Last week, I was invited to give a presentation on the current state of sheet music which triggered this blog post which turned into an extensive handout! It also fits nicely into a series of posts called: Habits of a Tidy Teacher.
The presentation led to interesting discussion topics like
- the fond memories of waltzing into a local music store and spending hours sifting through books and sitting at the piano and reading through them all
- which online store has the best shipping
- who has the best customer service
- why the ability to transpose a tune with a digital file on the fly is ideal for voice students with changing voices 🙂
- how accessing various free (public domain) editions and performances on line can be terrific learning moments
- how more and more sites have their own companion apps for viewing digital files
- how independent entrepreneurs have created their own online empires…and more.
The tide is changing for how we access printed scores! I invite you to read (and even download) this post, leave your comments and suggestions below. In addition…share your thoughts with fellow teachers, you will learn SO much from each other.
The Dilemma: Hardcopy or Digital?
Would you rather:
- purchase a book in a brick and mortar store? OR purchase a book online?
- hunt for a book on your shelves? OR on your computer?
- pay a hefty fee for a studio digital license? OR purchase enough books for each student?
- play through a piece yourself? OR hear someone else play it?
- view scores from a device like an iPad? OR read from a hardcopy?
Unfortunately, the way the world of sheet music is headed, we don’t have the luxury of choosing. Sadly, the brick and mortar stores are an endangered species!
With these factors in mind, here are some tips, advice and opinions as well as a list of places to enjoy online shopping for sheet music, both hardcopy and digital.
Advantages of Hard Copies…
- This is THE way we’ve accessed print music for decades and it’s simple to open a book and turn to the right page.
- Books can be held and cherished and they smell good.
- Hard copies can tolerate any writing implement and you can scribble and tab as you please.
Disadvantages of Hard Copies…
- Books take up valuable studio space and storage units can be pricey.
- Shipping and handling are expensive and result in a good deal of waste.
- Because of the quality of paper and ink used by publishers, books can be expensive.
- Some books do have a shelf life and it’s difficult to know what to do with them when you don’t want them any more.
- The pages can rip easily and can be destroyed by spilled coffee and hungry dogs.
Storage Tips for Hard Copies
To keep things looking tidy, try to find the same storage bins and folders in the same color. When I couldn’t find white bins any more, I added in the metal mesh bins.
My books are stored on heavy duty shelves in plastic and metal bins and organized by genres, style periods and composers.
Printed digital copies are stored in white binders and organized by composers
My shelves got a facelift as they were sagging from the weight of all my books. My son, Levi, demonstrates how strong they are now!
Advantages of Digital Copies
- These files offer convenience as they are available immediately after your purchase.
- They usually include audio samples so you can hear the piece before purchasing.
- The files take up NO physical space in your studio unless you print them.
Disadvantages of Digital Copies
- Downloads take up space on devices so storage apps like Dropbox and Google Drive are critical.
- Plenty of paper and ink must always be on hand if you wish to print the files.
- Endless single sheets of print music require careful organization.
- To view digital scores on a device can be complicated.
Online Sheet Music Stores
If you’re a fan of hard copies, here’s a list of where to purchase them. And, if you’re a fan of digital copies, your’e in luck as these online stores also offer digital download libraries.
[Note: A digital copy is something that can be downloaded (copied from a site on to your own device) as a PDF (portable document format) format that can be viewed directly on your computer, tablet or mobile device. Once you download your digital sheet music, you can view and print it and you don’t have to be connected to the internet.]
FIRST! If possible, shop your local music store and spend an afternoon browsing and support them faithfully.
If that option is no longer available to you, then consider these online sheet music dealers that feature the music catalogs of major publishers such as Alfred, Hal Leonard, etc.
This large online company sells band, choral and instrumental music Their stock of piano/keyboard music can be found here. In the past, I ordered from their subsidiary called PianoAtPepper.com which offered free shipping over $50. Now they have budget shipping which includes a $1 handing free for all orders of $25 or more. https://www.jwpepper.com/sheet-music/piano-sheet-music.jsp
The site offers powerful search engines for locating books, their festival lists are well organized and they have most everything in stock. If I want something quickly, I order from JW Pepper as their shipping is speedy!
