Photo of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

“The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.”
-Duke Ellington (The Musician’s Way, p. 14)

We veteran musicians know that our creativity blossoms when we perform music that fits our style and technique.

Students, though, often attempt to perform repertoire that’s beyond their reach, resulting in anxiety, disappointment, and even injury.

To help performers make wise repertoire choices, I’ve identified three selection criteria, all of which I expand on in The Musician’s Way.

1. Taste
First and foremost, students should learn repertoire that excites them and through which then can express their true selves, regardless of whether they’re beginners or near-pros.

Aspiring artists shouldn’t be stuck with dull music because there’s plenty of great music out there suited to diverse levels. What’s more, appealing music motivates us to practice.

Bear in mind that I’m talking about repertoire to be performed. When we choose etudes and exercises, taste comes second to utility because we select that sort of material primarily to help us overcome weaknesses or break through technical barriers. Still, the best etudes resonate with both utility and beauty.

2. Capacity
Our musical capacity rests on our technical and musical abilities along with our available practice time.

Titles that lie easily within our capacity don’t overtax our mental or physical powers and can generally be mastered in anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Students who lack artistic or performance skills should opt for especially accessible material so that they can learn the mechanical components promptly and focus on artistic interpretation and gaining confidence in practice performances.

After students possess secure interpretive and performance skills, it makes sense for them to select repertoire that stretches their capacities, provided that they also maintain sizable repertoires of accessible pieces.

3. Plans
As we search out music that lines up with our taste and capacity, we should also keep various goals in mind.

Musicians who want to put together concert programs might choose repertoire that contrasts with their previously learned pieces. Other musicians might opt for titles that meet audition requirements or enable them to explore new genres.

Whatever the situation, when we find repertoire that matches all three of these criteria, the music we learn nurtures our abilities and our souls.

See The Musician’s Way for inclusive guidelines to artistic practice and performance.

Related posts
The Benefits of Accessible Music
Maintaining Repertoire
Optimizing Practice Time
Reviving Old Repertoire
Upgrading Your Practice Habits

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo by Louis Panassié, 1971, GFDL

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