Tuesday, September 02, 2014

How to Organize Your Flute Music

Dear Flute Lovers,
It's that time of year; everyone is asking what to bring to their fall flute lessons, and is sorting through piles of flute sheet music, wondering how to organize it. I've had some questions about this by email from my own students, and so I'll tell you all I know. :>)

1. The Big Flute Binder

Firstly, do you have a flute binder? These three-ringers are very useful things to have.
All your current flute music all in one place?
Only one flute book to put into your bag (along with your flute and your flute swab) and you're out the door?
Oh wow, you say. Well,

 Voila, the simplest way to keep everything in one place.

(click on picture to enlarge).

If you can find the three-ring binders that are about 1-inch wide at the spine, and have two interior pockets, buy five of them. They will take you through the next two decades of flutey business.
Note the tabs. Note the pockets. (Note that you cannot have a flimsy music stand to hold a full binder....)

And those readers who are well informed-about-office-supply-equipment and all its oddities, will mention at this point that for a three-hole binder, you need a three-hole punch and access to a photocopier in order to have working copies of all your music all in one binder, but I swear the binder system really works! 

Just find that dern three hole punch, and your life will be simplified. All your beautifully new fresh published sheetmusic will stay safely out of the rain, at home on your shelves, for reference, while you write all over your photocopies, and create a working book of all that you're working on in lessons. No time wasted. See what you think. Bit brilliant. :>)

2. Storing Your Flute Music

At home on your bookshelf, the easiest way to store flute music is in cardboard, upright file folders (buy four pack of file folders at stationary store and unorigami them). The easiest way to catagorize flute sheetmusic is:

Love it
Might be useful
Hate it (also known as 'Yuckeroo-holiday').

(click on picture to enlarge).

Lay all your music out on a bed or table, and put it in those three piles. Then transfer them to the upright boxes. Again; Voila.

And you'll notice after ten years that you almost never need to look at the "Yuckola" file, and that you'll seldom need the "might be useful" file, (unless you get a new ensemble or a new gig, or a new outlook.)

But the "love it" file boxes, they'll start to grow.

Put them on the easiest place to reach on your bookshelf.
If you get too many, subdivide them again (see 3 below).

And put the unloved music in the hard to reach place in the dark end of the shelf; be ergonomic. :>)

You'll soon find it easy to put music back where it goes if there are only three categories, plus, you'll know which file box you're looking for when you're in a rush to find something. Love and hate are easy to remember.

3. Sorting Sheetmusic By Category

If you own a large amount of sheetmusic, and you find at least half of it lovable and/or useful, you may want to buy a few more file boxes, and put it into standard categories. I still put the "love it" music on the right hand side of each file box, so I don't have to look very far when I'm looking up solos or etudes that are always fave-raves. The right hand side of the box is easiest to reach for if you're right handed. If you're left handed, or have another system, put the best loved music where it's easiest to reach.

(click on picture to enlarge).

If you have a gigantic sheetmusic collection (as do flute teachers) you will eventually have all these categories in your WALL of sheetmusic.

Solos - Etudes - Ensemble
With subcategories: 
Solo: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern (fave ones on "easy to reach" side)
Etudes: By level of difficulty (fave ones on one side)
Technique Books: sorted by usefulness (good ones on one side)
Ensemble Music: Duets, Trios, Quartets, Choir, Orchestral, Band, Woodwind Chamber Music, String and Flute Chamber Music, Pop/Folk Band Music etc.

(click on picture of all categories, to enlarge).

And there's no reason not to design your own categories. I know I did. They grow as does your career as a performer.

My main concern is being able to find exactly what I'm looking for extremely quickly, with zero frustration. But that's just me. :>)

4. Getting the Right Music To Your Lesson

Getting the particular solos, duets and etudes that you need for each lesson can be made easiest by the big flute binder (no. 1 above), with its tab markers so you can flip to what you need on the music stand without having to hunt for anything.

Flip to your duet, flip to your etude; flip to your scales.
Fabulouso. And they tell flutists, "Don't be Flip"....ha!

But if you prefer, you can buy or find an old-school over-sized music folder, and use that instead.

Here's your big black folder and notebook on its way to your flute lesson, showing the music you're currently playing, the flute in its case,  and the notebook most students use to write down their lesson pointers.  Put all this in a bag the night before. Note the pencil. Very zen. Note the pencil.

(click on picture to enlarge).

The "Flute Lessons Notebook" is something that I, as the teacher, use to write down everything I'm telling the student. Other teachers have the students write things down so that they re-phrase them to suit themselves. The student then uses those notes (and sketches) during the week for their practicing, and then write down questions they come up with during their practice. When the student starts lessons with the notebook with them, they can ask the questions that pertain to this past week's practice, right at the start of the lesson, so they don't forget, and the teacher can write the answers during warm-ups.

It's just a spiral ring pad, but it's a lifetime of memories for what that teacher taught you, when you look back. Ask anyone who has one. It's like a photo album of what you learned.
If you have a binder, just put lined paper into the back for the teacher to write on, if needed.

Notebooks rock. Over-sized fake leatherette brass-reinforced music folders rock.

And...not forgetting your flute and the correct sheetmusic when you get to your lesson also, bigtime, rocks.

