Please lose the music binder

August 15, 2017

For some reason a high percentage of my incoming students each year like to make a 3-ring binder for their sheet music and lesson materials. I don’t know why.

They apparently put a fair amount of time and money into this project, which often involves custom cover artwork, dividers, and plastic sheet protectors. As the semesters go by, the binder fills up with every bit of sheet music they have used, until the binder is so heavy that a music stand won’t support its weight.

I applaud and relate to their interest in keeping things organized and their enthusiasm for the course. But the big music binder just doesn’t work very well. Here are my complaints:

  • Putting everything in sheet protectors discourages marking, which is crucial to effective practicing. Even if your intention is to pull the sheet music out to practice and make markings, are you really going to go to the trouble every single time? Or will some things go unmarked when you feel too lazy to pull the music out for the umpteenth time?
  • You will discover quickly that sheet music doesn’t all come in a neat, uniform 8½”×11″ size.
  • Carrying everything with you is pointless and impractical. I do think you should keep basically all of the repertoire, etudes, and other materials that you work on. But unless they are part of your active practice regimen, they shouldn’t be cluttering your music stand or weighing down your backpack. Get a big cardboard or plastic file box (you will probably need “legal size”) and keep your older materials neatly organized in a safe place.
  • While good organization is important, sometimes it turns into an excuse to procrastinate the real work of practicing. Your organization system should suit you, but shouldn’t turn into a time drain.

I do think it’s handy to have something to organize and protect what you are currently working on, especially if you are a student and need your practicing to move easily between multiple locations. Consider a large manila envelope, a pocket folder, or even a commercially-available music portfolio.