Practice Session, Part 4: Repertoire

Practice Session, Part 4: Repertoire


The fourth element in a productive practice session.

If you haven’t read the blog posts OVERVIEW, WARM UP, SCALES, and ETUDES, you may want to start with those before reading about part #4.

OK, so there are six parts to every good practice session:

  1. Warm up.
  2. Scales, short technical exercises.
  3. Etudes.
  4. Repertoire.
  5. Improvisation and revisiting old material.
  6. Review, warm-down, reflecting on goals and planning for the next practice session.

The repertoire section begins about halfway through the practice session. We begin with a warm up and short technical exercises before moving to progressively longer pieces. If our practice session is 30 minutes in length, you will want to spend about 12 minutes on repertoire. If you’re watching the clock, the third part will be minutes 13-25. Remember, these are ballpark numbers and you may need to adjust your practice session if you need more work in one area than another. For instance, if a competition is coming up, you may need to spend more time on repertoire. I suggest that you borrow the time from etudes.

If the practice session is like a dresser, the repertoire drawer is the largest. Let’s consider what elements make up this section of practice.

What music is in the repertoire “drawer?”


repertoire in my filing cabinet

  • solos
  • band / orchestra / choir sheet music
  • chamber ensemble music
  • duets
  • orchestral excerpts
  • audition music
  • music for special occasions, such as weddings or funerals

During the repertoire part of your practice, you will be working on mostly long term pieces. Unlike the etudes, the repertoire pieces are ones you will be studying for months or perhaps years. These pieces will likely be performed at a recital, competition, contest, audition, or other event. If you have a music library, repertoire pieces probably take up more room in your cabinet than any other genre. You might notice in the picture of my repertoire drawer that there is a skimpy “warm ups” folder at the front and a folder of “scales” behind it. The rest of the drawer is full of flute solos.

While practicing repertoire pieces, you will likely come to spots that require “woodshedding.” These are places of technical difficulty that need special attention as you work toward mastery. I have written a series of blog posts on different ways to “woodshed.” Below you will see some interesting (for the brain!) ways to work on tricky passages.

Woodshedding Blog Articles, by yours truly:

Neuroscientists are beginning to understand that varying the practice routine leads to better memory storage. Mix and match the woodshedding games to both give your brain the novelty it craves and to strengthen the muscle memory. Neurons work faster when they have more connections. It might seem odd, but practicing the notes differently each time actually improves technique.

Make a mental note of the most difficult sections that you are woodshedding during the repertoire part of your practice. You will have a chance to return to them before the end of the practice session.

Scientists are trying to learn what makes some musicians have more success than others. It seems to come down to differences in the way musicians practice. This series of blog posts about organizing practice is inspired by research on Effective Practice Skills and on new neurological information about How We Learn.

When your repertoire time is up, you will move on to the fifth part: IMPROVISATION.

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