Whether you’re looking for a promotional tool, an additional revenue stream, a way to make practice or gigs easier on the band, or just a gift for fans, you might want to think about having sheet music available for your tunes.

Sheet music comes in different forms

1. Lead sheets- Lead sheets, as found in Fake Books, give musicians a general outline of the most important elements of a piece (melody, lyrics, rhythm, and chords). These charts are good for any setting where musicians are expected to bring their own interpretive skill to the table, or where the song is familiar enough that this basic guide triggers musical muscle memory to then replicate an existing arrangement.

2. Chord charts- There are a few different types of chord charts, but for this discussion we’re talking about a simple lyric sheet with chord names or symbols written along with the words. The type of thing you’d want to have at a campfire singalong, and hope that the campers remember the melody!

3. Score- Most common in Classical music, a score conveys exact musical notation for a particular arrangement of a piece.

4. The “part chart”- This a term I use to describe sheet music that is close to a lead sheet, in terms of chordal, rhythmic, and lyrical information, but where the melody notated is for someone other than the lead instrument or vocal. My band had a steady lineup of drums, bass, keys, guitar, and vocals. We all knew the songs by heart. But we’d also frequently have additional members join us on trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, and viola. In those cases, it helped to have charts with each person’s part notated. That way, we wouldn’t have to waste a lot of time re-assigning parts in practice or leaving gigs to guesswork.

How you can use sheet music

1. Sell it!- In Episode #55 of CD Baby’s DIY Musician Podcast, David Nevue talked about how he offers downloadable PDFs of his sheet music on his website. If you play original music (especially piano music) in a Classical, Avant-Garde, New Age, or Jazz style, people may be interested in purchasing PDF scores.

2. Promote! Making chord charts or lead sheets available for free from your website (or bundled with CDs) can be a great way to spread the tunes. Any 12 year-old guitar student would be psyched to buy an album that came with chord charts. I remember when Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish album came out, it had chords listed above the lyrics in the CD booklet. I played Blur tunes at parties for the next 3 months.

Also, a friend of mine, James M. Gregg, recently released an album (full disclosure: that I helped produce) funded through a Kickstarter campaign. Middle-tier contributors were rewarded with a bonus package that included home demos of the tunes, a collection of behind-the-scenes essays on writing and recording each song, and the accompanying sheet music! For diehard fans, this was a great way to get new insight into the creative process.

3. Performance and practice. As I mentioned above, having sheet music prepared in advance for practices and gigs can make everyone’s life easier. You don’t have to worry about mid-gig memory loss, and skilled sight-readers won’t hate you for making them do all their own prep-work.

Simple ways to create sheet music

You don’t have to be Mozart to “score” your song. In fact, most of you could probably create a simple lyric/chord chart for your songs right now. Creating lead sheets is a bit more advanced, but can still be done  with some degree of ease if you use a program like Sibelius First or Finale PrintMusic. Many programs allow a MIDI hookup too, so you can play your music via keyboard or guitar and have the computer do the transcription work.

Digital Sheet Music Readers

Devices like the iPad are making things easier for gigging musicians. They no longer need to lug around a dozen overstuffed folders of sheet music. Now they can load sheet music files onto their tablet, sort and order the charts accordingly, and forget about clothes-pinning the paper to their music stands at outdoor gigs!

Check out these app reviews for the best iPad sheet music readers.

Do you have any advice or horror stories about creating, using, and reading sheet music? Let us know in the comments section below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

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