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Helpful Things To Keep In Mind When Searching For Sheet Music
by Luke Ramud, Matthew Wiesemann and Jenny Melton

If you’ve ever looked for a specific piece of sheet music on the internet, you know that finding the exact right piece isn’t always easy. Don’t despair! Here are some handy tips and tricks that I’ve learned from experience that can make you a savvy searcher in no time.

Basically, there are a number of different variables that make searching for sheet music more complicated than simply typing in the composer and the title of the piece and then finding the results you’re looking for. That’s a good place to start, but there are a few things to be aware of that can muddy up the process. Here are two of the most common:

  • Spelling variations of names (Stravinsky, Stravinski, Schoenberg, Schonberg, Prokofiev, Prokofieff, etc)
  • Title variations (Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” is also “Piano Sonata No. 14,” etc)

To understand why these things can be a stick in your spoke, you have to think like a simple search engine. All it does is look for direct matches between the words you’ve typed into the search box with all pieces in our database.

So this means that if you’re off by even just one letter, it doesn’t find it. If the piece you’re looking for also goes by a different name, the engine generally doesn’t know they’re actually the same piece. Frustrating, I know, but now that you’re hip to the way it works, don’t let it encumber your searching any longer. Read on, savvy searchers!

Okay, so what are some easy things to help you out? Here are my favorites:

Your first line of defense is a quick Google search. Seriously, this is an amazing tool for getting the spelling you want right away. You can totally butcher a composer's name and with just a little bit of trial and error find the commonly accepted spelling. And a lot of times there isn’t any absolutely “correct” way to spell a name anyway, since it’s being translated from a different language, so instead you simply want to find the most commonly accepted variation. I’ve almost always found that Wikipedia’s spelling of a composer or piece will be the one most commonly accepted. And a composer's Wikipedia page often has a "List of Works" section that can be very useful in your hunt.

You should also be on the lookout for any alternate titles for the piece. If I was looking for Chopin’s Etude in G-flat major, Wikipedia will tell me that this is also called Opus 10 - Number 5, or even the “Black Key Etude," so in addition to "Chopin Etude G flat major," you could also try "Chopin Black Key Etude" and "Chopin opus 10 no. 5."

These are the two biggest ones right there. Make sure you have the correct spelling of the composer and have tried whatever title variations there might be.

Another general guideline is don’t include any more information than you need to.

  • Only use the composer’s last name (generally). Most have like 3 different first names anyway, with variations in spelling in each. Generally all you need is Beethoven or Hindemith or Gliere.
  • If it’s somebody’s third violin concerto, for example, you can just do “violin concerto” and your results will usually be plenty narrow. A piece might be listed as Third, 3rd, Number 3, No. 3, Number Three, etc. No need to narrow your results unnecessarily!

Changing around the plurality (concerto vs concertos) can be helpful too. If you are looking for one specific piano sonata, then don’t put “sonatas” into your search, just do “sonata.” A search for "sonatas" is going to put collections of sonatas at the top of your results because those ones have the plural in their title.

If you know you’re looking from something that’s from a German publisher (particularly Barenreiter), then you can try substituting some words for their German counterpart:

  • concerto – konzert
  • symphony – sinfonie
  • mass – messe
  • piano – clavier
  • major- dur
  • minor – moll 

Hopefully experimenting with all these variations helps you find just what you need. If you’re still having trouble, feel free to give us a call at (312) 987-1196 and we’d be happy to see what we can do! Sometimes there are pieces available that we haven’t been able to put online because their distributors won’t allow us to, so it’s always worth a call just to check.

Limiting Search Results by Jenny Melton, former library technician

Sometimes basic keyword searches return numerous and unnecessary results.  This is often caused by a default setting in most basic keyword searches that includes an OR operator invisibly.  This means that when you search Beethoven Sonatas you are actually searching Beethoven OR Sonatas which could yield thousands of results.  

To limit your search results, try using the following operator combinations:

  • Beethoven AND Sonatas - only results containing both Beethoven and Sonatas
  • Beethoven AND Sonatas NOT Schirmer - only results containing both Beethoven and Sonatas and no Schirmer editions
  • "Beethoven Sonatas" - The title or a phrase in the results must have Beethoven Sonatas consecutively 
  • Beethoven AND Sonat* - an * (asterisk) is a wildcard.  This will include singular Beethoven Sonata and Sonatina/s. 

Our product descriptions include searchable table of contents, composers, editors, publisher information and publisher numbers.

These indicators are also helpful when limiting search results in library catalogs and Google.  Give it a try!

Thanks!