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Turn your Mac into a Sheet Music Database

Tired of the piles of music that you collect after a reading session? Wish you could remember where to find a particular motet or chant? It sometimes seems like devising a personal system for organizing your scores and octavos is a rite of passage for choral directors, and there are myriad strategies and tools available. With a small tweak to the new Mac operating system ("Mavericks") though, the ability to tag files has become a potential game changer in organizing our collections. Let's take a look at a workflow for moving your music library into a structure which is easily searchable using tools you already have access to.
 
Windows has had this feature for a couple of versions now, but it is hidden in the Details pane. It seems to me like this would really slow down the process of categorizing a library. If someone has done this successfully in Windows, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!
 
Tag-- You're It
Tagging is a process of assigning keywords to an item. Whereas with files and folders a file could only have one name or live in one folder (without making multiple copies), tags let you specify many different keywords that you might want to retrieve later. For example, I could have the King's Singers arrangement of "And So It Goes." I usually file my pieces by title and composer, so the title of this file would be "Joel, Billy - And So It Goes." When I'm trying to build a concert program, though, I may want to see entries in my library that meet several different criteria. I could tag this song with "King's Singers," "Chilcott" (arranger), "Pop," "A Cappella," "English," "SSAATTBB," "Bass Solo," "Soprano Solo" and any other criteria that I might use to help identify pieces for potential programs in the future. If I program the piece this year, I might even add a "2014" tag to remind future me that it's been used.
 
Build the Tags
 
Right-clicking on a file will let you select the "Tags..." menu. By default, Mavericks gives you some tags sorted by color. Clicking on "Show All..." will let you rename or edit the existing tags if you'd like to remove or change them. If you want to start adding tags directly, you can type them into the field. Again, you can add several tags directly into the field. I'm going to tag this file with "Baroque." Two things now happen:
 
First, the tags menu in my Finder window now has "Baroque" as an option. Clicking on that from any Finder window will give me a list of any file on my computer labeled "Baroque." This doesn't have to be limited to my sheet music, either--- I could do the same thing with any recordings that I have on my computer as well. Second, the file gets a red dot with the title to indicate that it's been tagged with a red category. I can manage the colors by double-clicking the "Baroque" label on the left if I so desire.
 
Using Tags to Search
Clicking on "Baroque" now would give me any score that I've tagged with that category. That doesn't do me much good since I could just store all of these scores in a folder called "Baroque." The power is when I use multiple tags and search using different criteria. For this, I use the Spotlight search in the upper right of the screen.
 
 
Entering multiple tags in here will search for any pieces which have all of those tags. For example, I could search "Bach SSA" to find any SSA arrangements of Bach (again, if I've also done this with my recordings, I'd get any recordings that I have which meet these criteria as well). 
 
You can also choose to sort my Finder view by tags. Listing all the files in a folder while displaying the tags gives you a quick visual scan of your choices. To do this, list your files in the detail view.
 
 
A right-click on the column headers (for example, "Name") gives me the option to add "Tags" as a column to display. I now can see all of my documents and the list of all available tags. 
 
What about the Paper?
This works well if you receive all of your scores by e-mail or electronic format, but that is not the reality for most situations. How are you going to get your scores on your computer in the first place? I suggest two steps:
  • At a reading session or when I first play through a score, I pencil on the tags that I think are most appropriate for this piece. That way I don't have to think about it at the computer, but I can sort them while the sound is fresh in my mind. 
  • When you have a piece (or several) ready to file, find a copier with e-mail capabilities. Most modern business/office/institution copiers can scan and e-mail documents. If you don't have one at your organization, ask around-- someone in your immediate circle does! Once you have one, grab a paper slicer and cut the binding spine or fold so that each page is loose and separate. Once this is done, you have a stack of loose pages which can be put into the document feeder instead of you having to scan each page individually. Scan the document and e-mail it to yourself.
The first time you do this, especially if you have a large library to go though, you'll likely want to do large batches. When I made my first attempt, I put a folder on my computer called "Still to File." I saved all the e-mailed files there until they were sorted and tagged-- this made it a lot more organized and let me spread the work out over several long movie nights.
 
The Finished Product
Once you're done, you'll have all of your scores accessible and sortable by a variety of tags that you choose. Next time you're looking for just that right piece of music, you may surprise yourself with what you can find!