A favorite feature is their Editor’s Choice featured in the list. It means that these are hand-selected, reviewed, respected and popular.
Digital Option: Some of their music is available as digital files which they call ePrint and they have a free app called ePrint GO where you can find all your digital downloads.
I confess, I’m an addicted Amazon Prime member and order piano books along with many other things from the site, frequently. Their selection and organization is not as pristine or thorough as JW Pepper but, it sure comes in handy when I need a book because if they have the book I need, their shipping is SO fast. Plus, I can place orders for piano books at the same time as I order other household items.
Digital Option: Many piano books are now available for Kindle. Accessing a Kindle version immediately through the app is PERFECT for a teacher reference copy! You must download the Kindle app on any mobile device in order to view the books.
This company requires you to sign up for a free membership as they are looking for your loyalty. The more you purchase the more you’ll save. PrimaMusic includes a vast and well-organized library and in addition, offers music lists and links to pieces in the National Federation of Music Clubs Bulletin. Oh my, is that handy! Shipping is free if you aren’t in a hurry.
Digital Option: Check out their Instant Print library. It’s quite large and they have frequent sales on their digital downloads.
Here’s another large online store with an extensive library and regular sales on items. They offer budget shipping options as well as frequent discounts on method books. No membership is required although they offer an Easy Rebate system that allows you to earn 8% back every time you purchase an item or if someone makes a purchase who is referred by you.
Digital Option: Their Digital Downloads and Printable Sheet Music library is extensive.
Online Sites Exclusively for Digital Sheet Music
This site features only digital downloads (no hard copies) and is known for having arrangements of the latest tunes from the world of pop music. One word of warning, beware of arrangers–some are better than others so check out ALL your options by reading through the sample pages.
- SheetMusicDirect.us includes a powerful app to view and also purchase music. The app can be paired with a blue tooth pedal and has many other features. https://www.sheetmusicdirect.com/en-US/app
- VirtualSheetMusic.com offers a yearly membership for around $40 which allows access to thousands of classical and traditional scores. https://www.virtualsheetmusic.com/unlimited.html
- The IMSLP Petrucci Music Library (International Music Score Library Project) features a vast selection of free public domain scores AND recordings where individuals can upload and download files. There’s an optional subscription which offers faster download time and no advertising. http://imslp.org/
In the past, only huge companies like Hal Leonard and Alfred published and sold print music but, in the digital age, virtually anyone with ingenuity, fortitude and of course, creativity, can set up their own online shop. A number of piano teachers turned-business-owners have proven that you can build your own publishing empire with a web presence and an entrepreneurial spirit!
Jennifer Eklund of PianoPronto.com, offers an expansive selection of her own method books, original works and arrangements. In addition, she founded the Composers Community –a platform for composers looking to sell their works. Both hard and digital copies are available for most items. https://pianopronto.com/
Wendy Stevens of ComposeCreate.com, includes a growing library of teaching pieces, duets, rhythm activities and sacred works which are available as digital downloads. She also sells hard copies of her books originally published by Hal Leonard. https://composecreate.com/
Katherine Fisher and Dr. Julie Knerr of Piano Safari.com have contributed a milestone method to the world of method books thanks to their brilliant integration of child-friendly technique, rote playing and sight reading. In addition, they are spreading their publishing wings by adding more books of other composers such as Chee-Hwa Tan (good friend and colleague from the University of Denver.) https://pianosafari.com/
Trevor and Andrea Dow have rocked the piano teaching world for years with their nifty ideas at their site TeachPianoToday.com. With their preschool method, Wunder Keys and their monthly subscriptions for games and teenage-friendly music, they’ve developed a formative online company like none other.
Sites Where you Can Sell Your Own Works
A growing number of sites are offering platforms where you can submit your original work and they will sell it for you.
JW Pepper’s My Score, lets you distribute your music on their site and do not ask you to give up your copyrights. They will even create professionally printed hard copies and digital editions of your work and provide a a personal profile page with a photo, bio, and links to your website, social media, and music.
