How do you organize your repertoire / sheet music archive?

December 23, 2017, 2:02 PM · Hi all!

how do you organize your repertoire and sheet music archive?

I have big stack of single paper sheets ( some of you might share the same experience;-)...I would like to organize it in etudes, repertoire (that I can really perform well) and other collected stuff... and have the sheets more protected and well-ordered, but also easily prepared for playing...

Especially, which sort of storage system do you use?
Still did not find any good stuff (do not like to punch holes in the sheets or clip them...what about transparent folders?). How to you arrange it? chronologically by date of performance/practice or by composer?

And a final general question about repertoire..
How many (well-performed) pieces do you think an amateur should have as a repertoire?
How often would you recommend to play / repeat old repertoire? (as e.g. technique improves)

Thanks a lot!

Replies (11)

December 23, 2017, 5:55 PM · I think binders with labels would probably be the best for loose sheets of paper because it's the most secure. It's okay to repeat old repertoire if need be for performance situations.
Edited: December 24, 2017, 6:21 AM · Here are elements of the problem:
1. How big is your stack of sheet music?
2. How long have you been playing?
3. How much longer do you think you might be playing?

My music storage approaches have changed over the years. 50 years ago, when storage started to be a concern, I really had no idea how much music I might acquire. Even 10 years ago, when I established my current approach I had not accounted for the possibility that my trio pianist might die and I would have to add 2 more bankers boxes of her music.

My current storage is in a bookcase 6 feet hight, 3 feet wide and 1 foot deep (bought it at Goodwill). This allows me to store up to almost 18 cubic feet of music in 18 labeled stacks. Each stack is a category, for example "violin pieces," "cello pieces," "violin sonatas," cello sonatas," "violin concertos," "cello concertos," "student music" (from my teaching days), "viola music" (I've not played this as long), "genre music," "wedding music," "piano trios," "string quartets," "current music" (this is stuff currently on my plate), "orchestra parts," and so on - you get the idea. Unfortunately this is now overflowing and there are a couple of full briefcases and two full bankers boxes in the garage.

I've tried folders and sleeves, and other storage methods in other shelves or cabinets but over time as the amount of music grew I realized that it was using as much space storing the storage media as the music itself. The main disadvantage of my current method is that from time to time I have to go through a complete foot-high stack to find the buried stuff. But this is working better than anything I tried before --- but where did I put my Kreutzer?

December 24, 2017, 10:36 AM · I divide my music shelving into sections: exercises/etudes, solo music (with or without piano), chamber music for groups of three or more, orchestra music, shows, and "collections" (wedding albums, Disney tunes, Christmas music, and whatnot). Each section is alphabetized by composer, and then alphabetized by work title.

Anything that's loose paper goes into a manila file folder, one piece of music per folder, with the folder tabs labeled with the composer and work title.

December 24, 2017, 10:42 AM · Right now, being that most of my music is from free websites and printed on letter sized paper, I have it organized in clear pockets in plastic three prong folders. I do have to agree with Andrew though, the folder probably takes up more space than the actual paper does. it works fine for my limited repertoire.
December 24, 2017, 10:50 AM · I have yet to find a good solution. My current solution is plastic tubs stacked 3 high on the fireplace mantel. Seems like there are 5 stacks but maybe only 4. I have yet to find the perfect size tub but I can at least just thumb through these. Violin and viola are in separate tubs. There are separate tubs for pieces, etudes/exercises, duet/ensemble, string quartet, orchestra, holiday, special occasion. They are alphabetized by the tub.

Lately I have been thinking shelving might be a better way to go.

If I had a bunch of single sheets of paper, I would probably put them in sheet protectors and put them into notebook(s) by type and alphabetized.

As far as repertoire - I never thought about it. My thought is you have what you have.

As far as play old repertoire - depends. What is your purpose in playing it again? Are you working on fluidity of playing, musicality, seeing how much you have improved since you played it last,reviewing the skills in the piece, enjoyment, adding new skills to an old piece (i.e. taking it off the string.)

