When you search for classical guitar sheet music, you find vendors offering sheet music that they happen to have. Either paid or for free. Pretending to be an interested beginner I researched free sheet music resources online to help build a repertoire. What I found out: yes, it can be done.
What are the free resources for classical guitar sheet music?
- Boije’s Collection
- Guitar School by Eythor Thorlaksson
Some of them are limited in the sheet music they offer, while others are huge with a take-it-or-leave-it listing like an 80’s phone book. To help us wade through these dense waters, here’s a brief guide on what we can expect to find. There are two broad groups to consider.
Group 1: Curated and good selection, but limited choices
The advantage here is that someone has taken the trouble to list the music they think is worthwhile and provided the sheet music for just those pieces.
To a beginner looking for guidance, this approach is helpful. One of the best collections by a curator is Boije’s collection for the classical guitar, a work of love and labor in the early 20th century. This is a great, alphabetically arranged resource.
For instance, the ‘C’ page of Boije’s Collection shows the works of past classical composer-players like Carcassi, Carulli and Coste. Since most beginner pieces fall in this period of history, this is where you’ll likely find the pieces for constructing your novice repertoire.
It implies you already know what you’re looking for – say, a particular minuet of Sor’s. You want to get your hands on the sheet music for it. This is a good place to check.
The Guitar School
More recently, the late Icelandic scholar and player Eythor Thorlaksson created his own curation and assembled a list of sheet music for the classical guitar. The Classical Guitar School has categories for methods, studies, solos, duets, trios and so on. Thorlaksson passed on in 2018 and his is a respected, modern voice on the classical guitar.
In the studies section, we’d expect to find the classical greats – Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi and Coste. They are indeed present – not with every study they created, but a hand picked few. We do not find mention of an Aguado or Carulli, two other players from the classical era, at all.
This site is best if you are interested in what a scholar and teacher like Mr. Thorlaksson thinks your repertoire goals should be. You may want to take a hard look at his selections. It’s not a bad idea at all. Not only do you get his teacher’s mind working for you but you also get his revised fingerings for all the pieces he recommends. (As we’ll see, fingering help can be crucial to beginners.)
This Is Classical Guitar
Bernard Werner’s site offers virtually a free graded course on classical guitar! This is a seriously well curated classical guitar site, not just sheet music. This Is Classical Guitar is full of learning resources besides Werner’s explanatory videos and teaching tips. He has a nice and easy going manner, the kind you associate with Canada.
And the whole thing is free.
On the sheet music page of This Is Classical Guitar Werner has graded repertoire for the first 3 grades (material for Grade 4 and above is yet to be released). His chosen collections often have video lessons that go hand in hand with the repertoire. And his sheet music has regular notation along with TABs.
Werner has put together a fairly deep and exhaustive resource of popular pieces for classical guitar. Not just music from the classical period masters like Sor and Giuliani (he has good selections from them, for sure) but also Renaissance composers like Dowland, Weiss and Johnson; Baroque composers like Sanz, Mudarra and de Visee; as well as traditional classics (often featuring the ever popular Anon).
He has pieces right up to (and including) the modern master of the guitar, Francisco Tarrega.
Note on public domain music: With pieces composed after Tarrega, classical guitar music doesn’t always fall under ‘public domain’. Public domain music is generally taken to mean works of a composer once 70 years have passed after his or her death. So the music of more recent composers in the last hundred years or so will likely bear a copyright and cannot be obtained for free.
If you’ve watched a few of Bernard Werner’s videos on YouTube, you will take his help for his is a friendly but authoritative voice. Even intermediate guitarists will find a wealth of resources here to mine. If you haven’t watched Werner on YouTube, you should.
Classical Guitar Shed
On his site ClassicalGuitarShed.com, Allan Mathews has a curated list of about 500 pieces for guitarists up to the intermediate level. He has guides and tutorials (paid, though some are free) for many popular repertoire pieces, but the above listing is a free resource.
The list is a curated one in that it’s not meant to be a library of everything a composer did, but only a selection of works from chosen composers. All the classical masters are represented here without exception – Sor, Carcassi, Giuliani, Coste, Aguado and Carulli.
TABs, in addition to standard notation, are also given for the scores, something that may help modern day players.
This list, incidentally, is simply a listing without comment but it nevertheless is a curation. Mathews made deliberate choices in what to include and what to leave out. You will find all the familiar classical guitar beginner songs here.
For all the reasons we have discussed, this is a site worth checking out to get the expert opinions of a modern day teacher like Mathews. With his chatty, witty and engaging style, he exhibits a great love for the instrument and has definite ideas on repertoire choices and methods.
Group 2: Virtually unlimited choices, but where do I begin?
Perhaps the biggest of the biggies by way of sizable collections is IMSLP. It stands for International Music Score Library Project, also known as Petrucci Music Library. We are no longer talking of 300 selections here, we are closer to 500,000 scores from 19,000 composers.
