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The Weekend Vote Weekend Vote: How do you organize your sheet music?

September 21, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Violinist, TRAPPED!

Thousands of sheets and books of violin music have finally buried Mrs. Laurie Niles alive in her studio. The situation became dire after she attempted to stuff her latest duet-book purchase from the music store into her ready-to-explode filing cabinet. The cabinet did indeed explode, which explains the books and music piled upon every possible surface in her studio, with Mrs. Niles cowering beneath.

* * *

It's only a slight exaggeration; there is NO MORE ROOM to stuff more music in my studio! No, I take that back. I still have several piles that haven't reached the ceiling; I probably could lay a few more volumes on top, provided I keep the balance and don't send everything swooshing to the floor.

The filing drawers that have accommodated my music for the last eight years have simply filled up. I like my system: a deeper-than-normal filing cabinet where I can mix books and large music, sitting upright, with hanging folders, in which I put those orchestra music practice copies and such. It can all go alphabetical by composer. Except that I've run out of room! At this point, I'm seriously considering commissioning a friend who is talented in carpentry to custom-make some file cabinets.

How do you organize your music? Please share your ideas! We can start with a little vote, to get the ball rolling:

From Allyson Lyne
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 6:01 PM
I came across something called a "craft organizer" at a home & yard big-box store, and bought two. They are shoulder-height 9-cube storage units which come with options for drawers, vertical or horizontal dividers, and a couple of shelves, I think. I put vertical dividers across most of the cubes, and it holds my music vertically but well-supported - like books on a shelf. Really fantastic. I keep one cube with a horizontal shelf to keep un-filed items and teaching book, one cube of small drawers for things like rosin, stickers, pens, and one cube of two large drawers, which holds my collection of chin-rests, shoulder rests, and extra straps for cases. The units have a pleasant fake-wood finish and hold an absolute ton of music - I have nearly everything ever printed for violin plus trio & quartet materials and a surprising amount of vocal scores. Best thing I ever found. I have since seen them sold occasionally in a big-box craft store.

I always hated filing cabinets because I seemed to get things caught and ripped a lot!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 6:32 PM
Allyson, that sounds cool! Can you share a picture? I'm happy to help you post it!
From Steve Reizes
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 7:55 PM
I have mine in Magazine boxes that can set on bookshelves. Keeps it all neat(when it's put away) and accessable.
From Amber Rogers
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 8:11 PM
My charming (and clutter averse) husband bought me a file cabinet. However I've yet to find hanging folder rails that don't crumple under the weight of all that music. And I've got piles and piles that have accumulated in just under a year that won't fit into it. It's an ongoing war in my studio.
From Dena Strauss
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 8:12 PM
We organize ours in stackable, legal-sized plastic file boxes designed for hanging file folders. The hanging files have ABC tabs and solos are arragned by composer. We have a separate box for duets and another for collections/ method books. We also keep a basket in our practice area where we store whatever we are currently working on. Works well to keep music neat and accessible.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on September 21, 2012 at 8:51 PM
I voted shelves. Most of my collection is on shelves in the back section (my wife and kids avoid this area) of my office. Most of the violin material is on a shelf to the right and slightly behind my desk. Some of the flute stuff is flat on a shelf to the left beside my desk.

Now the violin and fiddle material I use on a somewhat regular bases is in a pair of attache bags based on violin or fiddle.

The problem is my violins are in that back section and I have to always be careful not to knock over the two and a half foot tall stack of books at the corner of the shelf that forms one side of the path that leads to the back section (be afraid, bwaha ha ha ha).

From Melinda Keeling
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I use magazine boxes, that stand vertically, for my active PRACTICE material, in boxes labeled by clef (treble, alto, bass) and other by instrumenst (banjo, Viola da Gamba). These stay in the practice room.

Then I have notebooks for my active GROUP or PERFORMANCE material, that I take out of the practice room with me to use. Each notebook is for the setting I will be going to - orchestra, trio, Special Event, etc. I have several tote bags that these books are held in when not on the practice stand, for different locations, so I can grab and go.

Finally, I have bookshelves with one shelf per instrument material.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 1:37 AM
A suggestion for that much music. One of the gals at Interlochen stores hers in plastic bins with hanging file folders. If you take that thought and then add a floor to ceiling "box" shelving (each opening large enough for a bin), you have yourself a solution.

We do something similar at work in the accounting office, but with the cardboard type boxes.

From Joshua De Anda
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 3:02 AM
Well, I was asked to describe so... I love those flat Shar mailing boxes, they're the perfect size.
From Paul Deck
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 3:25 AM
There is an Easy and Best Way to do this. It is called a database. It's very easy to set up in MS Excel, but commercial bibliography database software should be able to do it too (often such software is optimized for managing scholarly articles and such but could quickly be customized for music).

Each separate item of your sheet music (which might presently be in a single stack in a completely random order) is assigned a number starting with 1, 2, 3, etc. These can now be arranged on shelves or in a filing cabinet, simply in numerical order.

