Storing Music

October 16, 2010 at 11:56 PM ·

Every once in a while I organize my music by categories (chamber, etudes, solo stuff, early music) on a book shelf that I have specifically for music.  But it becomes a mess after a while and I have accumulated so much loose leaf copied music I'm at a loss at how to store it safely and in an organized manner. 

Replies (21)

October 17, 2010 at 12:06 AM · Have you considered a filing cabinet or portable file tote? It would allow you to organize your music by type and encourage you to put it back in the same location.

October 17, 2010 at 01:46 AM ·

Hi Marina,

Have you heard Rachel Barton Pine’s podcast on storing sheet music (Episode 37: Containing your clutter - tips for storing your sheet music)? It’s pretty good and here is the link:

October 17, 2010 at 04:07 AM ·

My music is well-organized in two file cabinet drawers that almost shut; one is for piano, and the other is for violin.  On top of the cabinet is a stack of music I play through regularly, a damaged graphite original from high school, and some random copies of Bach.  In my case is the stuff I took to rehearsal, 6B and 8B art pencils, a kneaded eraser, and some random copies of Bach.  On the desk is music I am rehearsing with my students, colored pencils, stickers, and random copies of Bach.  In a stack next to the desk are my method books, sometimes organized in order of level.  Also, a copy of Yost and a little Bach. 

On the stand lies last night's late night practice session, and Bach. In my music bag, I keep my etude books, some pastels, and some mystery pages that came about on their own accord, having found a home with me for the time being.  (I'm sure they will disappear in the same fashion that they came.)  And some random copies of Bach.

Inside the bench, which I haven't opened in five years, is a surprise.  On top of the piano are various accompaniments for my students.  And next to the door I have a stack of loaner books and some ideas for future reference.  I'm sure there's some Bach in there, too.

I can find any piece you like in less than a minute.  But I can never find any particular Bach piece when I want it; I play whichever one I've found.

October 17, 2010 at 09:56 AM ·

It's a good idea to backup important music, especially any which is difficult or expensive to replace, in PDF format onto your computer. Many modern printers (e.g. Lexmark) have the facility to do this.  If you download sheet music from websites such IMSLP it's going to be in PDF format anyway.  The advantage of PDF sheet music is that you can practice it from the computer screen. The main drawback is that you can't mark in bowings and fingerings on screen (not just yet; I've heard that technology is looking into this.) 

October 17, 2010 at 02:33 PM ·

" becomes a mess after awhile..."

I try to put things back where they belong in a timely manner.  When trying doesn't cut it, I tidy up once a week.  Usually...

I store music vertically on open shelves.  For loose papers, I've been using manila folders, which take up little space, easily labeled, are cheap, and reusable.


October 17, 2010 at 11:45 PM ·

I store my sheet music in magazine folders (or holders - I've seen both terms used for the same thing) that are about 3" wide. You can get cardboard or plastic ones at places like Staples. I store my Strad magazines the same way. This works very well. You can label the folders. Then I divide my music into categories: technical material (eg scales, etudes) , concertos, sonatas, short pieces, duos, trios, quartets, etc. , orchestral parts, opera etc. Within each category I put the music in alphabetical order; eg one folder may be labeld "concertos A-G" etc. Oh, I also use manila file folders for loose sheets and very thin music, and then put those into the magazine folders/holders as well.

Occasionally there is a piece that defies easy categorization: where to put the Vitali Chaconne or the Sinding Suite? If it's an extended piece that would go on a recital program, I'd put it with sonatas, if an extended piece that is played with orchestra acconpaniment it will go with concertos. Then there is the occasional old oversize music. I'll stand these up inbetween the folders. I have a rather extensive collection of sheet music at this point - between 5 and 6 yards worth! This system really works quite well.

October 18, 2010 at 12:03 AM ·

er - organise?

Most recently used on top, the rest further down the pile. Where's xxxyy? Er - when did I last use it - that means about a third of the way down.

I think I'd better follow this thread for ideas.


October 18, 2010 at 12:47 PM ·

Thanks for the ideas.  File cabinets are a good idea but expensive and and more of a "in the future" project.  Then again all this oversized music may not fit.  Magazine holders are probably the best idea considering I line them up on a book shelf at the moment.  This way I can pull out one holder at a time without having all the rest fall down.

But what about loose sheet music.  File folders within the magazine holders?


October 18, 2010 at 07:40 PM ·

"But what about loose sheet music.  File folders within the magazine holders?"

Punch holes and store them in three-ring binders.

