One of the first things I ask my new students is what kind of music they like to listen to and would like to play. Keeping a personal connection to the music that one is learning is of utmost importance to me. It can provide a reason for persevering through the challenges of mastering the piece. I tend to approach repertoire song-by-song rather than songbook by songbook because variety is more than the spice of life. It’s the salt, the sugar, and the siracha! But every student is different. If there is one band that means the world to them, or one album that they have listened to in over and over, then buying an entire book of the same artist would make sense. Yet in most cases, diversity is key. There is such a wide diversity of music that you might never uncover if you don’t go digging.
I hope this list will be a good starting point for you. Most of the resources on this list are free, but require some sort of registration. 1-2 are of a “use at your own risk” type of legality, because they operate peer-to-peer. 3-9 are either licensed, public domain, or a mixture, so undertake at your own discretion, and keep in mind the ways you plan to support the artists and creators in the ways they make the world more beautiful. Nothing is free! Except maybe the watermarked Google image results that give you only the first page of a song. You can do better, and this list will help you.
- Sheeto is my number-one preferred site for finding sheet music for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a great place to turn for the harder to find pieces, also, my experiences with this community have been great overall. There are always givers, takers, and scorekeepers. The thing to keep in mind while using this is that you need to list a decent amount of your own sheet music in order to be taken seriously by people who may trade with you. Be polite and give back and you’ll find yourself at home here.
- The Pianist’s Library has a pretty deep reservoir of repertoire. It does not offer the same breadth of music as Sheeto, but there is still a pretty respectable collection. One of the upsides is that you can download things right away, whereas with Sheeto you remain at the mercy of people checking their emails and sending you things. There seems to be a fair bit of broken links, which is bothersome of course, but bringing it to the attention of the person posting the thread usually resolves things.
- Musicnotes is a real beauty. You can buy practically anything, and in any key! It has been absolutely indispensable to my vocal students.
- IMSLP is a no-nonsense site for everything you might ever need of Western art music. IMSLP has remained a trusty friend of mine throughout my undergrad in music. It’s a one-stop-shop with all the classical music you could every gorge yourself on. Just a word to the wise, say “im-slip”; “I-M-S-L-P” has no ring to it. Do you really want to clutter your mouth with all those syllables?
- FreeScores is also a decent place to find music that is either free because it is in the public domain, or paid, often directly to the artist. In this sense it doubles as a distribution platform for composers and arrangers. Another virtue of FreeScores is the ability to search by instrument or instrument combination. It’s a beautiful thing if you know you want to learn a duet written for two specific instruments. I tend to not use this site very often because IMSLP is all you need for public domain Western art music, and for the rest of my tune-learning I operate mostly by ear.
- RagtimePiano is a very extensive collection of ragtime music. My inner librarian – yes I have an inner librarian – is quite pleased at how well organized this is. If you click on rare rags, for example, you can find the ones that would be difficult to locate elsewhere.
- Rag’s Rag features a respectable collection of almost 200 rags in the public domain. One thing that makes this site extra handy is the sound files. For someone who wants to learn some ragtime, that may not be written by someone as well-known as Scott Joplin but is beautiful regardless, the ability to click play and get an immediate sense of whether or not you want to learn it is extremely helpful. It saves printing out and sight-reading through a piece only to realize the song doesn’t really speak to you.
- Musescore is a very unique resource. Although there is plenty of sheet music to be found here, the primary value of this site is the software. The Musescore software has most of the same functionality that you’d get with Finale or Sibelius (albeit the midi sound file quality sounds as robotic as ever, making it a good choice for creating nice sheet music, but not so good for composers wanting demo sound files) and it’s free. The time that I have spent tinkering with the software has been pain-staking and a little frustrating during the initial period of getting the hang of using it. Having said that, if you need to make lead sheets and be able to transpose them in the blink of an eye, it’s marvelous!
- Libraries are a majorly underestimated resource on all things, not just sheet music. Your local library has made the cut and appeared on a list of ‘online’ resources for one simple reason: most libraries have a significant amount of online content and are also catalogued online. My library is pretty much my second home. It has enriched my life greatly and I suggest you form a weekly habit of going to the library and WATCH OUT! Your taste and perspective will expand!
If there are sources of sheet music that you have had experience with that aren’t listed here, feel free to chime in below in the comments! I plan to update this resource as I discover more sources. This list is just a consolidation of my years of sleuthing around on the internet, intended to save you time and frustration.
UPDATE: Here are more resources that others have used, but I haven’t included them in my list because I haven’t used them much:
Public Domain Choral Music