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Sheet Music in the 21st Century

Posted by Kimberly Hankins on
Sheet Music in the 21st Century

I decided to finally take on the enormous task of digitizing my sheet music collection as a 'fun' summer project. I am a little neurotic, and have saved every piece of sheet music from every concert I have ever been a part of. The orchestral parts alone took up most of my collection.

I am definitely not a hoarder, but when it comes to sheet music I can't help myself. It's hard for me to justify getting rid of something that I might need later on a professional level.

But each time I move it's a pain to pack up and carry, and after making the switch to using an iPad as my primary means of reading sheet music, digitizing everything seemed like the next logical next step. 

Now that I've digitized about half of my collection, I thought I would share some helpful tips that I've learned along the way.


1) Come up with an organizational system first, and commit to it.

I decided from the very beginning that I wanted a folder for each piece of music. That way I could keep all the different versions together, and easily find what I'm looking for. It's been great having a way to easily find all the different fingerings/bowings/comments I have for a particular piece of music. The title of each folder is composer, title. The files inside are marked with the dates I last performed/worked on them, or the book they're from.

2) Have back-ups for your back-ups

If you're going to go through the trouble of digitizing your entire sheet music collection, make sure that you have multiple saved locations for it. Even if you decide to go with a portable hard drive, have at least one other saved version. I personally have my library saved to my computer, laptop, portable hard drive (that automatically backs up my computer hard drive), and google drive.

If you have the ability to use google drive, dropbox, iCloud, or some other cloud service -do it. It is incredibly convenient as a musician and teacher to be able to look up multiple editions of pieces I've played, from my phone (and iPad), whenever I want. Paying the $2 a month for the extra space on google drive is totally worth it for me.

3) You don't need a fancy scanner.

I initially used a scanner for all of my loose leaf pages, and it worked really well, but when it got to the large books in my collection it became difficult to not cut-off the sides of each page. 

I ended up using 'Genius Scan' for iPhone as my primary way of adding sheet music to my library, and it's so much easier. If you aren't an iPhone user, there are plenty of similar apps that use your camera to create black and white pdf files. I'm able to back up the files directly to my google drive, which makes it that much easier. I can scan entire book and back it up to google drive in a matter of minutes.

4) Do your own copyright research.

One of my concerns when copying all of this sheet music was wondering if I am still legally allowed to perform these works. I'm no expert, but from what I understand you always need to check who holds the copyrights to each piece you perform in public for monetary purposes. If you are a student, it's easy to ignore this because the university is covering the cost for the licensing agreement. However, it is the circumstances of the performance itself that determine your legal right to perform the music, rather than your physically owning the music or not. To be safe, for recitals I always bring a physical edition of the music with me.

5) Don't feel like you have to do it all at once, and try to enjoy the process.

I've been slowly chipping away at my collection, and each time I do I find something that brings up a special memory. It's also been interesting finding pieces I completely forgot I played! When that happens I sometimes look up a recording of that piece and see if I can remember that time.

Music is so tied into our long term memory, and for musicians it's almost like each piece we work on and perform ties through all of these memories associated with it. Treating this process of digitizing this music as a special event helps me stay motivated. It helps me remember why I decided to be a musician in the first place. 

6) Now that it's digitized, what do I do?

You can easily donate it to a youth orchestra, music school, university music school library or even local public library. I have done this with a lot of my sheet music, and it feels really good to give back to the community.

For orchestral scores, sometimes used bookstores are willing to buy them (for Arizona locals, Bookmans). You can also sell any sheet music on eBay, amazon, or your own website. All kinds of books are allowed to be sold used without violating any copyright laws. In fact, I sell many books from my personal collection here on my website:



Let me know what you think! Have you made the switch already, or are you in the process of digitizing your sheet music collection? Was there something that you found helpful?


*My statements have not been influenced by sponsorship of any kind


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