Music storage

January 12, 2019, 1:53 PM · Help! We have a major sheet music problem in our house. How do you store your music so you can find things, keep it relatively neat, and still have it be accessible? We currently have about 15 magazine boxes full of violin and viola music, plus drawers full of piano music and accompaniment parts, bookshelves of scores, and numerous unsorted piles of photocopied orchestra and chamber music parts. It's insane.

Replies (20)

January 12, 2019, 2:30 PM · This might help!
January 12, 2019, 2:53 PM · It sounds weird, but I have an antique haberdasher's cabinet. The drawers are large enough for oversized music and folders and I can lay the music flat.
January 12, 2019, 3:17 PM · 1: collect all the music
2: put it outside
3: pour some gasoline on it
4: set it alight
Boom! Storage problem solved, and you're toasty warm till the end of winter!

Donate it to a library or something.

January 12, 2019, 4:21 PM · Susan,

At the risk of being rude: is the rest of your stuff organized? My guess is: probably not.

Start with filing cabinets (slightly oversized to accommodate original music). Dedicate a drawer (or two) to each instrument. Sort all the music in a way that makes sense to you (genre, composer, et cetera). Put the music away in that orderly manner and label everything. Finally setup a database to know where all the music is stored.

FWIW: My wife and I are now the music librarians for the local youth orchestra program. We're also highly organized, love administration, and we're working our way through over 60 years of accumulated music and even have an excel spreadsheet that lists all the music, how many copies of each part and where it is stored along with a cataloged number. Sorry, we're not available for hire.

Edited: January 12, 2019, 5:43 PM · Following up on George Wells,
1. Take each item, one at a time. They do not have to be pre-organized in any manner.
2. Write a sequential number on it from 1 to n, where n is the number of items you have. Write on the cover close to the spine at the top using a Sharpie pen. You may wish to buy some adhesive labels for this purpose, but they should not be needed.
3. Enter each item into a Google Sheet with the sequential number in the first column, then the composer, then the title of the volume, the instrumentation (if you have a lot of chamber music), and possibly a column for comments ("this collection has the Drdla Souvenir" or "this one has Teacher X's markings")
4. Put them back into their boxes, or file cabinets, or bookshelves in numerical order.
When you need to find something, just refer to the Google Sheet. It will function as a serviceable if somewhat rudimentary database. It can be ordered by any column, and it's completely searchable. The ONLY advantage to pre-sorting is for browsing ("hmm... which trios should my group read today?") and for more efficient access to stuff that comes in multiple volumes (Suzuki books, collections of chamber music). But you can probably browse your database just as well. Advantage of Google Sheet is that it's easy to "share" with your teacher, friends, etc. If you loan something, you can write in the comments column, "Loaned to George Wells on 12 Jan 2019".
PS Make your kids do all the work but check after they've done about 50 things so that you can make sure it's going to be useful and accurate data. Databases are only as good as the data that's in them.
January 12, 2019, 5:43 PM · My solution is keeping the originals (they're usually not the problem) but try to get rid of all the copies and printouts by digitalizing. Try to find file names that make sense, put them into sublibraries with the composers name, and (if necessary) the composers again into sublibraries with epoque or musical style. Using the MobileSheets App (until a few days ago via the PC Companion, but now I got it also for Windows 10) I can additionally bundle the pieces to setlists and collections (e.g. "christmas carols", "Orchestra 2018/19", or "violin lesson"), and add catchwords (like Baroque, Romantic, Violin, Viola, Piano, Etudes, Technical Studies, Ensemble, etc). All this is really helpful in finding those pieces again, and not much work if done consequently and continuously. If (unexpectedly) needed I can print it out again any time I wish. That way I got rid of 60 centimeters of sheet music already during the last two weeks. Now it's time for a rest, but maybe another 150 centimeters waiting... (Mostly things I didn't touch for a very long time, and mostly piano, but I wouldn't want to loose all my annotations by just throwing them away.)
Given a tablet good enough or a notebook with touchscreen, MobileSheets also allows you to add handwritten notes and saves them as an extra layer, always neatly synchronizing between several devices or the cloud of your choice. There is a free test version for playing around with up to eight PDF, and also the "pro" version doesn't cost a fortune. As an extra, you can carry all your sheet music with you, all the time! I use this pretty often for studying new pieces while commuting by train, and when I start playing them on the instrument I'm usually having already a basic idea about the fingerings, and where the difficulties will be lurking.
Edited: January 12, 2019, 5:48 PM · Paul's advice is at least as good as mine, as long as you're a person tidy enough to put things back on their place again. (I'm not... And my kids aren't, either...)
January 12, 2019, 5:52 PM · I'm actually pretty organized, but there are other members of my family who are not and don't put things back in the right places. I think in the past year we just outgrew our current system that had been working well, so we have run out of places to put things. The music is actually reasonably well sorted into the magazine files and drawers (except for the photocopies in piles). But it used to be we had one file for Violin concertos and now we have several and they are pretty much full, which has made things confusing.

