Printer-friendly version weekend vote: What kind of sheet music do you use and collect?

The Weekend Vote

Written by
Published: December 19, 2014 at 5:26 PM [UTC]

Have you built a personal library of sheet music?


These days one can obtain sheet music in a variety of ways: buying it in person at a music store, shipping it from a music store, downloading it for printout, or even keeping it in digital form to be read on one's tablet with something like Musicreader.

The public-domain Internet library IMSLP is a great resource that gives us immediate access to music, without having to go to the store or wait for it in the mail. But sometimes what starts as a stopgap measure (we'll just print this out so you can get started) turns into: nine weeks later, we're still using computer copies -- torn and ragged by now -- to learn a piece. And all the valuable information like bowings, fingerings, other suggestions, have been written into the disintegrating copy-part.

You can see my view here: I do think it's important to get "real music" for the pieces you study. And for copyrighted pieces, you'd better at least pay for that download! That said, my library certainly has photocopies in it. In many years of orchestra-playing, I have saved a lot of the practice parts that were sent to me, so that I have them for reference. I've used digital music only a handful of times, mostly for reading orchestra charts that were sent to me for practice and were too numerous to print out.

Certainly, trends are changing. I am curious about people's sheet music collections. While I may still like my music printed professionally on creamy, thick sheets of paper, technology has improved greatly for digital storage and use, so many people might be collecting music in a digital form. Also, if you are strapped for money, it's cheaper to print out the music (though I might argue a false economy, here, if that printed music falls apart and you lose your valuable markings).

What are your thoughts on sheet music? Do you collect it? How do you store it? Do you insist on quality copies? What is your ratio of "real" copies to printed copies to digital copies? In what direction are you personally going, with this issue? Please cast your vote for what best fits, and add your comments below.

From Christina C.
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 5:54 PM
I download music from IMSLP all the time but I continue to add to my chamber music library with store-bought parts.
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 6:35 PM
My collection of music is primarily digital. I purchase digital copies where able to do so, and make use of IMSLP.

That said, if a particular solo is one for which I have extensively prepared in the past, or will be performing in the future, I will buy the printed part to replace tattered old copies. I will also re-mark my fingerings, bowings, etc. into the new part.

With the availability of orchestral parts freely available online, I have observed a trend in at least one symphony that asks all musicians to download their part and print it themselves as a way to save the organization the cost of providing music to musicians. Personally, I despise the practice. Concerts are often performed with poor quality printed material, and musicians struggle to actually read it.

Posted on December 19, 2014 at 8:33 PM
I'd add a category for hand copied - a very good way to get to know the music well. I have also been known to copy by hand an occasional almost illegible orchestral part in order to be able to read it during rehearsals and concert (see a previous comment).

A significant amount of my sheet music has been copied by hand, and the rest is more or less evenly divided between professionally printed and digital downloads (thank you, IMSLP!).

Posted on December 19, 2014 at 9:19 PM
I play mostly from properly printed sheet music some of which has been lovingly covered with protective paper or transparent protective film. There is usually a bit of information about composer, players, performances etc or commentary on the piece.
I also own a few very precious leather bound collections which I use for looking at the music.
One-off orchestral music I often download from IMSLP and bind it together for later use.
Photocopies/print offs are easy in the short term. But for the longer term I definitely prefer the printed book
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 9:29 PM
I have two very old Mozart's and Beethoven's complete Violin and Piano sonatas, maybe from late 19th century or beginning of the 20th.
They are Peters edition, hard covers, burgundy color and golden letters.
Are they valuable?
Alberto Cudich
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 9:34 PM
This is a fascinating topic, Laurie! Times are a- changin' and and that there is room for both professionally bound books as well as downloads. Downloads can really save the day sometimes if you need a part quickly, after stores are closed. Personally, though, the bound parts last longer and are easier to keep track of.
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 10:53 PM
When a printed edition is available I buy it--for studies, sonatas, concerti, and the like.

I'll download out-of-copyright orchestral or chamber music parts without a second thought, and when I can't FIND a printed edition of something, I'll download.

Music in copyright, I don't copy without first purchasing (I nearly always photocopy for my own study things I already own--because that way I'll always have a clean copy for new ideas/intepretations).

Sometimes I'll look at something posted on IMSLP that is not out-of-copyright to see if I want to buy it (same as if I were in a store, browsing the shelves, or in a library) but I don't download such.

Since our culture holds ideas to be property, I have to respect that (even though, in many cases, I think it's unfortunate the way the law is interpreted).

