One need not be a concert pianist to take the time and effort to develop a substantial repertoire. What does "repertoire" mean anyway? In short, repertoire is a body of works that forms the pianist's core or foundation. Many pianists believe that one must keep all pieces "under the fingers" or readily playable at all times and that this constitutes one's repertoire. I believe, however, that repertoire implies something more all-encompassing. Let us now examine the term and explore the most efficient ways to develop, expand, and nurture it: Five Golden Rules of Building a Substantial Piano Repertoire 1. Practice, practice, practice 2. Micro-cycle works you are currently practicing 3. Macro-cycle works throughout your life 4. Consider that no work is ever "finished" 5. Constantly add books and sheet music to your library
The first rule of practicing hardly needs explaining. To become better and more proficient at anything, one must do it, do it often, and love doing it with all one's heart and soul. Tiger Woods did not become a great golfer by nibbling on snacks and watching TV. The world's best surgeons did not get there by hanging out in bars and drinking beer. Likewise, an aspiring pianist wishing to have fun and success playing hundreds of pieces will never get there by neglecting to practice on a regular basis. Ideally, one should practice not out of obligation, but rather out of the love of music and heart-burning desire to improve.
The second rule of micro-cycling works constitutes the pianist's short-term plan, which may range anywhere from a few weeks to several months or perhaps a year at the most. This is what most people imply with the word "repertoire," since it is the timeframe in which one could sit down at any time and play (preferably from memory) a set number of works. I have found the best results for micro-cycling by focusing on about five works at a time. For example, I will often spend an entire week practicing exclusively one work (like a Joplin rag), the next week exclusively another work (like a Mozart sonata), and the next week exclusively another work (like a Liszt étude). Then, I may not even touch them at all for two months and, upon returning to one of them, it feels like "meeting an old friend" which accelerates its re-learning phase. What once took a week to accomplish now takes only a couple days. Ideally, the pianist should strive to learn, forget, and then 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 macro-cycling works constitutes the pianist's long-term plan, which may range anywhere from one to ten years. A thirteen-year-old just starting out usually does not realize that what is learned in these formative years sets his/her musical foundation for life. I am constantly amazed at just how resilient and powerful the human brain really is. For example, a few years ago when I began practicing Mendelssohn's Rondo Capriccioso after it had lain dormant and totally untouched for 27 years and I was shocked when it came back to me memorized again in only three days. What took as long as three months to learn well at the age of 20 took me only three days to relearn as well or better at the age of 47. This is one of the intriguingly satisfying aspects about music and piano repertoire. All music ultimately remains in your conscience and forms your "musical identity" until the day you leave this earth. It is never too late to learn piano, develop a repertoire, and tap into the power of one's musical memories.
The logical successor to the third rule of macro-cycling is the fourth rule of considering a work to never be finished. When I was a freshman music major in college at the young age of 18, I thought works became "finished" after performing them in a recital or concert. My usual plan of action was to work on a set number of pieces for a semester or year, "finish" them, and then move on to the next pieces my professor assigned. Now at 47 I can't help but smirk at my youthful innocence. As demonstrated with my "Rondo Capriccioso" experience, I have learned through time that no work will ever be finished. Never. Micro- and macro-cycling piano repertoire is the bread of the pianist's musical life. These cycles continue until the end just like food and water. I am constantly resurrecting works once thought to be finished, and never have I been more content with my musical evolution and progress.
While the first four rules constitute the mental or immaterial components of developing a large piano repertoire, the fifth rule of constantly adding books and sheet music to one's library constitutes the physical or material component. Just as one cannot wash dishes without first buying or acquiring plates, cups, and utensils, a pianist will never succeed in developing a large repertoire without buying or acquiring printed music. Books last a lifetime and can be used and reused until the end of one's life. Relying exclusively on free downloads is like eating from paper plates and plastic utensils; however, paying a little money for high-quality, custom digital piano music, like from BachScholar Publishing, is something entirely different. Ultimately, the pianist will never formidably expand his/her repertoire without acquiring the physical accessories (i.e. books and high-quality digital sheet music).
So there it is in a nutshell: practice, micro-cycle, macro-cycle, no work is ever finished, constantly add music to one's library. These are the five golden rules of building a substantial piano repertoire. Happy practicing, fellow pianists!