Getting Out of a Repertoire Rut

stuck-in-a-rutWe have all found ourselves in a repertoire rut, when we keep practicing and playing the same pieces but don’t seem to make any progress. This happens with individual pieces, that seem to get stuck at one level and not get any better, and also with entire programs. If we are touring artists who have one program we tour with for a year or two, our muscles and brains get tired of the redundancy. It’s important to keep us on our toes and to keep improving.

When we learn a new piece, we do need to spend a considerable amount of time with it in order to learn it, practice it, and create music with it. However, there comes a point when our improvement with that piece hults and we keep practicing it without any progress. When you reach that point, it’s better to put the piece aside for a little while and spend some time on different repertoire to give our muscles and brain a break from it. After a short period away, we can come back to it and, more often than not, that piece sounds better. That’s because our hands and brain had a chance to take a step back and let it settle. Even though we didn’t keep repeating the same motions, our brain was still making the connections necessary to send the right signals to our hands. While away from that particular piece, keep practicing other repertoire, so that your muscles and technique remain in shape. If you have other repertoire that you need to learn, dive into those pieces, if you don’t have anything on your “to-learn” agenda, spend sometime on older pieces. Then come back to the piece that you felt was stuck in a rut.

Same thing applies to older pieces that are on your concert program. Generally, the more we play something the better we become at it. Once our fingers are comfortable with the piece, we are free to make music with it and not worry about the technical challenges. But often, when we become too comfortable with a piece, our fingers go on auto-pilot and our brain disconnects from the music making process. To keep things fresh make sure you play other pieces and not only the ones you’re touring with. Playing different pieces keeps things fresh for our hands and for our brain. It also keeps our technique in shape, by constantly challenging our hands with new information, which in tern makes us grow.

At first you might think that if you don’t practice the pieces you need to play on your concerts every single day, you are going to get worse at playing them. This might be true with newer pieces, that aren’t settled yet. For our repertoire to really become our own, we need to live with it for a while. How long that “while” is, is different for every individual player. Some people are faster than others when it comes to internalizing new pieces. However long it takes you to get to that point, once you have become comfortable with a piece it feels more or less your own, don’t be afraid to practice other pieces, either old ones or new ones. It’s just like exercising, if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, our bodies get used to it and it’s no longer a challenge for us. Which is good on one hand, but it also forces us into a rut. In order to keep improving, we have to keep changing it up.

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