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Developing a Classical Piano Repertoire and Building a Music Library
You don’t have to be a concert pianist to devote time and energy to building a substantial repertoire. What does “repertoire” even mean? In short, a repertoire is the set of works or songs that form the core or foundation of a pianist. (Technically, a “song” has lyrics, while a “work” or “piece” does not. The word “song” is often misused.) Many pianists believe that all pieces should be “under the fingers” or easy to play. must be kept in place. every time, and it forms one’s repertoire. However, I believe that repertoire means something more comprehensive. Now let’s examine the phrase and discover the most effective ways to develop, expand and nurture it:
Five golden rules for building a significant piano repertoire
1. Practice, practice, practice
2. Microcycle works that you are currently practicing
3. The macrocycle works throughout its life
4. Realize that no job is “done”
5. Keep adding books and sheet music to your library
The first rule of practice hardly needs explaining. To get better and more proficient at anything, you have to do it, do it often, and love it with all your heart and soul. Tiger Woods didn’t become a great golfer by snacking and watching TV. The best surgeons in the world didn’t get there by hanging out in bars and drinking beer. Similarly, an aspiring pianist who wants to play hundreds of songs or works for fun and hits will never get there by neglecting regular practice. Ideally, it should not be practiced out of obligation, but rather out of love for music and a heart-burning desire to improve.
The second rule of microcycle works is the pianist’s short-term plan, which can last from a few weeks to several months, but not more than a year. Most people refer to this with the word “repertoire”, since this is the time frame within which you can sit down and play (preferably from memory) a certain number of works at any time. I’ve found the best results with microcycling by focusing on about five jobs at a time. For example, I often spend an entire week practicing only one work (like a Joplin rag), the next week only practicing another work (like a Mozart sonata), and the following week only practicing another work (like a Liszt etude). Then I might not touch them at all for two months, and when I return to one, it feels like “meeting an old friend”, which speeds up the relearning phase. What used to take a week to accomplish now only takes a few days. Ideally, a pianist should strive to learn, forget, and relearn works in monthly, weekly, and daily cycles. This is the eternal and never-ending plan I follow when practicing and preparing for my YouTube videos.
The third rule of macrocycle works is the pianist’s long-term plan, which can range from one to ten years. The thirteen-year-old who is just starting out usually does not realize that what he learns in these formative years provides the musical foundations of his life. As I write this article at the age of 47 and started playing the piano at the age of 6, I am constantly amazed at how flexible and powerful the human brain really is. For example, I started practicing Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Capriccioso” this week after it had lain dormant and completely untouched for 27 years, and I was shocked when it came back to me, memorized, only three days later. What took me three months to learn well at the age of 20, it only took me three days to learn again at the age of 47. All music ultimately remains in your conscience and forms your “musical identity” until the day you leave this earth. It’s never too late to learn to play the piano, develop your repertoire and use the power of your musical memories. After working on “Rondo Capriccioso” for a week and uploading it to YouTube, I probably won’t touch it for several years.
The logical successor of the third rule of the macrocycle is the fourth rule, according to which a work is never finished. When I was a first-year music major in college, at 18, I believed that works were “finished” after I performed them in a recital or concert. My usual plan of action was to work on a set number of pieces over a semester or year, “finish” them, and then move on to the next set of pieces assigned by my professor. Now, at 47, I can’t help but smile at my youthful innocence. As my “Rondo Capriccioso” experience demonstrated, I’ve learned over time that no work is ever finished. Never. The micro- and macrocycle piano repertoire is the bread and butter of a pianist’s musical life. These cycles continue until the end, like food and water. I am constantly resurrecting works I once thought were finished, and I have never been more satisfied with my musical development and progress.
While the first four rules constitute the intellectual or intangible components of developing a large piano repertoire, the fifth rule, to keep adding books and sheet music to the library, represents the physical or material component. Just as one cannot wash the dishes without first buying or acquiring plates, cups, and utensils, so a pianist can never develop a large repertoire without buying or acquiring printed music. Most people refer to all printed music as “sheet music”, but this is really a misnomer. Technically, “scores” refer to stand-alone works of up to about four pages. For example, I recently ordered “My Heart Will Go On” from my favorite music company, Sheet Music Plus. (Although I am primarily a classical pianist, I also like to practice pop music from time to time.) Being a single title, it is correctly called sheet music. However, William Bolcom’s “Complete Rags For Piano”, from which I also ordered Sheet Music Plus, not a sheet music at all, more like a “music book” or “band”, because it is thick and contains 21 titles. (I apologize for this clarification, but the term “sheet music” is often misused.)
I love my music library and still play from the books I’ve had since I was 10. I am always finding new books and papers to buy, keep and add to my library. I am constantly developing and discovering new repertoire. In the age of the Internet, I think the use of free PDFs is too common. PDF prints often last only a few weeks at most because they are so easily lost or torn. I sometimes rely on free PDFs, however 98% of my music library consists of sheet music and books I’ve paid for. Although all music published before 1922 is in the public domain and thus legally free to all, one is fooling oneself by relying too much on free PDFs. Books are for life and can be used and reused for the rest of your life. Refusing to buy music and trying so desperately to get everything for free is like eating off paper plates and plastic containers. A pianist will never expand his repertoire tremendously without acquiring the physical supplies (eg books) in the process. Let’s close with a story.
Once, when I was teaching piano at a college, a student came into class with the first movement of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” copied onto twelve sheets of thin fax paper. They didn’t stay on the music stand and kept falling to the floor. This went on for an entire semester until I almost pulled out all my hair and had a coronary. After that, I banned PDF prints from my studio forever and started encouraging students to buy the music in a store, just like I did in college (pre-internet days, go figure!). If my student had invested a little money in a volume of Beethoven’s sonatas (as much as it costs to go to the movies and order popcorn), he would have had the Appassionata and thirty other great sonatas for the rest of his life. . However, instead of investing in his future, he took the cheap route. The moral of the story is that quality and longevity prevail, and it’s in one’s best interest to grow and nurture one’s music library throughout one’s life. The immaterial and the material work in harmony. Physical and non-physical. Yin and Yang. (In Chinese philosophy, “yin” or “feminine” refers to the immaterial or ephemeral aspect of exercise and cycling, while “yang” or “masculine” refers to material accessories such as music books and sheet music.)
So that’s it in a nutshell: practice, microcycle, macrocycle, no work is ever finished, keep adding music to your library. These are the five golden rules for building a meaningful piano repertoire. Thanks for your time and good practice!
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