Music Books & Leadsheets

It is mind blowing the stuff that is out on the internet and the rampant availability of music charts. I remember I bought my first [illegal] Jazz “Real Book” from my guitar teacher – It was a bunch of photocopies of what was probably his own and was complete with handwritten corrections and alternate chords to the classic handwritten sheets. It came in this huge 3-ring binder. Later, I bought books from stores that I had heard rumors had the realbooks and they literally kept them out of sight like some illegal drugs or something – You had to ask for the “REAL Realbooks”. Of course, eventually Hal Leonard got in on the Realbook market, so now you can just go to the store and buy them anywhere, but back in my day….. Now -a- days, you kidz n’ your internets, you have no idea how good you have it.

So the thing to know about this subject is that chords [aka changes] by themselves cannot be copyrighted – Therefore there are many resources which provide you with the chords alone. Of course if you want to “learn how the song goes” melody-wise, this is of no value to you [aside: Use your ears and figure it out!]. On the other hand if you are a piano/guitar/chordal player or you want to know what chord-sequence to practice soloing over, well than the chords-only stuff is of use.

I will not be hosting anything that is copyright-infringing on my server – therefore there are no straight up Real Book .pdfs to download here. If you are looking for them, well I’m not saying that these copyright-infringing resources are readily available and all you really have to do is google somethings like “real book .pdf” or “real_book .pdf” or maybe even “realbook .pdf”… But really, here are some resources I do recommend…


1. The Creole Jazz Band Out-Of-Copyright FakebooksThis ain’t rocket science, but sometimes you just have to be the person to be doin’ it. This fellow went through his collection of lead-sheets and pulled out all of the songs that were composed before 1923 and therefore are out-of-copyright and in the public domain. All of the songs are, of course, older tunes that will appeal more to the Trad-Jazz/Dixie/Swing folks, but what this means is that it is completely legal to “publish” these songs… Of course, all credit is due to the guys from the Creole Jazz Band for taking the time to put this series of books together!

2. JeanLuc Barbier’s Les Standards du Jazz: Yeah, this probably ain’t kosher, but they did do the sheets themselves instead of copying them from a book so we’ll just say it is for educational purposes? I think there is only “C” versions though. 

1. – A+. It is free, the chord charts that pop out are legible [ie not just Courier Text] and YOU CAN TRANSPOSE THEM ON THE FLY!  Most excellent. Alot like having the irealbook app as a free online webapp. 

2. – Like the above site, but it also has a neat little feature where it tells you an index of where the song can be found in paper books so you can hunt down the melody.

3. – A little cryptic in its execution but it exists. 

4. The Vanilla Realbook –The late Ralph Patt’s collection of chord changes in ASCII /Courier Text. There are also backing tracks elsewhere on the site.

5. Jim Bottorff’s Banjo Page – I know it’s “Banjo” but it does have lots of chords to different songs and it also has the lyrics to many which is a bonus.

Lastly, though it’s not online, I want to make special mention of the iphone/ipad application “iRealb” [it used to be called iRealbook but apparently HalLeonard had a hissy fit about that and threatened the app’s creator so he changed the name]. Without a doubt iRealb is both the most useful app I have ever purchased [$10] as a jazz musician. Chords to 1500+ songs in my pocket, complete transposition, ability to create sub playlists and original compositions, online community of folks constantly adding more charts and instant backing tracks. Value = through the roof. See for that.

If you are interested on the history of Jazz/Society musicians and their having to have lots of music on hand for any situation, here are two Articles on the “history” of fake books: Bob Keller’s Joy of Fakebooks and an academic paper which interestingly uses the notion of Realbooks/Fakebooks as “Sampling” – Pop Song Piracy, Fake Books, and a Pre-history of Sampling