Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Taming The Sheet Music Tiger, Part 2: DIY External Hard Drive

In “Taming The Sheet Music Tiger, Part 1”, I started exploring the possibilities of converting my entire sheet music collection into a digital format. (See The process of digitizing my collection to save space and improve searchability has been going very well. The process takes time like any large archiving project. It is similar to ripping a CD collection to MP3. However, the benefits are already presenting themselves. I do have more space in my apartment. I can easily mail a PDF file to a student which can be viewed or printed on their computer at home. I’ve already seen a saving on toner and paper costs.

I have had to invest in hard drive storage for my digital sheet music collection. This was mainly to create plenty of backup copies. I also needed to backup tens of thousands of MP3s, photos, my web page, and my home project studio files. I wanted copies of my data stored offline, to be protected against power surges that could damage the originals on my main computer drives. External drives seemed to be the answer. To save money on drive storage, I learned how to build an external hard drive.

One TB (terabyte) drives have been hovering around $70-$90 (or lower at times) on sites like,, and Another site that is worth checking out for competitively shopping tech purchases is So I competitively shop the internal hard drive to get the best possible price, and then put that drive into a compatible external enclosure. The enclosures start around $20, and go up from there.

The ability to build an external drive has also proven helpful when a computer has had a serious failure. It has permitted me to retrieve data easily without a third party, usually within minutes. I simply open the computer up, extract the needed drive, mount it in a compatible external enclosure, and then retrieve my data with a different computer. These drives are small and portable, so changing computers is easy. Best of all, a DIY external drive is easy to do.

So first thing, is it important to understand that most hard drives are IDE or SATA. This refers to the style of connector that the drive uses to transfer data.

IDE looks like this.

From the rear of the drive:

IDE Drive

Viewed from the bottom of the drive:

IDE Drive, view from the bottom of the drive

Here are two photos to help you identify a SATA connection.

From the rear of the drive:

SATA connector

And this is what the SATA connection looks like when the drive is flipped over:

SATA connector, view from the bottom of the drive

SATA drives are newer, with faster data transfer times than IDE. 1 TB internal SATA drives are very easy to find on any of the aforementioned web sites.

IDE is an older connector. Prices have been rising on IDE drives, but they are still readily available. I usually purchase SATA drives now, but I do have some older IDE drives that have been pulled from computers that have been recycled into a second life as external drives. (By the way…IDE and SATA external enclosures are usually similar in price, so it makes sense to put an old drive back into use if all that is required is a $20 enclosure).

So to summarize, you want to put a SATA drive in a SATA enclosure and an IDE drive in an IDE enclosure. And some drive enclosures now offer both connectors in one case, like this enclosure from

Notice the 3.5 designation with this drive? This is the physical size the enclosure supports. 3.5 inches is a standard sized (desktop) internal hard drive. 2.5 inches is a laptop hard drive. Make sure the enclosure and a drive housing you order match in size.

To find an enclosure, just go to some of the aforementioned sites and type “external drive enclosure”. To find a drive, try “Internal Hard Drive:” as a search. There will be dozens of search results that can then be sorted by SATA or IDE, size, price…whatever is needed. Mix and match the drives and enclosures based on budget and preferences, just make sure sizes and connector styles match.

Once the drive and enclosure is in hand, assembly is simple. I’ll demonstrate building an external SATA drive first, and then demo an IDE drive build.

Open the enclosure:

As you can see, there usually isn’t much inside one of these enclosures, except for a tiny bit of breadboard and some wires.

Interior of Enclosure

This is the connector for the SATA drive.

SATA connector

Mount the drive to the connector. Make sure the drive fully seats onto the connector.

Loading the drive

Seating the drive

At this point, this particular model enclosure requires that I need to replace the cover and bolt it into place:

Replace the cover

Replacing the thumbscrews

And now I bolt the drive in place to keep it secure:

Bolting the drive in place.

Note: some drives will require you to bolt the drive in place before closing the cover. We’ll see this shortly during the IDE drive build.

Place the enclosure into its’ stand (if it came with one).

Metal Gear Box on Stand

Then hook up the power and connect the drive to your computer. All finished! So let’s repeat that process for an IDE drive.

Open the enclosure. You can see that this one opens differently than the last enclosure we built:

IDE Drive

Internals of IDE drive

In this case, the IDE connector is on a short yellow ribbon:

Internals of IDE enclosure

There is a second white connector that supplies power to the hard drive. It looks like this:

Power connector - IDE

And the power connector hooks in next to the IDE connection on the drive:

Hooking up the power

Now connect the IDE port. Make sure both the power and IDE cables are well seated.

Hooking up the IDE connection

Bolt the drive down:

Bolting the drive down.

Replace the enclosure cover:

Returning the drive to the enclosure.

Both the cover back into place, hook up the power and the proper connector cables and you are ready to go!

As you can see, there are different styles of housings, so assembly is generally the same, but it is not ALWAYS the same (a little like assembling drum sets). The IDE enclosure in the demo was made by Rosewill. The SATA enclosure is the Metal Gear Box Substance. I really like the Metal Gear Box Substance enclosure as it is held together with thumbscrews, making assembly and disassembly a little easier. I also love the light show when this drive fires up. This drive always gets a few positive comments from students and parents.

