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ISMN users' manual

(International Standard Music Number)


  1. Background
  2. Construction of the International Standard Music Number
  3. Scope of the ISMN
  4. Principles and procedures to be observed by publishers numbering their on publications
  5. Application of the ISMN
  6. Printing and publicizing of the ISMN
  7. ISMN and other international standard numbers
  8. Legal deposit

1. Background

When the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) proved to be a comprehensive and widely used tool for the book trade, music publishers realized that a similar standard number for printed music would also be useful.

In 1988, the U.K. branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) approached the ISBN Advisory Panel with a proposal for an International Standard Music Number (ISMN). This proposal was subsequently submitted to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for development as an international standard.

The resulting ISO 10957, Information and Documentation - International Standard Music Number, was developed by ISO Technical Committee 46, Subcommittee 9. The International Secretariat for ISO/TC 46/SC 9 is provided by the National Library of Canada.

In January 1990, representatives of European and North American music publishers, the IAML, ISO and the ISBN system met at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa to resolve issues relating to the format of the proposed ISMN. After agreement was reached on a 10-digit format, the ISMN standard was drafted by an ISO/TC 46/SC 9 working group of music publishers and librarians. The final draft of ISO 10957 was formally approved for adoption as an international standard in 1992.

The main reasons for adopting the 10-digit ISMN were the proven success of the 10-digit ISBN and the fact that the 10-digit number could be incorporated into the 13-digit international bar code system simply by extending the ISBN system. The ISMN offers a complete rationalization of music publishing and the music trade as well as music libraries.

In principle the ISMN may be considered a subset of the ISBN: the two systems are similar and share the same head organization: the International ISBN Agency. Moreover, printed music constitutes a "book" under a provision of the ISBN User's Manual and thus is eligible for ISBN numbering.

To prevent confusion between the ISMN and ISBN, the ISMN contains several distinguishing features:

  • the first digit is the constant "M",

  • there is no group number on the grounds that music is international, and

  • the check character is calculated according to a modulus 10.

This enables both numbers to be used without any bar code prefix for purposes such as ordering, bibliographic identification and internal processing.

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2. Construction of the International Standard Music Number

The International Standard Music Number (ISMN) consists of the letter M followed by nine digits. The number is preceded by the letters ISMN. For example, ISMN M-53002- 120-0.

2.1 Elements

The ISMN is divided into four elements, the second and third of which are of variable length. These elements are as follows:

2.1.1 Distinguishing element

The letter M distinguishes the ISMN from the ISBN.

2.1.2 Publisher identifier

The publisher identifier designates the publisher of a given music publication. Large- volume publishers are assigned short publisher identifiers; small-volume publishers are assigned longer publisher identifiers. (For the distribution of publisher identifiers according to their variable length, see section 2.2.)

2.1.3 Item identifier

This element identifies an edition of a work and the various items within it, for example, full score, miniature score, set of wind parts, and oboe part.

Publishers assign the item identifier to a particular item from within the range of numbers assigned to them. This range depends upon the length of the publisher identifier.

Item identifiers are normally assigned by the publishers themselves. Publishers who assign their own item identifiers may use them to identify items throughout the planning stages as well as items published only as hire materials.

2.1.4. Check character

The check character is a single digit at the end of the ISMN that provides an automatic verification of the validity of the ISMN.

The check character is calculated on a modulus 10. It may be a number between 0 and 9. The number is determined by the computer based on the following calculation.

The computer multiplies each of the first nine characters of the ISMN (i.e. the letter M which is assigned the value 3, the numbers forming the publisher identifier, and the numbers forming the item identifier) alternatively by the numbers 3 and 1, from left to right, and calculates the sum of the products thus obtained. It then determines the value of the check character as the difference between the sum and the next higher number divisible by 10. This higher number, or resulting total of the calculation, must be divisible by 10 without remainder for the ISMN to be a valid number.

For example the ISMN M-3452-4680-5:

- - Publisher identifier Item identifier (check character)
3 4 5 2 4 6 8 0 5
3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 -
Products = 9 3 12 5 6 4 18 8 0=65 -

The sum of the products is 65. The next higher number divisible by 10, without remainder, is 70. The computer assigned check character for this item is 5, so that M-3452-4680-5 is a valid International Standard Music Number.

