I see questions pretty regularly about choir directors looking for guidance on how to organize their choral music. And I get it, organizing a choral music library can be pretty overwhelming! There are so many things to consider:
-Do I use boxes? Envelopes? File folders?
-Do I organize music on shelves? In filing cabinets? Some other way?
-How do I organize the music–in what order to I put music in? How do I label it? And how do I keep track of it?
Well friends, as a former colleague of mine used to say, this doesn’t have to be rocket surgery 😉 There’s a simple way to organize your music–it makes music easy to find, and it works with many different types of physical setups.
First off, I did not come up with this setup; what I’m sharing with you today was how the choral music library at my current school was set up when I arrived. It’s worked really well, and other than a few minor tweaks, it now works almost exactly as how I found it. It works for two main reasons:
1–I can file new music easily, without a lot of rearranging of the current music in the library, and
2–The system is set up to search for music using your digital library catalog, rather than physically searching through your music for something specific, which can be tedious and a HUGE pain. I’m surprised at the amount of directors that I talk to that are still physically searching through music. There’s an easier way!
So, let’s talk about the system itself:
I have a series of vertical bookshelves lining the walls in my music library, starting in one corner of the room and working their way around the room. The room also doubles as one of our practice rooms. Here’s a picture:
The first vertical bookshelf is labeled “CA”, the next “CB”, then “CC”, and so on. You could really use any type of lettering system, but I do recommend letters, since we’ll be using numbers to label the music in our library.
The first piece of music on the first bookshelf then is labeled CA-001, the next CA-002, and so on. The music on the bookshelf does not have a specific organization to it–it’s made up of music of different composers, different styles, different voicings, and is not in alphabetical order.
The bookshelves move around the room all the way to “CI”, which is the current bookshelf we are on. For music that I purchased this fall, when I file it I will simply add it onto the end of the files on the CI bookshelf. So in a way, there is one way the music is physically organized; the most recent music added to the library gets added to the end of the files on the last bookshelf.
(In my system, I’m talking in terms of bookshelves, but this would easily work with filing cabinets or drawers as well!)
As far as the actual music files go, in the past I have used choral music envelopes from JW Pepper. However, these always seem to be a little tight when trying to place music into them, and they open on the end instead of the top, which I don’t really like. I recently switched to choral octavo envelopes from Gamble Music, which you can find HERE. They are more expensive, but they are a little bit bigger, and open from the top. When labeling the music envelopes, I keep it pretty simple: Title, Composer, Voicing, # of Copies, and of course, the File #.
Now you may be wondering, “How do you find anything if you aren’t physically organizing your music?” And the answer is: the magic of Google Sheets. There is a master spreadsheet, now in Google Sheets, that keeps track of all of the music in our library. Here are the categories that are included when I enter music into the spreadsheet:
File #, Title, Voicing, Composer, Arranger, Publisher, # of Copies, Octavo ID, and Other Notes (often includes accompaniment)
The true magic of Google Sheets (or any spreadsheet system) is that you can do a search by any category. So, if you want to search by the title, you can–once you find the title, you then have the File #, and with that you can easily find where the music is in your library. If you’re looking for an SATB or an SSA piece, you can organize your spreadsheet to easily view those titles. “Composer” is another valuable search tool, if you are looking for music by a specific composer, but you are unsure of the title.
With this Google Sheet, I have all of the search possibilities that I need to find where music is in our library. Rather than physically lifting and shuffling music around, I simply go to the Google Sheet and sort by whatever criteria I need–I get the File #, and that’s it!
In using a system like this for your choral music library, there is one important guideline: you must be consistent in entering new music into your choral music spreadsheet! My rule is that nothing gets physically filed until it is entered into the spreadsheet. If your choral music spreadsheet is always updated, you should never have trouble finding music. If you would like to get a digital copy of the Google Sheet that I used to organize this choral library, click HERE. This is a VIEW-ONLY document, so if you would like use this model for your own library, simply “Make a Copy”, and you are off and running!
It’s as simple as that! If you’ve been thinking about re-organizing your music library, or if you are starting from scratch, I hope this post will give you some ideas that you can use to turn your piles of music into a music library that works like a well-oiled machine 🙂
Have an awesome day!
Have more questions about this choral library system? Send me an email at: Matt@choirdirectorcorner.com, I’d love to help!
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