5. Keeping the Binder Updated: emptying it of last year's stuff

(click on picture to enlarge).

When you finish with a piece or an etude, you can take it out of the binder, or folder, and re-sort it back onto your book shelves. See above picture.
That way your binder will only have your current materials in it, and not be over-stuffed.

Binders For All Occasions:

You can also have a separate binder or music folder for a particular weekly rehearsal or group that you belong to, so that all you need for those occasions is in its own folder or binder. For example, I was in a "Cello, Flute, Piano Trio", and had a separate binder and over-size folder for those rehearsals.
Then I knew I had everything for that group when I arrived.

Or for performing gigs, I put the whole show in a binder specific to that gig. Those are the occasions where I need to walk on with a plain binder under one arm, and place it on a stand and start to play. I have the entire program in order already, page turns secured, no fussing with music at all, just open the gig-binder and play the show. So soothing.

6. All Flute Related Equipment; At Home, and At Lesson.

Here's a basic view of all the stuff you need for flute lessons, both at home, and when you travel to your lessons.

At home:
Flute with cleaning rod or cleaning swab.
Music stand (Manhasset tall black ones are best for heavy binders, wind storms and dogs with huge wagging tails, like Labradors.)
Flute Sheetmusic
You may also add:
The Tuning CD (disc or mp3s)
A Metronome w or w/o Tuner (inexpensive is fine.)

(click on picture to enlarge).
At your flute lesson:
Flute with cleaning rod or cleaning swab.
Big Flute Binder with blank paper and pencil
or Music Folder with Pencil and Notebook.

I find a picture says a thousand words, and also is a simple way to picture how you can quickly get organized for September's lessons.
If you have any questions, use the comment button. Love to know other systems that people use too.

Enjoy the colourful life of being an organized flutist who knows where their sheetmusic is. :>)
Wish they sold "cover-pocketed one-inch navy binders, sprial notebooks,  three hole punches and over-sized music folders with pencil pocket and sharpener' as a starter packet for music students.

Best, Jen

Comments (8)
Anonymous Tarah said...

I love the idea that the music gets copied rather than beat up! I also like the magazine holder idea because so many music books don't fit in file cabinets (my current organizational process).

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 11:34:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks Tara for your comment. I had difficulty with filing cabinets too.
I prefer bookshelves because of the speed of extraction. When I'm practicing or arranging I need to find things QUICKLY while my inspiration is still hot. Then I find I work better.
Best, speedy-sheetmusic-grabbing,

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 1:12:00 PM

Blogger Craftymainer said...

Great tips, thanks!  Just one thing to add.  For those on a budget, an empty, family sized box of cereal can be cut to make the upright file folder and then decorated with contact paper or scrap paper or even recycling paper (such as from copying music and not having it fit on the page correctly on the first try). I definitely need to reorganize my tote full of music! Thanks again!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 7:22:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks; good tip; cereal boxes. Great! Jen

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 8:22:00 PM

Blogger Lorette said...

I love your idea of the magazine holders so much that I went out today right after I read this and bought some! No more pulling ALL off the music off the shelf to find the one thing I want.
I also use a vertical metal file sorter to hold the various music books that are in the current rotation. I use one section for warmups and tone exercises, one for various exercise books like Taffanel and Reichert, one for scale exercises, etc. I can just pull what I want out during a practice session. It sits on the shelf next to my music stand. Here's what they look like:http://www.amazon.com/MMF-Industries-6-Compartment-Organizers-2646BLA/dp/B00006ICFN/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1410046892&sr=8-2&keywords=metal+file+sorter

Saturday, September 06, 2014 4:46:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks for the total enthusiasm factor! Thanks Lorette. That's what I used to do too; pull everything off horizontally; so annoying. The books take alot of wear and tear that way too, I found; covers coming off eventually; eek.
Glad to hear from you. Best, Jen

Saturday, September 06, 2014 5:45:00 PM

Blogger Lúcio said...

Hi Jen. Thanks for this article, it's sure to help me organize at home. I couldn't relate to the tips for the lesson day because this is how it usually goes for me:

- Go to lesson with books (i.e. Étude book+solo book+scale/exercise book+ensemble/duet book)
- Play warmup then the week's assignments, get feedback and ask questions
- Teacher will assign new material by writing a suggested tempo and date on the new music's page, on the book itself

Sounds like in the scenario you describe (I suppose that's the way you work) the student owns the book but keeps it at home. Teacher also owns book, and assigns based on, say, page number, by writing on student's notebook. Is that how it goes?

It IS cumbersome having to take my books to lesson every week, so I'm thinking of proposing this binder thing to my teacher and see what she thinks. Was just wondering how others did it, as it didn't seem to fit the mechanics I'm used to.

Thanks again!

Friday, September 26, 2014 1:01:00 PM

Blogger jen said...

Hi Lucio, thanks for commenting!
If the student has books, then that's just fine; it does help to be able to flip through the book to choose new pieces and studies, and if you had the binder, you wouldn't be able to flip about looking at new appropriate material....so looks like the folder option (or any other way to stop the books from getting jostled if you use a knapsack like I do) is fine.
Sounds fine to me the way it is.
Best, Jen

Friday, September 26, 2014 6:09:00 PM


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