Home Forums Piano Related Discussions Questions to Jaak Building a repertoire

5 replies, 5 voices Last updated by  kuska 2 years, 1 month ago
Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • Author
  • #4868

    Dennis Dooley

    Lately I have been thinking a lot about what I am playing and studying.

    For the past 12 years, much of the pieces I have played are part of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) curriculum, and they are not pieces that I tend to play once I have completed the exam. In my estimation, they are pieces selected for their pedagogical aspect. This is not music that is heard on Youtube or Spotify.

    I have been questioning whether to continue with the RCM and the exams, or put more emphasis on pieces that I really like and that are likely to be with me for all my life. In other words, concentrate on pieces that will become part of my repertoire.

    Things would be different if I was 12 years old. As a mature pianist, sometimes I think I should start concentrating more on learning the pieces I want to play. I sometimes feel slightly discouraged that I have been learning to play piano for several years and I do not have a lot to show for it, apart from maybe a dozen pieces that “speak to me”, many of which are not part of the RCM curriculum.

    I guess basically my question is the following: Couldn’t I learn just as well from playing music that touches me, instead of curriculum pieces that do not have as much of an effect on me?



    Depends on how meaningful the sense of accomplishment / validation you get from RCM is, I guess. However, if you’re just using the curriculum to pick pieces at a level appropriate for you, there are a lot of other places (books like Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire by Maurice Hinson, websites) you can find classical music ranked by difficulty / level. This would allow you to choose from hundreds of potential pieces that are all at Grade 7 or whatever and not limit you to the RCM choices.

    Just curious: what are the pieces that you’ve found that speak to you?



    What would you like to show and what you cannot? I don’t know RCM curriculum but I think most of the classical pieces can be performed. They just won’t be appreciated in environment of non classical listeners. This is my trap. I like classical piano pieces but they aren’t cool so it would be better to play popular music which I haven’t learned much. But at the same time it is usually easier to play it. Just it’s harder for me to remember it. Anyway, I don’t like it but I won’t be a great classical pianist as it’s already too late.


    Jaak Sikk

    Dear All!

    I would approach again from the cognitive sciences side and also the pedagogical side.

    I guess when you like a piece, it means that your brain is working in a very different state of mind. When you feel passion for a piece, your brain activates in a more coherent and unified way and many brain centers support each other – you will have a much bigger imagination with more dimensions with a piece you really love. It also influences directly the way your body moves and your motivation etc.

    And the body remembers – lots of mediocre motivated and only semi-unified playing will leave a trace in your body as well. I think even if there is a piece you do not like so much, if you play it at all, one of the main tasks is to understand the piece, in other words make the piece meaningful and emotionally close to you.

    So my suggestion here would be – play as many pieces that you like as possible and try to start really loving as many pieces as possible 🙂

    Best wishes,


    Dennis Dooley

    Hi All,

    It took me a while to respond to this post because all your comments really made me think.

    @paul_l: you asked me what kind of music speaks to me. I realized that I did not have a quick and ready answer to this. I often state that I can appreciate all kinds of music when it is well played. As to what kind of music I tend to gravitate to is a good question. I would have to say that I like music with nice melodies, music with beautiful chords and harmonies and sometimes music that has large dynamic ranges and that is emotionally charged. So how do you sum this up in just one type of music?! But let me go on…

    @kuska: like you, I think I like music that people will recognize. Generally, this is popular music, but not necessarily non classical music. I realize that this is a pretty lame reason to like some music and not some other. Hmmm… I am beginning to realize something.

    @jaak: your words of wisdom hit the bull’s eye once more. I came to the understanding that music is what I make of it. Playing music that people recognize is nice, but that is not the main reason I learn to play the piano. When there is a piece that I don’t appreciate as much, it is up to me to dig deeper to try to understand the piece. Maybe research the composer, discuss the music and musical intention with my teacher, work on the piece from an other perspective, such as concentrating more on my body movements, adding more dynamics, strive to understand the harmony, strive to produce the best sound I possibly can, etc. etc..

    In the context of an established curriculum I am beginning to understand that it may be a deliberate part of the training to teach students how to like music that does not initially connect with them. In fact, the items I have listed in the previous paragraph should be applied to each and every piece I learn. As a mature student, this is something I should be responsible enough to do on my own. At this stage of my training I can not expect my teacher to hold my hand and point out all the details me. I think a good professional teacher is there as a guide, as a mentor and as a resource person to answer my questions. A professional teacher is not there to spoon feed me like a baby.

    This is my challenge for the next piano season: when there is a piece that doe not suit my fancy I must take a step back and think about what it is I do not like about it. I must focus my energies on finding solutions that will make me like the piece and let me be able to communicate my feelings about that music to my audience, whether that is just me alone, my teacher, my wife, a few friends or a real live audience.

    This is nothing new to me. I already knew all this information. Somehow I think this deep reflexion of the past few days has put it all in perspective and is leaving an impression. I hope I have enough wisdom to think back on this next time I have an issue with a particular piece and apply this knowledge in a practical sense.

    Thank you all — your comments have put me on a good path.

    This forum is a beneficial learning tool. 🙂



    Dennis wrote:
    In the context of an established curriculum I am beginning to understand that it may be a deliberate part of the training to teach students how to like music that does not initially connect with them.

    I did philology studies. In general this is all about learning to appreciate. When you analyze the text and its context deeply you often come to the point when you start seeing something interesting to you, even this would be just a scratch. Probably this is how Jaak sees musical pieces, too.

    Then it might spread on the whole attitude to everything. This might be beneficial. Or not at all.

    The thing is, in real life you need to be prepared people won’t understand this and even this kind of analysis can make you think you can see more (which in fact I think would be mostly true) then you won’t win in the world where most is judged instantly and without further thinking. I’m not sure if you’re aware of that at this point so thought I’d point it out, cause it daunted me for a lot of time.

    You know, it’s like enjoying soap operas. They’re awful and you could be laugh at but when you start seeing the connections and how the culture works and how do they manage to sell some traditional ideas then it makes a whole bunch of a new sense.

    You probably won’t need a music piece in the same sense as you can talk about soap operas or other life issues but then it might be crucial if you’d like to sell some part of your performance but you need to go against all the trends.

    The darker side of any creative industry is also that first you need to prove you can do it the traditional way and earn your respect, then you can do whatever you like. It doesn’t work the other way round.

    Just be prepared 😉

Viewing 6 posts - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.