Free sheet music should be easier to obtain for young musicians

September 27, 2023 — by Florence Wei and Annika Gho
Graphic by Amelia Chang
If only we had the key to unlock these cages.
The lack of free sheet music online has not been helpful in curbing our hatred of grumpy composers with awful hairdos.

Pity poor young musicians like us.

When we go online to find free sheet music at a site like Musescore.com, a treasure trove of various music selections, we see a perfect “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme score. It’s just what we’re looking for! 

Hastily, we click to download the music, but the screen flashes twice before sending us to the website’s premium subscription — MuseScore PRO+. After an attempt to print it out, the same message flashes. In frustration, we exit MuseScore and search for the score on the International Music Score Library Project, or IMSLP, another music repository. Sadly, though, that site only has classical music and does not have the contemporary pieces we seek. 

This situation is an unfortunate reality for musicians seeking free sheet music online: The reality is that it is becoming harder and harder to find.

Exploring new pieces allows young musicians to continue to explore their art, and it’s challenging to do so without free sheet music readily available. Typically, assigned pieces from music teachers are meant to build technique and style, so naturally, it’s rarely particularly interesting or contemporary. Think Bach’s Inventions or Chopin etudes or any Sonatina if you’re a pianist. 

The freedom to choose lets students understand the essence and meaning of music.

Previously, Musescore’s never-ending library and simple search system have always solved the problem of hard-to-find music, from classical pieces by hidden composers to pop music covers for all types of instruments. However, it’s been getting far more difficult year after year as the website has added more restrictions due to copyright issues, decreasing the amount of free music available. 

Other sites require insane prices — see musicnotes.com, which charges $4.99 to $9.99 for just one copy of sheet music — or are subscription-based, which is simply inconvenient for students. 

Musescore PRO and Musescore PRO+ are $5.99 and $7.99 per week respectively. This is a solid option if someone wants to download everything in one go, but once that week is up, the package has to be bought again. Other solutions have a limited library; the only things one can find are five different versions of “Pachelbel’s Canon.”   

We’ve looked for alternatives. We’ve tried using Google images. We’ve tried taking on a free trial. We’ve even tried to rewrite the piece on Musescore’s interface and download it on our own but with so many notes and even more misclicks, who has time for that?

As the world’s records and documents shift toward digital form, so do musical scores, a fact that is critical to many musicians. While this change offers advantages, like downloading music on the iPad with the tap of a finger, the pieces aren’t as easy to find. Then, after searching for way too long and finally seeing them, they will most likely never be free.   

After a decade of playing an instrument, we have concluded that finding sheet music is like willingly trying to jump into a rabbit hole. At this point, we’d instead settle for the less convenient, more archaic choice — buying a collection of music pieces from a $10 book from Amazon. The passion is there, so I guess we’ll simply sail the high Cs as long as it takes to find the perfect “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme. 

Tags: app, music
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