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Beginners Guide To Classical

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Tagging Classical Music

Note: there is more than one way to do this! Search the Slim Forums for "classical" and see what comes up...

The problem with Classical music is that most capture/tagging/playback software is really oriented to pop/rock, where the most important unit of listening is either the whole CD or the individual track. And we usually want to find these by Artist (“composer” is esoteric info rarely used).

In classical music the most important unit is usually the Work (e.g. a Symphony or Concerto), consisting of a few tracks, and of which there may be one or many on a CD. Sometimes on multi-CD sets they put one Work across 2 CDs. And we usually want to find these by Composer (“artist” is useful secondary info to distinguish between two different recordings of the same Work).

Its not therefore surprising that a model developed for pop music (Artist / Album / Song) doesn't work very well for listening to classical music. The purpose of this guide is to help solve this headache for new users: we will start with some very simple recommendations which may be all you need - then go on to some optional more complex stuff. This is not the end of the story, remember this is a Beginners Guide!

Simple Recommendations

We're going to cheat by redefining some terms to make classical music fit into the Artist/Album/Track model that SqueezeCenter uses.

The first thing to do is to break the link between “album” and “CD" by tagging the music such that each Work appears as one Album to SqueezeCenter.

Then, because most playback software (Slim included) is looking for "Artist" as the primary selection key, fool it by putting the Composer in there instead.

A simple scheme:

  1. Use the "Album" tag to identify a Work - E.g. "Beethoven Symphony no. 5 - Karajan"
  2. Use the "Artist" tag to identify the composer - e.g. "Beethoven"
  3. Use the "Title" to identify the movement - e.g. "Beethoven Symp 5 - 3 - Allegro"

As far as the file directory structure is concerned, one common strategy is to match the CDs, so each CD is ripped into a single directory just like Pop/Rock CDs.

You can stop there if you want: or read on, through some hopefully helpful notes, to a more detailed discussion of the options available.

Some Key Points to Remember

Online Tag Databases Contain Rubbish

Sorry, that's just the way it is. Freedb and Cddb are fairly reliable for pop/rock, but completely inconsistent for classical music. Don't rely on them for anything more than an approximate reminder of which movement is in which track. Whatever ripping and tagging tools you are using, be prepared to overwrite the default information with the real stuff. Some people like Musicbrainz ... others don't!

Consistency Is Everything

Is it "Beethoven" or "Ludwig van Beethoven" or "Beethoven, Ludwig Van"? What about all the possible spellings of Shostakovich? SqueezeCenter does its best to keep different variations on a name together, but really there is no substitute for self-imposed consistency. You will find this makes browsing lists of music much easier.

The same goes for naming a Work. It might be "Beethoven Symphony 9 in D minor, Op 125" ... or it could be "Symphony No. 9 in D Minor" or any of hundreds of other variations. The golden rule is to pick a standard and stick to it. You will find this easier to do - especially in 6 months time - if you write this down somewhere, as if you were instructing someone else to do it.

Whether or not you intend to use Musicbrainz, they have a guide to tagging classical music that includes some useful pointers.


  • It is essential for most classical music that you can play music "gapless", so make sure your format allows this. FLAC is good. MP3 is (often) not.
  • Audio quality is especially important for the wide dynamic range of classical music. Use a lossless format.
  • Tagging will be important to you - relying on a naming convention in your directory structure will not be good enough. WAVs are therefore not good.

Recommendation - use FLAC

Folders and File Names

Keep it simple. If you set your ripper to create a standard directory structure along the lines of /<artist>/<album>/<track> and give it a fake album name that roughly summarises this CD (e.g. "Beethoven 5 & 8 - Karajan") then it will put all the tracks for this CD in one directory, so you can play the "CD" any time you like (by using Browse Music Folder in Slimserver).

A common strategy for the file name is to have it match the "title" tag as taggers find it easy to copy one to the other. It is a good idea to make sure that files are named such that when the movements of a Work are played in alphabetical order - which is what will happen when a player that doesn't read the tags tries to play them - you get them in the right sequence. For example:

/Symp 5 - 3 - Allegro/

Note that including a short version of the Work name is handy for when a CD contains two Works (and the third movement of each is "Allegro" !). Be sure to use "3" not "III".

Note that if you have filenames that are non-ASCII (mostly accented consonants, such as in Janaček, Leo) SlimServer (6.5.x) won't see them. If, however, the filename is ASCII but the tag is not, you're fine. So if you want to show such names with the accents, you will have to use a non-accented filename and have the accents in the tags.

Tagging Options in more detail

Album Tag

You need the Album tag to collect together a single Work (e.g. Symphony). So use a tagging program to edit the tags. Set the Album tag in each track (movement) to something along the lines of:

/Beethoven Piano Concerto 5 in E flat Major, 'Emperor', Op 73 - Arrau - Davis - Staatskapelle Dresden/

or, if you don't want to wait for the scrolling, something shorter like:

/Beethoven PC 5 Op 73 - Arrau - Davis - Dresden/

Whether you include the Composer or not depends on what information you want to be visible when browsing or playing. Squeezeboxes and, especially, Transporters have a lot of options about how you display information - for the best results consider what you want to see when browsing and playing, then experiment with tagging schemes and display options till you get what you want. Here's another variant:

/Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat Major - Arrau/

See the note above about consistency - pick a standard you like! Note that putting the conductor (etc) information in is important to make sure that different recordings don't get jumbled up, and so you can pick which one you want when browsing.

