Last month I wrote about where you might look online if you want to buy sheet music- your child is learning a musical instrument and you have been advised to get a particular book for them by their music teacher, or they have told you they want to learn a specific piece of music, and you’re not sure where to start looking.
Online music retailers like the ones featured in my last blog post are a great place to look, and you are highly likely, if not guaranteed, to find the music you are looking for if you look on one of those sites. You may have to look at a couple of the websites to find what you are looking for, but you will be able to find it online.
But what if you would rather go into a physical shop to buy the music? What if you can’t wait for delivery, you would like to look at the book or the actual product to make sure it is right before you part with your hard earned cash? Where could you go to buy sheet music, what physical shops could you use?
There are many specialist music shops in the country. There is probably a specialist music shop in your nearest town at the very least. I live in Birmingham, UK, so have a few specialist music shops nearby that I could go to, and I will- over time- write about some of those shops so you know what is in them and what to expect if you go in there.
There are, of course the big, national chain book retailers. They sell books and sheet music comes in book format so it would be worth going in there, right? I have certainly bought sheet music from one large book retailer in the past, and have bought some music books for my children from both of the retailers in my city. But I must admit that was pre-pandemic. So I thought I would pop in to town and see what they had available.
I started my trip with a coffee in the Waterstones Cafe, of course. It’s nice in there. It’s quiet and there are nice big windows you can sit next to if the place isn’t too busy.
I then headed up to the music section on the top floor. This section has moved since I was last there, and I have previously found some sheet music there; primarily starter books for popular instruments, with titles like “First Tunes for Violin” or “The Complete Piano Player” series, that sort of thing, along with the sheet music for some pop songs. The music section looked like this:
There were a few of those “How to Play” type books, a few exam pieces books or music theory books, but there was very little in the way of sheet music in Waterstones Music section at all:
Mainly what I found were biographies of musicians, particularly rock and pop musicians; some books about the music industry; a few books about music history and music psychology; some books about album covers. So there were plenty of books on musical topics, but very few books of sheet music at all.
The children’s section of the shop has had some fun music books available before. Sound books like the Baby’s Bedtime Music Book, or a “My First Keyboard” type book, where a small keyboard forms part of the book and the book gives you a few tunes to learn using that small keyboard. I was quite surprised when I went into the children’s section that so few music books were available for children. I found a couple in the reference section, but not in any specific or labelled area, a few gift books of Nursery Rhymes, and nothing at all in the quite large area of the floor for older children. So if you are a student doing music for your GCSE or A levels, you have to leave the floor with all the other study guides and the Young Adult fiction, and go to the top of the shop to find anything about music. You can see from the images below that it was quite hard to actually spot the books about music in amongst all the other hobbies and activities books.
If you wanted to buy a specific book of sheet music, even something like the music to a film soundtrack it absolutely would not be worth going to Waterstones.
I did come out of the shop with these books that I am looking forward to reading though:
After this disappointing experience I thought I would try Foyles. The Foyles in Birmingham is a small bookshop. Certainly compared with Waterstones. I have never bought any sheet music from there, but when my children were very small, again pre-pandemic, we used to go into Foyles regularly. My son was obsessed with trains and they had a lovely little set of Brio tracks and trains he loved to play with. We would go into town on the train, watch the trains coming and going for a while once we got there, go into Foyles to play with the train set- I would often buy a book because I felt guilty that we went so often and didn’t buy something every time – and then get back on the train to go home. It was a regular day out! Anyway, they stocked quite a few noise books at the time, and this was where I got some of my children’s favourite music books from like these ones:
When I went in the other day, however, I found the usual musician biography with a few books about the music industry, some music history and a bit of music psychology- like Waterstones but on a smaller scale:
But in the children’s section at the back of the store, most of the music books had gone and again I found very few books about music for children. The ones I found were dotted about the shelves and would have been easy to miss.
Foyles would absolutely not be a place to go into to find any sheet music. Certainly not in Birmingham. If you were looking for some books about musicians or history of music you may have a bit of luck finding what you wanted, or something close to what you were after. But for younger children, and by that I mean anyone who was under about 15, I just don’t think I would bother looking.
To be honest I was surprised and quite disappointed by the very small selection of books on offer now, especially for children. The choice available in these shops has definitely got worse. Maybe because so much is available online so people only look there for books about music. But I certainly wouldn’t recommend going into either of these shops really unless you wanted a rock or pop musician’s biography, or you or your child were over 15 and just wanted to browse and see what they might have, knowing you might walk away empty handed.
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