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#1534400 - 10/13/10 05:12 AM How to build a repertoire?
Pinkerton Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/18/10
Posts: 11
Loc: UK
Hi,

How do I go about building up and maintaining a repertoire of pieces ?
As opposed to what I currently do, where each piece goes through a golden period where it is memorized and played well, then gradually fades out, until I am at a stage where I need to relearn it.

My teacher doesn't seem to have a lot to offer in this area and instead encourages me to 'forge ahead' with new pieces.

I like to play from memory, and would like to have a set of pieces (maybe 10) that I can play competently.

At present, if any one asks me to play for them I have to first think carefully about which piece I should play - wondering what sort of state it will be in, when it was last rehearsed, did I ever really master it ?

Any advise or experience welcome.

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#1534450 - 10/13/10 08:17 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
i keep a binder with copies of pieces learned that i enjoy playing. they are alphabetically organized by composer and i have a new binder every couple of years or so. on lazy days i go back and play thru a binder.

as your skill level increases it will be easy to go back and sight read the earlier pieces.. perhaps they will still be in your memory.
_________________________
accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)

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#1534458 - 10/13/10 08:24 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2649
Hi Pinkerton,
I think it is helpful to keep a repertoire 3-ring binder. Collect the music you love the most and would like to include in your repertoire. Make a copy for your binder. And put the copies in page protectors.

As far as keeping music memorized, at least having the collection all together will make it easier to review.

A harpist said that each piece is a "flower in your bouquet". What I like about that description is it honors getting started. A simple piece played well is worth hearing (at least on harp it gets appreciated)...and the bigger bouquet also has its merit. smile I know some people will hate the analogy of your repertoire being your bouquet. (It was an elderly harpist addressing girls.) So ignore this paragraph if it is annoying!

Apple and I must have been posting about the same time.


Edited by Ann in Kentucky (10/13/10 08:25 AM)
Edit Reason: added info

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#1534475 - 10/13/10 08:50 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7407
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: Pinkerton
Hi,

How do I go about building up and maintaining a repertoire of pieces ?

As opposed to what I currently do, where each piece goes through a golden period where it is memorized and played well, then gradually fades out, until I am at a stage where I need to relearn it.

My teacher doesn't seem to have a lot to offer in this area and instead encourages me to 'forge ahead' with new pieces.

I like to play from memory, and would like to have a set of pieces (maybe 10) that I can play competently.

At present, if any one asks me to play for them I have to first think carefully about which piece I should play - wondering what sort of state it will be in, when it was last rehearsed, did I ever really master it ?

Any advise or experience welcome.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! Being able to perform pieces "off the top of your head" should be the goal of every performing artist. Needing to rely on music (notes) is a real handicap. Because your teacher seems not to have much experience doing this himself, you're going to have to learn and practice a technique on your own.

The secret, at least for me, is constant review, month after month, until the piece is deeply ingrained. For others, knowing the structure so well that they can write the piece out on paper, should the need arise, is the key. Or best, a combination of the two. Ideally, the memorization process you use relies heavily on understanding the piece's structure, which makes playing it after a hiatus, that much easier.

Personally, I do serious repertoire review once a week. I devote my practice energies to reviewing pieces I've learned and memorized. Some pieces only come up once a month, others, once a week.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1534636 - 10/13/10 12:58 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
Congratulations from me also. The fact that you're in a position to think about this means you're doing a lot of things right.

For most people with a large number of items in their repertoire, only some smaller number of them can be "current" at any one time. For example, let's say ten or so. smile When an old piece drops from your "current" list to your "back catalogue", you can replace it with something new. You'll have to adjust and figure out how many items are comfortable for you to juggle at once - ten may be perfect, or you may decide to change your mind.

In your cycle of constant review of repertoire items, don't forget that purposefully taking time off from a certain piece is important, especially after the first period of hard work learning it. The experience of coming back to a piece "cold" is valuable in itself to your learning process.
_________________________
(I'm a piano teacher.)

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#1534671 - 10/13/10 01:37 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
casinitaly Online   blank

Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 5255
Loc: Italy
I'm working on building up a repertoire too, but at the moment I only have 3-4 pieces I can play off the cuff (but that's not bad for the time I've been playing, I think)..... As my pieces are short, it is easy to use them as warm up.
I like the idea of the 3-ringed binder! At the moment I have my binder, but it contains either pieces I worked on to study a technique /learn a skill and pieces I "aspire to play".

