Meri’s Musical Musings

Some thoughts on digital sheet music versus published sheet music

Posted on: February 5, 2011

For the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about writing a post about digital sheet music as opposed to published editions. Well, an experience at the music store that I mainly visit (though I generally love them) convinced me that digital sheet music should be the way of the future.

What happened was that I was looking for a copy of the book for one of the Popular Selections for Level 3 piano, The Pink Panther, there were a couple of editions available, but neither of them seemed to be the correct edition, they seemed too easy in the playing level. My guess is that they were out of stock on the book that contains the specified work and edition, and that it would be at least a week or two before it would be in stock.

But, with digital sheet music, this would never happen!

Another way I see digital sheet music as the way sheet music should go is for students who play instruments in symphony orchestras. The International Music Score Library Project (www.imslp.org) has available the scores and parts of most of the required excerpts for the orchestral excerpt portion of music exams and those required for placement auditions. The published orchestral excerpt books do not give you the context of the music, and sometimes contain significant inaccuracies.

Third, digital sheet music would benefit music students who do not want to or cannot afford to spend a lot of money on music books. While piano, violin, and sometimes, guitar books are usually not that expensive, for students of other instruments, many people I know are hesitant to spend $20 or more on a book or single piece, especially for elementary level pieces which are rarely if ever played again when the student reaches intermediate level.

Fourth, digital sheet music is a great way for unpublished composers and arrangers to get their work “out there”. I for one have a number of arrangements, many for mixed woodwind ensembles, that there are no existing arrangements. And new works can be published almost  instantly, without going through a time-consuming process of application and approval from most music publishers. There are small publishing companies, and a few online sheet music retailers, that will pay composers and arrangers, sometimes the composer/arranger sets the cost; other times the publisher or retailer does.

Fifth, digital sheet music is environmentally friendly. Once you’re done with it, you can recycle it. Not to mention the chemicals used on some book covers, and especially lamination. And the number of pages in digital sheet music is a lot less than in published music books.

Sixth, digital sheet music can be accessed at any time, anywhere in the world–even if you’re on a remote island at 3 am with a computer, internet connection, and a generator.

Seventh, there are many pieces that were published several decades ago and are out of print, since many sheet music publishers print what will sell easily unlike in the past when they would often be willing to publish it if it sounded good. But thanks to websites such as  imslp.org, those old editions are made available to a new audience.

Eighth, professionally published sheet music can get quite bulky and heavy, especially if you have a large book or a large number of them. Considering that many music students carry one or more instruments (and you’d be surprised at how heavy a pair of clarinets is–for orchestral and chamber music that requires a B flat and an A clarinet) and health professionals are advising people to be careful of how much extra weight they are carrying with things such as instruments and music. For people living in small homes, often it is necessary to limit the amount of space used for storage of things such as sheet music.

Ninth, digital sheet music is useful as a working copy while one waits to get a professionally published copy, such as ordering the professionally published copy online through sheet music retailers.

Tenth, digital sheet music does not have to go out of print, often because of lack of sales of a particular piece. I have had that happen a few times with professionally published sheet music, that the retailer told me it was out of print. This is especially challenging if there is only one publisher for a particular piece of music.

Finally, if a music book gets lost, damaged (especially if you have pets–I have a cat that is crazy about just about any kind of paper products), stolen, or you happen to need an extra copy–instead of purchasing the book again, you can often reprint it, since a lot of those places that charge a small fee for digital downloads will allow at least a few additional printings. My husband recently had the experience of not being able to find his copy of the complete Scott Joplin rags, which, thanks to digital sheet music, we could print out the one he needed.

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  • None
  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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