2.2 Number of digits in each element; how to recognize elements in an ISMN

The number of digits in the Publisher Identifier and the Item Identifier (i.e., elements 2 and 3) is variable; however, the total number of digits contained in these two elements is always eight. These eight digits together with the check digit bring the total number of digits in an ISMN to nine.

Examples: M-9001301-0-5
- M-53001-001-3
- M-706001-00-5

Large-volume publishers will receive publisher identifiers of three or four digits. Small-volume publishers will receive publisher identifiers of five, six or seven digits.

The following table shows the arrangement of publisher identifiers relative to the total numbers available for item identification.

Publisher Identifier Total Numbers Available for
Item Identification
000 - 099 100000
1000 - 3999 10000
40000 - 69999 1000
700000 - 899999 100
9000000 - 9999999 10

For ease of reading, the four elements of the ISMN are divided by spaces or hyphens when printed. These separators, however, are not retained in the computer, which uses the fixed ranges of numbers to recognize the elements. Since the ISMN is recorded as M229102349 in a computer, there could be some confusion in reading the publisher identifier, i.e. either 2991 or 299. But the potential confusion is eliminated since the 100- 999 range in the publisher identifier element is not used.

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3. Scope of the ISMN

The ISMN is used to identify music publications, whether for sale, loan, gratis or available for copyright purposes only. It is not used for sound or video recordings (except in the rare case noted in section 7.3): although there is no international identification system for these items, individual sound recordings are identified by the International Standard Recording Code. In addition, the ISMN is not used for books on music, which receive an International Standard Book Number. (Section 7 explains the application of different types of standard numbers.)

Each separately available constituent part of a publication must receive its own ISMN.

Items that should receive ISMNs include:

  • Score
  • Miniature (study) scores
  • Vocal scores
  • Sets of parts
  • Separately available individual parts
  • Pop folios
  • Anthologies
  • Other media that are an integral component of a music publication (e.g., a taperecording that is one of the "parts" of a composition)
  • Song texts or lyrics published with the printed music (also available separately)
  • Printed music with commentary (also available separately)
  • Song books (optional, see section 7.1)
  • Microform music publications
  • Braille music publications
  • Electronic publications

The following items should not receive ISMNs:

  • Books on music
  • Stand-alone sound or video recordings (including recordings available on computer media)
  • Periodicals and series as a whole, as distinct from individual volumes in series (see section 7.2)
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4. Principles and procedures to be observed by publishers in numbering their own publications

4.1 Assignment of a publisher identifier

A publisher is assigned a publisher identifier by the Canadian ISMN service, which is part of the Canadian ISBN Agency in Canada. The service determines the range of item identifiers available to that publisher. The number of item identifiers to be assigned depends upon the publisher's production output. To ensure that a suitable publisher identifier is assigned, a publisher should ensure that the service has as much information as possible about back lists of publications still available, and about present and future publication programs. Publishers with more than one place of publication should consult section 5.12.

4.2 Authority

Publishers are responsible for assigning item identifiers to the individual items that they publish. It is recommended that an ISMN be assigned as soon as a production schedule is established for the item concerned.

4.3 Responsibility

Publishers should designate a person to manage the assignment of ISMNs and their application.

4.4 Register

Publishers must keep a register of ISMNs that have been assigned. The register should include the ISMN, author, title and format (where appropriate).

4.5 ISMN as stock or edition number

Publishers may use or adapt the ISMN as a stock or edition number. Publishers who wish to use their previous stock of edition numbers in addition to the ISMN will need to be able to translate between the different numbering systems.

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5. Application of the ISMN

A separate ISMN must be assigned to every different edition of a music item. Specifically, a new ISMN is required when:

  • there is change in the musical or textual content of a published work unless these are minor corrections,

  • a text that is an integral part of a published musical work is altered,

  • a translation of a text is added, removed or altered (a new ISMN must be assigned even if the text or music are otherwise unchanged), or

  • the physical size of an item is substantially changed in order to produce a new full, study or miniature score edition.

An unchanged impression or unchanged reprint of the same item in the same format and by the same publisher should not be assigned a new ISMN unless there is a change in binding as defined in section 5.2. Similarly, a reproduction supplied on demand from the same originator should NOT be assigned a new ISMN, even if a new reproduction date is indicated on the reproduction.

Price changes do not require the assignment of new ISMNs.

