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Developing a Classical Piano Repertoire and Building a Music Library
One does not have to be a concert pianist to take the time and effort to develop a substantial repertoire. What does “repertoire” mean? In short, a repertoire is a set of works or songs that form the basis or foundation of a pianist. (Technically, there is a word for “song” but not a word for “work” or “piece”. The word “song” is often misused.) Many pianists believe that one should have all the pieces “under the fingers”. leave or be easily beaten. all the time and that makes up one’s repertoire. However, I believe that repertoire means something broader. Let’s now examine the term and find the most useful ways to develop, expand and grow it:
Five Golden Rules of Building a Challenging Piano Repertoire
1. To do, to practice, to do
2. The micro-cycle exercises you are currently doing
3. The macro-cycle works throughout your life
4. Assume that no work is ever “finished”.
5. Constantly add books and music to your library
The first method of practice hardly needs explanation. To get better and better at anything, you have to do it, do it often, and love doing it with all your heart and soul. Tiger Woods didn’t become a great golfer by eating and watching TV. The best doctors in the world didn’t get there by going to bars and drinking beer. Also, an aspiring pianist who wants to have fun and success playing hundreds of songs or works will never get there by neglecting regular practice. Ideally, one should practice not out of compulsion, but out of love for music and a passionate desire to improve.
The second line of micro-cycling tasks involves the pianist’s short-term planning, which may range from a few weeks to a few months or at most a year. This is what most people mean by the word “repertoire”, because it is the time when one can sit down and play (preferably from memory) a number of works at any time. I’ve seen the best results for micro-bikes that focus on five workouts at once. For example, I’ll usually spend an entire week with just one work (like a Joplin piece), the next week with another work in particular (like a Mozart sonata), and the next week with another work in particular (like a Liszt étude). Then, I might not even touch them for two months and, when I go back to one of them, it feels like “meeting an old friend” which accelerates its relearning phase. What once took a week to complete now only takes two days. Ideally, the pianist should try to learn, memorize, and then relearn the exercises in monthly, weekly, and daily cycles. This is the eternal plan I follow when I practice and prepare for my YouTube videos.
The third method of macro-cycling works involves the pianist’s long-term planning, which can be from one to ten years. A thirteen-year-old just starting out often has no idea that what he learns during these formative years lays his/her musical foundation for life. Writing this article at the age of 47 and having started playing the piano at the age of 6, I am constantly amazed at how resilient and powerful the human brain really is. For example, I started practicing Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Capriccioso” this week, after it lay dormant and completely untouched for 27 years, and I was shocked when I remembered it again in just three days. What took me about three months to learn well at 20 took me only three days to relearn as well or better at 47. All music ultimately resides in your consciousness and forms your “musical identity” until the day you leave this world. It’s never too late to learn piano, develop a repertoire, and harness the power of your musical memories. After I spend a week working on “Rondo Capriccioso” and recording it for YouTube, I most likely won’t touch it again for several years.
The logical successor to the third rule of macro-cycling is the fourth rule which considers a job never finished. When I was a music major in college at age 18, I thought that jobs were “finished” after they performed in a recital or concert. My usual plan of action was to work on a number of pieces for a semester or year, “finish” them, and then move on to other pieces my professor assigned. Now at 47 I can’t help but smile at my youthful innocence. As demonstrated by my “Rondo Capriccioso” experience, I have learned over time that no work is ever finished. At all. The piano repertoire of micro- and macro-cycles is the bread and butter of a pianist’s musical life. These cycles continue until the end like food and water. I am constantly reviving works that were thought to be finished, and I have never been satisfied with my musical progress and development.
While the first four rules make up the mental or intangible components of developing a large piano repertoire, the fifth rule of constantly adding books and sheet music to your library makes up the physical or material component. Just as one cannot wash the dishes without first purchasing or acquiring plates, bowls, and shoes, a pianist will never succeed in developing a large repertoire without purchasing or acquiring printed music. Many people refer to all printed music as “sheet music”, however, this is actually a misnomer. Technically, “sheet muzija” is about four pages long only describing his works. For example, I recently ordered “My Heart Will Go Away” from my favorite music company. Sheet Music Plus. (Although I am primarily a classical pianist, I also enjoy playing pop music from time to time.) As it is a single title, it is properly referred to as sheet music. On the other hand, William Bolcom’s “Complete Rags For Piano”, which I also ordered Sheet Music Plus, is not sheet music at all, because it is thick and has 21 titles, it is a “music book” or “music number”. (Please forgive me 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 constantly branching out and exploring new repertoire. In the age of the internet, in my opinion the use of free PDFs has increased a lot. PDF prints usually only last a few weeks at most because they get lost or torn so easily. I occasionally rely on free PDFs, however, 98% of my music library consists of files and books I’ve purchased. Although any music published before 1922 is in the public domain, and thus legally free to anyone, one is fooling oneself by relying too much on free PDFs. Books last a lifetime and can be used and reused. Refusing to buy music and being so desperate to get it all for free is like eating off paper plates and plastic instruments. A pianist never expands his impressive repertoire without acquiring physical equipment (i.e. books) along the way. Let’s end with a story.
Once when I was teaching piano in college, a student came to class with the first movement of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” copied on twelve thin sheets of fax paper. They didn’t stay on the music shelf and kept falling to the floor. This lasted an entire semester until I lost almost all of my hair and suffered a coronary. After forever, I banned the use of PDF prints in my studio and started encouraging students to buy music from a store like I did when I was in college (pre-internet days, imagine!). If my student had invested a small amount of money in a volume of Beethoven’s sonatas (about the cost of going to a movie and ordering popcorn), he would have had “Appassionata” and thirty other sonatas for the rest of his life. . However, instead of investing in his future, he chose the cheap route. The moral of the story is that quality and longevity are paramount and it is in your best interest to develop and grow your music library throughout your life. Immaterial and material work together. Physical and non-physical. Yin and Yang. (In Chinese philosophy, “yin” or “jin” refers to the immaterial or permanent aspect of practice and cycling while “yang” or “man” corresponds to material tools such as books and sheet music.)
So that’s it in a nutshell: practice, micro-cycle, macro-cycle, no work is ever done, keep adding music to your library. These are the five golden rules of building an important piano repertoire. Thanks for your time, and happy practice!
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