When composing, my current process results in me stacking a lot of score paper into a folder. This works for now, but I can see that in the long-run, I will want some system of organizing my compositions if I want to be able to dig through them effectively and not get, say, the end of piece A mixed in with the middle section of piece C.

Which leads to my question: What method (if any) do you use to physically organize your compositions? Throw them all into a few folders? Categorize them somehow - IE different folders for different genres of music? Write the scores in Sibelius/etc and organize them on a computer? No organization whatsoever?

I'm mainly interested in getting ideas on how others approach this problem, to see what might be useful for my case.

  • @AlexanderTroup - what specific information are you looking for? A detailed and thorough answer concerning what exactly? The way the OP phrased the question, they were looking for a variety of answers from many individuals. Your bounty seems to be looking for a variety of solutions from one individual. More importantly, in what way haven't the answers provided thus far satisfy the the question? What more is being looked for? Oct 25, 2013 at 17:42
  • This is not a new problem, in fact all composers face this problem, so surely there must be detailed records of how some well known composers worked eg stravinsky,bach, mozart and so on, or indeed a modern day composer who has shared their method. I feel that the answers when I offered the bounty were good, however, they were short and quite personal. You talked of alphabetical sorting by title, which I've tried, however I feel that perhaps organising by concept, or by another metric might be more effective. But I don't know what that metric might be. Oct 25, 2013 at 19:40
  • This might not even be an entirely musical question when it comes to organising Ideas, the idea of semantic(by meaning) sorting is probably more what this is about. I believe there must be a well founded set of answers to this question in a compositional context, and a good way to find it would be to get some attention on the question. Oct 25, 2013 at 19:43
  • @jjmusicnotes To answer your first question, A detailed and thourough answer concerning methods of organising compositional ideas, and why to use those methods. Oct 25, 2013 at 19:47
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    specifically, I'd like a system that I can use, and getting a wide range of what's out there will allow me to either adopt one, or to craft one for myself out of the community, crowd sourced diamonds. Oct 25, 2013 at 19:51

7 Answers 7


Here's a simple idea:

  1. Sort your compositions by date or title

    Pick one criterion such as the date or title of the composition, order and store your papers in labeled folders (according to the criterion you've chosen). Keeping them sorted allows you to find them quickly.

  2. Use your computer to keep track of your compositions

    This solution relies on a standard feature available on all operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux): Search. The basic idea is to create files describing each of your compositions under a folder on your computer to be able to do a search on them. You will be able to search for them in many different ways (by instrument, by date, by genre, by key...) which is hard to do efficiently with paper.

    Even if you don't want to store a digital copy of your compositions, you can use your computer to search for them using different criteria in case you forgot the main criterion you sorted them by.

    To do this, create a folder where you want to store all the information about your music. Then, every time you add a new composition to your (physical) archive, go to your computer and create a text file and name it after the date or title of your composition. The file doesn't have to be directly under the main folder, you can create as many levels of subfolders as you like to better organize them.

    Open the file for editing and type in a description in the following format:

    title My Song #1
    author myself
    key A
    genre pop
    instrument piano
    instrument guitar
    instrument bass
    instrument flute

    You can add as many properties as you like as long as each property/value combination is on a seperate line, and you use consistent terms across your files.

  3. Search for your music

    Let's suppose you chose to label your compositions by title (and therefore name the text files by title). If, for example, you forgot the title of the song you're looking for, but you still remember what key it was in and that it had a flute part, then you simply have to open your computer folder, and type in this query in the search box: "key A" "instrument flute", and you'll find all matching files, like My Song 1.txt for example. So now you can look for the 'My Song 1' label in your physical archive.

    This works well because search not only looks at the names of files, but also in their contents. Just make sure to use quotes for each parameter (as in the example above) to tell your computer that you want the whole phrase (in quotes) to be matched, and not individual words.

  • I like this method a lot. A few of the benefits I can see: I'm free to compose on paper or on a computer, whenever I like. I can specify in these files where the composition is located (on paper or computer, and where), so I can choose to compose on either medium, rather than restricting myself to one. Allows me to, as mentioned, search by different characteristics I might be interested in. Low maintenance, not too difficult to maintain. I am going to accept this answer, as it seems the most flexible, although the other answers have useful ideas as well. Oct 25, 2013 at 12:56
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    I'm glad you like my method. But don't end the bounty just yet, I'm interested in seeing more answers. Mine is pretty primitive, it's more like a hack. You can probably use Excel or Access (from Microsoft office) to store such data, and search it. Maybe you can find some special software for this. The problem of managing large archives of files is not uncommon. productivity.stackexchange.com/questions/2350/…
    – Anthony
    Oct 25, 2013 at 13:21

I input my work into engraving software (Finale / Sibelius) and create folders for each new composition. Within that folder, I save each draft of the composition with the title of the piece and the date of the draft. At the beginning of each month (as often as I remember to) I back up all of my compositions onto a separate drive so if my computer explodes, my music is still safe.

If you're going the hard-copy route, I would suggest lots of folders and filing cabinets. Alphabetize your compositions and within each folder, arrange your drafts by date or what have you.

From personal experience, I can tell you it is far easier to organize your compositions by title rather than by date. Far easier to say, "I want the most recent draft of Symphony 1 than think to yourself "hmmm...when did I write Symphony 1?"


