don't know whether you can choose your currency - check the exchange rates before subscribing! Once you are subscribed you have full access to the files - so in theory you could sign up for a month and spend the time downloading over 100,000 pages of music then cancel... but I think $29.95 per year for access would be a better use of my time and resources! Early on, SMA offered a CD of their current library for $24.95 but unfortunately this option seems to have disappeared.

The pros:The PDF files at SMA are good quality and their library is HUGE! Piano music includes fingerings.

The cons: There doesn't seem to be a list of files that are free to access so you think you have found what you are looking for and you suddenly come upon a "subscribers only" page.

Overall: A good resource if you are a subscriber...but there are other places to get the music free! Worth going to the site for a look at their copyright policy though that threatens "...involuntary removal of unspecified bodily appendages and nailing of threatening pieces of paper to doors at location of domicile" to those who violate their copyright!

A scorchingly good way
to download sheet music

Another format which is becoming more common to download sheet music is the free Sibelius Scorch plug-in for web browsers . This plug-in allows you to view, hear, transpose and even change the instrument of the music before you print it! Score Exchange, previously Sibelius Music, has a huge number of score available in the Scorch format, both free and for a small fee. There are many new composers with works one the site and all pieces are reviewed before being posted to ensure consistent quality. A great place to find that as yet undiscovered gem!

If you use Sibelius software to create music scores you can even upload your own compositions to sell or give away free on the Sibelius Music website. Sibelius is one of the most widely used programs for scoring and printing music. As a teacher and composer I find its simplicity of use invaluable and the scores it produces are of publishing quality. I'm sure having use of Sibelius in the classroom has enabled my students to achieve higher grades in GCSE, IB and A Level exams as it not only produces superbly presented scores but also allows students to make quality audio recordings and actually hear an approximation of how the finished piece will sound. Of course, the only real test is to have real musicians perform a piece, but this is often not possible within the confines of a classroom environment.

Quite a few other sites are starting to use the Scorch plugin including Sheet Music Direct. I really like the ability to be able to listen to pieces and transpose them into the key I want then just pay and print! This is how the internet should be when you want to download sheet music!

Community projects

The Mutopia Project This is a community of people making scores available through the LilyPond free music typesetting software. I haven't used LilyPond myself (being a Sibelius user) but I like the results. The Mutopia project is working on producing scores that have a slightly more traditional 'hand engraved' look, rather than the uniformity of Finale and Sibelius software. There is an interesting essay on music typesetting on the LilyPond site. Mutopia are up to 1727 pieces available as of 21 October 2012 and a list of projects people are working on. The finished PDF files are released under the Creative Commons "Some Rights Reserved" license and may be freely printed, copied, distributed, performed and recorded. This is in contrast to some free download sites that have strict copyright laws.

The pros:Great engraving - the music looks good on the page.

The cons:A comparatively small library at the moment, but growing as the global internet community gets behind LilyPond as a free open source alternative to expensive scoring programs.

Overall: Small, but perfectly formed!

A word about copyright

Copyright exists on printed music until 70 years after the composer's death. I am not a lawyer and won't get into the legal ramifications of different editions, publisher's copyright etc. Only to say please do not download sheet music illegally. If you want the music for a new song, there are lots of places you can buy it online, not least Sheet Music Direct which allows you to purchase and directly print music. Your other option is to get an audio copy of the music and transcribe it! Click here for more information on transcribing music

In short, Don't Steal music! The internet makes it very easy to download sheet music, even if it is officially still within copyright. Composers often put considerable time and effort into writing music for you to enjoy, and most are not living in huge villas in Hollywood, they are trying to earn a living doing what they love...if they are only charging a few dollars for something that could give you years of pleasure why steal from them? Go to one of the site where you pay a small fee to download sheet music and support other composers. OK rant over - on with the show!

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