Organizing Your Music and Teaching Materials

If you've been teaching very long at all, you'll have amassed an amazing amount of music and pedagogical materials (theory papers, beginner games, "fun sheets," etc.). What to do with all this stuff?

It's your choice as to where you actually put your materials. Suggestions: music cabinet, filing cabinet, shelves/bookcases, boxes. Whatever you choose, it should be organized so you can get to it when you want it. Lesson time is precious and shouldn't be spent rummaging through stacks of books and papers.

There are three traditional ways to organize your print library:

Acquisition number is the least useful system, in my opinion. You number your materials as you acquire them and make cross-referenced lists to tell you what number a specific piece/book is. You may need several cross-referenced lists. Sounds like a lot of busy work, doesn't it?

By historical period, all Baroque composers are grouped together, all Classical composers together, and so on. Happily, most composers can be classified according to a single music period. A few, however, such as Stravinsky, span several styles.

Alphabetical filing by composer means no difficulty when a composer does not fit neatly in a historical period, but what about multi-composer books?

Organizing by type eliminates all need to organize by year. All sonatas will be together, etc. This probably is not a very workable system unless you have a prodigious memory or a very small library, as you will have trouble locating a specific piece.

Use as an organizing criterion may be helpful. For example, you'd pull out all method-type materials and segregate them. All works in the standard repertory would be placed together. Method materials probably would be organized by difficulty and the composer arranged alphabetically or by historical period.

A hybrid system is some or all of these; it's the one I use. Many years ago, a friend took a look at my record collect (yes, we're talking ancient history) and was dismayed to find it in such disarray. "How do you -find- anything?" he demanded. "I hunt," I responded. "At the radio station, we do it this way," he said and proceeded to rearrange all my 400 albums. I thought it such a good system, I redid all my teaching materials the same way. What a relief!

Here's how it works. Imagine all your teaching materials heaped on the floor at once. Pretty terrifying, huh?!

First sort by use. Pull out the method materials and put them in a stack. Sort these by level or purpose.

Set aside all technical materials and sort by level or type (counting, finger drills, etc.).

Do the same for theory, ear-training, keyboard harmony, and other pedagogical materials.

Pull out ensemble music. Sort as described below for standard piano literature.

The works of the standard repertoire will doubtless comprise the largest portion of your music library. These should be sorted by composer and the composers alphabetized. Anthologies should be sorted according to historical period. Some might have to be called "general" if they contain music of all periods and "miscellaneous" if they defy categorization.

Now you're left - I hope - only with jazz/blues/rock, assorted wedding music, folk songs, national anthems, Christmas and other holiday material, Broadway/movie/TV themes, pop tunes of diverse staying power, and so on. File these by genre.

With luck, there's nothing left on the floor! If there is, see if it can be fitted into one of the above categories. If not, you have a new one called "miscellaneous"!

If you note that you have materials you seldom use (have you consulted this item in the last five years? three?), you might want to make a preliminary sort and pull out materials that you don't need to get to readily (as, during a lesson). This will certainly lighten the load! Place these things in a closet somewhere; yes, you -ought- to spend another Saturday and organize these, too, but I won't tell if you don't!

You also will find that you have printed word materials: articles torn from magazines, notes from seminars and master classes, etc. Categories to consider: technique, composers, genres, performance practice, pedagogy, preparation for performance, college admission preparation, competitions, physical ailments, etc.

When you go into a public or university library, you expect materials arranged so you can find what you want. Have no lesser expectations for your own libraries.

copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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