Digital Sheet Music Organization

Organizing Digital Sheet Music


I have thousands of sheet music titles in either PDF, freehand/musicpad or Sibelius format. All can easily be formatted to standard letter size PDF files which are great for printing out and viewing on an iPad or a computer screen. So, PDF format seems to be the logical choice as far as what format to put my music in. I’ve seen programs that rely on a single graphic per page. The MusicPad (freehand,.fh files) does that and in order to create books for the Kindle or Nook format, one must do that. Graphic files are so much bigger than a PDF file created from a music notation program to begin with and more importantly, having all the music in one document (rather than multiple graphic files) makes the PDF the logical choice.

Some thoughts

I’m trying to figure out the best way to organize all of my sheet music. I have over 14,000 titles cataloged in my personal music library and over 500 for my music publishing company.  I suspect maybe as much as that number is not cataloged. (Hymnals and fakebooks can contain thousands of titles per book and collections can contain dozens of titles so 14,000 is not a huge number). Most of the titles I have are still in paper format. Converting them to digital is a subject for another article someday. Of those titles I do have in some sort of digital format already, what is the best way to organize them? Some of my music is for solo piano, some is for solo organ, sometimes with the same title, sometimes multiple versions of the same title and some of my music is for various instruments, vocalists and various permutations of instruments.


I see two possible ways of organizing them:

  • A single PDF document per song title and per type/genre of music.
  • Collections of titles (multiple titles per PDF file)

If I go with multiple titles per PDF, the size can be huge and in a live situation, being able to find, say the Addams Family TV theme someone requests (and they do request it) in a collection of a thousand TV themes can take forever, even if the PDF has been properly bookmarked. On the otherhand, having all my TV themes in one PDF file puts everything in one file and I don’t have to find and open another PDF file.

When it comes to selling music in PDF format, do people want to buy just one title or a collection of titles? A collection often may only contain one or two titles that you really want while the rest of the titles are wasted money. On the other hand, a collection is, so far as a per-song cost is concerned, cheaper than buying the individual titles. If you are given only the choice of a collection to buy that one song you really want or only the choice of buying several single titles, which would you choose? (Let’s assume you only have the choice of one or the other). That choice can make a difference for how we organize the music.

Ideas for discussion

I currently organize my music in a folder structure by instrumentation. As a composer/arranger and music publisher, I have all types of music, not just music I might play as a solo performer. I also differentiate between music I’ve written/arranged and music I’ve purchased that was written by other people. This works fine on a PC or Mac, but when we start getting into iPads, Kindles, Nooks and other tablet readers, they often don’t allow documents to be stored in folders. The iPad, as far as I can tell, only allows for one folder for an app. As we move into the future with tablets becoming more and more used, then we have to keep that under consideration.

The iPad apps I’ve run across are not sophisticated enough to read inside a PDF file to get the table of contents (assuming the PDF is in text format and not a bunch of scanned images put together). There are apps that will allow you to manually create an index on your PC or Mac and upload to the ipad. The app then uses that in its own index which may or may not contain all the titles of all songs on the app.

A single music title per PDF file seems to be the most logical and fastest way to find one’s music. A suffix (eg. “filename (O)” for Organ music and “filename (P)” for Piano music) would handle those situations where we have multiple titles with the same name but for different instrumentation. Likewise, multiple arrangements for the same instrument with the same title could add a suffix to find them more easily. Or perhaps it should be a prefix and suffix combination. I have dozens of solo piano arrangements of Amazing Grace. So for that, do I call it maybe “PN_Amazing Grace (arranger or source).pdf”? Besides just figuring out whether to do one file per title or use collections, what we name the files is also open for discussion.

Your thoughts and comments on the subject of organization of digital sheet music would be most appreciated.

Did you know…

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been selling my own sheet music in PDF format for over 15 years on the internet (and in the past year or so, additional artists have been added to the catalog). I have a number of free titles, including music theory related available at the website. I also have a number of sheet music titles available for the Kindle and Nook (on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). My MP3 recordings are available at the website as well as at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and more. Check out my YouTube page as well.

Feel free to share this with others.


About jamesgilbertmusic

JamesGilbertMusic is a web based publisher of sheet music and mp3 files. The founder, James Gilbert, is a pianist, organist composer/arranger and piano teacher. He offers piano lessons in Micanopy.
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2 Responses to Digital Sheet Music Organization

  1. Been seriously considering getting an large thin Android Tablet, just so I can use this:

  2. The software described in that link is almost identical to a number of iPad products that are well past version 1. I plan to write an article in a few weeks, but I now have a new iPad to replace my dying MusicPad Pro (14×10″ 1022×766 tablet) that is almost 9 years old. I was concerned that the iPad screen would be too small, but it turns out that with the higher resolution, it is excellent for viewing PDF files.

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