Free lead sheets are an excellent way to not only stretch your music budget and your students' repertoire, but also to stretch their musical skills.
What's so useful about a lead sheet?
Using their understanding of chords and chording patterns, music students will learn how to take a simple melody and make a their own arrangement.
Chord practice! And chord relationships!
Piano students in particular may start with very simple melodies and chords, they will eventually be able to employ flowing or powerfully rhythmic left hand parts, and add harmony in the right hand.
So... what IS a lead sheet?
Whether for guitar or piano, music lead sheets are simply the melody of a song, with chord symbols added above the notes. The right hand (of a piano player) plays the melody while the left hand plays a chord in the left hand. For a guitar player, usually the guitarist sings the melody and strums or picks the notes of the chord.
Lead sheets are easier to read
Check out the free lead sheets below (many of them already found on the Vocal, Piano, and Guitar pages) and you will see that the majority of them are just a few lines of melody in the treble staff.
...use them to make progressively harder arrangements
With a few of my free lead sheets, I have left a blank bass staff for piano players, as it can be handy to write out sample chord patterns for the left hand in the empty measures, to give students ideas, or to jog their memory when they get home from their lesson. Some of them have guitar tabs for the melody as well.
Further down, below the song links, see my performance suggestions if you need ideas for how to use my free lead sheets.
Other teachers agree on the usefulness of lead sheets
One site I have really enjoyed reading and using resources from is Piano Music for Boys. They have a great little E-book called "Piano Hands Shouldn't Flip Burgers" full of ideas for making your piano studio a fun place to learn, where kids love to return week after week to see what they "get to do THIS lesson!" (No, they didn't pay me to write this review, and they won't be giving me any kind of kickback, unfortunately!)
Shake up your piano lessons with activity changes
The authors/piano teachers at PianoMusicForBoys.com suggest setting aside a portion of each music lesson for a rotation of activities, different every week. Along with games that stretch and reinforce understanding of music theory, they suggest giving the kids lead sheets (and if you can, free lead sheets!). Starting very simply, students will gradually hone their arranging skills and feel "cut loose" from the written page. This is an entirely different way to play piano, and will gradually lead to playing by ear (which I personally believe every adept musician ought to be able to do).
What KINDS of lead sheets?
In addition to using older, public domain songs, one kind of lead sheet I've had a lot of success with among my students is contemporary Christian lead sheets such as "Be Unto Your Name," "Shout to the Lord," "Give Thanks," etc.
But these aren't free, are they?
Of course, those are NOT free lead sheets, being under copyright. So I go looking for these songs on SheetMusicPlus.com (they have digital downloads now) or Musicnotes.com. After buying the version I like, I loan students page 1, with instructions to give the music back to me and buy their own copy if they want the whole thing.
Will students' parents really buy the sheet music for them?
Yes! This process has worked very well for us; many of the students do indeed talk their parents into purchasing their own copies, and others simply memorize the main theme and figure out the rest. I have a lot of church-going families among my students, and these songs are ones that are special to them already; they are thrilled to be able to play them at home!
Well... how do I USE these free lead sheets?
Follow the diagrams below to see the "evolution" of lead sheet playing...
Start with the lead sheet:
Here, perhaps the most basic way to play a lead sheet:
Even easier - using "open" chords (also called "open fifths" or "shells"):
Once piano students understand how to add the left-hand chords this way, teach them how to do inversions of the I - IV-V chords.
Here is the way the chords would look with the closest regular G and F inversions (closest to the root position C chord):
Do you recognize the F and G7 chord inversions? Your students don't need to wait until they encounter them in their method books to begin using them and developing an understanding of the relationship of the 3 main chords.
These forms of the most-used chords (the I, the IV, and the V) are not only prettier, but also ultimately EASIER than jumping back and forth, since the left hand hardly has to move.
With very young beginners, I like to start with the "pinch" chord (which is actually a G7, and not just a G chord) and the "baby" or "little F" chord. Here's how the open C and pinch G would look with Mary Had a Little Lamb...
What about the IV (four) chord?
Now it is time to change songs, because Mary Had a Little Lamb only uses two chords. Let's change to "Twinkle" to demonstrate the use of the IV chord (which will be "F" if we play it in the key of C, as I usually do with beginners). Here is the beginning of "Twinkle" using the C chord in root position, and F and G inversions:
Here is the beginning of "Twinkle" with C, pinch G, and little F chords:
Here is Twinkle with pretty broken chords, MUCH more difficult for young students (but where you are heading):
Along the way to playing it like that, is an in-between version:
These are only a few ideas, the beginnings of where you can go with these free lead sheets. Have fun!
Do you have a story or a question about music teaching? Share it!
Do you have a story or a question about music teaching? Share it!
Wow! I cannot thank you enough for the free collection of piano sheet music that you created here. My daughter and I are following everything you wrote and we LOVE it. It is super fun!!! She loves to play because of your website. We have a small binder now that is slowly growing! THANK YOU!!!!
...got offered a great opportunity this year to become a secondary music teacher in an international school... Before I get to the secondary level though (next year), I sort of have to prove myself as a primary music teacher. Hasn't been easy, but I love the work. I found great ideas for my guitar unit on your site, as I didn't know where to begin. Thanks to you I will survive my next 6 weeks. I also teach choir to middle school, and I love your little morning warmups. Looking forward to more of that in the future. Keep up the great work, it is very inspirational for us beginner teachers.
A few months ago I wrote to you about my problem to play with both hands on the piano. You encouraged me not to lose heart and keep practicing. I kept up my practice and now I am comfortable with using both hands. Thanks to your kind words, I am enjoying my piano every day.
...Because I have such a diverse group of students I spend SO much time making supplemental material and I feel like I have to pick through other websites, to only find one or two useful things. I am so thankful for the wealth of supplement that you have offered here! And it's all SO user friendly!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!
Martha Beth's Piano Site
Piano Adventures Forum
Piano Music for Boys (Teach Piano Today)
Susan Paradis Teacher Resources
THIS SITE IS AMAZING!!I've been teaching guitar for about 5 years now, and I've only just found your website! (I could really have used it 5 years ago) :-) I teach at primary schools every week day for about 4 hours, so the beginner tabs you have are ideal. Thank you so much for your hard work getting these on the web, you have made many children very happy!!
I used to teach piano lessons, and then did not for a number of years. Now, suddenly, I have 3 beginning students and I am thrilled. I was looking for printable scales and found your wonderful website. Thank you so much. I know this will be a big help to me and my students.
I am a first-time piano teacher and have been combing the internet for resources. Your wonderful site has been an amazing resource for both my students and myself. Thank you so much for the printable scales, chords, and ideas! We are so grateful!
I think this site is wonderful! Well done. I am a 14 yr old 'ocarinist' and this site has been ever so useful in helping me find some simple tunes to play on my ocarina. I am also planning to learn to the piano soon and already play the clarinet. As I said, this site has been incredibly useful and my friend and I are going to try our Music badge for guides so finding the music for 'Taps' was essential. Thank you for making such an amazing site!
Thank you for your comments [regarding teaching a student with autism] they were helpful and encouraging to me. Your current comments are right on par with the abilities of the student I have now, though mine is a bit younger. Though not a savant, after teaching him the C scale last year, he came back the next week and asked if he started on any key could he do the same thing...which he did starting on every (white) key with correct sharps (and flat) his fingering wasn't correct but not too far off.
Thank you for a most excellent site. I am a classical guitar teacher, who endeavors to cover chords and fingerstyle as well. I especially liked the printable Celtic music, as some of my teenage students enjoy it! Thank you, again.