Artist Tag

This one causes a lot of argument about what is the "right" way to use it. Forget the arguments and do what feels right to you. The main options seem to be (1) to put the Composer name in, as suggested above, or (2) to put performers (conductor and/or soloists) in. Remember its you that is going to be using this thing...

Title Tag

The key here is to get in enough information to be helpful, AND TO MAKE SURE THAT SqueezeCenter and other players will naturally play the tracks/movements in the right order. Manually edit each track tag to be something like:

/Beethoven Symp 5 Op 67 - 3 - Allegro/

Note also that the example here includes a short version of the Work name, which is handy if you want to set the Squeezebox display to the track name and to be reminded of what Work is playing. It is of course optional - for example if you use the MusicInfoScr plugin to define your own display layout you can get all sorts of info to appear where you want it.

Genre Tag

The simplest and easiest answer - especially if Classical music is a minority in your collection - is to tag all of it as "Classical" and leave it at that. Then browse by Genre will take you straight to this music and no other.

If you have lots of Classical music and want to be able to distinguish, you could of course use a finer distinction: tag it as "Baroque" or "Classical" or "Romantic" or "Modern", for example.

For an optional more advanced solution, SqueezeCenter can make sense of multiple values for the Genre tag… so a Work can be “Classical” AND “Baroque” AND a “Concerto”, for example. Note that you can have any combination you like! For example, an early 20th Century Work might well be classifiable as “Classical;Romantic;20thC;Symphony” and another one as "Classical;20thC;Chamber;Piano". There is NO definitive list of genres, despite what some people might try to tell you: focus on the labels that will help YOU find the music you want.

Note – most other player applications (eg iTunes) can’t handle this concept, so be careful if the files are going to be used elsewhere. FLACs should be ok with this, MP3s probably not.

There are two ways of doing this: (a) have multiple Genre tags or (b) put multiple values in one Genre tag. If you are going to use option (b), you need to tell SqueezeCenter what character (";" in the example above) you are using to delimit: in the Web interface, go to Settings - Music Library - Separator for Multiple Items in Tags (SS6: Server Settings - Behavior - Multiple Items in Tags)

Track number tag

Opera CDs are frequently split quite arbitrarily across CDs - it might be by act, or it might not. Consider how you listen to these - if you like to listen to a full opera, have your tagging software renumber them in order, so it is effectively a single Work, and name it as a single album. Liberate yourself from the CD structure, although remember that it may be less easy to follow the libretto this way. You may want to add the act number (or indeed the libretto reference) to the start of the title.

Other Important Data

SqueezeCenter also recognises CONDUCTOR, COMPOSER and BAND (Orchestra) tags, which are amongst the many extra tags that FLAC (or Ogg/Vorbis) can handle. For maximum future flexibility you should consider putting these in when you tag, though they are certainly not essential. You can use these in SqueezeCenter Title display formats, and in the MusicInfoScr plugin.

In Settings - Music Library you can choose which if any of these are to be considered as "Artist" for the purposes of browsing and searching. If you are going this way, of course, you could use ARTIST for something other than the Composer... just remember that other player software you might want to use in the future may not be as clever as SqueezeCenter and may try to tell you that you are listening to Karajan's 9th Symphony.

Some FLAC/Vorbis "standards" also mention the PERFORMER tag, which is obviously useful for soloists in classical music. SqueezeCenter, out of the box, does not support this tag yet, but you can use the Custom Scan plugin for the time being: you can then have at least some use of the PERFORMER information in display and some other functions. Visit the Plugins board on the Slim forums.

Even if you do use some or all of these tags, its still a good idea to put it in the Album name as well - this gives more flexibility when browsing by Album, or when using other programs that might not be as smart as SqueezeCenter.

Future Proofing Your Tagging

You may be about to spend a lot of time ripping and tagging your music collection: try to make sure you don't have to go back and do it all over again when something changes in your player's capabilities. Consider getting as much information as you can, consistently, into a number of tags - COMPOSER, CONDUCTOR, BAND, PERFORMER, WORK, OPUS, ARRANGER, ISRC, CDTITLE. Then use a smart tagger like mp3tag to populate the compromise tags of ARTIST, ALBUM, TITLE that SqueezeCenter is expecting to see: this way, if SqueezeCenter's capabilities change or you want to play in some other player, you will have the option to automatically reconfigure the tags without losing any data.

Other Notes

  • The scheme described above works very well for most classical CDs. It doesn't work so well when a CD contains many short Works, e.g. chamber music or songs. One solution here is to revert to using the CD name as the "Album" (e.g. "Schuberts Songs"). Or use a hybrid approach: if a CD has a couple of longer Works (> 10 min each, say) then call each of them an Album, and invent a collective Album name for the other short Works. The main thing is to think about how /you/ will want to listen to this.
  • Any half-decent tagging programs will allow you to select many tracks and make the same change in all of them. This will save you a lot of typing when changing Album or Artist tags and will reduce the scope for error!

Other Sources

Contributions by Ceejay, AdamSlim ...