Keeping the Repertoire Alive

Potluck Creative Arts Lesson LineSimply Music

You’ve put a lot of solid and efficient work into your current projects. You’ve moved them through the process and have built a repertoire. Keeping all those songs alive, though, requires a different kind of practice compared to current projects. It requires playing the piano instead of working it. It requires that each of your repertoire songs be played at least often enough to keep it alive and thoughtless.

At first, a newly alive song might still need daily practice to keep it alive, though now it only need be practiced once instead of allotting several minutes as you did when it was a current project. Soon enough, you can drop down to five or six times a week. Eventually, you’re likely to only need to play it once or twice a week to keep it alive, and perhaps even less often than that later on. Just like getting a song to come alive in the first place, how fast a song gets to this point depends on the person and the song.

Adding a check in the Playlist after practicing each song, you’ll start to see a pattern which will grow increasingly familiar. The songs at the bottom of the list, added most recently, will tend to be current projects, with checks all the way across as they are practiced daily. Slightly farther up the list you’ll tend to have blank spots scattered as there are days you can afford to skip those songs. The higher you go, the longer you’ve been playing the song, and the more likely that the checks will be scattered, few and far between amidst larger blank areas.

However many days a week you’re practicing a repertoire song, strive to play it a little less frequently. If you find you’re having a tough time starting or otherwise playing the song, increase the frequency again. Your checks will let you know around how many times weekly each song needs to be played to keep it alive. Strive to strike a nice balance — neither practicing more often than needed (unless you really want to!), nor too little so that mistakes start creeping in.

You might consider using your pencil to write that number of weekly practices in the margin next to the song — 2 for a song that you practice twice a week, 7 for a song you practice daily, etc. As you adjust frequency up and down to keep each song in the sweet spot, you can actively erase and update its number.

Another Playlist variation to consider for songs that are no longer current projects: instead of checks, score each song each time you play it:

  • 5 – I can play this easily and musically (and have fun!)
  • 4 – I can play this quite easily but it’s not quite “there”
  • 3 – It flows but I have to play it slowly
  • 2 – I know what to do but I really have to think about it
  • 1 – I sometimes don’t know how to put the song together

Songs enter the repertoire at probably a 2 or a 3. As you continue practicing them, they work their way up to 5 even as you come to play them less often. Using this scoring system, though, gives you an added awareness of just how your songs are doing as you try to decrease the frequency of practice. The day you have to knock your score down one notch compared to the previous time you played the song, you know you’ve probably gone too far in decreasing frequency and ought to play the song a little more often. If you ever let a song get down to 1, it’s time to stop playing that song and start working it. Add it to your current projects list with a pencil dot, removing the dot only once the song is back up to a 2 or 3.

However you stay on top of how often to play each song, the result should be that you actually end up taking less time to practice. This is because you now practice your repertoire songs only as often as needed to keep them alive. Without this guideline, you can easily practice those songs more often, and your overall practice time can start to feel crowded and stressed. With current projects and a growing repertoire to manage, you’ll want the efficiency brought by adjusting the frequency of repertoire songs.

Another reason you’ll want that efficiency: the time spent keeping your repertoire alive should be in addition to the basic 15-20 minutes (or 30-35 minutes as you progress through the program) you’ve set aside each day for practice. That time is needed for your current projects. Additional time is needed for maintaining your repertoire.

How to incorporate that time into your practice routine? Perhaps play your entire repertoire once or twice a week. If you use the 5-point scoring system, playing the whole repertoire at once is a great way to get really clear about just how all your songs are really doing.

Since different songs will best be practiced at different frequencies, you can play a few songs each day, adding just a few extra minutes to your daily routine. You may find that playing one or more repertoire songs in between current projects creates a nice rhythm for your practice sessions.

A combination of these approaches can work well, too — occasionally playing your entire repertoire just for fun and an overall snapshot, while also practicing individual songs on a more regular basis. A particularly good time to go through the entire repertoire is when a new month begins. Knowing that all songs have been practiced prevents you from needing to flip back and forth to the previous month to manage different songs’ performance frequencies.

How you do it is up to you. Figuring out and managing a system for coordinating repertoire play with current project work will take some effort. For that effort, though, you’ll reap the rewards of a growing repertoire that stays in great shape with the least effort.

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