Edited: December 24, 2017, 11:06 AM · Why not simply use a filing cabinet or filing box with proper file folders and dividers?
December 24, 2017, 12:21 PM · If you don't perform solo, you should learn repertoire at a pace that you enjoy. If you're still taking lessons, your teacher will probably choose repertoire for pedagogical purposes. Different teachers teach different amounts of repertoire, with differing philosophies. It's worth discussing it with your teacher if you've got one, and aren't sure if you're happy with how much music you're learning.

Otherwise, I think the amount of repertoire you need as an amateur is probably directly correlated with your performance needs.

If you play at a lot of retirement homes, for instance, you should probably have a good collection of light classical, crossover, and pop that you can play on demand, without a whole lot of practice.

If you live in an area that sustains more serious retirement-home concerts, or has other good performance opportunities for amateurs, and you have a good pianist partner, you may want to learn the common professional recital repertoire, especially works that are readily accessible to an audience that casually enjoys classical music. That would be the sonata repertoire, some of the virtuosic showpieces, and so forth.

If you learn concertos, they'll probably be for your own enjoyment and/or pedagogical purposes, unless you're lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform with orchestra. (Community-orchestra concertmasters are probably the most likely amateurs to do this, I suspect.)

December 24, 2017, 1:08 PM · Every item is entered into a Google sheet (backed up to Excel) and there is info for each item ... composer, genre, etc. along with a sequential number. So if I want Mozart Duos, easy to look up on pc, tablet, or phone, and get the number.
December 24, 2017, 1:38 PM · The thing about amateurs is that you can do exactly what you want in terms of repertoire, right? I'm not an expert though.

I rarely go through old repertoire because I'm still in the stage where you're learning heaps of new pieces every few months. I do play the early Kreutzer studies a fair bit, for technique maintenance.

I borrow most of my music from the library (it's free, and my timeline tends to work well with the 3-month borrowing limit) but apart from that, I just keep it in a few piles on my desk, organised by type. Not the best system but everything is accessible.

December 24, 2017, 8:17 PM · I think, as an amateur, that is depends on your circumstances.

I know that if I want to perform in public, for instance, that I need to conform to the repertoire requirements of local organizations that sponsor amateur or semi-professional recitals. They may have themes for an upcoming season, for instance, that I should choose repertoire to fit. They may have length limits. There are some circumstances where the repertoire-choice requirements are much like a professional figuring out how to build a recital program.

Also, I have to figure out how I spread out learning repertoire over the course of the year, taking into account predictions of available practice time, chamber music and orchestra music that needs to be learned for other performances, etc., as well as anything that I'm learning for pedagogical reasons. And musical friends and unexpected opportunities will arise that mean that I add something that I wasn't expecting.

And then sometimes repertoire needs to be learned for the future, when its exact performance date is unknown -- for instance, I may know that the conductor of my community orchestra intends to program a concerto in a future season, but not when in the season, so I had better be ready long before that season starts.

My experience is that most people who are taking lessons, whether they are kids or adults, tend to work up to progressively more difficult repertoire. I'm still learning things for pedagogical reasons, but a lot of what I'm learning is intended for performance, which means that it tends not to push the boundaries of what I can manage technically.

As a child, I learned mostly the standard pedagogical works, followed by a steady diet of major concertos, and therefore, as an adult, I'm filling in a lot of encore works / showpieces, doing the sonata repertoire that I'd basically never touched before, etc. (Plus I learned my unaccompanied Bach in a pretty fragmented way, so it's nice now to go back and learn/re-learn entire sonatas/partitas as an integrated whole.)

December 24, 2017, 8:43 PM · I really think it comes down to whether maintaining a library is part of your musical hobby, or whether your sheet music is a more-or-less disposable means to an end. Either one is fine. I'm hardly a collector, but I love my old study books that have the dates and the markings and marginalia, even if I don't use them any more.

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