Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Copyright and the Private Studio Teacher

Copyright.  Why should we bother??  As a private teacher, I have often said to myself, “It’s such a pain to have students purchase music, when I could just copy one piece out of this book.”  Another excuse that I have used is, “Well, this student will only be singing one song out of this book.  Why should I have them go to the expense of purchasing the entire collection?”

This past summer, I was the recipient of the NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Independent Teacher Fellowship.  This gave me the opportunity to attend the National Conference this past July in Salt Lake City.  One of the things that really struck me was that original music was used by all of the pianists during the conference.  I also had the joy of attending a “Publisher Showcase” during every lunch period.

These Publisher Showcases were opportunities for me to really appreciate all the work that publishers put into preparing new editions of music for those of us who teach.  Hal Leonard has some amazing new editions of Leonard Bernstein songs (Bernstein Theatre Songs in High, Low & Duets/Ensembles books and Bernstein Art Songs and Arias in High & Medium/Low keys) as well as a new complete edition of 65 Songs of Samuel Barber (in High and Medium/Low keys).  The work and attention to detail evident in these new editions of composers we know and love was evident.  Previously unpublished songs are included in each of these new editions.  I was also introduced to the new Schirmer editions of the standard Italian Art Songs and Arias.  The 28 Italian Songs and Arias now includes (in 5 keys, and for only $10/book without the recording) IPA & historical background of each song, in addition to a few songs that are unfamiliar from the traditional “yellow book” Schirmer edition.

Several other publishers were present, most notably, for me, was Graphite Publishing.  This small company from Minneapolis has, I think, a winning formula of price, composer remuneration, and ability to print.  Each single piece of music (of some really amazing contemporary pieces by “living composers”) costs $3.50 to purchase.  Of this, 50% ($1.75) goes directly to the composer – this information is really helpful to me.  I find that if I know how much a composer is going to make from a piece of music, I’m much more likely to purchase it.  Also, and this is the best part, each purchase comes with the rights to print TWO copies of the music.  One copy each for singer and pianist.  This acknowledgement of the place of the pianist in a singer’s life is vital.

After experiencing all this amazing music, I returned to Arizona to be confirmed as the Valley of the Sun NATS Chapter President.  As I was going through NATS documents, I found that NATS had, in 2008, codified a policy of use of copies in NATS events.  In it, it is explicitly stated that “The use of photocopied music is prohibited at all NATS sponsored events, from the national to the chapter level.”  My experience at the NATS Conference gave me new insight into the work that goes into editions of music, even of composers who are no longer among us.  Their work is vital to the discovery of new literature.

This summer, the amazing Music Theater composer Jason Robert Brown posted several blogs about the nature of copyright, the composer and those who feel they have the “right” to pass along copies of music.  These posts are “Fighting with Teenagers: A Copyright Story” and “The Copyright Sheriff Strikes Again.”  His wife, the talented composer Georgia Stitt, also posted on this issue this summer, referencing her post last year “This Issue of Piracy,” and then “The Copyright Debate Continues” this summer.

All of these experiences have brought me to the realization that adherence to copyright rules (yes, it’s okay to work off of a single copy of a piece of music that you own – I do this all the time, as I write extensively in my score and want a “clean” score to be able to present to a pianist) is our job as teachers to pass on to our students.  We get so excited when we run across the “perfect” piece of music for our students.  I know that it’s MUCH easier to just say “I’ll copy it for you” so that the student can get to work on it right away.

With the advent of music downloads of many pieces of music, I will email the student the exact URL of the piece I want them to purchase (including any necessary key adjustments) in their lesson notes.  I try to find collections of books that have more than 3 pieces that they will be able to sing in the near future (at a standard MusicNotes download price of $5.25 to $5.95 per piece, a $15 book of collections without the CD accompaniment versions is quickly “paid for” with this 3+ rule).  The more collections of this type are purchased, the more often they will be put together by publishers.  This request to purchase takes more thought and consideration.  It’s also an additional step that the student must take.

