Your Guide to Free Sheet Music (including the best legal sites)

by Elke Galvin October 18, 2022 • 7 minute read
Finding free sheet music can be time-consuming and you may sometimes wonder whether it'll get you into trouble. Here's what you need to know beforehand - and the best pages to download your favorite scores immediately!
Find free sheet music on the web
Making music is wonderful. Sheet music is the key to get down to playing. Find out which sheet music is free and which is not - and why. We give you three trusted sources for free sheet music and tell you the pros and cons of using them.
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Sheet music that is legally available for free

Basically, anything anyone composes belongs to them, and they can decide whether you can have it for free, or not. The composer "holds the right to" his or her music. Eventually - most often 70 years after the composer's death, but requirements vary in different states - these rights expire, and everyone, including you, is free to

  • use the composition
  • without any cost, and
  • without having to seek anyone's permission.

This is why a lot of free Classical sheet music can be found on the web.

However, there's a catch. Sometimes, it is not only the composer who is involved in the creation of sheet music but also a publishing company. And then they, too, own rights of a composition, e.g. to a certain edition. And these rights might not have expired, even if the composer has been deceased for more than 70 years. So, unfortunately, just looking at the date of a composer's death to make sure you acquire sheet music legally may sometimes not be enough to be on the safe side (for more on that, read on).

These genres are safe to download for free

Mainly Classical music and Old music.

  • Medieval music (no piano yet!)
  • Renaissance music (cembalo/harpsichord)
  • Baroque music (Bach, Vivaldi,...)
  • Music from the Classical period (Mozart, Beethoven, Händel,...)
  • Music from the Romantic period (Schubert, Brahms, ...)

Quite often, you will find PDF-copies of old editions, scanned and uploaded by volunteers.

  1. IMSLP: IMSLP is an acronym for "International Music Score Library Project", and is perhaps the most widely known and largest collection of public domain sheet music (= composer deceased for more than 70 years) in the world. It offers predominantly classical music scores. Here is an overview of its copyright description, and here, you'll find its more detailed view. The IMSLP library consists mainly of sheet music scans, often you have quite a few historical editions to choose from. Sometimes it is also known as "Petrucci Music Library" because it is owned by Project Petrucci LLC. Due to copyright issues, it had to close for a year (2007/2008), then similar issues came up in 2011, and 2017. IMSLP came up with a subscription-based service in 2015. Free music is still available, but with a two-day time lag, and advertisements.
  2. Musopen: Musopen is a US database for public domain (copyright-free) sheet music, originating from a college project that aimed to "set music free". Furthermore, Musopen raises money to finance recordings of Classical music, e.g. the complete works of Frederic Chopin. Like IMSLP, Musopen offers semi-free music - scores are available for free, but if you want to access and download premium quality music (their recordings included) you would have to subscribe.
  3. Mutopia: Mutopia is a volunteer project with a collection of ca. 2000 public domain pieces of sheet music (including contemporary compositions donated without royalty claims - this takes you to their licensing section. It caters to several instruments - like IMSLP. For the piano, the website states that just short of 800 pieces are available. The largest selection of sheet music Mutopia offers is Baroque music. All files are also available in editable LilyPond format. There's a log that shows when users criticize or complain about the content. No new content has been added since 2020.

Sheet music that is never (legally) available for free

Sheet music of contemporary music is hardly ever available for free (exceptions apply). If you download copyrighted music from any source for free, you are almost breaking someone's copyright. The only exception would be clear permission by the contemporary composer (and publisher, if applicable) that you may indeed download this sheet music for free.

The forbidden sheet music (unless you pay)

  • Contemporary, “younger” composers (mind that "young", in this definition, ranges from songwriting teenagers to "less than 70 years deceased" composers, regardless of genre)
  • Some very valuable editions are not available for sale, only for rent - and to rent them, you have to apply to the publishers. However, someone might have illegally scanned and uploaded them, and by downloading these protected scores you can get into trouble
  • Movie Soundtrack
  • New Age
  • Rock
  • Pop
  • Jazz

You can only legally source these arrangements if you pay for them, i.e. buy them, or - if they are very precious - rent them from the publisher.

Pros and cons of buying sheet music


Buying your sheet music does have its advantages, so it might be a good thing to give it some thought:

  • Better overall quality because viewing has been optimized for digital use and print
  • You can play any piece or genre that's available, even if it is copyrighted
  • no legal troubles
  • Fair pay for contemporary composers ensures that they can keep writing and producing music professionally - you're contributing towards supporting culture & creativity!


  • Costs money - obviously. Who wouldn't rather have something for free?
  • If you play a lot and thus need a lot of sheet music, and if you purchase single pieces (or sheet music books) every time, costs can add up quickly.

Pros and cons of downloading free sheet music


  • It costs no money (which is the point)
  • Community-based projects thrive
  • You only play genres that are usually copyright-free


  • You might download old arrangements that you find hard to decipher (this might be due to bad PDF quality or to the old, yellowing edition it was copied from)
  • Some publisher might still hold the copyright to the particular edition you download
  • Making sure that you find a good quality arrangement that's free to download without trouble can take some time. If you play a lot you might find it takes too much of your time.
  • Members of the "open access" movement have tried to circumvent publisher's rights by writing their own arrangements at home and uploading them. The quality of these depends on the arranger's expertise and might range from good to well-intended, but unusable.
  • You secretly dream of playing more contemporary music!

Pros and Cons of subscription-based sheet music access


  • If your heart wants more than the Classical & Baroque sheet music that's available for free.
  • If you love to play New Age, Pop, and Rock, Movie Soundtracks, Jazz, and Boogie.
  • If you want to focus on playing and not so much on researching where to find good free stuff to play.
  • If you don't enjoy checking copyright sections of websites.
  • If you don't want to worry about how good or bad the scan you found is
  • If you want to read crystal-clear scores optimized for digital use each and every time you play
  • If you want an easy digital way to file, organize and access your scores
  • If you download some scores for free, and at other times buy (modern) sheet music. Cut down on costs for the purchases and save a lot of research time with a flat-rate subscription that easily allows you to play both high-quality public domain AND copyrighted sheet music!


  • It does cost you as much as 3 cups of coffee per month
  • It's a commitment. But, like in a relationship, if you find the right service commitment can be a good thing ;)
  • If you don't play much and rarely try a new piece
  • If you are perfectly happy with only playing Bach, Beethoven, and their fellow composers

A word of warning

Usually, free sheet music websites will not guarantee you that everything you download is legal. They just appeal to their contributors to only upload sheet music arrangements that are in the public domain.

Elke Galvin
Elke Galvin is a British-Austrian singer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. She has worked both as a musician and journalist for over 25 years. Not only is she an acclaimed songwriter, she loves to write about music, too! Making music theory easy to understand is her passion, as is writing about music styles, music and the brain, and how to have fun learning and playing music.

Frequently asked questions

  • Do I harm anyone by downloading copyrighted sheet music for free?
    Your good intentions do not keep you from harming someone if you download sheet music illegally - 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.
  • Is the site I download from legally responsible?
    If you set an action that qualifies as breaking the law, it's on you plus on the site that infringed copyrights. Legislation depends on the country of course.

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