Typing "free sheet music" into Google or any other search engine will
have tempted anyone looking for sheet music on the net. And indeed, the
search engines respond by giving us page after page of hits. But what
does the user really get on these pages – and is it legal?
This article has a look at the current state of "free sheet music downloads".
The search "free sheet music" (without the inverted commas) on Google
spews out an impressive 17,300,000 pages. Even the most inexperienced
internet-user will immediately realize that the truth can not be quite
so bountiful. I click on the first hit on Google (results on yahoo and
msn will differ) and am promised thousands of downloadable scores. On
closer inspection this turns out to be a number of Irish tunes at most,
with most of the promised pieces in fact consisting of links to more so
He called "free sites". Funnily enough the owner of the website at one
point even points out not to send him any nasty e-mails about the lack
of free scores on the site.
So let's try the second hit. After navigating round the site promising
me free scores, I always end up on a page telling me that all of these
scores are free to download – for a small fee of 20 Dollars a year. As
a user I am starting to feel confused – I have not seen a single piece
of sheet music. Can I trust this site? What would the quality of the
scores be if I paid the 20 Dollars?
Frustrated, I move on to the next search engine result. This site at
least has the courage to tell me on the main page that the so-called
free scores will cost me 30 dollars a year, yet once again, I fail to
detect a single quaver or treble clef. No scores are available for
preview. This is starting to remind me of the "free DVD" I get with my
Sunday paper. Only that I have to purchase the Sunday paper first.
Yet another site turns out to be just like the first, the promised
pieces of sheet music being links to more so-called free sheet music
sites. I am starting to get bored of being re-directed. Are not there
any sheet music sites out there?
The story of my search continues in similar fashion, until I encounter
a site that does offer sheet music, albeit a limited quantity. I
download a score only to find that the graphics are not quite where they
should be, and this makes me wonder about the general quality of the
scores and the arrangements that are available. Indeed. Why should
anyone create a score and put any effort into the arrangement and
editing, if they are not making any money through direct sales?
Even other hits take me to a site where I am charged $ 1.60 for the
"Privilege" of downloading a badly scanned copy of a Bach composition.
Frighteningly, I also find a site that offers extremely basic versions
of John Lennon's "Imagine" and other music that is in fact still under
copyright. This website is clearly an illegal operation, and one that
might find itself in the crosshairs of the Music Publishers'
Association (MPA). The MPA, as highlighted in a recent article on the
Website BBC ( Http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4524086.stm ) is
intending to clamp down on websites selling music still under
copyright, or where the arrangements are still under copyright. In a
way the publishing world is doing what record labels started a few
years ago by actively prosecuting those participating in illegal
download of sheet music.
I eventually find a project similar to the Gutenberg Project where
people contribute scores freely. The quality seems ok, but I am
restricted to pieces by a handful of classical composers, and with
anything relying on donations and free contributions, I doubt there are
regular updates. However, as with Wikipedia, the authenticity of the
product has to come into question. The standard review process that an
encyclopaedia has and Wikipedia and other websites dependent on
volunteers lack will have to be considered when downloading scores (or
any other information for that matter) for free: does the end-user
believe all the notes are accurate? When the founder of Wikipedia
himself was found to manipulate information on the very site how much
can these so-called democratic sites be trusted? Obviously no one would
benefit from changing a note in a score, so no one would deliberately
manipulate a piece of music. But what are the skill levels of those
involved in the creation of these scores? It is highly unlikely that a
trained musician would edit these – he would be destroying his own
industry to a certain extent. Furthermore I will not be able to find
simplified arrangements of a piece, as this is a time-consuming effort,
and anyone engaging in such an operation would clearly charge for the
After many days of searching, I give up in my quest in search of good free
But what is one to make of all this? Why are there so many sites that
do not actually sell anything, and what is the point of them?
The problem is created by advertising. The people who run these sites
own the most obvious url titles (ie the web site address) that one
might type in when looking for free scores. As an example: if you were
looking for free glasses, one might type in [http://www.freeglasses.com]. Hence,
these sites get a lot of direct traffic. Furthermore they have also
done a very good job at search engine optimisation, which makes you
wonder whether Google and Co are actually missing a trick here. Yet as
these sites have nothing to sell they try and get the frustrated user
to click on one of the many adverts, and many of these are so-called
Google ads. Every time someone clicks on one of these ads or paid-for
links, the aforementioned website earns a small amount of money
(So-called click-through). What is even more disconcerting is that some
of these ads lead to legitimate sheet music download sites, making it
even harder for the user to distinguish between the real thing and some
dodgy operation trying to make a buck on click-throughs. This clearly
does not help the industry.
Well, what about those free scores then? Well, there are some out
there, basically a handful to be found on the five or six legitimate
sites that are out there. These sites have the highest quality in terms
of the arrangements, the quality of the score both graphically and in
So why no free scores?
Think about it: why should anyone go through the effort of either
A) scanning hundreds and thousands of pages of music, and then offering them for
B) creating hundreds and thousands of arrangements for free?
Exactly. If you were to upload loads of tunes, you'd want to make money out of