As teachers, we MUST instill respect for the score into our student.  If we don’t do it, no one else will.  There is some fabulous music being written out there, at all levels of difficulty.  Let’s support the composers who write it and the publishers who bring us fabulous new editions with more insight and information (historical, linguistic, additional resources).  Without our teaching the students, they will not learn how important purchasing original music is in the creation of new musical resources in our lives.

What do YOU think about this?  How do you deal with music in your studio?  Do you purchase music for your students?  How do you handle the cost of the music?  What happens when your students don’t purchase the music for weeks on end?  How important is this issue in the continuation of the music industry?

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

I offer ... [Read more]


  1. Julian Gall

    You are right that copyright should be respected when there is genuine creative work. That obviously applies for living composers and for new editions that involve, as you say, “work and attention to detail”.

    However, I think publishers need to make it easy for students and teachers and recognise that they themselves are copying older classical music without paying royalties to the composers and, in some cases, the editors. Many music publishing businesses are built on printing works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven etc. which were edited before the twentieth century and composed before that. For the publishers to complain about these being copied is a little hard to take.

    As an example of how things are not made easy, my daughter recently took a cello diploma exam with ABRSM. This involved a one-off performance in front of examiners. ABRSM require the student to provide the examiner with a purchased copy of the music to read from while the student plays (also not from a copy), or obtain permission from the publisher to make a photocopy. One of my daughter’s pieces was pubished by Faber. They say on their web site that if you wish to make a copy for an examiner you must fill in a “photocopy request form” and send it to them for permission, which they will they give.

    This is ridiculous. It is in the music publishers’ interests for their music to be used as exam set pieces, as that will give them more sales. That they then make it so difficult to take a copy for use by an examiner (not by the student) is not helping people’s respect for copyright.

    In our case, we filled in the form and duly submitted it to Faber’s presumably overworked licensing department. We never heard back from them. What a waste of time.

    Also at fault here, of course, is ABRSM. They could use their considerable infliuence to make it a condition of setting a particular piece of music that the publisher grant a licence for anyone taking the exam to make an examiner’s copy.

    I look forward to the day when all out of copyright music is available free electronically so it can be downloaded and printed instantly. The job of publishers was to make great music available to musicians when there was no other way. Now there is another way, they won’t be needed.

  2. Georgia Stitt

    How thrilling to come across your article. In the musical theater community we are trying to tackle the copyright infringement problem two ways. 1. Music must be easy to find and easy to download at a reasonable price. Sheet music that is hard to find legally just leads people to photocopy, trade, and download it illegally. 2. The people who use sheet music must be educated to understand why it’s important to support those of us who create it. More than the threat of litigation, it’s crucial that we teach students, teachers and fans that writers who cannot make a living from the sale of their work will no longer be able to afford to write. Your $5 – $15 may not seem like much to you, but it’s a big part of what comprises a composer’s livelihood. If you love to sing new music, it’s imperative that you stop giving it away for free.

    You mention the fantastic website but I also wanted to direct you and your readers to a great new online sheet music community: Enjoy!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    Georgia Stitt

  3. Craig Tompkins

    Great article Rachel! Thank you so much for posting it. In addition to New Musical Theatre that Georgia Stitt mentions above, the website Musical Theatre Arts was launched during the NATS Conference in Salt Lake City this summer.

    In dealing with music, I encourage students to purchase their own music either from a music store or from a legitimate website. I will occasionally buy music for students when I’m at the music store, then invoice them for it on MTH. If they repeatedly come without the music I’ve asked them to purchase, half the lesson is technique and the other half comes from the large supply of theory and diction worksheets I keep on hand for just such occasions.


  4. Ronnie Currey

    Good article. And the subject matter unique.

  5. […] to write more stunning music.  (I wrote about the publisher, Graphite Publishing, last month in my Copyright and the Private Studio Teacher […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.