My goal is to have a few categories in my repertoire.
1. classics -17-19thC
2. sing-a-longs
3. music from the 40s 50s -sort of jazzy but not pure jazz.
Goals are good, goals are good, I keep telling myself!
_________________________
XVIII-XXXV
Everything's too hard until you make it easy. Follow your teacher's instructions and practice wisely/much, and you'll soon wonder how you ever found it hard ;)-BobPickle
Performance anxiety: make it part of your daily routine and deal with it...Cope! zrtf90

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#1534991 - 10/13/10 11:34 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Roxy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/19/08
Posts: 478
Loc: Whittier, Calif
Just remember if you are going to put the pieces in a sleeve in the binder get the kind that are non glossy and glary otherwise they can be very difficult to read depending on your lighting and make practicing/playing them very annoying as you have to keep moving your head to get rid of the glare.

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#1534995 - 10/13/10 11:40 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
I didn't see that suggestion. I HATE HATE HATE plastic page protectors. They glare, they make the book bulky, you can't write on them, they get old before the paper does, on and on and on.

How about, umm, actual books with real scores in them, like in the olden days? smile Or if you really feel you need photocopies in a binder, just punch holes and put them in.
_________________________
(I'm a piano teacher.)

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#1535004 - 10/13/10 11:52 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Infinity Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/23/10
Posts: 102
Loc: West Orange, NJ
I think the biggest challenge to building a repertoire is getting bored playing the song over and over in order to memorize it. I know I bore with repetition and much prefer the challenge of sight reading. But this does nor help one's repertoire.
_________________________
Infinity
Pianist and Teacher
West Orange, NJ
www.pianolessonsnj.com

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#1535048 - 10/14/10 01:12 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
Why try to memorize by playing a "song" over and over again?
Sounds like a waste of time to me.
It would be better to use one's intelligence to memorize the piece and only use repetition for specific objectives in a controlled fashion. A competent piano teacher can show you how.

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#1535053 - 10/14/10 01:24 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Infinity]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5959
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By: Infinity
I know I bore with repetition and much prefer the challenge of sight reading. But this does not help one's repertoire.
Sight reading not help one's repertoire??? It sure does. Having good sight reading skills means you can learn pieces so much faster. You can also read through hundreds of them in order to find the one you really want to work on, rather than spending weeks before you realise it's not what you hoped. If more pianists had better sight reading skills we perhaps wouldn't have so many queries about "is ------- too hard for me?" They could play it through and find out!
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#1535125 - 10/14/10 04:24 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4263
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Hi currawong,

Not wanting to quibble (there’s a word I’ve never ever used before ) but nevertheless quibbling ...

my guess as to what Infinity is trying to put over is that sight-reading (for the sake of improving) can prove a soul-destroying occupation.

But picking up on your theme of using sight-reading to sift wheat from chaff ...
my shortcut to good music is to make sure of my composer ...
Gershwin never lets me down.

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#1535128 - 10/14/10 04:30 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
casinitaly Online   blank

Gold Supporter until March 1 2014


Registered: 03/01/10
Posts: 5255
Loc: Italy
Btb. Even with a great composer (and I love Gershwin too!) the arrangement can make all the difference (especially for beginners like me!)

Maybe I'm weird, but I like playing the sight-reading game (ok, I know I'm weird,...I like studying grammar too).
I find it a challenge.

As for the plastic page holders...... If the light is such that I can't cope with the glare, I just slide the pages out. It isn't a big deal.
_________________________
XVIII-XXXV
Everything's too hard until you make it easy. Follow your teacher's instructions and practice wisely/much, and you'll soon wonder how you ever found it hard ;)-BobPickle
Performance anxiety: make it part of your daily routine and deal with it...Cope! zrtf90

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#1535145 - 10/14/10 05:13 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
Those who cannot read, find literature a torture.
Those who cannot sight read, find the classics in classical notation an insurmountable challenge.
Most people can be taught to read and to read well.
It does take a lot of effort and is a skill that is wise to learn young to eliminate the amount of effort required when older.
Want to read better? Read a lot.
Want to sight read better? Sight read a lot.

