Playing from lead sheets is an essential skill which I believe all piano students should learn.
We provide fantastic training inside Vibrant Music Teaching to help teachers learn how to teach lead sheet playing. But one question still remains: Where in the heck do we find great lead sheets?!
I get the struggle. It can be really tricky to find lead sheets (i.e. chord charts with the melody) for the songs that our students really want to play.
That’s why I’ve compiled these great sources into one spot.
Start here the next time you need lead sheets for your piano students, and make sure to add your own favourite sites in the comments so we can all explore more lead sheets in our studios!
Free Folk Song Lead Sheets
Folk songs are the easiest to find since they’re in the public domain and anyone can arrange them.
These 2 sites are great options with free public domain lead sheets:
Any site with free pop song lead sheets, however, will be breaching copyright and I think it’s important we set a good example for our students in terms of respecting intellectual property. Read on for legal options for works that are not in the public domain.
Single Lead Sheet Downloads
It’s not that most sheet music platforms don’t have lead sheets. It’s just that they can be hard to find as they’re not in a separate category.
Musicnotes is the only one I’ve found to have a proper category for lead sheets. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a specific song in lead sheet-form. Start there and only go trawling through the other sites if necessary.
Once you’ve found the lead sheets you need, check out the chords section of my Music Theory page for great ideas on using them as a teaching tool.
If you have a student who would like to explore lots of lead sheets, fake books are a great option.
My favourite fake books for beginners are the Easy Fake Books published by Hal Leonard. They have many different genres so you’re sure to find one to suit your student’s tastes.
How to Write Your Own Lead Sheets
Sometimes, there’s just nothing out there which will suit, and you’ll need to work with your student to create your own DIY lead sheet together.
Notice that I said together! Your student will learn so much from putting together this lead sheet, so don’t spend your own free time doing this for them, OK?
There are two basic options for making your own lead sheets. You can start with a chord chart or guitar tab, or with full sheet music.
DIY Option 1: Start with a Chord Chart
If you can find a chord chart or guitar tab of the song your student wants to learn, then this can be a great option.
Depending on the song and whether your student wants to sing while they play, the chords on their own may be enough!
If your student wants to play the melody as well, this is a great opportunity for ear training. Play the song on your iPad, and spend some time figuring out the melody together and getting them to write it out on good old-fashioned manuscript paper.
Having the chord chart is a great starting point as they won’t need to figure out the key from scratch. They can also copy across the chords to create a full lead sheet and they could even input it into music notation software if they want it to look professional.
DIY Option 2: Start with Sheet Music
Pop song sheet music often has a lead sheet hiding within it, as they will write the chords above the staff and the melody for the voice part along with the piano notation below.
If that’s the case (or you can find a version like that,) then hey! Presto! Your student can just play it as if it were a lead sheet.
If all you can find is a full piano arrangement, never fear. You just need a highlighter and a little time for chord analysis to make your lead sheet.
- Start by having your student highlight the melody in the right hand
- Have them work out all the other notes in each bar (measure) or portion of a bar and play them together in different permutations to figure out the most likely chord
- Once they have the chords and the melody, get them to rewrite the lead sheet version on a fresh sheet of manuscript paper
You can use your judgment to assist your student when a chord is going to be tricky to puzzle out.
Where do you find lead sheets for your piano students?
I’d love to hear your top sources for great lead sheets in the comments below. 🙂