Metal Gear Box Substance external drive

Consider how the external drive (the housing) actually connects to the computer. There are USB, Firewire and eSATA connectors.

USB tends to be the slowest connector of the group, meaning backups will take longer. This may not matter if backups are done in the overnight hours while one is sleeping. Firewire and eSATA are faster. (For the more technically savy among you…I’m not going to nitpick the speeds of USB 2.0 vs Firewire in this blog, so please accept that these are just generalizations). Just make sure the connector on your external drive matches the desired available port on your computer.

And one last thing…unless the internal drive comes preformatted, it will have to be formatted before it can be used. This is easily done on PC systems with the tools included in the “My Computer” toolbar.

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  1. Chris

    I very much want to congratulate you on a project you have clearly been working very hard on, but what worries me a little is the implications this project has with regard to copyright law.

    In your last post on this subject, you referred to the concept of “fair use” in an educational setting. While there are some allowances for this, they do not cover the type of project that you seem to be undertaking.

    Two major qualifications for “fair use” in an educational setting are that the copies are temporary, and that they do not in any way reduce sales of the copyrighted work.

    Neither is the case here… your digital copies are going to be permanent, and you refer to e-mailing copies to students, which skirts around the legal requirement to purchase a separate copy for them (it’s possible you are only e-mailing self-made teaching materials or public domain content, but you do not indicate that).

    I do not mean to criticize you for your personal actions with your music, but I am very disappointed to see two articles on this site advising other music educators to break copyright law, and showing how to do it easily.

  2. Brittany Frompovich

    Chris, I think you are very quick to judge. I have had numerous situations where a photocopier has been broken at studios I work at and I have had no choice but to scan and mail a student their homework. This is a situation that is in essence fair use since a paper copy would have been made for classroom use if the copier was not broken. This has happened numerous times already this spring alone.

    And yes, you are assuming that I’ve written none of the materials I am handing out. I have a scales, modes, and theory curriculum that is quite lengthy. I have e-mailed copies of those items to students who have lost their paper copies in order to save myself the time and trouble of re-copying or printing those docs and mailing the paper copies.

    As for storage, it’s my music. I’ll store it as I like. My CDs are all stored as MP3s now so I can’t damage the original CDs. It is the same concept, except I am throwing out (actually recycling) the originals once they are scanned in order to make space in my apartment.

    As far as diminishing sales, all of my students show up for juried events with original copies of music in their hands, just like the judges ask. My kids buy 2 or 3 textbooks each. I spent several HUNDRED dollars in 2008 alone on digital sheet music downloads from I do this so the kids have the songs they want for their lessons. Doing this also helps to keep the students out of sites that offer free “music”, because once they see me use, they are more inclined to use that service themselves. And we’re still not considering the numerous textbooks, orchestral scores, and print music I have purchased through local stores. So no offense, it’s my digital library. I’m doing my part to support artists and authors, out of my own pocket by buying original copies.

    I had hoped the value of a DIY external drive construction tutorial would not have been lost on folks. If one of my hard drives takes a hit, I’m out 15+ years of teaching docs, photos, music, web site info, and live recordings from gigs. The ability to back all of that up is invaluable. That was the actual point of this blog post.



  3. Brandon

    While the RIAA once started to argue that it was illegal to rip a CD, they did not pursue this argument. Thus, as far as I know, making a personal backup copy of as an mp3 has never been challenged in court successfully. Similarly, scanned documents are a format shifted backup. Single photocopy backups of documents you own are legal. I have never seen a case where scanned backups of documents were ruled illegal forms of fair use backups.

    You say that fair use clauses require that a copy must be temporary. I have never seen anything about that. Could you please show me where in section 107 this is mentioned. As a student I have never been given document that self destructed after a given time. Maybe I misunderstand you, or I missed something in the copyright law.

    You also say that she doesn’t explicitly mention that the material is her own. By not doing so, is she really advising how to break copyright law? If I tell someone directions to drive somewhere and I don’t tell them not to exceed the speed limit, is that advising them on how to break traffic laws?

    Section 107 of copyright law is very nebulous in many regards. This was done purposely to give great leeway to educators. As such, every university is left generating their own guidelines to help professors navigate these murky waters. These guidelines differ from university to university. When you look at the major court cases in area they are seem pretty far away from what is being done here. This isn’t exactly Basic Books, Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp. here.


  4. Joe

    Yup, a terabyte drive is what you’ll need to transfer all your files.

  5. Ronnie Currey


    This is an excellent article and series. I can’t wait for Part 3!!

  6. Bay Blues

    Great article , informative, needed by me for sure. You meet the fair use requirements, and Critical Chris should see about getting laws passed that , add a tax onto the cost of any technology that can copy and reproduce original works. This money could be used to pay copyright holders and artists that are are being pirated. Look at how much theft the Chinese Government allows, I don’t know why we don’t just subtract that HUGE amount off what they are owed!!! Bay Blues

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