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How we manage to accumulate sheet music exponentially; steps for purging and maintaining a more intentional music library.
As we come into the end of the year and into the summer term, the transition time has great potential to present us with a nice little opportunity for a mental reset. Our schedules might be changing, our student load might be changing – often lighter but for some, perhaps heavier – and our Summer lessons likely look a little different than during the grind of the school year.
That’s why this month, we’re going through a 3-part part “purge” series. This is the first time in 65 episodes I have ever done a multi-episode series, but I thought it was important for us to take it one little bite at a time. If you missed last week’s episode, #68 was all about five important questions to ask ourselves as we purge games, teaching tools, and all those free downloads you never use.
Those five questions are REALLY important and pertinent to today’s episode because it’s all about considering who we are as a teacher and what we really need IN the moment. Yep – it’s a lot of mindset talk. So, if you can, I would encourage you to listen in on episode #68 first, THEN pop back over here.
Today I’m going to share a few tips with you on how to purge your sheet music, and in episode #71 – following next week’s teacher talk – I’ll arm you with an intentional process for purging college notebooks and professional magazines.
Are you freaking out a bit because you know how badly you need this? LOL. I know, we’ve all been there, but I am here for you. So, welcome to The Piano Pantry Podcast, I’m your host, Amy Chaplin.
It seems like just yesterday I was telling you registration was open for the winter session of my digital organization coaching series and here we are in May and it’s almost time for the doors to open for the Summer session!
If you look at your computer or device every day and think: “Oh good grief, this is such a mess…where did I put that download” or… “I just spent 30 minutes in my email and didn’t even make a dent” or… “I have pages and pages of apps I never use I need to clean up someday,” this digital organization coaching series is for you. Here’s what Amy Elmore, an attendee from this past session, had to say:
“As my studio and business are changing and growing, I needed to simplify and reset on all things digital! Before this series, my computer desktop was COVERED with clutter (not to mention my phone, emails, and files)! Amy’s Digital Organization Coaching Series was exactly what I needed! During the 8 weeks, she educated us with the “how-tos” as well as the “whys” so I could take the next steps needed to declutter, refresh, and automate my digital life. I am excited to open my laptop now and get to work! I take a deep exhale and might even mutter to myself, “It’s so clean and pretty!” Thank you for offering this series, Amy! I highly recommend it!:
Space is limited, so visit the show notes to join to be notified when registration opens. By the way, stay tuned until the end of this episode. This week’s tiny tippet is one little snippet of advice that’s taken from the digital organization course.
If you’ve been teaching for any number of years, your music library has likely grown from a variety of sources.
First off, are all the books that you yourself have acquired from years of your own study. I think my own pink Bastien primer book from 1987 is still floating around somewhere in my mix.
The second source is all the free books that everyone who has ever known you thinks you will be able to find useful, even if it’s from the 1940s with frayed edges, stickers all over it, and yellowing pages. I mean, how many boxes and boxes have we all accepted over the years? Sometimes gems can be found but sometimes – let’s be honest – the poor music just needs someone to feel OK about releasing it into the recycling bin.
Third, we might obtain lots of music when attending publisher showcases at conferences or just from stocking up on books that look interesting or potentially useful in the future, whether at conferences or from our favorite publishers or recommendations from teacher friends.
Lastly, you might just like keeping multiple copies of some of your favorite method books or supplemental materials so it’s easy to go to your files and grab what you want when you need it.
Our music libraries can grow exponentially and very quickly. Before we know it, we’ve run out of shelf space, and piles are accumulating.
Before we start purging, I feel it’s pertinent to say and acknowledge that having a healthy, robust, and well-rounded music library is incredibly handy and useful. It’s really nice just to be able to walk to the shelf or open a drawer and pull out what you need at the moment instead of having to order something and then wait a couple of weeks for it to come in or having to anticipate and order ahead of time so you have it when you need it.
I’m not here to tell you how much is too much – only YOU can know where your line is. I think one good rule of thumb we can use is… when you’re looking for music for students and start realizing time after time you’re passing over the same books. This is where we begin the purge.
I want you to go through your music and start pulling out those books we were just talking about that you have never used. How much of your library you tackle at once is up to you. You could go through the whole thing at once, work on one drawer at a time, or one category at a time – it’s your call. However you do it, just start pulling and stacking.
Once you have your stack of unused books, the first step is to make a quick decision on as much as you can. Are there materials that are easy for you to eliminate without any thought? Maybe it’s a book with pages so yellow you would never give it to a student or a book that you’ve had for 20 years and not once used, or a book that might have good music but the cover is so unappealing, it doesn’t make you excited to play from, let alone your students.
