Where to Find Lead Sheets and Fake Books Online

Fake books and lead sheets are used by many musicians, from amateurs to professionals. They provide music makers with a springboard for embellishing or improvising solo or in collaboration. They also provide musicians an opportunity to practice their keyboard harmony skills.

What is a Fake Book? What is a Lead Sheet?

A lead sheet is an arrangement of a musical score that contains the melody, lyrics and chord symbols. According to Blake Neely, “The accompaniment part of the song is left to you, the performer. You have to ‘fake’ your own accompaniment or arrangement.” (Neely, Blake. How to Play from a Fake Book, Keyboard Edition. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 1999).

Fake books or “real books” contain hundreds of lead sheets. There are fake books for classical music, wedding music, pop and rock, ethnic music, jazz, Latin music, and more.

Buy Fake Books Online

Most music retailers carry a selection of fake books. Larger retailers are equipped to handle online purchases.

Musicians can also order fake books directly from music publishers, such as the Hal Leonard Corporation. Online book retailers, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble, also carry fake books.

Free Lead Sheets Online

Various websites offer free lead sheets online legally. Free sheet music that is legal falls under the Free Art License, which "grants the right to freely copy, distribute, and transform creative works without infringing the author's rights."(Free Art License 1.3, accessed July 6, 2010).

This is a small selection of lead sheets posted by the original arrangers:

Wikifonia is a site where musicians can share their lead sheet arrangements. There is a wide variety of music available, including pop, jazz and rock. Visitors can transpose the arrangement prior to printing and make requests for an arrangement to be made.

Sibelius Music contains over 94,000 scores on its website. There are lead sheets available for pop, rock, jazz and worship music. Viewers can listen to musical selections as well as transpose lead sheets prior to printing. Scorch software is required to view the scores properly.

ChordMusic.net contains over 1,800 songs for chord piano, keyboard, guitar, and voice. Musicians can find music by ABBA, Elvis and the Beatles. The site also contains a chord finder. A small donation is required prior to downloading these lead sheets.

Things to Watch for When Downloading Free Lead Sheets

There are two things to watch out for when searching for free sheet music online: illegal scans of copyrighted scores, and poor arrangements.

While a transcription shared freely by the arranger is legal, scanning a lead sheet that is copyrighted by someone else is not. Musicians should inspect the music score carefully to confirm its authenticity. Fuzzy quality is a sign of photocopying or scanning.

Prior to downloading free lead sheets, it is prudent to review several different arrangements. Musicians should check the chord symbols and rhythms to see if these elements are consistent (they should be close). Some lead sheets will contain simplified chords. Music students should consult with their music teacher if they require assistance in this area.

Fake books and lead sheets provide musicians with a road map to follow as they explore embellishing and improvisation. Whether they are playing solo or in a group, fake books and lead sheets can offer musicians countless hours of repertoire and enjoyment.

Originally published on Suite101.com on July 6, 2010. Updated August 7, 2013.