Free piano sheet music - the best legal sources

Free piano sheet music - the best legal sources

Finding free piano sheet music can be time-consuming and tedious. Discover the best pages to download your preferred arrangements immediately.
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When should you pay for sheet music?

  • You like to play new music under copyright
    Music dating from within the last 70 years - including favorite genres like Rock, Pop, Movie soundtracks, New Age, Jazz or Boogie - needs to be properly bought and paid for, with very few exceptions.
  • You enjoy the quality of established sheet music brands
    If you want to make sure you get original sheet music (“like store-bought”) it makes sense to select a provider that cooperates with established publishing houses.
  • You want to ensure fairness for composers
    Culture needs to be valued! Fair pay for composers ensures that they can keep writing music professionally.
  • You want no surprises when it comes to playability
    One disadvantage of unpaid community projects is that there is no control over who uploads what as anyone can upload anything. With good luck, the arrangement you get will be okay. With lesser luck, it is a barely readable scan of a yellowed old edition missing one page.

The three most popular providers of free piano sheet music

  • Musical note
    IMSLP
    A collection of public domain sheet music (= composer deceased for more than 70 years), predominantly of classical music scores - most widely known community project.
  • Musical note
    Mutopia
    Volunteer project with a collection of ca. 2000 public domain pieces of sheet music (including contemporary compositions donated without royalty claims), largest selection: Baroque music.
  • Musical note
    Musopen
    US database for public domain sheet music, originating from a college project.

Which piano sheet music source will serve you best?

  1. 1

    Free sheet music

    • Only classical music (at least 70 years or older music)
    • Complicated copyright situation, newer sheet music might be illegal
    • Unclear sources, playability not tested
    • Often hard-to-read scans
    • Sometimes strange “self-made” arrangements in community projects
  2. 2

    Sheet music subscription

    • Much choice across all genres
    • Usually suitable for all skill levels
    • Moderate pricing for avid players: 1 flatrate to play as much as you like
    • Routinely discover new songs and soundtracks
    • Obtain licensed original arrangements
    • Helpful extras without extra costs
  3. 3

    Single-purchase sheet music

    • You have to know in advance what sheet music you are looking for
    • Few chances of discovering new pieces
    • Not much choice for beginners or virtuosi
    • Single purchases can quickly become quite expensive

Free sheet music - you need to know this

  • Composing, layouting, setting, and publishing a sheet music publication is a laborious process. The composers, arrangers, and music publishers involved in the production have a vested interest in having this process reimbursed by payment - after all, this is how they earn their living. The most valuable arrangements are not even for purchase, only for rent.
  • On the opposing side, there is a movement that wants to provide the general public with free, open access to sheet music as a cultural asset of all mankind. Legislative authorities have settled for a compromise: Composers’ and publishers’ legal interests expire after a certain period of time, and then, their work becomes part of the public domain.
  • But there are special cases that are legally problematic. A composer might be deceased for more than 70 years, but a publishing company might possibly still own the rights to the publication - and any copies circulating on the web would be illegal. Or someone could have illegally scanned arrangements that were only rented out. Or members of the “open access” movement could try to circumvent publishers by writing their own arrangements at home, and uploading them. Free sheet music platforms will generally inform you that they are not legally accountable for the sheet music that is available via their platform. They just appeal to uploaders to make sure everything they upload is legal.
  • In short: If you want to be on the safe side, buy your sheet music.

Frequently asked questions

  • Why are some arrangements available for free, while others are not?
    We distinguish between sheet music someone holds the legal rights to and sheet music that is in the public domain. The latter entered the so-called “public domain” 70 years after the composer’s death. Everyone is free to use these without any cost, and without having to seek permission. More recent sheet music is a source of income for its composer and publishers - you can only acquire these legally if you pay for them.
  • Which free sheet music can I legally download on the internet?
    Mainly Classical music and old music (Baroque, etc.). Further (relatively unknown) compositions whose creators relinquish copyright. Often, you will also find PDF copies of old editions, scanned and uploaded by volunteers.
  • When does it make sense to pay for sheet music?
    Sheet music of contemporary “younger” composers (think Movie soundtracks, New Age, Rock, Pop, Jazz,...) is protected by law. Thus, you can only legally source these arrangements if you pay for them. This does have advantages: Better overall quality because viewing has been optimized for digital use and print (no bad scans taken from old books!). Also, fair pay for contemporary composers ensures that they can keep producing music professionally - culture may cost!
  • When is a subscription my best option?
    Single sheet music purchases can get expensive quite quickly. If you like to play a lot and want to ascertain legality and high quality, a subscription can quickly become your best option.
  • How can a sheet music subscription help my piano performance?
    It helps you play exactly the music that you have fun playing. Not just Classical or Baroque music. How about playing Jazz? Rock? Boogie? Movie soundtracks? Pop? Blues? Gaming Music? New Age? Latin? The piano is one of the most versatile instruments on the planet. If you have a large choice of sheet music, you have more fun practicing. If you have more fun practicing, you play more often. If you play more often, you play better. And so on.