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:


Expanding Your Repertoire with Quick Studies

In this week’s post, Ryan Morison discusses how quick studies can be used as an effective tool to broaden your repertoire and develop good habits and skills when learning new pieces.


I recently wrote a blog post about one of my main piano goals for 2021 which is to broaden my active repertoire. A tool that I have found to be invaluable for the purposes of achieving this goal is quick studies.

Quick Studies image
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels

Quick Studies – What & why?

Quick studies are an often overlooked, but incredibly beneficial way to grow your repertoire. They also help you develop and hone the skills required to new learn pieces faster.

The concept is very simple: you reduce the amount of time you have to learn a piece e.g. often one or two weeks rather than months. The objective is to do this without compromising significantly on the quality of the musical result.

Tips for quick study projects

The following are some tips and suggestions that I have found which may be useful if you’re considering embarking upon similar projects:

  • Not too difficult – Don’t be overly ambitious in choosing pieces. Select works that are realistic given your abilities and the shortened timeframe. It’s far better to choose something easier than too difficult. One way to measure difficulty is to use examination syllabi as a guideline e.g. select pieces one or two grades below your current level (this worked very well for me!).
  • Not too long – Shorter is better, especially if you’re not quite sure if a piece is at the right level.  Personally, I found that pieces approximately three pages long with some repetition worked well. I also checked my selections by doing a run through and keeping a tally of difficult spots. These were places that I couldn’t sight-read and therefore would need to practise. A few tricky spots is fine, but if literally every bar has something challenging then the piece probably isn’t suitable.
  • Lay good foundations – The things that caused me the most problems down the line were errors with fingering and other sloppiness in the earlier note learning stages. Just because you have less time doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow a systematic approach, in fact it’s the opposite! This free email course gives a great process to follow for the early stages of learning a piece and can be applied to quick studies.
  • Be consistent – Consistent practice, even for short time periods, is far more important than the total time spent practising. I used regular “micro-practice” sessions targeted at specific problem areas which helped me make great progress despite having very limited time. This blog post gives some useful tips for short practice sessions.
  • Be disciplined and focussed – Simply playing through your piece daily and hoping that things will improve or correct themselves is a sure recipe for failure. A much more disciplined, strategic approach is required. This might include highlighting problem areas upfront and adopting a plan to tackle them systematically (Graham Fitch refers to this process as Quarantining).
  • Set goals and milestones – Working towards defined milestones e.g. recording for yourself, a lesson, playing for others is an excellent way to give your practising structure and focus. There are so many opportunities to do this, even in current circumstances. For example, over the last year I participated in various online meet-ups and even an online masterclass (click here if you’d like to see a video of my performance and feedback session!).

Many of these principles apply not just to quick studies, but to learning new pieces in general. Because of the time pressure of a quick study, they become even more pertinent. This makes quick studies incredibly effective for building and reinforcing good habits that apply well beyond the project at hand.

I recently concluded my first quick study project and found it to be such a positive undertaking that I’ve since started several further pieces in this manner (If you’d like to find out more, I’ve documented my experience in the form of a “video journal” on my website). I highly recommend the quick study approach and if you’re looking to improve your ability to learn new pieces, encourage you to give it a try!

Further links & resources

  • How to Start Learning a New Piece – Click here to sign-up for a free email course designed to guide you through the early stages of the process and show you principles and practice tools for efficient and effective learning.
  • Repertoire library – Our repertoire library on the Online Academy now features resources to help you learn and master over 250 pieces (and growing!) of all levels. Click here to view an index of works covered by grade, level or composer.
  • Quarantining – Click here for a blog post on quarantining with links to further information and resources.
  • Examination Resources – Click here to view our Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 syllabus or click here to view an index of all of our resources and guides for piano examinations