Monday Mailbag – Using Online Classical Sheet Music

I would love to hear what you think about online free music – especially classical.  I was just having a discussion with a teacher who has been teaching far longer than I, and she is very wary of this music.  However, I have done a little research to find that the editing is actually quite good on most.  I also love to have the option of free music for students some times – and this allows me to give a student a piece at times without buying a whole book for one song.  Thoughts?

This is one of those questions where the answer really boils down to, “it depends.” For me, at least, it depends on the piece, the student, and the purpose:

The Piece – one of my students recently downloaded the Bach Invention No. 13 in a minor from some internet site and we started working on it. As we discussed various articulations and fingerings, though, it quickly became apparent that she was going to need a well-edited version of the piece that would visually resemble the things we were talking about. So I bought her a collection of Bach inventions that I know she’ll continue using to some extent in the future. We could have marked the score up ourselves with all the desired markings, but in this instance it was a much more efficient use of time to just purchase an edition in which an editor had already thoughtfully done the work for us. There are many sites with free downloadable music, and it can provide a great start on a new piece, but just be conscious of when it’s time to acquire a well-edited version for the student.

The Student – if you have a student who just likes to play through a lot of music, but doesn’t have the inclination to spend a long time mastering pieces, this can be a great (and affordable!) way to keep them well-supplied. You can expose them to lots of composers and style periods and repertoire that they might otherwise miss out on if they were limited to only purchased books. Another consideration is the likelihood of the student returning to the piece in future years. Yes, books are an expense, but if the student is likely to use the piece for future recitals, special occasions, or personal enjoyment, it’s a worthwhile investment for them to purchase a nice copy of the sheet music or a book containing the piece.

The Purpose – I have students all the time who express an interest in learning a particular piece of music that they’ve heard and love. If I know it’s beyond their skill level, but want them to just get their fingers on it a little, I will gladly find some free sheet music on-line and print it out for them. This can serve as great inspiration and practice motivation! However, for students who are moving into Classical literature and will be studying specific composers and/or style periods, I almost always buy a book that includes additional information about the piece, the composer, practice techniques, etc. As much as I love technology and the convenience of living in the digital age, there is just something about a beautiful bound book that I can’t let go of! Plus, I’m so grateful for the work of composers, editors, and publishers who produce such wonderful materials that I want to do my part to support them.

I have no doubt that we will continue to see major developments in the publication and acquisition of printed music in the years ahead, so it’s good for us to stay current on the latest technology. We have to be open to and willing to adapt to these developments, but also intentional in the decisions that we make. That’s easier said than done when the rate of technological advancement is so rapid, but it’s worth trying anyway!

It would be great to hear other thoughts on this topic! Do you use free on-line sheet music for your students, particularly Classical? Why or why not?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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