A student recently asked me why different editions of the same violin music cost more than others. At first, I thought the answer was obvious, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is an important topic that anyone wanting to learn to play the violin should explore.

In this article I will explain the role a music editor plays in your printed violin music and fiddle music. I will also share with you some of my very favorite sites for downloading free violin music, free fiddle music, and inexpensive download sites.

You’re Buying Expertise

When you buy a piece of violin music or fiddle music, you are not just buying the printed notes on the page. You are buying an expert’s bowings, articulations, and sometimes fingerings, as well as scholarly interpretations of some things that are not a “black and white” part of what the composer wrote. Some composers were very fastidious about notating and dictating exactly what they wanted the performer to do. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Stravinsky are good examples. These composers understood stringed instruments very well, and they also recognized that anything they didn’t put in ink would be up for individual interpretation by performers later.

However, many composers didn’t recognize the various interpretations that their music would be subjected to through time. This is especially true of Baroque and even Classical composers. Prior to the Baroque era, music was often preserved through the oral tradition, and if it was written down at all, often it was not written by the original composer, but by some musician who took the time to write it down as he or she had learned it.

So for Baroque composers, it was sufficient that the composer wrote down the notes and rhythms that he or she intended for the piece of music to be performed. But history would show that there would be huge discrepancies regarding bowings, articulations, dynamics, and ornaments to the extent that the different interpretations of those elements change the entire character of the piece.

Mahler and Mendelssohn learned this lesson from history and were fairly proactive in communicating the elements of interpretation that they felt were most important to their music. Stravinsky took it to the extreme and left nothing to chance, dictating every articulation, accent, and nuance.

Then there are composers who are well known for not exactly understanding the many nuances of string playing. No offense to pianists, but most in this category were primarily pianists. If a composer doesn’t really understand the nature of bowings and articulations, for instance, string players tend to ignore their bowings and articulations and they get replaced by knowledgeable and respected performers. For these composers, it would be very important to choose an edition with reliable editing.

There has recently been a resurgence of interest in giving an absolutely authentic performance, attempting to deliver exactly what the composer wrote….nothing more, and nothing less. Along with this revival of interest in authenticity comes a desire to see exactly what the composer wrote. These special musical editions are referred to as the “urtext” edition. You are on your own with this music! There will be no helpful input from any other violinists…..the music is a blank slate, with nothing separating you from the composer, except that the music is in PRINT, not in the composer’s own handwriting. I often buy the urtext edition, along with my chosen edited edition. This enables me to see what the composer wrote versus what the editor wrote, and I can make my own decision. Other times, I depend fully upon what an editor has written.

Favorite Free Violin and Fiddle Music Download Sites

Remember, lots of sites will place cookies and spyware on your computer. I have visited these sites and have not experienced anything bad. Also remember: If you like a site and it is truly free and delivers without trying to “trick” you…..show your appreciation by making a small donation to them!

  1. Petrucci Music Library Classical Violin. This is a difficult site to navigate but it is worth the effort! What an awesome free resource!
  2. Irish Traditional Music Archive. One of my favorites. Tons of Irish music. Click “PDF Downloads” on the left. You can download clean sheet music, treatises, and more.
  3. TheSession.org. Celtic Fiddle music, and lots of it! Enter the name of any celtic tune and get a midi recording and sheet music for ANY version.
  4. The Real Book by Kate (PDF). This is a huge, clean collection of fiddle music.
  5. Free Scores. Extremely comprehensive list of sites offering free sheet music. Time consuming, but a great resource for classical and folk music alike.
  6. The Mutopia Project. Classical music; Choose the “pdf” links for clean sheet music. I am less familiar with this site’s integrity.

Inexpensive Violin and Folk Music Download Site

If you want a totally reliable, safe, clean site to download unlimited violin music, try this affordable option:
Virtual Sheet Music. This site has inexpensive downloads, or an annual “all you can eat” option. I really like the features of this site, and I have worked closely with its founder. He is a knowledgeable musician in his own right and is working hard to offer a huge variety of sheet music for easy and low-cost download.

In the next installment of this post, I will give you a quick overview of just a few publishers, editors, and the composers who are most impacted by editorial changes. But that’s going to take some research to get you accurate information. See you next time!