True, they are for many instruments including the guitar, but we are in deeper waters for sure.
If you search for ‘Carcassi’ you will be met with particular pieces like Etude in A major, a collection like 12 Easy Pieces Op. 10 and an entire Method for Guitar Op. 59! Everything is there. This is a great resource in this sense of being comprehensive.
But does this really help a beginner? To a student searching for a particular piece, this site is bang on the money. Which brings us to the delay screen of 15 seconds that IMSLP uses to persuade you to contribute or subscribe to this vast resource. Since ‘free’ is the catchword for this article, we chose to wait for 15 seconds…
To a student looking for guidance on what to play, this site will seem huge and daunting. Besides, many of the scores listed go back to authentic period prints, not always legible looking to modern eyes. And there is seldom much help with the fingering.
All by way of saying, this site is great (actually a useful resource for advanced players who want to examine original scores and such) but, hey, where’s the usability? By a beginner, at that.
The Delcamp forum has for long been a meeting place of serious classical guitar aficionados. It’s a forum of knowledgeable and helpful people willing to share their advice on anything from buying a great guitar to offering technique critiques.
As a site for finding classical guitar sheet music, this one shines too.
Delcamp’s music finder page has all the marks of a big, orderly catalog. Composer eras are clearly marked out from Renaissance to Contemporary with corresponding composers inside each era.
Delcamp’s listings are somewhere between an arbitrary choice of a few hundred pieces chosen by the Classical Guitar Shed, say, and an exhaustive listing of every possible piece by every known composer of an IMSLP.
The Delcamp site leaves out an occasional composer of note – for instance, there is no Cutting or Corbetta or Robinson. But there is great depth in the ones who are covered. A typical page on a composer like Giuliani, for example, is quite exhaustive. It lists the composer’s solos, duos, concertos and the like in a series of links.
The Giuliani page above features links, each of which takes you to the earlier mentioned Boije Collection files with their original manuscript renditions. I’m particularly averse to seeing these ancient scribblings (as they appear to me) with no fingering guides marked on them. Many composer pages lead to the Boije Collection.
On the other hand, the founder of the site Mr. Delcamp himself has his own markings of fingering on numerous scores. For instance, the Renaissance composer Silvius Leopold Weiss’s Fantasie page has all the modern legibility and fingering marks that I love!
So let’s call this a curated plus comprehensive site for sheet music. Yet for a beginner, it can be daunting. Aside from a broad listing of composer eras and names of the composers themselves, there is no ‘chosen path’ offered.
This again is a site not just for the classical guitar but also for piano, violin, organ, flute, etc. It is comprehensive. But among sites of its kind, I found it to be the easiest to use.
For example, if I type ‘carcassi’ into the search box, I get all the relevant records it has: 367 sheets found. But it also helpfully tells me that a few scores are for flute and guitar, a few for piano and voice and some scores have TAB notation as well. The guitar solos in standard notation number 242.
If I add a ’60’ next to the keyword I get all his etudes from Op. 60 in a list. I can get to a particular Etude No. 7 from there and view it, download it and even listen to the mp3. Cool!
Check out a sample page of the Op. 60 No.7.
Carcassi’s Op. 60, incidentally, is his famous 25 Studies that students still learn and enjoy. They are not exactly beginner stuff though.
How to build your repertoire from sheet music sources
With all the sources mentioned above (plus half a dozen more honorable mentions), getting sheet music for free is hardly the issue. In our information age, information is plentiful.
What do we do with it? How do we organize it so that it helps us learn?
Recommendation 1: Follow an online voice
You can follow the path set out by an online teacher you’ve come to heed and respect. Or, perhaps your own tutor or mentor in real life has laid out a set of pieces for you to practice.
If this is the path you wish to pursue, then get on to, say, Bradford Werner’s site or Eythor Thorlaksson’s site and take note of their suggestions. Werner, in particular, has a free course for you to follow and not just disjointed, random pieces to learn and play.
Classical guitarists in the early and intermediate stages are notorious for picking pieces that are too hard for their stage of development and losing heart quickly. Don’t make that mistake!
Which is why good teachers of all ages have tried to give their students a good mix of songs that are rewarding to play as well as develop some aspect of technique (like arpeggio, bringing out the melody in a multi-part composition, etc.).
Trust a good teacher’s experience when it comes to choosing pieces. They do it well.
Recommendation 2: Follow your own voice
If you have limited time to delve into classical guitar, you can put together a small repertoire for yourself. It needn’t be a big deal, heavy duty thing at all.
You can start by sticking to the classical masters – Sor and Carcassi mostly with a bit of Aguado, Costs or Giuliani thrown in. An occasional piece by Anon. will not harm anyone either. What you’re looking for are the studies classical period masters composed for beginners. There’s quite a bit of that around.
