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5 Steps to Building Your Repertoire

musicianship performing May 19, 2013

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some music you could just sit down and play?

Like most young music students, I learned to hate when my parents had visitors. The reason? I knew I would be asked to play for them. I used to protest that my pieces weren’t ready. My parents countered with, “What about that piece you learned last month?” Unfortunately, I’d already forgotten that one. It would be many years before I learned about developing a repertoire of pieces I could play at the drop of a hat.

My teachers told me about Carlos Salzedo dedicating every Sunday to playing through his concert repertoire. In that way he never had to worry about a concert piece going out of his fingers. This is a brilliant discipline which I try to observe, although I admit to having frequent lapses.

But first you have to develop a repertoire. If you want to develop your own repertoire, you can follow these five steps:

1. Theme your repertoire. Why are you putting together this list? Is it for gigs? For recitals? For yourself? Try themes like, “Pieces I Love to Play,” or “Wedding Music,” or “Pieces to Play in Church.” This will give your list a focus and make the next steps easier.

2. Give it scale. How big do you want your list to be? How many pieces do you want to include? Ideally and realistically? Maybe you need to measure it by time, for instance, an hour of music.

3. Choose your music. Your repertoire list should have variety and balance. Like a good wardrobe, the pieces should complement each other, and you should be able to mix and match them. You may also need to balance your list between music that you like and music that is necessary. By way of example, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may not be your favorite piece, but if you are creating a wedding music list, you simply must include it.

4. Pick a date. When do you need to have this ready? By the wedding on the 23rd? And how well do you need to know the music? Does it need to be memorized for a recital, or just familiar enough to play in your living room for friends?

5. Plan for evolution. Don’t let your repertoire get stale. Rotate pieces out and in. It’s a great system for keeping your music list fresh, but still familiar enough that you can play with confidence.

And isn’t that really all we want?

What is your favorite piece to play for your own pleasure? Leave it in the comments!

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