the Jongleur, newsletter of Mills Music Library

Für Elise, Für Free
Downloadable Music on the Web

By Geri Laudati

You're playing a wedding on Saturday and the library's copy of "O Promise Me" is checked out. Your church choir is great but you have no budget for music. Your cellist ran off to Paris, taking the quartet's cello parts along for the ride. What to do? In keeping with our recent practice to highlight resources designed to keep you working from home in your 'jammies and out of our hair (figuratively, of course), we offer a guide to the best on the web in free and cheap sheet music, yours for the downloading.

The Sheetmusic Archive ( offers free downloads of public domain classical music editions. At present, the site contains works by Albeniz, Bach, Balakirev, Beethoven, Bellini, Bizet, Boccherini, Brahms, Chabrier, Chaminade, Chopin, Clementi, Debussy, Dvorak , Elgar, Faure, Field, Franck, Gottschalk Granados, Grieg, Griffes, Handel, Hanon , Haydn, Henselt, Liadov, Liszt, Macdowell, Mendelssohn, Moussorgsky, Mozart, Paderewski, Ponchielli, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rameau, Ravel, Rossini, Rubinstein, Saint-Saens, Satie, Scarlatti, Scharwenka, Schubert, Schumann, Scriabin , Sinding, Stravinsky, Tschaikovsky, Verdi, Weber, and Wagner. Most offerings are keyboard compositions scanned from nineteenth-century editions although a few newly-transcribed pieces are included. The coverage from composer to composer is very uneven but you'll find the complete Scarlatti sonatas, Scriabin etudes, Beethoven sonatas, the ubiquitous "Für Elise," and most of the standard repertory here.

Using the Sheetmusic Archive is a snap. All one needs is Adobe Acrobat, available in the WiscWorld software package or via free download. The scores are presented as .pdf files and are generally of the same or better quality as those on our electronic reserves. Okay, so they're not Henle Editions but they'll do just fine.

The Choral Public Domain Library ( is one of the most ambitious of the free music sites on the Web and my favorite. According to Rafael Ornes, the editor, the primary purpose of the Choral Public Domain Library is "to create a repository of editions of music in the public domain [in order to] make available a large quantity of music which otherwise would not be published or performed; to make public domain music available at little or no cost, thereby allowing new compositions to be purchased; [and] to make an archive that is fully editable, allowing for changes as scholarship [and] performing needs dictate."

The collection contains over two thousand compositions, each of which is newly edited, clean, and bears a copyright statement and the legend "Edition may be freely distributed, duplicated, performed, or recorded." The repertory includes an impressive listing of choral music for all variations of ensemble, spanning the centuries from medieval to romantic, and even includes some newly-composed works. The catalog is a treasure-trove for choral directors, early music ensembles, and teachers, to name a few.

The scores available for downloading are editions that Ornes and a small group of contributors prepared for their own use. The site informs potential contributors that they may add files with the restriction that they must be willing to permit users to download them for free. Most remarkably, the site offers a request service, through which one can request that a particular composition in the public domain be made available for download.

A majority of the scores at the CPDL are offered as .pdf files but some are also available in Finale format. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0 or higher and a browser capable of using Acrobat Reader as a plug-in (Internet Explorer 4.0 or Netscape Navigator 4.0 or higher) in order to view these files but as with the Sheet Music Archive above, the procedure for downloading is quite easy. The one problem with this site is that it has become so popular that the server crashes often., part of the Classical Music Web Ring, offers free classical music for a variety of instruments and abilities. The index permits searches by either composer or specific instrument. Users can download .pdf files, hear midi files, or use the free plug-in "Scorch," which allows one to hear the music while watching a moving cursor in the score showing exactly what notes are being played. Each page even turns in time with the music. Surely this is an application that teachers can use with young or beginning students.

Unlike SheetMusicArchive or the Choral Public Domain Library, Music-Scores relies on advertisements and sales of published music for funding. Although there are hundreds of compositions free for the downloading, users are asked to support particular search engines and commercial sites. Even so, the ads are unobtrusive and there are no annoying pop-up windows forcing a visit to a sponsor site. This is a small price to pay for a very clean copy of such obscure repertory as the "Notturno" movement of Borodin's String Quartet no. 2, or an oboe and piano arrangement of Pachelbel's "Canon."

