How to store sheet music: the ring binder

This is the first article in a series about the options for storing and managing sheet music and other paperwork that is used in running a church music programme.   It is one of the simplest and most portable tools for storing paper music:   a hard-cover folder with metal prongs which punched pages can be stored inside.




The Ring Binder

Ring-binder folders are one option for storing sheet music:  your personal collection or even your church's music library.

They work well provided you only keep a few (1-3 copies) of each piece.  

But you need to set up an effective filing system and always return music to the correct place as soon as you're finished with it, so your filing pile doesn't get bigger than the ring-binder.


Organising your ring-binder

If your music collection is liturgical, then you need to choose whether to put the "service music" (eg Holy-holy, acclamations, Lamb of God etc) alphabetically with the hymns and anthems, or in separate section. 

Many people use separate sections, or even separate folders, because
  • Service music pieces often have the same title, making alphabetical order harder to use
  • They need to be accessed more often,
  • Having pieces of the same kind (eg Sanctus) together makes it easier to compare them to choose the best one for a given situation.


Using subject-dividers to categorize music in your folder


Coloured subject dividers which students often use make it easy to go directly to the individual sections in a ring-binder.

Subject-dividers come in 8-tab and 10-tab versions: 10 tabs cost about the same, and gives you two extra sections, where you can put things like spare planning templates, scrap paper, and lists of music that the parish knows.

A section grouping that I have used is::
  • Kyrie / Penetential Rite
  • Gloria / Glory to God
  • Psalms
  • Gospel Acclamation / Alleluia
  • Sanctus / Holy Holy
  • Eucharistic Acclamation / Mystery of Faith
  • Doxology / Amen
  • Lamb of God
  • Hymns and songs


Index sheets help you to find sections in a folder

Divider tabs work well to start with,  but over time, and as you get oddly-shaped pieces of music, it gets harder to read what is written on the tabs.

This is easily solved by putting an index cover sheet at the front of the folder, listing what's in each section.

The downloadable Microsoft Word file to the right shows one way to make this index sheet, including some common categories.    Download it by right-clicking on the picture, and choosing "Save target" or "save link as" (or similar).


Securing sheet music into the folders

Some people punch holes directly into the sheet music, but others prefer to put it into clear plastic sleeves. This is slightly more expensive, but it lets you:
  • Keep several copies (different arrangements, different layouts eg lead sheet + chord chart) of the same piece together
  • Remove a piece from the folder very quickly (flip through, see what you need, and pull it out of the top of the sleeve without having to unclip the folder).
  • Guarantee that you won't accidentally punch a hole through a critical part in the score.

Using sleeves doesn't make folders fill up more quickly:  Because you can group similar pieces together, there is less chance of accidentally making extra copies of the same piece of music.

There's no need to use high-quality, expensive non-PVC sleeves - unless you are managing particularly valuable sheet music that you want to preserve for a longer time.


Overall

Ring-binders aren't a an option for all church-music libraries - some people say that they are only really suitable for individual musicians.

But they a portable but structured way to manage your sheet music collection and associated papers - provided you can keep your filing up to date.

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