Free flute sheet music is one of the most sought after commodities online and in flute forums. I’m continually encountering the question ‘Where can I get the music for Such and Such for FREE’. The digital age expectation is that anything can be found on the web, and it ought to be available free of charge. Well, there is plenty of music that can be legally downloaded for free, but most artists, if they’re still breathing, like to get paid for their work.
I’m not sure why the public has the expectation that all sheet music should be free. Perhaps we’ve become accustomed to finding any information we need with a web search. Music is, after all, a specialized type of information. You can find just about any tune on YouTube, copyright or no copyright. It’s easy to overlook the fact that some of what we listen to was posted illegally. If it’s on the web it must be okay, right?
In order for sheet music to be made freely available on the web it must be in the public domain. Copyright protected music enters the public domain when the copyright expires. Copyright law varies from country to country but in the U.S., copyright protection lasts for 70 years beyond the lifetime of the copyright holder.
By the way, if you can’t find your favorite pop hit on MusicNotes arranged for flute, check out the vocal section. Vocal music works very well for flute. You’re certain to find what you’re looking for and you may even be able to choose the key.
Popular music may be decidedly out of the public domain, but great flute music has been around for a lot more than seventy years. Bach and Mozart and Vivaldi are solidly in the public domain. Anything composed in the Classical or Baroque periods or earlier is fair game. Compositions from the Romantic period (1815-1910) are rapidly passing into the public domain, with only a few late Romantic composers yet to cross the threshold.
The flute enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the twentieth century and with that came many new compositions. Most of these compositions will remain under copyright for some time. Remember, the seventy year clock begins ticking when the copyright holder dies. That may be years or even decades after the work was first published. For example, Arthur Honegger wrote Danse de la Chèvre in 1921, but he lived until 1955. This piece will remain under copyright until 1925, more than a century after it was written. Looking for the Poulenc or Hindemith Sonatas? You may be able to download free copies in 2033. That assumes that Congress doesn’t extend the copyright period again as they did in 1976 and again in 1998.
Once music passes into the public domain it may be made available for free, but most publishers are going to continue to sell you the printed copy. Publishers need to make a profit so they are not going to spend resources on making music available for free. Fortunately there are several not for profit websites with missions to make this great old music available to the public. This article will touch on two of these organizations, the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) and flutetunes.com.
IMSLP is a collaborative organization that has created an online music library which is available to the public. All works featured on the site are in the public domain according to Canadian law. This collection is extensive and growing daily. Music on this site is scanned in by volunteers and offered for download in PDF format. Scanned music has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the beautiful artwork and engravings from these sometimes old and rare scores has been preserved. It’s special to play from the same elegant version that Rampal or Barrere or Quantz may have used. For the most part these scanned manuscripts are clear and readable, but don’t expect the crisp copy you would receive from a music store. Many of the scores contain hand written markings from a long ago performer. Some of the notes do not scan in nice and crisp or are scanned slightly crooked. Very often you do not get the clean, clear, professional look that you expect from store bought, virgin sheet music. That’s just the price you pay for ‘free’.
Another great source of free flute sheet music is flutetunes.com. Flutetunes.com is a little different from IMSLP in that it offers exclusively flute music or ensemble music featuring the flute. On this site music is entered by hand rather than being scanned in. This makes for very nice copy. If you print the music on heavy stock paper it looks as good as store bought music. The selection at flutetunes.com is not as extensive as the IMSLP collection, but it’s growing daily.Flutetunes.com has some interesting features in addition to the free flute sheet music. The site features a fingering chart that covers the three standard octave range of the flute as well as fourth octave fingerings through G7. That’s a G with seven ledger lines. Yikes! The site describes these notes as ‘the most horrible shrieking noise you’ve ever heard’. I’ll take their word for it. Try them if you dare. In addition to the fingering chart, you’ll find trill fingerings for the full flute range. No excuses if you don’t own a metronome or a tuner. Flutetunes has that for you too.
A unique feature of flutetunes.com is their Tune of the Day. Each day one short piece or movement is featured to encourage sight reading. Sight reading is an essential skill for flute players yet it is often lacking in our daily practice routines. That’s due in part to the fact that no one can afford to buy new music every day, but with the Tune of the Day feature you don’t have to. It’s there ready for you every day.
Free flute sheet music on the internet has dramatically impacted our musical budgets in a positive way, allowing us to fill our music folders with some of the greatest music ever written. Even the music that’s not in the public domain is more affordable than ever when you download and print it yourself. No drive to the store necessary and no waiting for the mail carrier to deliver, instant gratification for little cost. That’s not to say that the printed page is dead. There are some classic collections out there in book form that ought to be in everyone’s library. And sometimes you just want the luxury of the heavy stock that opens up to 12 inch by 18 inch.
I encourage you to check out IMSLP and flutetunes.com. You’re sure to find something new and fun to play. Happy sight reading!
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