October 18, 2010 at 09:02 PM ·

That can certainly work, physically. But the respective sheets may belong to very different categories, and you may not want them altogether, nor would you just wan a few sheets per binder. So as I said above, I use manila file folders and put those in the magazine holders.

October 19, 2010 at 03:14 AM ·

Hi Marina, I store my music in a few wood cabinets with drawers.  My music doesn't get bent this way.  I keep it in alphabetical order too.


October 19, 2010 at 06:24 AM ·

Its the same old problem struggled with for centuries in library and journal holdings.  Do you file them in a way they are easy to stash (the easiest way is by composer and then opus) or in a way where they are with their colleagues (by type - sonata, solo, concerto, composer).  After a career of trying to save journal articles I have found that, well, nothing really works without an independent catalogue.

If you try to do it by type the problem is that each piece is an example of several types.  Worse, some pieces are in anthologies and you can't file them in multiple places.  Then there is the two sheets that becomes a nuicance in its own manila folder (because there is no place to read its identity on its back).  Not only that once it is in the fiing cabinet/box/pile/folder its out of mind and hard to locate.

What to do?  Well, first is to leave out the ones you are working on!  As my collection is grows I've find myself going back to the composer filing system.  Its not very convenient for browsing types but at least I can find the piece.  I keep anthologies separate from the rest - but put narrow coloured tags (narrow post-it notes) on each piece that I like to play.  That way I can quickly scan each book for its favoured content.

As the collection grows, however, one ultimately needs a way to store the music so it is easy to find - and then a separate spreadsheat that can be searched based on each details (Mozart; Op 327; trio; difficult; favorite....).  By the way, the latter is not difficult to set up with something like the Microsoft Excel (a component of office).  The problem with all such systems of course is that you have to keep up the entry and its easy to get lazy.



October 20, 2010 at 06:24 AM ·

Everyone has his/her own system. I like mine but I won't tell you, John:)

October 20, 2010 at 01:10 PM ·

 I've got an old copy of O'Neill's Dance Music of Ireland (172pp) which is a pain to put flat on a music stand.  Eventually, the inevitable happened a few days ago and the glue binding suddenly disintegrated, flinging all 86 sheets onto the floor.  However, the binding edges of the sheets turned out to be remarkable clean and straight, and since the sheets are almost A4 size it took but a few minutes to install them in a 3-hole binder, perfect for a music stand.

October 25, 2010 at 05:42 AM ·

I use a bunch of these at my studio, in brown-black. Organized by instrument or ensemble type. It makes it very easy to see everything, and the shelves are easy to clean:

October 25, 2010 at 06:47 AM ·

Gene: what a great idea!  And I'm just setting up my studio.... IKEA this week (several other pieces of the furniture are from there too).

October 25, 2010 at 05:25 PM ·

(John Cadd) "The most basic filing system I ever saw ( not music)  was in a building firm. Each years receipts were tied inside  bits of cardboard with string. In the next room was a loose dusty pyramid of these packets. Straight out of Kafka.  Bare boards and dimly lit."

"Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things..."

I've tried simply sorting my stuff by composer, but it's not that simple.  I find myself splitting out pieces for various reasons: recent lesson material that I'm working on, the pieces we're playing for a wedding, repertoire for a group I play with, assorted duets I can quickly lay my hands on if a friend comes over to play...  Maybe it's time to fire up the computer and build a big list with various attributes on which I can sort it.  Then I could keep everything in one big group by composer but use the lists to know which pieces to pull for a particular application.  It's the kind of stuff that gives librarians gray hairs, I'm sure.

October 25, 2010 at 06:33 PM ·

Whenever I decide to spend a rainy day sorting out my music into some kind of logical order - the next time I need to find a piece in a hurry, I can never find it...   

Anyone else suffer from this strange syndrome?

October 26, 2010 at 10:50 PM ·

Just about everyone, I think.  It's the same thing that makes me afraid to tidy a room - and even more afraid of someone else doing it.

Meanwhile, my wife and I went to the local stationery store yesterday and bought a bunch of binders and index tabs, and have launched ourselves on the daunting task of sorting our respective piles of music...

October 27, 2010 at 05:44 AM ·

I made a simple spreadsheet, with headings:

Composer, Piece, Part(s), Kind of piece, Publisher, Where is it.

Kind of piece may be Sonata, Concerto, Duet, and so on.

It has been useful at times, but it does need maintenance, when I get new music, or when I move music from one room to another.

October 27, 2010 at 10:36 AM ·

This topic is one of those where no one can be bothered to read through it all and the posts repeat themselves over and over! 

I know, it needs cataloguing!

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