For each item you create a row (that is, a database record) in an Excel table. The first column should be the numerical Item Number (database primary index). The next few or several columns can be as much information in as many different categories as you have the inclination to enter -- composer, edition, instrumentation, genre, keywords ... whatever you think will be useful in finding music later. Make sure the columns have headings. If you have PDF copies of the items on your computer, you can even have a column that makes a hyperlink to the file, so that you click it and the PDF opens. The link can either be local or WWW (e.g., IMSLP) Select the whole table and click "Format as Table" on the Home Ribbon.

Once your Excel database is complete, whenever you want to find your Mozart sonatas, you can use the standard searching and data sorting tools within Excel to quickly find the correct row (record). Look at the Item Number and you can walk over and pick it out from your shelf.

Whenever you add something, just give it the next higher number and enter its data. If you lose, throw away, or loan an item, don't delete its record. Instead make a 'status' column in your database to indicate what has happened to the item, and on your shelf replace the item with a plain piece of paper that bears the same number.

This method avoids the question of "how to organize -- by composer, or by genre, or by ..." because your information is simultaneously organized in all of those ways.

Write to me if you need more details.

As far as storing your music physically, legal-size filing cabinets are one good way, but the custom-cabinet idea is another. But if you are going to use the filing system that I've mentioned, then you won't be separating small format items from large format, so you'll need shelves that are fairly oversized. If you do commission custom shelves, having vertical slats every 2-3 inches is helpful to prevent sagging, and be careful what kind of finish you select, something that will not stick to your music over time. A waterbased urethane varnish like Benjamin Moore's "Stays Clear" product in low luster will work well if it is properly applied and given sufficient time to cure before putting anything on it.

From Benedict Gomez
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 5:40 AM
There should be a "What sheet music?" choice for Celtic fiddlers etc...
From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Ah, this week on "Hoarders"...

I have two oak bookcases, 37 x 60 inches each, four shelves each, on one wall. Music is standing, like books, not flat.

I had these cases custom made, and they were well worth the cost. The material and carpenter expenses were far less than retail, and the quality much superior. Even after over ten years, no shelf sag!

I also have a small five shelf case for books, a moving-out-no-room-in-the-truck gift, from years ago in college.

Frequent purging is also a good idea...

From Nairobi Young
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Well, I don't have yet the collection that so many do so I guess at the moment I'm lucky. All my solo violin and beginner viola music are in one binder (along with piano accompaniment). Then I have a scale book, Mazas ├ętudes and the accolay violin concerto, so those go inside the binder. I have another binder with all my current viola music (MYA music, IMEA audition music, ETHS orchestra music. In the pockets; all my solo music.....I should probably hole punch my string quartet music and put that in...)

And then I have one huge torn Seman Violins folder that houses all my violin music from the last two years of music from my previous orchestra music from my previous school and there is sooo much of it...pretty soon I'm going to have organize this MUCH better than what I'm doing.....I need some shelves In my room :/

From marjory lange
Posted on September 22, 2012 at 1:51 PM
Paul, your database suggestion doesn't solve the problem of where to put the items after you have catalogued, file cabinet, shelf. It's true, you probably know exactly what you have, but where does the enumerated list live in real time?
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on September 23, 2012 at 4:26 AM
I don't have much sheet music yet, but after seeing my son just dump his on the floor, I felt I had to be an example for him. My Scottish tunes are in binders so I can bring them to meetings/jams. The exercises my teacher gives me are in their own separate binder, which stays in my music bag for lessons. Then I have a few loose pieces of music that I admit just get jammed into my music bag. But my music bag is reaching the point where I'm going to have to make some kind of external system.
From Paul Deck
Posted on September 24, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Marjory, I thought I answered that just a bit in the last part of my previous post, but I am very much in favor of simple wooden shelves, especially if Laurie has the services of a good carpenter available. The problem, of course, is that if you store your music in "numerical" order as I have suggested then you'll have really big items mixed in with really small ones so all your shelves have to be as large as your largest item.

But there is even a solution to this. As you catalog your items, you can divide them into subsets by size. So, anything under X inches in height gets a number between 0 and 999. Anything between X and Y inches gets a number between 1000 and 1999, and anything over Y inches high gets a number starting with 2000. You can determine what X and Y should be just by "sizing up" your collection. Then for each item you just first need to determine it's height and then you catalog it as before. Then you can build a set of shelves, with one shelf that is X + 0.5 inches in height, one that is Y + 0.5 inches, and a third shelf that is, say, Y + 4 inches high. This will economize vertical space, slightly and give a more consistent appearance.

Having built a fair amount of the furniture and built-ins in my own home, I advocate the use of veneered plywood. A great deal of shelving can be produced from one sheet of good-quality veneered (e.g., oak or birch) 3/4 inch plywood. Please make sure it is top grade domestic plywood (from a reputable lumber store that supplies cabinet makers) and not the stuff imported from Asia (i.e., the stuff they have at the big box home improvement places) or you will be disappointed with the appearance and your carpenter will be frustrated with its inferior workability. Consider also adding rear 1x2 cleats and a 1x2 hardwood face-frame; it adds a couple of inches to your vertical spacing but also increases stability quite a bit. And it's easy for your carpenter to do. Make sure also that your shelves have a 1/4" plywood back as this will increase stability / squareness and prevent your books from scuffing the walls.

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