Organizing Your Hardcopy Music Books

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!


Filing Cabinets

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:

  1. The drawers help naturally create the first step in groupings.
  2. Putting sheet music in hanging file folders keeps them from getting cockeyed like they do when not propped up properly on a shelf.
  3. It’s easy to get a good overview of what you have by labeling the hanging file folders inside each drawer.
  4. It’s easier to browse through drawers than on a shelf.
  5. 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:

  1. Realize it will take some trial and error.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Pop / Disney / Movies / Jazz / Broadway / Wedding / Cultural / Standards
  2. Modern Composers (Rote & Pattern Pieces / By Level / By Composer)
  3. Church (Hymns / Praise / Blended / Mark Hayes)
  4. Theory, Composition, Improvisation, Arranging
  5. Duets & Ensembles (Duets – by level / 1 Piano 6 Hands etc. / Ensembles)
  6. Halloween & Christmas (Christmas by books I use a lot such as Piano Safari and Faber / Christmas by duet or ensemble / Christmas by level)
  7. Method books
  8. 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.


Student/Teacher Books

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.


Your turn!

What do you feel has been the most useful way of organizing your hardcopy music? I would love to hear – share in the comments!



  • That’s really similar to how I organize my printed music as well! I have one large lateral file that I got for free from an office that was closing, and I love it. I do not, however, have awesome typed labels on all my file folders, so now I’m inspired to do that as part of my next organizing project!

    • Ha! I didn’t for a long time either, I hand-wrote them for years but once I discovered label makers, I haven’t looked back! It’s taking the “freshness” to the next level! 🙂

  • I have a music shelving cabinet that my husband built me years ago. In there is the music I played in high school and college. As I began teaching and collecting more music, I have expanded onto a bookcase. I have the cardboard magazine holders and have generic labels such as Christmas, Tales of a Musical Journey, Method Books, Disney, etc. For now it seems to work well. The main thing I have trouble keeping up with are solo pieces. I have them in a magazine holder, but no division, so I have to look through all of them to find whatever I’m looking for. I wish I had room for file cabinets in my room! Thanks for sharing Amy!

    • You know what, I completely forgot to talk about individual solo sheets! I’ll have to do a little follow-up post now, ha! Thanks for the idea (LOL) and thanks for sharing!

  • I use a bit of both to store music. I think for me, being a pianist/organist and conductor, it really depends on the score format. Most of my conductor scores will not fit in a letter-sized filing drawer. The same goes to organ music, because it is published in landscape format. The most important thing that I try to look at is the strength of the binding. I try not to put soft cover books on a shelf, only hardback or thick books go on my shelves, so that they don’t get ruined. Then, I have opted for tabloid (or Ledger sized) file cabinets. That way I can store anything with a problem!

    • Yes, that makes complete sense! Most of my classical repertoire is stored upright but only by ensuring it has a solid bookend so they stay upright and don’t bend. As you mention, ledger-sized file cabinets make the most sense because (at least with mine) you can set the spacing for the hanging files to either letter size or ledger size. My vertical file cabinets don’t have that flexibility.

  • Thanks for your insight! For the student pieces by living composers category, I’ve always labeled them “Pedagogical Supplemental Rep.” That’s worked for me when categorizing all the different resources I have.

  • Similar for me… I’ve always called that category simply “Pedagogical Composers”. As in: Composers who are writing specifically for modern piano students. Makes sense for me…

  • Do you have suggestions for what to do with very thick soft cover books? They slouch on a shelf unless they’re jammed in there, but they’re too heavy for filing. Thanks for any ideas!

    • Ugh, I know! So frustrating. I’ve always just used book ends which isn’t great. I recently purchased a Acrylic Magazine Rack that’s about 2.5″ wide – that would be an option. You would have to have other books in there though. You could also try other magazine file styles. Some of the smaller office ones that might be intended for cards or such – aren’t as wide as the magazine holders – if turned sideways, might help with those larger books not slouching. (PS just FYI I’m an Amazon Affiliate so that is an affiliate link.)

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