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Notes 59.2 (2002) 403-407

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Free (mostly) Scores on the Web

Martin Jenkins
Wright State University

Music suitable for printing can be found in many places on the Web, in a wide variety of formats. Some of these formats can be viewed using any Web browser, while others require special plug-in software. Below is a guide to some of the most commonly found music printing formats on the Web. Each is accompanied by sample sites that employ the format, and that allow music to be printed or downloaded free of charge. Obviously, many more sites exist than can be reviewed here; these were chosen both for their content and as examples of each of the formats described. Specifically excluded from this review are historical sheet music collections, several of which were recently reviewed in this column by Vic Cardell (Notes 58, no. 4 [June 2002]: 889-900). The focus here is on sites that provide practical editions, primarily of Western classical music. All sites were accessed 26 August 2002.

Graphic Interchange Format (GIF)

A standard digital image format best suited for line drawings and black-and-white images, GIF files are viewable in any browser and work well for music. A number of standard repertoire works in the public domain have been mounted in GIF format as part of Indiana University's Variations project ( This is billed as an experimental project, though the scores page seems to have been stable since 1999. The site is designed primarily for online display, utilizing frames, rather than for printing. Copies suitable for score study can be printed, however, although the music is smaller than 8.50 3 110 and the images are a bit fuzzy. The selections are grouped into pages by genre: opera, song, orchestral and choral, chamber music, and piano.

Another site providing music files in GIF format is Musica Viva ( The site creator, Frank Nordberg, claims to have over eighty-six hundred classical and traditional works available in the "Free Sheet Music Archives" section. As one looks through the instrumental categories, it quickly becomes apparent that there are not that many different pieces, as many of the same titles show up in various transpositions and instrumental combinations. Many of the pieces appear to be transcriptions of vocal works, and might make good repertoire for students. The GIF files appear to have been created directly from notation software, rather than scanned from paper, and print quite clearly at full size. Musica Viva also includes a page of links to over 750 additional sites with free sheet music.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

This document scanning format, familiar to many of us from e-journal sites such as JSTOR or local course reserves, works quite well for music. To view PDF files, users must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in, which comes bundled with the browser on most new computers, and is available for free if not already installed.

One of the most useful free music sites on the Web is the Choral Public Domain Library ( Begun in 1998 as a collaborative project to make public domain choral music more widely accessible, the site, maintained Rafael Ornes, now boasts over thirty-three hundred pieces edited by 140 contributors. Works from the Renaissance comprise just about half the library, but music of all periods from medieval to early-twentieth century and modern is available. (A category labeled "chant" contains mostly modern harmonizations of chant for liturgical use.) Recent entries on the "Top 10 Download" list included [End Page 403] Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, John Taverner's In Pace, and Follow the Light by Tim Brace. Most scores are available in PDF format; some are also provided as Sibelius or Finale notation files (discussed below).

DjVu Format

A new plug-in viewer that is quickly rising in popularity is DjVu (pronounced "déjà vu"), developed by AT&T and marketed by LizardTech, Inc. According to the DjVu Web site (, "For black-and-white pages, DjVu...


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