It’s finally time to talk about organizing hardcopy music books! This is a topic I’ve wanted (and I know YOU’VE wanted) me to address for a long time. I’m sorry it took long!
Organizing music – whether hardcopy or digital – is one of the biggest organizational struggles for many teachers out there. It’s understandable why; I mean, who of us doesn’t own too much music?! 🙂
Should we organize by artist, genre, title, or dare I say color? LOL (Sorry, Home Edit, not this time!) There are so many ways!
Not only that, but we need to be able to locate music quickly and maintain perspective on what we own so we don’t keep buying music we already have.
Today we’ll look at a couple of different storage solutions for storing music as well as ways of categorizing for ease of use. You’ll also get a peek into my own personal system.
Are you ready to tackle that stash of music? Here we go!
Two Storage Formats
There are really only two formats that I can think of for storing hardcopy repertoire: on shelves or in filing cabinets.
I’m going to bet the first way is the most popular. The benefit of using shelving is that it can be easy to access nearby and, compared to filing cabinets, cheaper.
There are two difficulties I always had with storing music books on a shelf. First, unless it’s full and packed, the books want to slouch and can get easily bent up. (Yeah, you know what I’m talking about!) Bookends of course help but can also be a pain. Second, it can also be hard to see what you have because piano books in general have thin spines.
If this is still the best system for you, however, consider enlisting some extra tools to organize the open shelf space.
The cheapest way to do this would be to use something like these moveable shelf labels.
Another way would be to buy a bunch of file folders (magazine holders).
Just be careful though because if you don’t have enough of the same category to fill one box, you may end up with books slouching again or mixing categories in one box – making your storage solution even more confusing!
If you can find them, consider getting narrow file folders that are 3″ or less rather than the standard 3.5″-4″. Perhaps even a combination of both narrow and wide file folders would give you options!
I just bought a set of these really heavy-duty, narrow plastic file folders by mDesign available on Amazon.
They’re a little expensive but after using cardboard ones for years and getting tired of them busting, I splurged for a set of sturdy ones that will last forever!
The second way of storing music is to use filing cabinets.
This is the system I use and love but unfortunately, I’ll admit, they can be expensive. I was lucky to inherit some from my husband’s old family business.
Mine are kept in what we call a “workroom” that’s off the back of my studio. I also have a folding table in the room with my laminator, paper cutter, extra office supplies, and printer paper.
P.S. No photos today of the WHOLE workroom because it’s NOT organized yet. 🙂
P.S.S. In case you’re wondering, the white plastic file drawers on top of the filing cabinets are household manuals organized by category (such as power tools, appliances, etc.)
There are five reasons housing sheet music in a filing cabinet works well:
- The drawers help naturally create the first step in groupings.
- Putting sheet music in hanging file folders keeps them from getting cockeyed like they do when not propped up properly on a shelf.
- It’s easy to get a good overview of what you have by labeling the hanging file folders inside each drawer.
- It’s easier to browse through drawers than on a shelf.
- It’s out of sight.
Expanding on that last point a bit…
I find shelves full of music can quickly become an eyesore and messy-feeling. They may not bother you, and if so – great! Personally, I just prefer the clean feeling of keeping it in drawers.
How to Categorize
My best advice when it comes to categorizing your music is:
- Realize it will take some trial and error.
- Don’t feel tied to one format (i.e. level, composer, or title). It’s OK to use a mix of categories. I’ll explain more below.
- Choose your categories based on how you LOOK for music.
Let’s consider one example: Martha Mier’s Just Imagine! Books 1 and 2.
You could put book 1 under your “Elementary” level music and book 2 in “Late Elementary,” or you could file them both under “Maratha Mier”. They may also be under a broader category of “modern composers”.
I chose to go with the latter example of filing them under the composer’s name. If you’re well-versed in some of your favorite series, you might find yourself, like me, looking for pieces by that composer, rather than just pieces by level. Plus, when I separated books from a series into levels, I found myself forgetting which books I had on hand.
Again, as I stated above, don’t be afraid to use a variety of categories. Even though I file some books by composer, I still have a file drawer categorized by level. Most of those are all one-off books that are not part of a 2 or 3 part leveled series.
How you group music can also be based on how much of that particular category you keep. For example, I don’t keep a lot of Halloween music on hand so I don’t subcategorize it.
Christmas music, on the other hand, is all labeled by level (for the most part).
Let’s take a closer look at the categories I’m currently using.
My Music Categories
Starting with the big picture –
Here are my 8 drawers of music and their broad categories.
- Pop / Disney / Movies / Jazz / Broadway / Wedding / Cultural / Standards
- Modern Composers (Rote & Pattern Pieces / By Level / By Composer)
- Church (Hymns / Praise / Blended / Mark Hayes)
- Theory, Composition, Improvisation, Arranging
- Duets & Ensembles (Duets – by level / 1 Piano 6 Hands etc. / Ensembles)
- Halloween & Christmas (Christmas by books I use a lot such as Piano Safari and Faber / Christmas by duet or ensemble / Christmas by level)
- Method books
- Classical repertoire by graded series (All of my classical repertoire by-composer-is currently kept on a bookshelf. 🙂
Within each of those file drawers, you’ll see hanging files labeled in a variety of ways. Sometimes by composer (if I have a lot of their music), sometimes by series, and sometimes by level.
I’m never really sure how to name this next category.
I have it listed as “original solos” and “modern composers” but basically it’s student repertoire by (for the most part) living composers such as Kevin Olson, Martha Mier, etc.
Help me out in the comments if you have a better name for this drawer! 🙂
The next one is a horizontal drawer full of method books.
This horizontal drawer houses technical exercises and leveled classical repertoire series.
Lastly, I felt I should note that my music file drawers are full of both brand new copies of books I can grab and hand to students, as well as copies I keep around for me (whether new or used). I don’t really separate them out from each other.
What do you feel has been the most useful way of organizing your hardcopy music? I would love to hear – share in the comments!