Classical Music on YouTube

◷ 10 min read

✏ published 2020-05-24

Jack Leightcap


- Background

- Copyright of Classical Music

- Aftermath

- Video Production

- Finding or Producing Sheet Music

- Obtaining Audio

- Sheet Music Preparation

- Audio Synchronization


From November 2017 to April 2020, I ran a YouTube channel called jleightcap. The channel posted a genre of videos I'll call scrolling score, where a recording of a piece of classical music is synced to the score. Here is an example for Stockhausen's Kontakte that I made.

At its peak, I had over 15 thousand subscribers, a handful of years of watchtime, and amassed an extremely kind group of viewers and friends.

Throughout March and early April, the channel received a total of 4 copyright strikes, resulting in the deletion of the channel in mid-April 2020.

Copyright of Classical Music

In general, these types of videos are allowed to exist because of the kindness (or apathy) of sheet music publishers. Record labels have automated claims that catch the large majority of videos and place ads, so I assume they are slightly more welcome to this type of video (of course with plenty of major exceptions).

For a lot of the videos I produced, I personally think it's ridiculous the sheet music isn't in public domain, but legally they just aren't.

So, when a sheet music publisher removes all of their intellectual property from my YouTube channel (even if written a century ago), YouTube places a strike on my channel. With 4 of these in an extremely short window, my channel was unrecoverable.

If you want a good example of just how bent copyright law can be, Shostakovich's music was removed from the public domain in 2012, with some recently entering back into public domain!

However, I do think it's important to consider that there is already a small market to support living composers, and "freely distributing" (although in video format) sheet music does dig into that market. My rule of thumb has been then to not upload pieces by living composers.

In general, if you're interested in making this type of video, for your own sake, use mostly pieces written before 1900. For me, this just isn't where my interests lie, and the deletion of my channel could be considered only inevitable.

If you're curious about specific publishers or record labels, there is a Facebook group and Discord server dedicated to making scrolling score videos filled with very kind, helpful people. Feel free to reach out to an active member of this community for details.


I don't plan on making scrolling score videos at the same frequency or magnitude that I had been. I've heard that others have archived my videos, and I consider these to be 'public domain'. Feel free to reupload entirely at your own risk, with or without credit.

My current plans are to continue engraving scores in lilypond, and post those to my personal YouTube channel Jack Leightcap. I'd also like to focus on more "gigantic" pieces without worrying about posting often.

Video Production

A frequent question was how I made videos. I developed a tool, ScrollingScore, which attempted to automate some of the more tedious image processing aspects of scrolling score video production.

Finding or Producing Sheet Music

This ranges from simply downloading public domain sheet music from the International Music Score Library Project, to engraving the score myself in lilypond like with Feldman's Piano and String Quartet (the source can be found here). The best method for hard-to-find music, as long as you're a university student, is inter-library loans. I had a ton of fun sleuthing for rare sheet music.

There are websites that host scans of non-public domain sheet music that I will not mention out of fear of their takedown.

Obtaining Audio

Can again range from finding the public domain recording on YouTube, to tracking down a record on eBay and converting it yourself.

This again toes the line of piracy, which for the same reason I won't get into.

Sheet Music Preparation

This is the point where ScrollingScore was intended to be useful. Sheet music preparation includes:

ratio of two consecutive pages are both very tall, then I found it to look nicer to place them next to one another on one slide. See the ScrollingScore repo for more information.

A more powerful tool I recommend is CMaj7's sproc; although limited to Windows.

Audio Synchronization

This is the point where the video is actually assembled. A frequent question was what video editor I used (the answer is Shotcut), but generally scrolling score videos are glorified slideshows and almost any video editor will be adequate. Of course there are exceptions like Crumb's Makrokosmos where the graphic score actually "rotates", but graphic scores like this are very much an exception.

At this point actually being familiar with reading music is required (although from what I've heard from people, the barrier of entry is technological, not musical). For 'traditional scores' (have a time signature, key, aren't extremely complicated), this is usually a two-pass system with one pass for syncing and one for verifying.

For scores that don't have some or all of those traditional qualities, syncing the audio and score can take as much as thirty times as long as the recording (notable examples from my experience: Ligeti's String Quartet no. 2, Crumb's Makrokosmos, Schnittke's Symphony no. 1). In some rare instances, syncing can actually be impossible or non-deterministic! (although this is the result of some pretty avant-garde notation, like different instruments being on different pages at the same time or 'free' notation where there is no clear 'breakpoint' between sections).