For an amateur or a professional musician, one of the things that tends to accrue is music. The collection can consist of older oversize sheet music, or more modern trade paperback music books. It is important to consider the storage requirements of the various bindings or printing formats of your music collection so that it is maintained in the best condition possible.
Storing your music books with relatively unlimited space is accomplished by using bookcases or filing cabinets. If you are facing the challenge of limited space, you can become creative about finding storage in unique ways, or you can make more use of digital tools.
Determining which of the storage methods works for your music books will be driven by the size of your collection, both individually and as a group, the binding of the books, and the requirements for accessibility and preservation of the books. More details about storing your music books and your sheet music are available below.
What is the typical format for a music book?
Sheet music is one of the typical formats for music. The name ‘sheet’ music indicates that it is a
single piece of music. It is not necessarily a single sheet–in fact it may have multiple pages, whether individually printed or folded double-pages. Sheet music doesn’t have binding, and because of its light weight, it will not stand upright well on its own.
Bound music books are often bound in heavy cardstock. The intended use of the book and the way it will be used will determine the format. For example, music for a choir to hold will be printed in a different size and style than sheet music for a pianist. The size of the pages or binding and the presence or lack of binding will help to determine how best to arrange for storage of the music book collection.
Music book sizes
The term ‘sheet music’ is defined as a printed or handwritten notation which lets the musician know how a piece of music is to be played. Sheet music measurements of 9 inches by 12 inches are often those called ‘Folio’ size. This measurement can typically be reproduced on a home printer. Sheet music can also be A4 size, or 8.5 x 11 inches. Pages with these measurements are easy to place in many different storage options.
As musicians expand their repertoire, a music book collection tends to grow. The learning process requires that music sheets or books are used over and over, both during practice sessions and in public performance. The multiple uses and repeated handling is a unique factor affecting music books. Light reading books may only be read one or two times, though such volumes are usually much more sturdily bound.
Much of the sheet music of today which is commercially printed measures 9” x 12”. For music with multiple instrumental or vocal parts, larger paper might be used. When the music consists of scores or sometimes parts, the paper is often 11” x 17” or 11” x 14”. For the conductor, who works from a full score, the music is frequently printed on 11” x 17” or A3. This is due to the large paper sizes which are readily available using many laser printers.
Although the paper size is important, the font size may be even more important. Musicians, performers, and conductors alike need to be able to read the printed notations regardless of the lighting environment, at a reasonable sight distance.
Pros and cons of bookshelf storage
Some of the advantages of using bookshelves include their easy accessibility. Bookshelves are readily available and can be put together to fit your decor. They are easy to add more shelves if your collection outgrows one set of shelves. If you have several different sizes of music, you can store oversize pieces on top so that your collection stays organized.
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages which go along with using bookshelves. If you have sheet music, or pages with little support along the spine edge, your collection might look rather messy and cluttered. Because of the lack of spine-edge support, music pages can flop over. They can even become creased. Narrow spines on thin books often mean that you can’t read printing on them.
Pros and cons of filing cabinet storage
If your goal is to have a music storage system that never looks messy or cluttered, file cabinets provide a solution. You can organize and store sheet music and thin books in well-labeled hanging folders. The use of hanging folders also helps to protect thin music books and sheet music from sustaining creases and folds. Labels make it easy to browse your files, or quickly put your hands on a specific piece of music.
File cabinet storage for your music books does have some disadvantages though. Filing cabinets tend to cost more than bookshelves. Full size filing cabinets can overwhelm a small space, and smaller cabinets may quickly fill up with a large collection. If items in your music book collection are bulky, fitting them in a cabinet may result in edge wear.
You could place odd or oversize music books in a box on top of the bookshelf or cabinet. This keeps them from becoming creased or bent while ensuring accessibility.
Pros and cons of digital storage
Digital storage is the ultimate way to save your collection without worrying about outgrowing the available space you have. You can spend time scanning your music into a tablet or laptop. This allows you to have your music available while traveling, or if you don’t want to go to the trouble of adding to your bookcases or file cabinets.
