Repairing Old Sheet Music

March 23, 2011 at 11:42 PM ·


Over the years, I've tried many varieties of tape to repair old sheet music:


Scotch Tape.....Too weak.

Masking Tape.....Doesn't last.

Electrical Tape.....A sticky, nasty mess.

Packing Tape.....Ditto, and yellows with age.

Duct Tape.....Too ugly.  It works though.


Does cloth tape work well?  How about linen tape?  Anything else?

Also, where is a good place to buy a strong, long-lasting, practical, aesthetically pleasing tape?


Thanks for any help and advice.



Replies (10)

March 23, 2011 at 11:54 PM ·

If you're repairing sheets only printed on one side, try library bookbinding tape, or the tape they make to seal paper on the back of picture frames. You want something flexible, "archival" and long-lasting. I don't know what to do for music printed on both sides. I think there is a special glue you can apply. You could e-mail Alice Carli at the Eastman School of Music. Google Eastman & search the staff directory. She will know what to use. Sue

March 24, 2011 at 01:59 AM ·

Cloth or linen tapes are too heavy.  If the paper is old and fragile, it will rip along the edges of linen tape.  Is any of this music valuable? 

The word "archival" has come up.  To be considered truly archival, a process, in this case taping, has to meet several criteria: materials used must be acid-free, as acid eats paper; they must not pose a threat to the paper by weight or strength, i.e. you want the repair job to fail rather than the paper itself if stressed; and it must be reversible, in the case of tape, removable without damage or residue that can't be removed, etc.

The best product out there for this sort of thing is called Filmoplast P.  It's totally archival, in the strictest sense of the word, is very thin but strong, and is transparent, which it sounds like you need.  A good art supply store or framer should have it or know where to get it.  I'm sure you could purchase it online, too.  Don't get the P90- it's pretty opaque.

If you don't need to be this careful about stuff, I'm liking the super clear tapes that are out there, where you can read the writing on the cardboard core through all the layers of tape.

March 24, 2011 at 02:01 AM ·

If it is feasible in given circumstances I'd be inclined to scan it, saving the image on a computer so that it can be cleaned up if necessary with standard photo-editing software before re-printing it. This is what I have done sometimes with very old and tattered sheet music.

March 24, 2011 at 05:52 AM ·

A link to a supplier of archival repair products:

March 24, 2011 at 06:08 AM ·

 Magic tape.

March 24, 2011 at 12:16 PM ·

I don't own any valuable or important sheet music, just workaday stuff I would like to keep in usable shape.  "Old" means "Circa High School."  (Smile)

Bob, thanks for the link.  The Document Repair Tape looks promising for interior use, as does the Filmoplast for the exterior spine.

My Barenreiter Solo Bach music is in well-loved condition.  I haven't the heart to keep it all together with duct tape, which is the treatment the International Edition Kreutzer etudes got!

I appreciate all the replies, thank you very much!

March 25, 2011 at 06:52 AM ·

 This might not be everyone's preference but what I do is I xerox it so I can still use it and write on it, then get the original laminated.

March 25, 2011 at 11:47 AM ·

 As others have already said, nything that I'm working on, I copy the pages. That way I can write all over them, and if it gets too messy, I can start all over on a fresh sheet.. The original stays safe, whether it's new or falling apart. 

I did a big search on paper restoration a month or so ago when my teacher loaned me a book of hers that was falling apart. What I learned was that there's no good solution that's also quick and cheap. Restorers literally reconstruct the paper, using special adhesives and papers. Of all the tapes, magic tape seemed to be the one with the fewest problems over long periods of time, that's also easy to get, so that's what I used. But as Lisa mentioned, Filmoplast is the only really "approved" tape.

In archival work, laminating is considered bad because once it's done, it's done--if something goes wrong with the laminating, too bad (of course this discussion isn't about Beethoven's original manuscript, so laminating is probably fine). What's currently done instead in the archive world is individual plastic envelopes for each sheet--cumbersome for music that's used, but doable for music you only need to run once through the copy machine and then store safely.

March 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM ·

I've always used Magic Tape (at least since it's been available).  But then, I now copy any music that shows signs of damaging printed areas. In fact, I now copy any music that I really plan to work on seriously to avoid damaging my originals.

Nowadays I'm more careful to repair pages before the damage becomes too serious.

I owned a pre-war (that's WW-I, around 1910) set of the complete Handel Kammertrios. Super-size and fragile pages that have been hard to keep in good condition at best. Finally, two years ago, I copied them all (one copy for myself to bind and one loose-leaf for any future copies) and donated the originals to a local college music department. I had magic taped a few of the pages of trios I had played over the years - mostly 60 and then again, 20 years ago.



March 25, 2011 at 05:12 PM ·

I went tape shopping. 

I picked up a roll of clear, plastic "Scotch Book Tape", made by 3M.  This tape is three inches wide, and was $13.07 for 15 yards.  It seems suitable for exterior cover repair.  We shall see.

I also special ordered an extra strong clear tape for interior repair along the stapled folds.  (Side note:  Art supply stores are interesting places!)  I've used Magic/Scotch tape for years for this sort of repair, but this type of tape doesn't seem to last too long.

I still want to pick up some cloth tape, probably online.  I went to two office supply stores, a mega-huge craft store, and the local art supply store.  Fun stuff!

As for keeping copies in clear plastic sleeves in a three-ringed binder, this sort of set-up is great for gig books, or the piano book for a lengthy student recital.  I prefer to practice off of paper.   That's just a personal preference, of course!

Thanks for all the suggestions. 


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