If you look at Sor’s music, for instance, you can pretty much ignore pieces (Nos.) that fall under Opus 6 or Opus 29. They are beautiful to listen to, but most of them are for virtuosos. Maybe someday you’ll get to play them, but not yet.
You look for Sor’s Opus 31, Opus 35, Opus 44 and mainly Opus 60 (his last one when he mellowed as a person and player and ‘went easy’ on the beginner).
Within each Opus, look for Nos. 1 to 5, the early pieces which tend to be easier to play. An occasional higher No. may be easy enough to play but, by and large, stick to the early Nos.
Armed with this information, all you need is to get yourself over to the Free Scores site and search for a Sor piece. Look at the score and judge by looking at it if it feels under your grasp. If yes, download. There, you have added your first piece to your budding repertoire.
In a similar way, you’d look for the early pieces in Giuliani’s Op. 50, also known Le Papillon (The Butterfly). It is available as a whole edition with all the pieces at free-scores.com.
You’d want to avoid Carcassi’s Op.60 which are the famous 25 Studies and are meant for intermediate guitarists. You will find his Op. 59 more fruitful.
At NylonPicks, we worked along these lines and made a Beginner’s Repertoire of 9 Pieces and got the free music sheets for them.
- Fernando Sor: Op 60 No. 1 [Link to score]
- Ferdinando Carulli: Op 241 No. 1 [Link to score]
- Fernando Sor: Op 31 No. 1 [Link to score]
- Matteo Carcassi: Op 59 Andantino [Link to score]
- Mauro Giuliani: Op 50 No. 1 [Link to score]
- Fernando Sor: Op 60 No. 8 [Link to score]
- Anonymous: Greensleeves [Link to score]
- Dionisio Aguado: Lesson 7 Wals [Link to score – scroll for Lesson 7]
- Dionisio Aguado: Op 6 Lesson 19 [Link to score]
Sheet music for all of the above is available at Free-Scores.com. Click on the links alongside each name to get them. We recorded the above pieces at home (with the sound of a koel bird outside the window thrown in during Giuliani’s piece, for good measure) and shot the video.
Note: If you want to know the basics of a good audio recording of the classical guitar at home, you can check out our home recording guide.
9 beginner’s pieces: A repertoire from free sheet music
Feel free to download any or all these pieces with the links above and make your own beginner’s repertoire. There is such a thing having fun while playing a musical instrument. Enjoy!
Recommendation 3: How about paying a little?
If all of the above seems interesting, and no more, it only means you don’t want to scour the net and work overly hard at constructing a personal repertoire.
Well, do we have a solution for you!
How about spending a little money? Anthologies of music pieces of various composers aren’t all that expensive, considering that things like a guitar support can cost upwards of $50.
Especially when edited (with proper fingerings and great printing) by respected musician-scholars like Frederick Noad, Brian Jeffery and many others, you have something with you in bound form. Printed score sheets are notoriously misbehaved. A book is a book.
Here is a list of beginner piece books that do justice – especially the 100 Graded Classical Guitar Studies by Noad and 50 Easy Classical Guitar Solos by Jerry Willard. They are classics in the field for budding players.
Amazon link: Check the full list of books
If you are an advanced beginner or above, I will let you into a secret. What I’m about to share comes under the label of classical guitar porn.
Just about the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to decide that Sor should be taken pretty seriously. His work for our beloved instrument is genius. He truly understood its musicality and went for compositions way, way beyond banal.
I’d get myself the superb sheet music book of Brian Jeffery: Fernando Sor The Complete Studies, Lessons and Exercises for Guitar.
As explained earlier I will ignore his Op. 6 and Op. 29 and look at the four other Ops. And cast a loving look or two on the early numbered pieces within those Ops. Those are the low hanging fruit, rewarding to pluck (!).
Wait. I won’t stop there. I will follow up by getting myself the audio mp3 album played by Enea Leone: Sor Complete Studies For Guitar (Amazon link). He plays every piece from all the six Ops exquisitely and – look at the coincidence – you already have the sheet music for all this.
With score book in hand and ears wide open, you listen to Mr Leone. And – behold! – you learn what it takes to be interpretive and musical – without a single tutor in sight.
To learn the basics along with an excellent choice of technical exercises and musical pieces, you can’t beat the cherished Carcassi Method. Find out why this Method delivers 100% today even though it was originally written two hundred years ago. For help on scale practice, I recommend the article here on 6 Great Scale Books for Classical Guitar.
We also have put together a repertoire of 15 easy pieces for a beginner created from free sheet music online, with study notes and audio examples.
Now if all this talk gets you excited about taking your classical guitar education seriously, guess what?
We have for you a review of various types of guitar lessons online for the classical guitar and how you can find the one that suits you.
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