Three types of Repertoire

Active Repertoire Project

Since writing my article What can you play? readers have shown quite an interest in my concept of Active Repertoire.
Now I am going to explain a little more about how Active Repertoire fits into the wider picture of your piano journey.

The Three Types of Repertoire

To understand exactly what Active Repertoire is, it is useful to consider the three basic types of repertoire that make up most of our playing experience. These are of course not definitive, but as a construct they help us to clarify what we mean by the phrase ‘Active Repertoire’.

I call these three types of pieces our New Repertoire, our Old Repertoire, and our Active Repertoire.

New Repertoire

New Repertoire is in some ways a misnomer. The pieces I am thinking of here aren’t really repertoire at all, because we can’t yet play them well. These pieces are in fact works in progress – pieces which we have started to learn, but are still working at.

It is great to choose and set to work on New Repertoire, and it is natural that as players we are excited by each fresh challenge and musical enterprise. There is a sense that we are moving forward in our journey. So it is natural that most pianists spend the vast majority of their practice time working on New Repertoire.

However, there is a danger that if we spend all our time working on New Repertoire, neglecting what we have previously learnt, we can simply end up frustrated, with nothing that we can actually play right now.

Another endemic problem in the piano world is that of constantly playing only from sheet music books. A positive result of this tendency is that a good sight-reader can play New Repertoire with fluency after just a little practice. But in too many cases, players become entirely dependent on notation, and are unable to play at all without the sheet music – leaving them with nothing to play when an opportunity to perform for friends and family arises.

Top Tips for New Repertoire

Old Repertoire

At the other end of the spectrum, Old Repertoire comprises those pieces which we once learnt – but oh dear, we can no longer play them!

Often once a piece is mastered, we simply leave it behind, concentrating our efforts on the next challenge. Our enthusiasm for New Repertoire – and the sense of progress that moving on can bring – robs us of the joy of playing the music we have already mastered fluently.

It’s not uncommon to find that a piece of music that we learnt just a month ago has already been forgotten. Only with fresh practice can we relearn the piece, which can be incredibly disheartening.

Certainly we should question the quality of our original learning – and the haste with which we abandoned the piece!

Having said that, not all of the pieces we learn are destined to bring us lasting fulfilment, and many don’t actually belong in our ongoing Active Repertoire.

In these cases it is right that they become part of our Old Repertoire – pieces which played an important place in our piano journey, but which don’t have a special ongoing part to play.

We all have Old Repertoire, and in most cases this shouldn’t cause us any regret.

Top Tips for Old Repertoire

Active Repertoire

Somewhere between New and Old lies the potential for Active Repertoire to flourish.

Our Active Repertoire is the list of pieces that we can play:

It is “Active” (rather than passive) because it is at the forefront of our present day piano playing, and it is our top priority.

By making our Active Repertoire our Top Priority we:

We are far more likely to continue on our piano journey with enthusiasm and satisfaction.

Top Tips for Active Repertoire 

Vive la différence!

It’s vital that as players and teachers we can spot the difference between Old, New and Active when assessing our own and our students’ playing.

We must ask:

As a teacher I find it interesting to discuss with my students their choices of Active Repertoire. In some cases I don’t think they have correctly identified whether pieces are Old, New or Active. Spending time with each student exploring this is proving hugely helpful to their ongoing journey as pianists.

The challenge for those of us who teach is to know each student – and their musical development – well enough to give effective advice

Let’s all have an Active Repertoire

Without Active Repertoire, we feel unable to simply sit down at a piano and enjoy playing purely for our own pleasure, and for the enjoyment of others.

The aim of the Active Repertoire Challenge is to focus on addressing this by encouraging all players to keep three pieces of Active Repertoire performance-ready.

Many players already have a large Active Repertoire, so have no need for a special programme that helps them develop one. But for others, there is a burning need to focus on this project.

One tool to help with this is the Active Repertoire Sheet available free to all Pianodao readers. I hope that you will find this helpful for yourself – and if you teach, for your students too.

  Active Repertoire Sheet 2018-19

Find out how you can use this sheet and learn more about the Active Repertoire Challenge here.

If you find the Active Repertoire Challenge makes a real difference in your piano journey, please consider making a small donation to support the site’s ongoing costs and work:

A Refreshing Pint:

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