File Fever: Organizing Student Files

I have a fever, a fever that never breaks. It’s a sickness, really.

It’s called organizational fever; more specifically to this post-file fever – and I don’t know how to stop it! Being organized is fuel to my body. It gives me clarity and peace of mind.

My studio gets organized and reorganized every few months and rearranged to some degree once to twice a year. I’m getting to the point where I’ve nearly perfected the arrangement, but rearranging and organizing are like a breath of fresh air. I’m a better teacher when everything is in its place. I have my moments – we all do – but I strive to keep my studio and workspace tidy for my and my students’ sake!

This post will share how I organize my (physical) student files.

(To see how I organize student information using Evernote, see the post Evernote: An Independent Music Teacher’s Handbook.)

First, a quick note on what inspired me to improve my organization even more.


Getting Things Done

Since reading the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, I have been working to streamline my work. Some of the topics he covers include cleaning up the space you work in, setting up the right tools, corralling your “stuff,” and keeping things fresh and functional.

One of the first things I did was purchase a label maker. After several months of using it, I wondered how I’ve gotten by as a supposedly “organized” person without a label maker my whole life. I’ve been label-making like crazy!


Student Files

My file drawer is one place where my label maker has been put to work. I love 4-drawer lateral files. All my student files are kept in one drawer. Every student gets a hanging folder. Monday students’ names are labeled, and the label is situated in the slot clear to the left. Tuesday students are in the second space, Wednesday students are in the third space, and I think you get the idea. I love seeing the files laid out this way!


(In case you’re wondering, I used the app “Blur it” to blur out the last names in this photo.) 

What’s in the Files

In the file, I keep anything from new materials to old theory or repertoire books that we may have hit the “pause” button on and may return to later. (If unfinished books end up at home, I will most likely forget about them. By keeping them here, I see them weekly and can either pull them out when I am ready to use them again or send them home for good when completed.)

Let me share a few examples.

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I have one student who is working on developing a repertoire base of hymns to play at her church. She gave me hard copies of her hymn books with pieces she knows well flagged with a tab. I simply choose one of the appropriate difficulties once a month. We make a photocopy for her binder, so she doesn’t have to lug the large spiral-bound hymn books back and forth.

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When first given the books, students in a repertoire series like Celebration Series or Developing Artist Series, spend some of their music/computer lab time listening to all the pieces. They’re asked to mark in the Table of Contents what pieces they like (with a *), don’t like (with a  – ), and ones they think are just OK (with a check-mark). I then photocopy their contents and use their initial opinions of the pieces to help make their selections. I keep the photocopy of their table of contents in the file folder for reference in lesson planning.

 – – – – –

Last year I used Teach Piano Today’s Shhhh….Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice. It’s an 80-page reproducible PDF with crazy practice activities to help students shake things up in their practice routine. The first year I used them, I printed a set for every student and placed them behind a labeled tab in their binder. Students were “expected” to use one to two a week, but as you guessed, that rarely happened (I find you have to put things in their face).

So, last year I found it better to keep each student’s stack in a manila folder tucked in their hanging file; then, I would pull out one sheet weekly to assign to them just as I would a theory worksheet. Plus, for some of the younger students, some practice activities were too hard or didn’t apply to their level, so it allowed me to easily tailor the choice for the student and explain the activity briefly. Some students loved these; some could have cared less. I’m not doing them this year, but it was a nice change of pace and a way to shake things up for a couple of years in the practice department.

 – – – – –

Sometimes students request popular tunes, which I’m more than happy find the music for and work with them on, especially with high school students. Any sheet music I purchase and print off online gets put into their folder, ready to go for their next lesson.

How do you organize your student’s materials? Do you keep a file like this? Share in the comments!




  • I have files like you do, but they are different colors for the different days. I started them like that for when I was not teaching at home and would grab that day’s files to take them to my teaching location. Now that I teach at home I have kept them that way, but it makes it easier to find the student I am looking for with the colors (and they are filed in the order the students come for lessons, as yours probably are). I keep similar items in the folders- music they will be learning, their information sheets, the paper on which I write what I assigned them etc.

    • Ooh, the different colors are a good idea! Yes, you’re right I didn’t think to mention the fact that I file them in the order they come.

  • Ok, so I read that book last Summer and started putting it into practice this past school year! I am re-reading it this summer to even get better. I’d recommend it to everyone. I have even been giving it away to people as gifts. I had a lot further to go than you have, but it is a life-changer.

    • Hey, Mike! I know, right? It’s such a great book. Being disorganized makes me feel so stressed and out of my “mojo.”

  • My file cabinet looks EXACTLY like yours! My Evernote project this summer has been to manage my growing collection of games. I set up a Evernote notebook for Games….then added a note for each game. With my ipad I took a photo of instructions and game board, and then tagged key words for the concepts of the game (rhythm, chords, grand staff notes, etc). I have been able to quickly search for games in Evernote without physically looking in the file drawers. So far it is working great!

  • Amy, thank you so much for this article! As I stated to Anita, I’m trying to revamp and get things organized while I have a less hectice schedule in the summer.

    I feel I’m stuck in that half way point of being a paper teacher and a digital teacher. I’m going to be listening and watching your series on Evernote this week.

    Any ideas how you bridge the gap between the two? I love technology. I use ipads and apps and computers and My Music Staff…but honestly, there’s nothing like holding a piece of paper. haha! I feel weird typing lesson notes on my computer while I’m listening to my students play.

    I’ve really enjoyed your website and comments. Thanks for sharing. (And I love my labeler, too. 😉 )

    • Hey, Calli!

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but there’s a side of me that still keeps my toes out of technology!

      I actually haven’t gotten to the point of going digital for lesson assignments/notes! Believe it or not, I rarely use my iPad during lessons except for the occasional app game. I still use good old fashioned pen and paper. For the student, we mark their assignments with tabs in the book then make notes directly on the music, sometimes with post-it notes for the goals for that piece for the week. I have a printed sheet (from an excel spreadsheet) I keep record of what all was accomplished in each lesson. I can quietly jot things down while the student plays (these notes are for myself) then I transfer my scribbles onto my master spreadsheet at the end of the day after all lessons are complete.

      I feel I can be much more conspicuous jotting down notes while the student plays than typing away on an iPad keyboard.

      I definitely need to blog about my master lesson plan spreadsheet I keep….hmmm…may have to move that idea up!

  • Ok, so I read that book last Summer and started putting it into practice this past school year! I am re-reading it this summer to even get better. I’d recommend it to everyone. I have even been giving it away to people as gifts. I had a lot further to go than you have, but it is a life-changer.

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