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#1535180 - 10/14/10 07:30 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4263
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
An old wives tale Journey,

Sight-reading gives most people a headache ... lots of sight-reading never results in the wishful thought that a nirvana can be reached to be able to read anything prima vista.

Lots of people avow to their sight-reading improving over the years ... but strangely never
reach the "happy hour"... even top accompanists like currawong (with a massive daily workload) have worked out a survival technique to miss out some of the notes.

Try to be patient chaps in working up a piece of music measure by measure ...
and memorize ... for a quality rendition.

How far your memory stretches is up to you.

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#1535191 - 10/14/10 08:02 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
EJR Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 861
Loc: Bristol, UK
Pinkerton: See the recent thread (if you haven't already) over on the ABF.

A question for the teachers:

When re-learning a previously learnt piece, and once you've got it back and playable from memory, how long do you think you should continue to practice it daily before dropping it again e.g the remainder of that week, or for several weeks, or stop practicing it as soon as you can play from memory again?
_________________________


Daily ramblings....

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#1535193 - 10/14/10 08:11 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2649
It's easy enough to buy non-glare page protectors. It's all I have used. Mainly I have used it for harp repertoire...playing for 2 hour receptions (bringing 1 or 2 binders along).

My own teacher was highly opposed to making a copy of music (or using a 3 ring binder) and she would show up for a reception with a 3 foot stack of books.To me that said "See what great effort I am making?" But IMO when you perform it should look effortless.

And when playing for a couple of hours, yes I use music...even though most is half memorized. The main thing is you need to be able to play seamlessly...play fluently without mistakes. At least for weddings and receptions no one gives a flip whether you use music or not.

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#1535287 - 10/14/10 10:34 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Overexposed]
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7407
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
I think we're discussing two separate issues here:

Working musicians need a ready repertoire of suitable music for whatever type of gig they are engaged in. Having those in binders makes perfect sense. These pieces, while read, may be so well known to the performer that they could pretty much be played from memory. They are highly polished and sound professional, as they should.

The OP, however, was referring to a memorized repertoire. Pieces you can play on command without need of notes. Often, this is art music, including some jazz and other types, but not for performance at gigs so much, but for those occasions when you pass by a piano and you want to play something. You don't want to stand there, hands in pocket, head hung low, and not be able to play anything meaningful.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#1535316 - 10/14/10 11:48 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Overexposed Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2649
Ah, that's it John. Two separate issues. And I have to admit I've been one of those who has stood there wishing I could play something. I have the same problem the OP has. I get something memorized, but I'm not putting in the work to keep it memorized. Maybe I should keep some sheet music in my purse to be ready for those occasions when I pass by a piano and want to play something (besides scales and arpeggios). smile


Edited by Ann in Kentucky (10/14/10 11:48 AM)
Edit Reason: spelling

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#1535536 - 10/14/10 06:20 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
ProdigalPianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
I buy high quality bound music (generally Henle) but make photocopies of the pieces I'm working on and put them in a plastic sleeve (not a binder, a zipping sleeve with folders inside), taped "accordion fold" instead of hole-punched, for several purposes:

1 - my teacher (a PhD performance student) has a folder with the photocopied / "working" versions of each of the pieces for every recital she's done going back at least as far as undergrad if not longer. These have all the scribbles and notes from all her different teachers and master class adjudicators. I just think this is really cool. She can go pull all the music from any recital she's ever done.

2 - it keeps a 'master' version of the music clean and untouched if you want to go back and re-work a piece. You have both your scribbled copy and a clean version.

3 - it keeps my books nice and not battered from being carted around. Looking used is one thing. Looking like it was carted and tossed in a backpack for years is something else.

4 - it's much less to carry. Before I got my own acoustic I had to go to the uni practice rooms to practice (I work there). Campus parking being the disaster that it is, I usually rode my bike. I was carting 3 or 4 volumes of music around like that.

5 - if it gets lost/destroyed I've lost my notes and scribbles but not expensive books.
_________________________
Adult Amateur Pianist

My only domestic quality is that I live in a house.

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#1535555 - 10/14/10 06:39 PM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
david_a Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 2913
ProdigalPianist: I agree with everything you've said. Almost.

Notes and scribbles are far harder to replace than an expensive score - and often far more important!
_________________________
(I'm a piano teacher.)