I'm more looking for a physical way to store the music. Like do you use bookshelves, magazine files, lingerie cabinets, etc?

Julie, the haberdashery cabinets look amazing! I'm guessing they aren't all too easy to find, though.

January 12, 2019, 6:03 PM · Susan - you have gotten some very good suggestions of different systems. Figure out one that will work best in light of what space you want to use and how best to organize the music. Then go for it. I just keep mine in several piles by instrument without any particular order. My first violin parts from community orch are in two notebooks with post-its giving the composer and piece, but in no particular order. So, I do not have a system to recommend. Good luck!
January 12, 2019, 6:18 PM · I'm not sure the capacity of a "magazine box." I have seen "them" anywhere from about 4 to 18 inches deep. So 15 of them could be contain anywhere from about 5 to 22.5 cubic feet of music.

My music is stored horizontally (laying flat) on 6 shelves of a 3' x 6'wooden book case we bought at the local Good Will store for $30 a dozen years ago. It is not the most retrievable storage organization, but when used properly I can access parts from the 18 cubic feet of music it contains readily enough. I store the music it in piles marked in 18 categories. In addition we have two piano benches filled with music and I have added another 2 (or so) cubic feet of my music music parts printed (mostly from IMSLP) in folders and attache cases for orchestras I have played in over the past decade too (no room left for them in the bookcase). It's time I rethink storage for those extra parts.

Anything I might do to make the music more retrievable would just add to the volume - other than computerizing the titles and instrument IDs according to location in the piles. True, sometimes I have to go all the way to the bottom of a pile to find what I want - but it's no more than one foot high. I handled it quite well for almost a decade - then I started to get sloppy with some of the music - fortunately I have not tried to find that music for the past few years.

I previously used a standard 4-drawer file cabinet and another method of "vertical file" storage, but I found it to be harder on the paper and required much more volume for identifying folders. Besides we no longer had living space to store it any other way after downsizing almost 25 years ago.

Edited: January 12, 2019, 10:10 PM · Tap each piece to wake it up. Then hold it. If it sparks joy, keep it. If not, get rid of it, but be sure to thank it for its service.

(OK, I'm kidding. That's the Marie Kondo approach.)

January 12, 2019, 8:57 PM · I had shelving. Then we moved, and now I have piles. Next plan: Filing cabinets.

If you really have a ton of sheet music, try one of the sheet-music library solutions that are sold to schools.

January 12, 2019, 10:31 PM · "Julie, the haberdashery cabinets look amazing! I'm guessing they aren't all too easy to find, though."

Yeah, I found mine in a junk shop and had it refinished. You'll know it when you see it, and it's perfect for sheet music!!!
Otherwise, I'd think in terms of culling. Anything that can be printed on IMSLP and doesn't have sentimental value has to go. Your collections will get very much smaller.

You could also try a chest on chest with horizontal trays inside the drawers.

