What is a Lead Sheet?

When I am learning a new piece of music, I always reduce it to a lead sheet first. This strips away all the orchestrations and embellishments, and lets me see the most important elements of the piece.

A lead sheet is the briefest way to write down the essentials of a piece of music. With a knowledge of STYLE, instrumentalists or bands can create a performance out of a lead sheet. A lead sheet shows these elements of a piece of music:

  • Melody
  • Harmony

If the lead sheet is well edited it can show you the form as well.

Lead Sheet collections which are worth having in your music library are:

  • The Classical Fake Book, published by Hal Leonard. Contains 850 of the most popular classical music themes, all reduced to the Lead Sheet format.
  • The Real Book. Contains the most commonly played jazz standards. This is available as a hard copy, an ebook, or even better as an app. Professional musicians use the app on gigs, viewing the music on their iphone or ipad. The app has another fantastic feature... it can play the accompaniment to the songs in a wide range of styles, and all tempos and keys.