While there are many options for free sheet music online, giving us near instant gratification when we hear a melody we love on a movie or TV show or hear our teacher mention that we’ll be trying a new concerto or sonata soon, it’s usually worth it to pay for a published arrangement, either as traditional, manual sheet music, or a digital subscription service.
Even if we find a violin arrangement, many free parts aren’t edited with bowings, have antiquated fingerings, if any, and may be cumbersome to read, with page breaks in awkward places. As we advance, many players prefer Urtext editions (published just as the composer intended) which, depending on the composer, may or may not have many markings besides just the notes and rhythms. If we’re prepared to create an interpretation from scratch, a clean slate is a blessing, however, for beginners and intermediates, it’s helpful to have at least a few playing suggestions included.
However, sometimes it’s not practical to look for sheet music in a music store (if one exists near you) or to wait for sheet music to arrive in the mail. I’ve had countless instances in playing for events where it’s the day before the wedding, or even the day of, and a bride just has to have a certain song performed. While I prefer not to have such late notice, and even mention that in my contract, if it’s easy enough to find and download a part, I do my best to make my clients happy. Online and especially free options really make these last minute requests easier on me.
Though I’m not touring or performing this year due to Covid-19, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to download most of my physical sheet music library through additional online sources. Though I usually prefer to have a paper copy, also having a digital one makes traveling, practicing, and teaching my students from the road much more lightweight, and even when I’m at home, having about 1/4 of the music I need to access on a given day on my music stand and the rest in digital form on a second large screen desktop helps me stay neat and organized and keep my music stand from collapsing (it’s happened!).
So, warnings aside, how do we find sheet music online? Here are a few of my go-to sources:
IMSLP https://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page I’ve found and downloaded thousands of titles from this site over the years. Basically everything in the public domain is here. Unfortunately, the quality of the documents can vary dramatically, with some parts being virtually unusable. However, this is a resource that everyone should have bookmarked. At the very least, it can provide a starting point from which, if we decide to seriously study a piece, we can make an informed decision to buy a published arrangement. While free, a small donation from time to time helps the site stay afloat.
Virtual Sheet Music https://www.virtualsheetmusic.com I first subscribed to this site when they first launched which must have been at least 15 years ago. They are quite search friendly with a lot of options for beginners, intermediates, and some advanced.
For online access to music books and individual sheet music scores of all genres there’s https://www.scribd.com/ It’s not a complete library, but if it has what you’re personally looking for it’s an easy site to navigate and use.
For community driven arrangements of mostly more contemporary music of all types there’s https://musescore.com/ This one can also be hit or miss, but has often been the only place I can find something a bit more obscure or a very current pop tune or soundtrack.
These last three suggestions have free trials, but then require a subscription which I believe gives unlimited access to all the sheet music.
For fiddle music there’s https://thesession.org/tunes and https://tunearch.org/wiki/TTA , basically the Wikipedias for Irish/Celtic tunes. Since these tunes were traditionally passed around by ear, and therefore may change from region to region, the sites often list several sheet music versions for each tune. This can be a bit overwhelming, but also fascinating. For other styles of fiddle music like Bluegrass, Old Time, etc. I haven’t found a source for consistently good arrangements online, so for these styles I rely more heavily on music books. Some of the titles from MelBay and the Fiddler’s Fakebook are good starting points there, as are transcriptions of arrangements by fiddlers you hope to emulate if you can find them.
I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have a favorite source for online sheet music. I love hearing about new resources.