It’s frustrating to open a new music studio and then realize you have to drop a few hundred dollars on sheet music before taking in any revenue. You’ll probably want to stock up on the standard classical pieces, some exercise books, a primer for each level you feel comfortable teaching, and maybe a few recital pieces. Luckily, there are a number of free resources online. You don’t need to rush out to the music store and spend your first month’s worth of income to stock your music library. All you need is an extra ink cartridge for your printer and maybe some spare change for the copy machine.
You need to keep in mind the fact that music published on or before 1922 is in the Public Domain and may be copied by anyone. Just check the copyright date. When you buy sheet music originally copyrighted before 1923 you’re actually paying for the printing.
Many composers and sheet music retailers are willing to provide some of their material for free in order to build their customer base – they assume if you like what they offer you’ll probably come back for more. There are also some excellent websites that provide repositories of free sheet music and ask nothing in return. I assume they make enough money from the advertisements on the site to enable them to stay in business. I’ll run through a few of the sites you should visit first:
8notes.com – this is by far the best free resource I’ve found for a quick list of well-known classical and traditional music. 8Notes has been around awhile and they offer a wealth of music for 29 categories of instruments and ensembles. You can also filter by genre – they offer classical, pop & rock, jazz, film & tv, world, holiday, etc. You can skip right to the Classical top 20 chart or browse their collection of 631 solo piano pieces. You can preview each piece by listening to a midi or mp3 version, and then quickly download a pdf if you like what you hear.
International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) – is a very large repository of digitized sheet music. The closest thing to a one-stop shop for free online music.
U.S. Library of Congress – has a large collection of digitized sheet music, grouped into various categories. Many of their collections are online, but not all. I’d recommend starting with their Historic Sheet Music Collection 1800 – 1922.
Choral Public Domain Library – an extensive online library of Public Domain choral music in wiki format. Just search for the composer or piece you want and see what’s there. A search for Bach returned hundreds of pieces.
Mutopia Project – an ambitious group of individuals is re-typesetting classical sheet music, and they’re up to 1,675 pieces.
Harvard Loeb Music Library – a digitized collection of first and early editions and manuscript copies of music from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by J.S. Bach and Bach family members, Mozart, Schubert and other composers, as well as multiple versions of nineteenth century opera scores, seminal works of musical modernism, and music of the Second Viennese School. Check this collection out if you want to see a bit of history.
Art Song Central – a nice collection of classical and traditional pieces for singers and voice teachers, along with mp3 previews of most of the pieces.
Hanon-online – while opinions on technical exercises vary, at least you can access them if you need to. All of the Hanon exercises are here.
Libraries – Check out your local public or university library. If you find something you like that’s in the Public Domain, just photocopy it.
Google – Just search for “free sheet music” and browse for awhile. Here’s one directory I found.
Other Musicians – Talking to other established music teachers you know is a great way to share music. Ask them what they would recommend. They may give or loan music to you.