Music books are somewhat different from other types of books, not only in dimensions, but also in binding and in stability of the spine edge. Finding a way to store music books in an accessible manner requires some consideration of each of these elements.
Storage of music books is accomplished in one of two ways. The books may be placed on bookshelves, or they may be placed in filing boxes or cabinets. Choosing a storage location is affected by type of binding, size, and the need for accessibility.
The best methods for storing music books will vary as a result of two factors: the size of the book is the first, and the binding can also make a difference in the way the music should be stored. More information about storing sheet music and bound music books is available here.
What is the usual format for a music book?
Music books are available in one of two common formats. Sheet music typically is not bound, but may have multiple pages and does not stand upright on its own. Bound music books often have a heavy cardstock cover. The purpose of the book, and the way the music is to be used will affect the choice of format. Because of the size and binding, or lack of it, there are several ways that storage can be achieved.
Music book sizes
Sheet music usually refers to a “single sheet” of music; that is, one song or piece printed separately. Sheet music is a handwritten or printed notation which tells the musician how to play a piece of music. The most common sheet music measurements are Folio size (9 by 12”), but can also be letter size (8.5 x 11”). Either of these sizes lend themselves easily to storage options, and also for reproduction using standard printers and copiers.
Because musicians rely on sheet music and music books to expand their repertoire, music books tend to be used over and over again in practicing and in performances. Other types of books may only be read once or twice and are bound much more securely.
Today, most commercially prepared sheet music is 9 by 12 inches. Folio size is often used for music with multiple vocal or instrumental parts. 11 x 17″ or 11 x 14″ is common for scores and very rarely, parts. 8.5 x 11″ is also sometimes used for choral scores and parts. A conductor’s copy is a full score, traditionally. Today, it is often printed on A3, 11 x17” as this is the most common of the large sizes readily available for people to use with laser printers.
Less important than the size of the paper is the size of the font which is used. For musicians and conductors alike, readability at the optimum sight distance and in varied lighting environments is critical.
Advantages and disadvantages of bookshelf storage
Storing your music books on a bookshelf is acceptable for several reasons. A bookshelf is easy to access and most people have access to bookshelves, either new or second-hand. For oversize books or sheet music, storing the pieces flat on top of the cabinet keeps the space organized. Bookshelves are somewhat expandable to fit the number of linear feet of shelves you need to house your collection.
Using a bookshelf for your music books has some significant disadvantages, though. If the books are thin, or do not have a binding as is the case with sheet music, the shelves can portray a messy and cluttered look. Thin music books and sheet music can flop over or become bent. Thin spines may be too narrow to read text on them. This makes it impossible to see what is in your collection.
Advantages and disadvantages of filing cabinet storage
Placing your sheet music and thin music books in drawers ensures that the storage area looks tidy. Using labels and hanging folders helps to keep the music organized. Hanging folders protect sheet music and thin music books from folding over or bending. Browsing through the drawers is easy and convenient.
Some of the disadvantages of filing cabinet storage include the cost of acquiring cabinets and hanging folders. Filing cabinets can be bulky in a small space, and small cabinets may fill quickly, depending on the size of your collection. It may be a challenge to store thicker books in a filing cabinet.
Oversized music books or pieces of unusual dimensions may be better in a box kept on top of the bookshelf if they do not fit neatly on a shelf or in a filing cabinet.
Advantages and disadvantages of digital storage
Scanning music into a laptop or tablet is suggested if you are traveling or otherwise precluded from paper storage methods. Digital storage offers some benefits for categorization of your sheet music. You can easily search the contents to identify music in any of the desired categories. It is much more convenient to have all of your music readily available without the concern of protecting the physical copy while traveling or performing.
Tablets and digital devices provide built-in backlighting and adjustable zoom, which can be helpful in reading the music while performing.
The downside of digital storage is the risk of power losses, battery failure, or corrupted files.
Tips for organizing the collection
You can sort music books and sheet music by any category designations you like. Organizing bookshelves can be done with movable shelf labels. Plastic or cardboard magazine holders are another excellent way to manage a collection with many categories. Filing cabinets allow for use of labels and hanging file folders.
Some of the ways in which a collection could be organized include music genre, instrument, or vocal choices. In any storage system you can organize by title, composer, or difficulty level. Choose a categorization system that works with the way you look for music, as well as considering how much music in the various groups you have.
To protect the condition of your music and do some organizing at the same time, you can also consider the use of 3-ring binders for A4 size sheet music. Binders provide protection for sheet music; binders with pockets will help to keep the parts together.
Care and preservation of music books
Whether you use a bookcase system or a file cabinet system, preserving the sheet music and music books is important. The pages can become brittle and yellowed with age. Before placing pages or books into storage, be sure to remove foreign objects such as paper clips and rubber bands. For books and sheet music which see regular use, repair any tears and reinforce the fold. Use Japanese paper and wheat paste, or reversible heat-set tissue.
Original compositions, and valuable pieces require a more deliberate and managed level of storage. The documents should be maintained in a dry-climate-controlled space. Keep the pages out of direct sunlight, or even in the dark. Minimize handling and skin contact.
No matter how much you use the pieces in your music book collection, it is possible to keep them in a way that is useful and accessible. Many of the tips used in book storage can be applied to music book storage as well.