Part 1 of 3 in a Series on Finding Sheet Music for Students
As a music teacher, it sometimes feels like an endless struggle to find sheet music for your voracious roster of students! Obviously there are commercial online stores as well as the library, but there’s also an entire history of free written music available online. I’m talking about public domain music.
Public Domain Music
This is music where the copyright has expired. Bach? Beethoven? Mozart? These are all hundreds of years old and you can definitely find everything written by these composers online for free.
Modern Editions of Public Domain Music
You can find very nice editions of Bach’s inventions or Beethoven piano sonatas in every music store that are not copyright free as the publishers have added value by making editorial decisions to the work. It may not be note changes, but they may add tempo markings where there were none or dynamics, etc. For example, most music from the Baroque period was quite sparse in directional markings. Seeing a piece from the 1500’s by Palestrina with crescendos and other dynamics is most certainly the work of a modern editor. This can be useful or not. Does it add value? Or is it just an editor trying to impose his/her stylistic preferences?
Finding Free Sheet Music
Finding sheet music that is free and public domain can be tricky. Different countries have different laws regarding copyright especially in the length of term. If you are searching for something that is older than 100 years old, then you are generally safe to assume it’s copyright free. But I’m not your legal counsel. If you are using music for commercial use, you should definitely consult a lawyer. The music business is a lawyer’s playground!
In no particular order, here are 11 sites for public domain free sheet music:
The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), also known as the Petrucci Music Library after publisher Ottaviano Petrucci, is a subscription-based project for the creation of a virtual library of public domain music scores, based on the wiki principle.
CPDL was founded in December 1998, ported to ChoralWiki in August 2005, and incorporated in May 2010 as a U.S.A. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. Here you will find free choral/vocal scores, texts, translations, and other useful information.
Musopen is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on increasing access to music by creating free resources and educational materials. They provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Their mission is to set music free.
- Mutopia Project
2,010 pieces of music – free to download, modify, print, copy, distribute, perform, and record – all in the Public Domain or under Creative Commons licenses, in PDF, MIDI, and editable LilyPond file formats.
A subscription-based online library offering over 27,000 compositions, including both public-domain and self-published works. Over 11,000 of the compositions are available in MusicXML format. Compositions are available in a mix of PDF, MusicXML, MIDI, and original source formats.
- Sheet Music Online
Online since 1995: Now in their 21st year recommending the best sounding arrangements in print!
- Sheet Music Fox
Download hundreds of thousands of free public domain sheet music titles here.
- Free Scores
We offer contemporary, classical, and educational free sheet music for all instruments. Free-scores.com is a free and legal platform for composers, arrangers, and publishers. There may be restrictions on the use of the music so check that out on the license page.
- Public Domain Sherpa
This page lists resources for free sheet music that’s either in the public domain or free for certain uses.
- University of Virginia Library
This site lists many links to other great free libraries of sheet music.
- Indiana University
Selected public domain opera and song literature scores, as well as some online sound recordings.
I hope you find these links useful. In a future post, I will explore where to find commercial sheet music, easy beginner arrangements, and how to simplify music yourself.