flowers growing in a field in the shape of a treble clef“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
–John Steinbeck*

If you’re a musician who brims with ideas, you’ve probably learned piles of repertoire that you’d like to maintain.

Still, it’s no easy task to plan a practice schedule that incorporates dozens of compositions.

Here are strategies for keeping lots of titles performance-ready.

4 Strategies to Keep Lots of Repertoire Concert-Ready

1. Create a Repertoire List

A repertoire list enables us to determine practice objectives at a glance.

You might write the list by hand or on a computer. Some musicians use checklists and mark each day that they practice particular pieces.

If you’d like to try out a check sheet, there’s one freely available on the downloads page at

2. Document Practice Goals

Writing down goals for particular pieces simplifies and motivates our practice. For instance, if our repertoire list encompasses hours of music, and many of the compositions contain tricky passages that need reviewing, documenting which measures we’ll tackle unburdens us from having to remember which bits need the most work.

As an illustration, a string player might keep track of problematic passages in a particular piece by writing, “measures 32-34: intonation; m. 46: clean shift; m. 60-62: more legato; m. 71: make fast passage easier; m. 90-93: sweeter tone.”

Documenting multiple small goals also helps us set achievable aims for each practice session, supporting our motivation.

One documenting format would be to use a notebook or Word file: write a title at the top of a page, and then list practice objectives beneath. Ensemble members might employ an online workspace.

3. Establish a Review Cycle

There’s no set formula for how often well-learned pieces should be reviewed – it varies depending on the musician, repertoire, and situation. But most of us sense how much review we need. As a starting point, here are some general guidelines:

  • With easy material, we might only need to review the music once or twice a month.
  • Memorized titles might require weekly or biweekly review.
  • Complex or lengthy pieces that we’ll perform often might need targeted reviewing several times a week.
  • Music from genres in which we’re less proficient will benefit from at least twice-weekly review so that we can steadily mature our stylistic abilities.
  • As a concert date approaches, the music on the program will merit daily practice and other titles might need to be set aside temporarily.

4. Perform & Record OftenThe Musician's Way book cover

It’s far easier for us to maintain repertoire when we present it regularly, and performance or recording commitments motivate us to work.

So, plan periodic recording sessions, line up concerts and community engagements events, and also consider booking casual gigs to try out new repertoire and run through old favorites.

For example, if an aspiring pianist who mainly plays in jazz combos wants to maintain a cache of solo classical pieces, she might commit to a weekly solo gig at a supper club or Sunday brunch.

In that way, she’ll not only fuel her development but also boost her income, build her audience, and contribute to the cultural life in her town. Over time, she might also play concerts at community venues and steadily expand her solo career.

For additional strategies that optimize practice and performance, see Parts I & II of The Musician’s Way.

*Interview with Robert van Gelder (1947), quoted in John Steinbeck: A Biographyby Jay Parini (1994).

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© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
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