If there were one word that I would use to describe myself it’s tactile. When I’m not in the garage working on a project, quite often I’m in the kitchen and if I’m not in the kitchen, I’m doing something related to the piano. I suppose that it’s due to the fact that I like to be active and that quite often tactile activities have tangible results. One of my pastimes (I know, it’s a bit odd) is to browse recipes. If you have enough experience with cooking or baking, you can almost perceive what the end result might be like. Quite often you’ll hear seasoned foodies say “oooh that sounds good” as they peruse recipes. But nothing beats trying out the recipe. In this virtual age, while I love a great cookbook, I also preview recipes online and cherry pick the recipes that might fit the family.


When it comes to music, I also like sampling. Wouldn’t it be great to have a library of sheet music that you could just sample and try? I don’t know if you’ve encountered IMSLP but I was introduced to it about a decade ago from one of my students.What is IMSLP.org? It’s an acronym for International Music Score Library Project. It’s an online library comprised of out of print editions of music (mainly Classical for reasons that I will explain). Take for example, Bach’s music. He was born in 1685 and the concept of copyright didn’t even exist for a few hundred years. So why, when I look at a book of classical repertoire does it have a copyright on the inside of the cover? It’s not the notes of Bach that are copywritten, but the edition. Really? Yes. The edition is under copyright but Bach’s actual notes are public domain. Music written before 1924 is generally considered public domain. The good news is that this encompasses most of the classics. For most countries, music written since then has a copyright  of 70 years after the death of the composer. If you’re interested in reading about copyright on editing (also known as engravings) there is an interesting article called Settling the Score that goes into some depth about the difference between composition and the added translations that contribute to the score which comprise copyright of an edition.At the time of this article, IMSLP has acquired 156,000 out of copyright songs to peruse. When you’re stuck indoors, treat yourself to some free sheet music. Recently I downloaded and printed a song called Nola, that was familiar to me when I was a child. And I also decided to download a favorite of one of my clients, a Debussy piece. I went to IMSLP, typed in the composer and then found the version I wanted and 5 minutes late I was happily playing the piano.

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So is IMSLP free? Similar to Wikipedia, they have several options of subscription if you so choose to support the library but the answer is yes, the repertoire is free to view and download.

How to use it:

I find that IMSLP isn’t the easiest to navigate until you get used to it so here are the steps to downloading a piece of music.
The home page looks like the above photo. There’s a search bar just below their logo. Type in the name of composer or title of the piece you wish to play. The quirky and fun song I played as a child was called Nola. When I type that in, it takes you to a Google page. But this Google page is intended to search the results of IMSLP. They’ve made use of the Google search engine to narrow the choices of their own website. If you glance at the results of the web addresses, they’re all from the ISMLP website. Click on the search result that you think best matches your intention. When I click on the first result for Nola, the IMSLP page is back and you see the search results that look like this:
The next thing you can do is either view and preview the pdf file by pressing the symbol or find the download arrow in the top left corner of the search result.This will then take you to another page. It asks for your support for a modest yearly fee or at the very top of the page there is a countdown for 15 seconds to wait until the download is ready (circled in blue). With a membership, there is no wait time. When the counting is done, simply click where it says “Click here to continue to download”. This will open the song in your browser.

If you’re using Chrome, there are 3 symbols in the right top corner. The first is a rotate tool, the second is download to your computer and the third symbol is the print option. If you want to play your selection at the piano, simply hit the print button and it should print exactly what you are previewing on your screen. You then have a hard copy to take to the piano.

Am I saying we shouldn’t be buying books? On the contrary, I believe that great editions are worth their weight in gold. The Henle editions, for example are standards in the industry. I like having books for composers that I know I’ll come back to again and again. For songs that are hard to get or you simply would like to try them out, the online library IMSLP does a fantastic service, especially during these times when we’re all indoors.

~ Glen Barkman


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