5.1 Facsimile reprints and microform editions

A separate ISMN should always be assigned to a facsimile reprint produced by a different publisher and to a microform edition.

5.2 Different bindings

A separate ISMN should be assigned to each different binding in which a particular title is published, even if the contents are identical. For instance, a hardback edition and a paperback edition should each receive a separate ISMN.

Full score, paper bound
Full score and commentary, boxed
Vocal score, paper bound
Vocal score, cloth bond
= four ISMNs
Playing score, paper bound
Playing score, without cover
= two ISMNs

A change of cover design, where the contents of the item are unchanged, or a change in colour or other marginal difference between the binding of one impression and a subsequent impression, does not constitute a change of binding and a new ISMN should not be given.

5.3 Different formats

A separate ISMN must be assigned to each separately saleable or obtainable component of a publication. It is strongly recommended that a complete list of the ISMNs assigned to all components of a publication be displayed on one or more of these components (see section 6.1).

5.3.1 Scores and parts

For a publication consisting of scores and parts, the full score (the set of parts as a whole) and each individual part (if available separately) must be assigned its own ISMN.

Full score
Vocal score
Set of chorus parts
Individual chorus part
= four ISMNs

5.3.2 Scores available as part of a set

Where a score is available only as an item in a set and not as an individual saleable item, it must be assigned the ISMN of the set. However, if it may eventually be made available as a separate item it should be assigned its own ISMN.

Piano score and two parts available only as one set = one ISMNs

Where a score is available both as a separate item and as part of a set, the set should receive an ISMN and the score should be assigned its own ISMN.

Score and parts, complete set
= two ISMNs

5.3.3 Parts available separately

An ISMN should be assigned to each separately printed part that is available as a separate item.

Violin I Part
Violin II part
Viola part
cello part
= four ISMNs

5.3.4 Parts available separately or in sets

Where separately printed parts are available as a set as well as separate items, the set must be assigned its own ISMN as should each separately printed part.

Violin Part
Viola part
cello part
Set of part
= four ISMNs

5.3.5 Parts available only in sets

Where individual instrumental or vocal parts are not available separately but only as a set, an ISMN must be assigned to the set and each separately printed part should receive the ISMN assigned to that set.

Set of parts
= two ISMNs

The score receives its own ISMN; each individual part receives the ISMN for the set only.

Note: individual parts that are available only in a set should be assigned their own individual ISMNs if and when they are made available as separate items.

5.3.6 Some parts available separately, some only in sets

Where some of the separately printed parts in a set are available individually and some are only available in a set, each separately available part should be assigned its own ISMN as an individual item; all other parts should receive the ISMN assigned to the set in which they are available.

Full set of parts
non-string set
Violin I part
Violin II part
Cello/bass part
= five ISMNs

5.3.7 Multiple packs

Where a separately available item is also available in a pack that only contains multiple copies of the item, the pack should be assigned its own unique ISMN.

Leaflet, single copy
Leaflet, pack of 100 copies
= two ISMNs

5.4 Different versions

If a publisher issues a title in more than one arrangement or version, each arrangement or version should be assigned its own ISMN.

Piano solo
Piano duet version
Organ solo arrangement
= three ISMNs
High voice
Medium voice
= two ISMNs

5.5 Multivolume publications

An ISMN should be assigned to the whole set of volumes of a multivolume publication as well as to each individual volume in the set (see section 7.2).

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
One ISMN for the set of three volumes;
one ISMN each for volumes 1, 2 and 3
= four ISMNs
Critical commentary (available seperately)
One ISMN for the set; one ISMN each for the score and the commentary
= three ISMNs

Note: If one of the volumes is printed text, it may also be given an ISBN.

5.6 Publications with subsidiary material

Where a printed music publication includes subsidiary material, such as a separately printed song text or lyrics, a commentary or the like, and the items are sold only as a package, the subsidiary item should receive the same ISMN as the volume it accompanies.

Critical commentary (not available seperately)
Voice and keyboard part
= three ISMNs
Lyrics sheet (not available separately) = one ISMNs

If the subsidiary item(s) is (are) sold separately as well as together, the publication should be treated as a multivolume publication (see section 5.5).

5.7 Anthologies and excerpts

Anthologies and excerpts should be assigned their own unique ISMNs, whether or not the items in the anthology or the larger work have been previously published or are long out of print.

