Fake books are collections of songs or instrumental works that include only the melody, chord changes, and song lyrics. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz defines a fake book as “[A]n informal collection of scores used by performing musicians and as a tool for learning. A fake book presents (either in loose-leaf or bound form) the music to standards and popular tunes, and the contents may range in number from a few dozen pieces to well over a thousand.” (The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz is available to
Fakebooks have had a complex history (detailed in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz). Originally many were written out by musicians from recorded performances as a teaching tool. Because these performances were protected by copyright, these transcriptions were frequently illegal and therefore only circulated informally. In more recent years music publishers have created “legitimate” fake books that have full copyright clearance (but lack some of the romance).
Many musicians prefer fake book arrangements because they are usually briefer than piano vocal scores and thus easier to keep track of. Fake books can also help users who only need to know the lyrics to a song. Most fake books contain jazz, pop, or rock music, but there are also specialized fake books for blues music, classical music, and folk music. There are also fake books for bass clef instruments as well as for Eb instruments (like the alto saxophone) or Bb instruments (like the trumpet and tenor saxophone).
Our Fake Book Index contains nearly 20,000 entries and continues to grow. You can search by song title or the last name of the composer or songwriter. It can be helpful to truncate your search to see a greater selection of songs. Once your result page appears, you can also follow the link to the fakebook’s title to view the full contents of that fakebook.
Where's That Tune?: An Index to Songs in Fakebooks by William D. Goodfellow, Musikey (a music in-print resource kept at our reference desk) and an online Fakebook Index by Seven String Software are other tools for locating music in fakebooks. We also have a binder of table of contents pages for many of our not-yet-indexed fakebooks located above our Song Index card file.Page update: We now have an AMRLibrarian del.icio.us bookmark page with a listing of other fakebook indexes on the web.