More sophisticated computer users will find a great resource in the German National Research Center for Information Technology's (GMD) extensive archive of scores This Sheet Music Archive is part of GMD's Music archive and contains ready-to-print sheet music, scores and parts, most of them as Postscript files, which may make Mac users happy. There is a separate archive page listing all the music.

The archive was prepared and maintained as a labor of love by GMD employees, most of whom are information technology specialists. This is the group who brought several music encoding languages, such as MusiXTex, to life. While the selection of titles is impressive, it is not easy to retrieve files and most are available only in postscript format. Nonetheless, if unzipping compressed files and using postscript doesn't bother you, there's much to be found here, again all for free.

The global market for sheet music and music books is $1 billion a year, yet it has faced numerous challenges that have hampered its growth, including a limited selection of titles at any given time, and widespread piracy, particularly in the form of the photocopier. Internet publishers are addressing these challenges and making a wide variety of music available for download, while protecting their own interests and those of the copyright holders. Although it is not our practice to give free advertisement to commercial ventures, we believe the following sites are of interest to our clientele.

Madison's own A-R Editions (although now officially located in Middleton) is a formidable player in the field, offering much popular and classical music for download. At, users can choose from a large and varied selection of music, ranging in price from $3.95 to $6.95 per title, similar to what a published sheet would cost. Several digital collections, including The Best of the Backstreet Boys, Music from Sleepless in Seattle, and Wedding Music Essentials can be purchase at $19.95 per collection (as well as by individual song.) Users are advised that many of the public domain, standard repertory titles (e.g., Für Elise, Pachelbel's Canon, etc.) available here for a fee can be found as free downloads at other sites. On the other hand, it is a service to ensemble directors to find so many individual pieces from the A-R Editions series available.

Like most of the commercial internet publishers, musicnotes requires that users download a proprietary reader in order to preview or purchase scores. The download is very easy and the reader will install itself. Musicnotes also features companion midi-files so that you can hear the music before you buy it and this requires another proprietary player, again free for the download.

Musicnotes also sponsors a spin-off site, which offers lots of downloadable sheet music and suggestions for all musical aspects of the big day. At a loss for what song to choose for the first dance? Check here. What's really nice about the site is that the happy couple (and you as the music director), can hear samples of all of the songs before making a decision and a purchase. We expect to refer our patrons to this site often.

In addition to the digital offerings, musicnotes offers a catalog of more than two hundred thousand traditional music titles, CDs and videos from Warner Brothers, Hal Leonard, Mel Bay, Alfred Publishing Co., Music Sales Corporation, and others from its site. A power search (by composer, form, period, or instrument) retrieves a combined listing of digital downloads and traditional published scores for sale.

Net4Music ( is probably's biggest competitor and quite a remarkable endeavor. The scope of downloadable scores for sale ranges from 472 files from the Schott classical catalog to over 300 files of hip hop music and everything in between. A vast array of publishers, classical and popular, is represented and the site is easily searched by composer or artist, instrument, genre, publisher, or a combination.

Users can preview the first page of any digital music title on the Net4Music site using Adobe Acrobat. Once a purchase is made, a software program is sent to the computer and installed on the hard drive. The music is then immediately sent via email as an attachment and can be read using Adobe, but only on the computer it was ordered from. This is to prevent Napster-like sharing of downloaded files. Clever, no? In general, prices at Net4Music are more reasonable than at (for example, a single part might cost $.50 here) and a wider variety of options is available. This is the site where you very well might find your missing parts and can purchase them individually.

In addition to sales of digital and printed scores, the Net4Music site offers free downloads of Finale NotePad, extensive commentary on many of the compositions offered as downloads, and the opportunity for composers to publish their works on the web. Net4Music pays 40% of the sale amount, provides an established distribution channel, and provides copyright protection.

Links to these and several other sites can be found on our website at

Have fun!

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