How to Broaden Your Active Repertoire

This week’s post is by Online Academy co-founder, Ryan Morison. Ryan is a devoted and dedicated amateur pianist, and I’m delighted to welcome him as guest author to share his thoughts on ways to increase our active repertoire effectively and efficiently.

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It is the season for virtuous resolutions and a good time to ponder pianistic plans and goals for the year ahead. Many of us (myself included!) will be tempted to embark upon stretch goals, tackling increasingly difficult pieces on our repertoire “bucket list”. Although setting challenges can be inspiring, being overly ambitious has its drawbacks. It often results in one spending ages on a single piece only to fall short of doing it justice finally when (or if!?) performing it.

To avoid these pitfalls, I have opted for a different theme for 2021. Instead of tearing my hair out at a few fiendishly difficult works likely to be beyond my ability and available practice time, my objective is rather to broaden my active repertoire. The focus will be more on quantity and quality than difficulty, having a wider range of pieces that I can play at a reasonable level on the spot or brush up at short notice without too much effort.

broadening your active repertoire

The benefits of increasing your active repertoire

Broadening your repertoire can significantly increase the enjoyment you derive from your playing. It exposes you to a greater variety of music and opens up more opportunities to share your playing with others.

In addition to enhanced enjoyment, playing more pieces also leads to significant improvements in your playing, teaching you new things and improving your ability to learn even more works faster.

A realistic approach

Rachmaninoff once said, “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” There are so many pieces to learn, but so little time in which to learn them. To avoid ending up with an extensive list of unfinished attempts, a realistic approach is needed.

My aim is to significantly increase the number and variety of pieces I can play at a reasonable standard without a substantial increase in the amount of time spent practising. Like most of us, time available for practising is limited and even if this wasn’t the case, I have issues with recurring injury that require caution.

The following is a summary of the key elements of my approach to achieving this goal:

  • Learn easier pieces – It may seem obvious, but most amateur pianists I encounter tend to play pieces that are usually at or well-beyond their current level. I will include in my selection easier pieces from lower grades, many of which will make for interesting quick study projects.
  • Consistency – It’s widely accepted that consistency is more important than the cumulative amount of time spent practising. Daily practice alongside the rigour of modern schedules can be challenging. However, it is possible to have a highly productive practice session in 15 – 20 minutes. When time is limited, I will make use of short, focussed sessions to maintain consistency (click here for a great blog post on this subject).
  • Increased productivity – This undertaking basically requires achieving more within the same amount of time. Being more disciplined and focussed to attain greater productivity can be achieved by avoiding bad habits e.g. repeated, aimless run-throughs and using effective practice tools to enhance productivity.
  • Improved learning ability – Another means of enhancing productivity is to develop one’s underlying ability to learn faster. Practising sight-reading is an excellent way to do this, in addition to yielding many other benefits and quick studies are also an excellent way to develop learning skills while directly increasing your active repertoire.
  • Maintenance – Brushing up and maintaining older repertoire alongside learning new is a good way to increase the overall tally of pieces that you can play. Revisiting pieces you’ve played before also allows for discoveries of things that you may have missed previously. Using slow practice and tools like quarantining can be helpful for maintaining repertoire alongside learning new pieces.
  • Setting milestones and goals – Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Having goals and milestones to work towards forces us to work in a more focussed, structured way rather than aimlessly wasting time. Milestones I will be issuing include playing at online meet-ups, masterclasses, preparing for lessons and simply setting dates to record pieces.

I will be sharing further details and updates on my endeavours via my website, blog and social accounts and would also love to hear about any goals that you have for your playing, or any tips and suggestions for expanding active repertoire. Until then, all the best for the year ahead and I hope it brings with it many wonderful repertoire discoveries and much pleasurable playing for you all!


Share your Piano Goals and win!

Start 2021 on a high note by sharing your #pianogoals for 2021 with us and stand a chance to win a year’s subscription to the Online Academy valued at £119.99!

Whether it’s learning a piece, developing a specific aspect of technique, playing for others or learning something new, we’d love to hear what your ambitions for the year are!

Click on one of the following links to share your goals: