How to Organize Your Church Music Library

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A few weeks ago, I got an email from a woman asking for help organizing her church's music library.

What should I keep?
Should I put everything in alphabetical order?
What do I do with old cantatas and reading copies?

Great questions. I'm by no means an expert, but I have learned a thing or two from watching others and organizing a few music libraries myself.

Of course, there are many ways to go about this and if you've been doing this long enough, you probably have your own system. But, if you're new, or you just started at a new church, or you're looking for a few ideas to be even more organized, keep reading, because today, I'm sharing my best tips and tricks for organizing your church music library. 

Where do I start?

If you're standing in a cluttered room filled with boxes, loose papers, and stacks of anthems, this is a valid first question. Sometimes, just the thought of organizing thousands of pieces of music and keeping track of everything can be overwhelming.

The key is to start with a manageable amount of music. Don't try to tackle your whole music library in one afternoon!

  1. Start pulling music off the shelves and/or out of filing cabinets, little by little. Work with a small number of anthems at a time (maybe 15-20). Spread them out, stacking them on chairs and/or the floor.
     
  2. Number each anthem (e.g. 1-50) with pencil in the upper right corner or put in numerical order if already numbered. If you don't already have the numbered system in place, assign each choir member a number and box. This makes it easy to pass out music and ensure that choir members get their same copy back.

    If the music is already numbered but you're missing a few copies, pull from the end and renumber, filling in, as needed.
     
  3. Once an anthem is ready to be re-shelved or filed, stack under chairs or in a corner of the room. If it's a new anthem, go ahead and make a new filing box or folder.
     
  4. Repeat this process with another batch of anthems.

How should I organize everything?

Everyone has their own system for organizing music, but I usually like to sort by season or theme first (General, Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, Communion, etc.), then alphabetize within each section.

Separate children's unison/2-part music from things your adult choir would sing (SAB, SATB). If you have enough women’s or men’s choir music (5-10+ anthems), I would pull it out and make a new category. Include ALL women’s choir music (SA, SSA, SSAA etc.) in this category - Christmas, Easter, General - everything. Same for men’s choir (TB, TTB, TTBB, etc.).

Working within these categories, group anthems by season or theme (General, Advent/Christmas, Lent/Easter, Communion, etc.).

Note: If you have only a few things that are women's or men’s choir pieces, not enough to constitute making a separate category, then file with the mixed choir anthems by season (e.g. Christmas women’s choir piece with Christmas section).

Once you have music sorted by category (mixed, children, etc.) and season or theme (General, Advent/Christmas, etc.), begin alphabetizing and re-shelving or filing.

Should I keep copied music?

If it violates copyright, discard. If it's legitimate sheet music (public domain, covered under your church's CCLI or One License license, or purchased and downloaded legally) and it's something you think you might use again, put it in a box or folder and file where appropriate.

What do I do with sample music?

Music publishers send out reading copies, promotional materials, and listening CDs a few times each year to promote new anthems and collections. It's easy to let these things pile up.

Take this opportunity to purge your sample music stash and discard any outdated or excess music or promotional CDs.

How long should I keep music?

When it comes to music, there isn't really an expiration date.

Some churches may hold on to old music for many years. Some of it may get sung again and you might find yourself digging through the archive for a special church anniversary or celebration.

All that being said, if you have no intention of using old music again and you're running out of space in your music library, see if another local church could use it, list it online for others to see, or recycle it.

How do I keep it organized?

If you don't already have some sort of spreadsheet or database of what's in your music library, this is a perfect opportunity to make one. Set up a simple spreadsheet on your computer or laptop and add titles and basic information for each anthem as you go. I recommend the following information for each anthem:

Title
Composer/Arranger
Voicing (SATB, SAB, etc.)
Number of copies
Theme (General, Communion, Advent, etc.)
Notes (optional instrumentation, Scripture reference, hymn tune, etc.)

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