Practice Tips: Organizing and Learning Lots of Repertoire

Busy students and professionals often find themselves having to prepare many different programs simultaneously, such as solo recitals, chamber music, orchestra/band concerts, weekly lesson materials, etc. If you have time to focus on every thing each day, then you are very lucky! However, the case more often is that there simply isn’t enough time to cover every single piece of repertoire each day. Having to “cram” for too many performances repeatedly can lead to burnout, injury, and a whole host of other issues.

Here are some of my strategies for organizing and working on several different programs at once.

  • Put Everything in a Digital or Paper Calendar: Clearly mark all rehearsal and performance dates in your professional/school calendar. Consider color coding the entries according to the type of program, (ex. blue for chamber music, green for large ensemble, etc.). This will help you tell at a glance what the next upcoming engagement is.
  • Organize Music: I like to use post-it notes and/or manila folders to keep my music in order (see above image). I write the date of the performance(s) and/or rehearsal(s) on the note or the manila folder. This makes it easy to prioritize practice materials chronologically according to the performance date. When I grab my stack of music to practice, I sort things according to the date as well as the difficulty. For example, a difficult work scheduled several months from now might require more regular practice than an easier piece scheduled for the immediate future.
  • Plan Each Practice Session: Schedule your practice sessions, and then create a list of works to focus on in each session. Set specific goals and/or a time limit. Try both strategies (time and goal oriented), and figure out which works best for you.
  • Reflect, Revise, then Repeat: Once a week, take some time to reflect on your practice strategies and goals. Consider changing things up if they aren’t effective.

I hope these tips help you achieve more effective practice sessions!

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