Don’t dwell here too long – make a quick choice. Anything that makes you hesitate even a little, keep ahold of for step number two. It’s OK. This is just the easy stuff that’s basically a no-brainer to get rid of.
Now that you’ve purged the first level of books, the next step is to sit down at the piano and start playing.
Open up one book – do a quick scan of the pieces, and ask yourself this question: Do the titles of the pieces sound appealing – something your students might enjoy? If the answer is yes, open to the book’s first piece and play it and at least one other piece. As you’re playing, ask yourself some of the same questions: Do you think it’s music a student might enjoy? Do YOU enjoy playing it? Does the book fit your teaching? Does it offer something unique or valuable that other books don’t?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then add it to your keep stack and go to the next book. Don’t spend too long playing in each book or deciding – just make a quick decision and move on. While you’re doing this I also want you to keep in mind all of your current students. Do you have a student who you think the book might be good for either now or in the near future – even maybe within the next year? Take a Post-it note, write the student’s name on it, and plop it on the front of the book. Or, if you keep file folders for each of your students, drop them into their folders.
Sometimes our music libraries might have some real gems that we’ve never used and for no good reason. It could just be that you’re just not familiar with it and you haven’t taken the time to sit down and play through it, or it could be that the cover is kind of weird or unappealing, so you’ve always skipped over it, or that you keep thinking that you’ll have a student that might like it, but it’s just never happened.
Back in episode 32, titled “What Your Refrigerator and Stack of Music Have in Common,” I talked about some of these same things. I encouraged you to start forcing yourself to start trying out some of these books that you often pass over.
My best example is a book I have had for years – Melody Bober’s Piano for Busy Teens. I just thought the cover of it was corny and not something I wanted to give a student so I just kept it in my drawer. Until last year when I was determined to utilize these often unused books and found the book was absolutely exactly what I needed for one of my intermediate-level students.
So, as you’re playing through all of this music, if you think of a student – designate it to them for the future, put it into your keep pile, or in your pile to get rid of.
Try to let go of at least 25%, if not up to 50%, of those books you’ve never used.
Now – what to do with what you’re getting rid of?
On Facebook, there is a group called Piano Teachers Buy-Sell-Trade, where you can try to sell the materials. If you’re part of a local group, maybe you could organize some kind of music swap or give it to a university pedagogy library or a new teacher in your area who is building their own music library. What’s one person’s trash is another’s treasure, right?
I feel kind of weird saying that in the context of music but yet the saying – which is usually more about antiques – still feels somewhat fitting.
Now that you’ve taken steps to let go of what you have, we want to protect that precious clean music library and be more careful with what we let in next time. Make sure your music library isn’t robust just for the sake of being robust, but make sure that it is serving your needs and is a tool that is useful, not another area of life that can easily get out of control. Do you really need all those free books from the conference publishers if it’s not something that fits your philsophy of teaching? It’s easy for free books or discounted books to be appealing but when all it does is max out your storage space, is it really worth it?
I hope you’ll reconsider in the future what you bring home, how much you order, and who you accept free stacks of books from. Be intentional.
Today’s tiny tip is to not use your internet browser’s bookmarks bar for things you can quickly and easily navigate to by typing just a few keystrokes in your search bar. Designate it for things you don’t use often but need to remember. For example, I used to bookmark my email and Facebook and Instagram and things I went to daily but I know those link names. By simply starting to type “ma” for mail, my Gmail link will pop up.
Save the space on your bookmarks bar for things you use on occasion but not frequently enough that you will remember them. For example, there is a really useful link on Amazon that shows you transactions – not just orders. You know how sometimes you’ll order something and the total price is one thing but then it ships separately and there are two transactions? Yeah, there’s an easier place to see items by transactions than in your orders but I’m not going to remember what that link is so, I bookmark it and rename the bookmark “Amazon Transactions”
Another example is a website I use about once a week to convert the heic images to jpg.
A third example is bookmarking a link to the various booking pages I have on Acuity Scheduling for my studio, for the online course, for consultations, and for the power hour.
Our bookmarks bar can get really out of control if we’re not more intentional with what we use it for. So, skip sites you visit regularly and use the space for lesser-used resources. Don’t forget to grab the link in the show notes for the digital organization course. I hope to see you there!
Stay tuned next week for Teacher Talk #70, where I have a fun chat with Jason Sifford, a teacher and composer from Iowa.