Free Lead Sheets

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.

Ae Fond Kiss, a Scottish poem and song

All the Pretty Little Horses

All You That in This House

Amazing Grace

America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)

America the Beautiful

Anchors Aweigh

Arkansas Traveler

Army Theme Song (Caisson Song)

Ash Grove

Ave Maria

Angels We Have Heard on High

Away in a Manger

Be Thou My Vision

Blow the Candles Out

Boil'em Cabbage Down

Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountains

Caisson Song

Colorado Trail

Come Ye Sinners (Beach Spring melody, from The Sacred Harp)

ome Ye Sinners (I Will Arise and Go to Jesus, from Southern Harmony)

Deck the Halls

Devil's Dream

Dona Nobis Pacem


Down in the Valley

Erie Canal

Farther On

Found a Peanut

For the Beauty of the Earth

God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

Goober Peas


Grenadier and the Lady

Happy Birthday

He is Born (Il est ne)

Heigh Ho, Nobody Home

I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls

I Love the Mountains

I'll Fly Away

Jingle Bells

June Apple

Keegan's Waltz, an Irish song

Lavender's Blue with the Cinderella song lyrics

Marines' Hymn

Mari's Wedding

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Minstrel Boy

Modern Major-General

Morning Has Broken

My Country 'Tis of Thee (America)

O Holy Night

Old Joe Clark

On Top of Old Smokey

Redhaired Boy (The Little Beggarman)

Road to Lisdoonvarna

Scarborough Fair, guitar tabs

Scarborough Fair, lead sheets in many keys

Shalom Chaverim

She Went Through the Fair


Shortnin' Bread

Sing We Noel

Skye Boat Song


Slumber, My Darling

Softly and Tenderly

Spanish Ladies

Spanish Lady

Star of the County Down

Star-Spangled Banner

Streets of Laredo

Sweet Betsy from Pike


Ten-Penny Bit

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Una furtiva lagrima

Up On the Housetop

Vieni, vieni o mio diletto

Wabash Cannonball

Waltzing Matilda

Water is Wide

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

What Child is This

What Wondrous Love

When He Cometh

White, Orange and Green

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 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 (they have digital downloads now) or  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?

Holiday Songs Instrumental

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:

Mary Had a Little Lamb with chord symbols

Here, perhaps the most basic way to play a lead sheet:

Solid triads for Mary Had a Little Lamb

Even easier - using "open" chords (also called "open fifths" or "shells"):

Open chords in the left hand

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):

Cadences of the I,IV & V chords

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... 

Chords for left hand of 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: 

Twinkle Twinkle with chords

Here is the beginning of "Twinkle" with C, pinch G, and little F chords: 

Twinkle Twinkle with chords

Here is Twinkle with pretty broken chords, MUCH more difficult for young students (but where you are heading):

Twinkle Twinkle with broken chords

Along the way to playing it like that, is an in-between version:

Twinkle with broken chord pattern

These are only a few ideas, the beginnings of where you can go with these free lead sheets.  See other pages, such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, for more ideas.  Have fun!

Comments: Do you have a story or a question about music teaching? Share it!

Please note that all comments are moderated, and will not appear until I have approved them. Also, IF YOU ARE ASKING FOR MUSIC THAT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, YOUR REQUEST WILL BE IGNORED. That's pretty much any music written in the last 75 years...

Comments: Do you have a story or a question about music teaching? Share it!

Please note that all comments are moderated, and will not appear until I have approved them. Also, IF YOU ARE ASKING FOR MUSIC THAT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, YOUR REQUEST WILL BE IGNORED. That's pretty much any music written in the last 75 years...

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