I'm Still working on a system of categorisation at the moment. I believe it's an important skill to have and I have 2 points that I can confidently share

Ditch the dross

Some will disagree on the Idea of throwing anything away in composing, but I highly advocate it after spending years hanging on to stale words and go-nowhere notes. If there's something you can hang onto in the note, do it, but anything >6 months old, with nothing you can see going for it should be going in the bin! Here's a great video that sums up the way I feel about holding on to every idea too much.

Categorise by Idea

I find categories on computer are much harder to explore later on because I just prefer to see the physical thing in my hands, so I'm not going to cover digital. But what I've started doing is paper-clipping related sheets of music together, and putting a flash card on the front with a summary of what's inside. Works for me so far, but we'll see in the coming months!

Very important question you have here(to me anyway)!


I agree with jjmusicnotes, it is much more natural to catagorize by piece/idea than by date, both digitally and paper-wise, unless you always finish what you start and only work on one thing at a time.

In my case, more often than not I write a small fragment or a continuation and put it away. I also regularly go back to things I put away previously, rewrite, and often reorganize fragments in various orders. I never organize fragments by genre or instrument, because I often rewrite ideas for various instruments for fun.

I also keep a "sandbox" folder with various short fragments (on paper) not related to anything else... and this sandbox tends to grow rapidly with time, and some things eventually migrate from here to other folders. I also have many such archived sandboxes that I haven't looked into for years.


I had to make the same decision for my compositions few years ago. So, I started categorizing my compositions mainly on the Scientific classification theory, which means using naming convention according to that theory. Since I'd like to edit, copy-paste or transfer those scores online, at first I make a digital version (with Sibelius software) of my compositions. This would be very useful for future changes or other kind of manipulations plus the ability to make second backup of them for example on the online storage services; i.e. dropbox, googledocs, etc.

Then, according to that theory, I start naming (the folder of) my composition starting from the general category (genre) at the very left and trying to cover all the specification of that composition. for example:

Chamber music - Oboe solo and String quartet - After the rain - 2013

  • The Chamber Music is genre,
  • Oboe solo and String quartet is the general instrumentation for that piece,
  • After the rain is the name of composition
  • and the (optional) 2013 is the year of that composition.

(The year is not necessary since at the computer you can sort or find items by time, very easily)

In each folder I will put materials on sub-folders as full score, parts, audio, video, program notes,... (whatever applicable for that specific composition).

There is an extra benefit to make a digital copy out of your score (for example in Sibelius) that you can use “capture idea” menu. It's helpful if your composition is only few gestures, a beautiful melody or an interesting harmonic progression.

I also have found it quite useful to add unique number (at the end or just at the beginning) of the names, and that is something like the traditional opus number which facilitate remembering the hierarchy of your compositions as well as beautiful road-map of your career.


The hierarchy of biological classification (Example of scientific classification)

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  • I love the Idea of categorising compositions like a biological tree, but do you assume that everything has a single parent? like a species can only have one Genus, a family can only have one order etc? Oct 29, 2013 at 9:33
  • It depends mostly on your own needs. For me, the general parental divisions are based on the instrumentation. i.e. chamber music, orchestral music, big band, solo, etc... Therefore, each composition would fall below in only one (parental) category.
    – Libera Me
    Oct 30, 2013 at 7:41
  • I like the Idea of a tree structure, I'm going to spend some time perhaps working on a custom system though. thanks for taking the time to post this, it's been great to read! Oct 30, 2013 at 20:20

Well, there are a lot of fascinating answers on this page. Since I’ve always been a good speller, I just file things by the first word in the title alphabetically. One proviso, though, is that according to convention, articles are not used in that system. That means no using “a”, “an”, and “the” as the first word. A song such as The Shadow of Your Smile would be listed as Shadow of Your Smile, The. This will keep you from having to put everything under those three words, which in the English language could be a large list. It’s also the convention of libraries and dictionaries. Funny thing, a lot of the word processing programs will not alphabetize correctly, and will also file things under a first name/last name order, which is not the way dictionaries and libraries do it— it’s supposed to be last name/first name—so that’s something you have to watch for. If you’ve always had trouble spelling, then use a number system on a spreadsheet like Excel for PCs or Numbers for Mac and set up your columns with title, genre, length, key, derivation, etc., etc. Just number the charts as they come in, and don’t worry about spelling. A lot of big bands, both professional and amateur, use this system and it works well because a big band’s book can number into hundreds of charts. You end up doing a lot of data base maintainence, but it’s worth it in the long run. I also liked the idea of the scraps or fragments file. It’s also good as a composer or arranger to have a collection of useable ideas. Just my two cents’ worth. Good luck to all in the future with all your music projects.

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    Can't you write the title with a leading article (if present), and just ignore that when sorting?  I find that simpler than mangling the title.  (Many computers do the same now.)
    – gidds
    Dec 19, 2023 at 11:28
  • Another type of exception to strict alphabetical ordering is numbers. Numbers should be sorted numerically, i.e. "Symphony No. 2" should go before "Symphony No. 10". Dec 20, 2023 at 20:28

To address the problem of tbe pages of scores becoming intermingled, put bindings on your scores. Find a local copy shop and see what they charge. Go with coil bindings, not combs, even though they are more expensive. I use a file cabinet for my works, with different drawers and sections for different ensembles types.

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