In addition to the vast selection of music in print, SheetMusicPlus.com offers SMPPress.com where you can upload and sell your own original works or arrangements. You earn up to a 45% commission and they provide the site and the promotional elements.
Sheet Music Plus also provides a program called ArrangeMe. They’ve secured rights to thousands of copyrighted songs. You choose a tune, make an arrangement and upload your sheet music through the SMP Press Center and earn a 10% commission.
Noteflight, an online notation program offers a similar option at the Noteflight Marketplace.
More Independent Publishers and Composers
The following list is evidence that if you have a web presence and like to compose, you can be a publisher, too. Words within the parenthesis indicates the type of sheet music available at the these sites. Most offer supplementary literature in various genre, some offer methods, arrangements and/or early-level pieces.
Leila Viss (sacred/contemporary/arrangements)
Bradley Sowash (jazz/pop/method/arrangements)
Carol Matz (pop/method/arrangements)
Christopher Norton (jazz/pop/method)
Daniel Light (contemporary)
Daniel McFarlane (contemporary/rock/method)
Diane Hidy (early/technique/contemporary)
Elena Cobb (jazz)
Forrest Kinney (jazz/contemporary/method/arrangements)
Irina Gorin (early/method)
James Koerts (sacred/arrangements)
Making Music Fun (early/arrangements)
Paula Dreyer Ganiaris (early/rote)
Samantha Coates, Blitzbooks (rote/theory)
Susan Paradis (early/contemporary)
Single or Studio License?
If you will be playing a piece or giving it to just one student, a Single License is fine. Purchasing a downloadable file does not entitle you to make as many copies as you like. If you want to make unlimited copies for you and your students, then purchase a Studio License. More expensive than a single user license, this price point allows you to legally print as many copies as you need for your studio.
How to View Digital Files
The iPad Pro and the AirTurnPED have made digital score reading a breeze. I import files to a score reader called ForScore. Learn more about how I use the app with a blue tooth pedal that turns pages with a toe tap here.
Check out Superscore which is a score reader app AND a store where you can purchase digital scores.
Purchase scores of pop music arranged to adapt to various skill levels at Noviscore.
How to Store and Organize Digital Files
Although you can store your digital sheet music files on your computer, it’s risky. You will be VERY sorry if your computer crashes and burns as the files may not be saved or could be corrupted. A better solution is taking advantage of online storage options like Dropbox or Google Drive. Both offer free “cloud” storage but, if you fill it up, they will charge you for the space.
Once you have one of these storage units installed on your computer, access your files on the computer, phone or tablet because they are located in the “cloud” and not on your computer. You will need to download their companion app on your mobile device.
- Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/mobile?trigger=on
- Google Drive: https://www.google.com/drive/download/
The next step is organizing your digital files so that you can find them again. After you download a file, it will appear on your desktop or in your Downloads file on your computer.
Open up your storage app of choice and create a folder called Sheet Music. Within that folder create a folder for each Composer and move the download to the appropriate folder.
Print and store downloads in binders and label. Use dividers if needed.
For those interested in keeping things even more organized, create folders for Christmas, Duets, Jazz…whatever you please.
To stay on top of your inventory, record each book and favorite pieces in a spread sheet and indicate the level and characteristics of each piece. This way you can locate the right piece, at the right time for the right student.
Tips on Organizing and Printing Digital Sheet Music
Watch this video to hear tips from Jennifer Eklund: https://youtu.be/xBmhS2LXfgA
Watch this video from Wendy Stevens on how to bind sheet music and create books for your students. http://composecreate.com/preserve-printed-music/
Wendy mentions a GBC Binding Machine. I got one and LOVE it! http://amzn.to/2c4otlj
And, if you’re printing your files, make sure to take advantage of your MTNA membership and MTNA discount for printing!
YOUR Input Required!
Where do you like to purchase sheet music?
Shipping happens. What site provides the best shipping? The best customer service?
What sites should be added to this post?
Are you still in mourning over the loss of your local sheet music retailer?