Digital storage is easy to categorize and you can access pieces of a certain genre, instrument or composer easily. For traveling, or to protect the physical music books in your collection, use a digital copy instead of paper.
You can adjust the backlighting, brightness, and font size easily with just the click of a mouse or the touch of a tablet. Reading the music you are playing or singing is easy when you have the pieces stored in digital format.
Digital storage does have some risks. The power could go off during your performance, the battery could fail or need to be re-charged, or files could become corrupted. However, physical copies also have their own risks, such as deterioration of paper, mold, broken bindings, or fire.
Where should books be stored in a small space?
If you don’t have a lot of space, yet you have a large and growing collection of books, you face some challenges. With any physical storage arrangement, you have the challenge of deciding whether to use the space for book storage, and using the space for living purposes.
Adding shelves in a space is limited by whether or not you can do remodeling to the structure of the house or apartment. A serious review of existing furniture may reveal some ways to add storage to open areas of the furniture. Beds, end tables, sofas, and coffee tables can all be fitted with storage underneath or to one side.
Rather than only considering eye level storage, think about going up as high as possible with shelves. A 12-inch deep shelf around the perimeter of a 10’x 10’ room adds approximately 40 linear feet of shelving. This added shelf space is achieved without giving up any floor space in the room. Of course you will need to think about access to the books on the upper shelf. Store your least used books and sheet music in the places where they are more challenging to reach.
Protecting the condition of the music books is still important. Avoid direct sunlight, temperature fluctuations and high humidity.
Tips for organizing the collection
When you are organizing your collection of music books and sheet music, it is important to have a master list of locations and what is present at each location. You can organize with digital tools or with the use of index cards. In addition to keeping your master list up-to-date, you will need to mark the shelves of your bookcase with shelf labels. Filing cabinets also make the use of labels and file folders easy and convenient.
Each approach to organizing a collection of music books is going to be different. What seems logical to you may not make any sense to another person. Some of the typical categories for organizing music books include music genre, vocal range, or instrument. A storage system which lets you quickly locate a specific title or a group of pieces from a particular composer is helpful. You could also organize by difficulty level, if you are working with students of varying levels.
Three-ring binders and archival grade sleeves are useful if your pages are A4 size. Binders provide protection against folding or creasing of sheet music. Cardboard or plastic magazine shelf holders can also be used for supporting sheet music.
Regular care and preservation of music books
Regardless of whether a file cabinet system or a bookcase system fits your needs better, the right care of sheet music and music books is critical. Even the best quality paper will eventually become yellowed as it ages.
Handling of papers, particularly when the pages are older, requires being careful that your hands are clean and dry. Avoid the use of metal paper clips, sticky notes, and rubber bands. These can leave rust, residue, or other marks on the paper.
If you need to access and use items from your music collection frequently, be sure to be aware of any damage to the paper. Repair tears and reinforce the fold. You can use archival quality tape, or for more valuable pages, use Japanese paper applied with wheat paste. Alternatively, use reversible heat set tissue.
Original compositions and more valuable music books require a more managed and deliberate system for storage. Ideally, the documents should be stored in a dry and climate-controlled space. Avoid exposure to ultraviolet rays and minimize exposure to light as much as possible.
Minimize handling and skin contact to restrict skin oils from causing foxing or browning, as well as deterioration of the paper itself.
FAQ – About storing sheet music
- What should I keep sheet music in?
Good ways to protect sheet music include placing the individual pages in acid-free vinyl sheet protectors. They could also be laminated for durability and easy handling.
- How do I store my sheet music library?
Sheet music can be stored in file folders in a filing cabinet, magazine holders on a bookshelf, or even in binders, if inserted in sheet protectors. The goals of storage for sheet music are to provide some protection for the relative fragility of the pages, to allow organization of your collection, and to enable quickly finding the correct sheets on demand.
The purpose of music and music books is to enjoy the sound of the music when it is performed. Backing up the pieces in your collection digitally is recommended. Use the overall storage tips above, both for books and sheet music, and apply them to the principles of storing your music collection.