An ISMN given to an individual item in a previous context should be displayed on the new publication, for instance, at the bottom of the first page of music of each part. Such ISMNs must be clearly distinguished from the ISMN of the new publication.

5.8 Back stock

Publishers are urged to number their back stocks and to publish the ISMNs in their catalogues. They should also print the ISMN in the first reprint of an item from back stock.

5.9 Rights bought from other publishers

Where a publisher, including an agent with sole-selling rights, has bought the rights to a musical work from another publisher and publishes that work under his or her own imprint, the publication should be assigned a new ISMN by the new publisher. If several publishers have bought the rights, each for their own territory, each should assign their own ISMNs.

5.10 Collaborative publications

A publication issued as a co-edition or joint imprint by several publishers should be assigned ISMNs by each participating publisher. The ISMNs of all publishers named in the imprint should be printed in the publication and clearly identified.

5.11 Music sold or distributed by agents

According to the principles of the ISMN system, a particular edition published by a particular publisher receives only one ISMN. This ISMN should be retained no matter where or by whom the music is distributed or sold. Only in the following exceptional circumstances may a number be assigned by anagency other than the publisher:

  • a) where music is imported by an exclusive distributor or sole agent from an area not yet in the ISMN system and to which, therefore, no ISMN has been assigned. In this case, an ISMN is assigned by the distributor;

  • b) where music is imported by an exclusive distributor or sole agent and that music carries either a label bearing the imprint of the exclusive distributor or a new title page that replaces the title page of the original publisher. In this case, an ISMN is assigned by the distributor. The ISMN of the original publisher should also be given as a related ISMN;

  • c) where music is imported by several distributors from an area not yet in the ISMN system and to which, therefore, no ISMN has been assigned. In this case, an ISMN is assigned by the national agency with which those distributors are affiliated.

5.12 Publishers with more than one place of publication

5.12.1 A publisher operating in a number of places that are listed in the imprint should assign only one ISMN to an item.

5.12.2 A publisher operating separate and distinct offices or branches in different places may have a publisher identifier for each office or branch. Nevertheless, each item should be assigned only one ISMN and this assignment should be made by the office or branch responsible for publication.

5.13 Prohibition on re-use of an ISMN

An ISMN once allocated must under no circumstances be re-used. However, if a number that has already been used for a title is accidentally assigned to a second title, the number should be deleted from the list of usable numbers and the second title should receive another number. Publishers will have sufficient numbers in their ranges for the loss of this number to be insignificant.

Publishers should advise the Canadian ISMN service (see section 7.1) of deleted numbers and of the items to which they were erroneously assigned.

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6. Printing and publicizing of the ISMN

The ISMN should appear on the published item itself and should always be printed in easily legible type (9 point or larger).

6.1 Printing of the ISMN on music publications

6.1.1 Position of the ISMN

The ISMN should be printed on the back of a score or part. If possible, it should also be printed with the copyright notice.

If it is not possible to print the ISMN on the back of a score or part, it should be printed in some other prominent position (e.g., at the bottom of the first page of music).

When the item is a single sheet, the ISMN should appear in only one place on the item.

When the item is an anthology, the ISMN of the anthology must be clearly distinguished from any other ISMNs that may be printed on individual items contained in the anthology.

6.1.2 Complete listing of ISMNs belonging to a publication

It is strongly recommended that a complete list of the ISMNs assigned to all constituent parts of a publication be displayed on at least one of the items. Each ISMN should be followed by a brief description of the numbered part. If possible, an identical list should be displayed on one or more other items as well.

ISMN M-53001-000-6 (score)
ISMN M-53001-001-3 (vocal score)
ISMN M-53001-002-0 (set of parts)
This list should appear in the score at least, preferably also in the vocal score, and perhaps also in each part.
ISMN M-706001-00-5 (score, bound)
ISMN M-706001-01-2 (score, paperback)
This list should appear both in the bound and the paperback score.

For a multivolume publication (see section 5.5):

ISMN M-9001301-0-5 (set)
ISMN M-9001301-1-2 (volume 1)
ISMN M-9001301-2-9 (volume 2)
ISMN M-9001301-3-6 (volume 3)
This list should appear in all three volumes: at a minimum, the ISMNs for the set and the current volume should appear in each volume.

If a set of parts is distributed in a wrapper, the ISMN for the set should be printed on the wrapper. If the parts are available individually, the ISMNs of all individual parts should also be given on the wrapper.