Edited: January 12, 2019, 10:42 PM · Like Andrew, I find that filing cabinets with hanging files (pendaflex folders) is hard on music. They get curled and the edges get crushed. But if you do choose hanging files, then all you have to do with my system is take the music, say, an inch at a time (or whatever seems to fit comfortably in a hanging file) and label the folder with the number range, say 1-6, then 7-15, then 16-28, then 28-32, etc. The number of items in each folder will vary because of their different thicknesses. If you need a separate place for oversize things, then in your database in the comment field you need to put a keyword for that like "oversize" so that you will know to look there. Or you put a piece of colored cardstock in the hanging file with the number of the oversized item as a signal to look where you have oversized things.

I have some magazine boxes for my music, but first of all I do not have TONS of music and secondly I'm switching to horizontal stacked storage on shelving next. I'm in a good position there because I'm a decent woodworker and I have all the saws and other tools needed to make sturdy, serviceable, custom shelving.

In the days when scientific papers were filed in hard copy, that is how I filed them and it worked brilliantly. I had hundreds upon hundreds. I came upon the sequential numbering concept because the reference-managing software I was using when I started my academic career (Papyrus) assigned each paper a permanent sequential number automatically. Nowadays it is all done electronically with PDF files and a reference manager like EndNote or Mendeley.

The sequential-numbering thing works fine for CDs and books too.

January 13, 2019, 12:49 AM · Magazine boxes, sorted roughly by type (piano trios, violin concerti, beginner music, random instruments, etc.) and stored in a bookshelf. BUT the sad truth is that at any given time, 1/4 of it is strewn around the music room.

Paul's cataloging system is kind of genius, although I find it aesthetically challenging. It would bug me if things weren't all together by either type or composer, somehow (I feel the same about our books).

January 13, 2019, 4:51 AM · All I have at the moment is some foolscap-sized stackable plastic boxes from Lidl that lie on the floor. When I had a piano, all I had was a piano stool.

@Paul "my academic career (Papyrus)". Coincidentally, I did a postgrad course-unit in Greek papyrology.

January 13, 2019, 11:57 AM · That reminds me that I have a bunch of loose sheet music -- particularly orchestra parts -- that were printed out or photocopied. I don't want to throw them out because I'll lose my fingerings. So I'm scanning them (iOS app ScannerPro) and saving the PDFs, which I can always import into ForScore for use at a later date -- or re-print. I have them Dropbox-archived.

Edited: January 13, 2019, 12:32 PM · Katie, I know what you mean, but when you start to organize by this or that, you'll see very quickly that it breaks down. Certain items just never fit in. By composer! But what about collections? By genre! So, early Beethoven goes in one box and late in another? And then what happens when you run out of room on your Classical shelf? You're shifting everything around then, leaving room for what you might buy in the future, etc. With the sequential numerical system all of that is totally obviated.

And thanks for saying it's "genius" but as I explained, I didn't come up with it -- I adapted the idea from software that WAS truly ingenious but was unfortunately relegated to history when PC operating systems changed from DOS to Windows.

By the way, hanging files work much better when you actually USE the moveable stop inside the file cabinet for keeping them snugged up against one another. This does tend to minimize the curling and sagging.

January 13, 2019, 1:42 PM · Most of my stuff is on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, so I three-hole punch it and store it in binders, sorted by composer. No computer is required, and new material can be inserted in sequence. I can have different binders for different instruments or groupings (quartet vs. orchestra, etc.).

I've taken to scanning my orchestral material - this preserves my markings, and doesn't need any shelf space because I hand the paper back in after the performance. In the home directory on my computer I have a "music" directory at the root of an appropriate hierarchy, e.g.:

music/sheet_music/classical/Bach, J.S./Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043 [violin 1].pdf

This system is self-contained and self-organizing - I can quickly find a piece of music without relying on apps or the Internet.

January 13, 2019, 2:23 PM · One of my folk dance band colleagues is an elderly folk musician (English and Irish genres) who does not read music but learns by ear and stores all his music in his head. I too play in the band without the music in front of me, but I learn by a mixture of ear (mostly) and sheet music.

Learning by ear is an old tradition dating back thousands of years to Homeric times and beyond when a young bard would learn from his master the epic poems (which would have been chanted in performance), and would not perform in public until he had assimilated the repertoire.

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