What is sheet music?

Sheet music also known as ‘a score’ is a written representation of music which is transcribed in music notation. Like a book, sheet music tells an original story through the eyes of a composer or songwriter who uses an established set of musical notes to help other musicians retell the narrative.

Understanding sheet music requires the ability to read musical notation. For example, a guitarist can look at a guitar tablature and understand which strings to hold down in order to play the chord. More advanced musicians have the ability and skill to sight read. This skill allows musicians to read sheet music and play an unfamiliar song for the first time. Many of the top musicians are able to read sheet music and hear the harmonies, rhythms’ and tones inside their head without even having to pick up an instrument.

For those who don’t understand how to read music notation, sheet music can seem very confusing. The most common method of musical notation involves a staff, which has fine lines on which each individual note is written. The shape of the note on the sheet indicates the duration, the staff also has notation to let the musician know what key and tempo the piece should be played in.

Sheet music comes in a variety of formats from one piece through to a full score. If a piece is composed for just one instrument the whole composition will be printed on one piece of sheet music. If the composition contains more than one instrument, then each performer will have a separate piece of sheet music known as a ‘part. A full score is when all the sheet music is printed together. This is usually prepared for the conductor in order for them to follow the entire piece.

Sheet music was originally written by hand and sealed in manuscripts, the industry changed in the mid 18th century with sheet music being printed and produced in books. Today sheet music can be downloaded of the internet or developed in a computer-readable format. Dubbed “digital sheet music”, this latest trend allow composers to upload their sheet music using software into a digital format which then can be edited and manipulate to include extra instruments.

The development of the internet and peer-to-peer sharing has increased the availability and distribution of sheet music, but just like the music industry there are huge questions over copyrights and illegal downloading. Another huge advancement in the creation of sheet music is the development of software which can analyse a midi file and display the musical notation for that song.