6.2 Publicizing the ISMN

ISMNs should appear in publishers' advertisements, catalogues and stock lists; they should also appear in leaflets, brochures and all other publicity and marketing materials.

In such materials, the ISMN should be printed in a prominent position close to the title and description of the item. The full ISMN should always be given, although it is acceptable to omit the letters "ISMN" as long as it is clear that the number is an International Standard Music Number.

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7. ISMN and other international standard numbers

7.1 ISMN

In Canada the ISMN system is administered by the Canadian ISBN Agency at Library and Archives Canada. Publishers from all provinces and territories in Canada should contact the Agency at Library and Archives Canada to be assigned a publisher identifier and a block of ISMNs.


Canadian ISBN / ISMN Agency
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-994-6872
or 1-866-578-7777 (Select 1+7+3) (Toll free in Canada)
Fax: 819-997-7517
E-mail: isbn@lac-bac.gc.ca

7.2 ISBN

Some music publications may be distributed through the book trade. Publishers issuing music materials intended for the book market may assign an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) in addition to the ISMN.

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a publication (such as a song, a hymnal or an album with extensive textual or illustrative material) is a music edition, a normal book,or both. In these cases also, both an ISMN and an ISBN may be assigned. If the publisher wishes to use only one type of number, the choice is at the publisher's discretion. However, it is probably better to use the ISMN when the type of publication is in doubt.

In Canada the ISBN system is administered by Library and Archives Canada and the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec. The application of the ISBN system is described in a separate booklet.


Canadian ISBN Agency
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-994-6872
or 1-866-578-7777 (Select 1+7+3) (Toll free in Canada)
Fax: 819-997-7517
E-mail: isbn@lac-bac.gc.ca


Bibliothèque nationale du Québec
2275, rue Holt
Montreal QC   H2G 3H1
Telephone: 514-873-1101, ext. 3785
or 1 800 363-9028, ext. 3785 (Toll free in Quebec)
Fax: 514-873-4310

The ISMN and ISBN, where they are both assigned, must be printed on the publication and clearly identified.

7.3 ISSN

In addition to ISMN and ISBN, a complementary numbering system for serial publications is also in existence, the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

A serial is defined as any publication, regardless of medium, issued in successive parts, often bearing numerical or chronological designations, and intended to be continued indefinitely. (Serials are distinguished from multivolume publications, which are intended to be complete in a finite number of volumes. See section 5.5.)

Serials include periodicals and series. There are only a few periodicals of printed music, but many music publications are issued in series. Both categories should be assigned an ISSN for the serial title (which remains the same for all issues of a periodical or individual volumes of a series) and an ISMN for each individual item in the series. (If the serial title changes, a new ISSN is necessary.) In Canada, the ISSN system is administered by ISSN Canada.


ISSN Canada
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-994-6895
or 1-866-578-7777 (Toll free in Canada)
Fax: 819-997-6209
E-mail: issn@lac-bac.gc.ca

Publishers of Canadian serials should apply to ISSN Canada for ISSNs for their serial publications. Publishers do not themselves assign ISSNs.

The ISMN and ISSN, where they are both assigned, must be printed on the publication and clearly identified.

7.4 ISRC

The ISMN is not intended for sound or video recordings except when they form part of a printed music publication (see section 3). The International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) numbers each recording of a piece (but often not the physical item), regardless of the context or carrier in which it is issued. The ISRC system is administered by the International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers.


International ISRC Agency
International Federation of the Phonographic Industry
54 Regent Street
London   W1R 5PJ
Telephone: (44 171) 434- 3521
Telefax: (44 171) 439-9166

8. Legal Deposit

Besides assisting publishers of printed music by assigning ISMNs, Library and Archives Canada also administers Legal Deposit, a program which legally requires each Canadian publisher to deposit two copies of every published work with Library and Archives Canada. This ensures that your publication will be kept and protected for posterity. Materials received on legal deposit are catalogued and listed in Canadiana, the national bibliography, as well as added to the Library's permanent collection.

For more information on legal deposit, please contact:

Legal Deposit
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-997-9565
or 1-866-578-7777 (Select 1+7+1) (Toll free in Canada)
Fax: 819-953-8508
E-mail: legal.deposit@lac-bac.gc.ca