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#1535768 - 10/15/10 05:38 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: btb]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5959
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By: btb
... even top accompanists like currawong (with a massive daily workload) have worked out a survival technique to miss out some of the notes.
Not too many of them, old bean, otherwise I wouldn't be re-engaged. smile
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#1535778 - 10/15/10 06:05 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: btb]
theJourney Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/22/07
Posts: 3946
Loc: Banned
Originally Posted By: btb
An old wives tale Journey,

Sight-reading gives most people a headache ... lots of sight-reading never results in the wishful thought that a nirvana can be reached to be able to read anything prima vista.

Lots of people avow to their sight-reading improving over the years ... but strangely never
reach the "happy hour"... even top accompanists like currawong (with a massive daily workload) have worked out a survival technique to miss out some of the notes.

Try to be patient chaps in working up a piece of music measure by measure ...
and memorize ... for a quality rendition.

How far your memory stretches is up to you.


I am certain that even old wives can also improve their sight reading skills by properly practicing sight reading.

As for expecting nirvana from earthly pursuits, perhaps your key issue is a tendency towards wishful thinking and setting unrealistic expectations rather than just getting on with it?

Horses for courses. There is a time for sight reading (e.g. skimming potential literature options, working with ensembles, getting a helicopter view of new pieces, falling in for mundane gigs such as church accompanying, etc. etc.) and there is a time for careful measure by measure, hand by hand close study and memorization of music (learning pieces to be performed publically without a score, preparing for exams, etc.).

Once you are proficient at sight reading, there is no small amount of intense pleasure to be derived from sight reading classical pieces from the masters for one's own amusement and edification on a lazy Sunday morning. When reading and playing become one in the same way that reading a novel and imagining in the mind's eye its content become one.

Can everyone do it? No, but not everyone can read or read for pleasure either. It is a complex skill that must be learned and practiced.

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#1535959 - 10/15/10 11:34 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
samasap Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/10/10
Posts: 607
Loc: UK
I think what you need to do is maybe go over your existing pieces, decide on which ones are your favourites, and then set yourself practice days for each one, so maybe put a little plan together, and then try and source some new songs that are similiar to those ones if thats the style you enjoy playing!

You will soon have a nice little repertoire of favourite songs!

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#1536419 - 10/16/10 02:50 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Pinkerton]
Chris G Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/09
Posts: 737
Loc: Portland, Oregon
If you relearn the pieces which you no longer remember you will find that they stay in your memory better than pieces you have just learned. I needed to increase my repertoire ( mostly ragtime ) from about half an hour to over an hour this summer after volunteering to play at an engagement party.

It takes a lot of work to double the size of your repertoire because you need to devote some time to maintaining the pieces you know well while working on the not so strong ones. Having been through this exercise I could get that repertoire in shape pretty quickly if another circumstance arose where I needed to play for an hour.

Some people have suggested reading and that works well if you are a strong reader and are in a position to read. I rely on a combination of reading and memory, I play mostly from memory but I have the music in front of me as a reference in case I need it. Sometimes it's not practical to use sheet music, for example if you happen to be somewhere with a piano and you don't have any music with you, if the light is poor or if you are playing outdoors where the wind could blow the music around. For those reasons it's good to have at least a few pieces memorized.

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#1536449 - 10/16/10 05:17 AM Re: How to build a repertoire? [Re: Chris G]
RonO Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/10
Posts: 115
Loc: New Zealand
I posted the following story some time ago but it seems appropriate to trot it out again as I think it is very relevant to this discussion.

An old gardener was asked how many coats of linseed oil should be applied to a fork handle?” He replied,

“Put on a coat of oil every hour for a day, then
put on a coat of oil every day for a week, then
put on a coat of oil every week for a month, then
put on a coat of oil every month for a year, then
put on a coat of oil every year for the rest of your life.”


Our memory works exactly like that. We need to refresh it frequently initially, but as the item we are trying to memorize becomes more secure we can retain it for increasingly longer periods.
It is the principle and not necessarily the same time intervals as in the story.

Students studying for anything do, or should, use this principle to organize and plan their study. They should have items in one compartment that they need to review or revise every day. Another compartment with things to check weekly and so on. Items can be moved to different compartments as required. Cards in a box with dividers could be used.

The same principle can be used to retain music in our memory.
_________________________
Now I Love Music Practice

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