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Public Domain Sheet Music

True public domain pieces are just that; public domain with no restrictions. Finding out whether that piece you are looking at is actually public domain is the tricky part. Here are a couple of pointers and things to watch out for (but they are not all inclusive):

  • Sheet music is public domain if the music’s copyright has expired, it was published before 1989 without a valid copyright notice or the music was first published between 1923 and 1963 and the copyright was not renewed on time.
  • Sheet music is not public domain if the piece you are considering is part of a copyrighted collection, a new rendition or arrangement of the public domain piece.  The original still would be considered public domain, but the new arrangement will not be.

  • A new printing of public domain sheet music is not copyrightable.  It does not constitute a new arrangement or a substantial alteration to the original.  Even adding in chord charts or other symbols to a public domain piece does not mean it is no longer public domain.

There is plenty of music out there that is free and with which you are therefore free to do anything you wish with it; alter it for your use, perform it, remix it, copy and publish it. But do some due diligence. Make sure your chosen piece truly is public domain sheet music and you’ll avoid all sorts of registration fees, copyright royalties and potential legal fees.

Whatever you do with your musical abilities, whether for personal enjoyment, public entertainment or private profit, public domain sheet music is a terrific avenue to explore when looking for new inspiration or a new piece to practice. It’s free, there are a lot of internet sites that offer downloads from their own libraries and if it is true public domain you can pretty much use it for whatever you like…but watch out.


... And Learn about Sheet Music Types of Sheet Music Types (Continued)
  History of Sheet Music
  Public Domain Sheet Music
  Copyright Protected Sheet Music
  Sheet Music in the Digital Age
  Full Score
  Miniature Score
  Study Score
  Piano Score
  Vocal Score
  Short Score
  Lead Sheet
  Chord Chart