From John Rokos
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 11:30 PM
Pardon my naivety, but isn't it possible to load the printer/photocopier with better quality paper?
From John Rokos
Posted on December 19, 2014 at 11:34 PM
I can't vote - My late father did almost all the work. My brother and I merely inherited his collection.
From Andrei Pricope
Posted on December 20, 2014 at 1:38 AM
I have mostly professionally printed sheet music: 3 bookcases of violin music, 2 bookcases of cello music, 1/2 bookcase of viola music, 1/2 shelf of bass music, and about 2 shelves of chamber music (from duets to octets).

In addition, a couple of shelves of used string sheet music from antiquarians in Europe and the US, plus estate sales (it's always interesting to see other people's editing). To top it off, a couple of shelves of piano music, and a couple of shelves of fake books and Dover scores.

My music bookcases are mostly Ikea Billy plus a couple of custom made solid wood ones, all with 13" shelf height. A friend who used to own a sheet music store estimated my collection at over 30k dollars - not just an obsession, more a beautiful "sickness"...

My string and piano music is all categorized by instrumentation: methods/techniques, etudes/caprices, solo works, recital pieces with piano, sonatas, concertante works, ensembles, non-classical (light, pop/rock/jazz/fiddling/tango, holiday music, etc.), and within instrumentation by composer (methods by title). Collections of various composers are at the end of each section.

My favored string editions are, in order of preference: Bärenreiter, Henle, Wiener Urtext, IMC, Schirmer, then the rest. The music most frequently used in performance and teaching gets covered in clear Con-Tact, for durability and longevity.

I couldn't care less what anybody thinks or says, I have been marking my editions with 0.7 thin Pilot G-2 red gel pen, for readability. I despise blunt/thick, scratch/super-sharp, or fading/smudged pencil marks. For mistakes, White-Out – the system forces me to experiment more and consider options more carefully before deciding, with the second option fingering marked below the music.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on December 20, 2014 at 2:58 PM
scan the lot, throw out all the paper it is too much trouble to store or move.
Posted on December 20, 2014 at 3:12 PM
Too much trouble is restoring the failed hard drive with the scans. Nothing beats IKEA Billy for archiving the music.
From Paul Deck
Posted on December 21, 2014 at 3:27 AM
One of these days when I have time (har!) I'll scan the lot ... but only keep it as an archive. I like printed, bound music. If my teacher assigns a sonata, I buy the volume. IMSLP is a great resource, but so many times the only thing they have is some illegible thing.
From Lawrence Price
Posted on December 21, 2014 at 7:40 PM
Within the next few years, I am going to digitize most of my library and store it in the cloud. I hope to work from a 12" Tablet and have everything that I want to play available whenever and wherever I want it.
Posted on December 22, 2014 at 12:37 AM
I also like the look and feel of professionally printed music - however, I had a teacher who so marked over my music with whatever he had in hand that 5 years later I could hardly read it - so I photocopy the music that I plan to work on - Mark it up to my heart's content, and still can go back and actually read my original music or make a clean copy and start all over.

I also have music I have purchased and that I will choose to use one page for a student and we use that for lessons - if the student is going to perform it, then we look to purchasing it - or if a large collection, the student can perform with mine.

I also have my orchestra practice copies.

I have a book which I photocopied because it is out of print and I got permission from the author. And I have some very old original copies that are now out of print - and yes I love photocopying them.

I have also arranged some bluegrass and folk music and printed it off - copied it for the band and will probably rearrange it again.


From Paul Deck
Posted on December 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM
Lawrence I'd be interested to learn what kind of tablet you think is best for that, and what kind of software you will use to display the music, turn pages, etc.
From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on December 22, 2014 at 6:46 AM
This is a huge issue and a great poll, thanks!

I have and obtain and gather and use and cherish printed music, old-school, quality-in-so-many-ways, yes, please, thank you.

I have observed the demise of nearly all the sheet music stores I've ever known and loved to browse.

I may be wrong, but I think that the only one left in NYC--arguably THE cultural capital of the USA--is the store of the Julliard School... Franks is gone. Who else? If our source of readable printed music is unique and depends on (in)direct subsidy from educational and institutional $$, what does that say about culture, and its survival and persistence?

I argue that "mainstream" "classical" music is neither of the quoted terms above, and is actually an endangered species, an endangered cultural practice the same as any other these days, and deserves every grant and support and appreciation and patronage and vote and attendance and participation--and sheet music purchase--the same as any other.

If we don't cherish it, who will?

I love quality music on quality paper in thoughtful turnable layout, readable, usable, keepable, share-able, teach-able, transmit-able, enduring for the community and the future.

All of those features are increasingly rare in digital output.


From Mark Roberts
Posted on December 22, 2014 at 4:14 PM
One thing that I have been ruminating on for years is what is the best music stand / digital screen for reading music? It should be possible to have something that is light weight and scrolls down the page, perhaps automatically perhaps with foot-pedal - no more page turns...Even better if it fitted with case, then there would be only one thing to carry around.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine