Marvin Blickenstaff has stated that the " hook" for students to continue their piano studies is to assign challenging and motivating repertoire they want to play. That is always in my mind when I select literature. My students play music from all four style periods, as well as a concerto each year. During the Christmas season, most of them play seasonal music for a few weeks. I choose a collection easy enough to allow them to play all the pieces, and I encourage them to do so. In January we usually discover that their sight-reading skills have improved. During the summer, I add something lighter, according to the student's interests - arrangements of hymns, more popular songs from movies or Broadway shows, jazz standards - what a friend calls "dessert." Since most of my students will not continue their piano lessons beyond high school or become professional musicians, I believe it is important that they learn to understand and play as many styles of music as possible. Fortunately the piano has the largest repertoire of all the instruments, and with the wonderful teach- ing materials publishers have made avail- able in recent years, by searching we can find music that all students will want to play and will enjoy. The selection of repertoire is one of the most important and difficult things we do as teachers. Each of the writers in this issue discusses essentials to be considered in this process.

Different levels of difficulty

by Katherine Fisher

I vividly remember that as a young piano student I would sneak away to the music room and listen to a recording of Arthur Rubinstein playing the Chopin Nocturnes. I was completely enamored with this music and it became my aim to learn and perform them all. Years later, I smile when remembering this goal, and it serves as a reminder of the motivational power of repertoire.

As I select pieces for my piano students, I work to balance the music they want to learn with my pedagogical objectives.When choosing repertoire that students enjoy, the pieces selected must also build their read- ing, technical, and musical skills. I have found it helpful to choose pieces that fit into three categories:

1)Repertoire that is easier than the student's playing level,

2) Repertoire that is at the student's playing level, and 

3) Repertoire that is slightly more advanced than their playing level. Here is some of my reasoning for this approach. 

Easier repertoire 

With repertoire that is slightly easier than a student's technical and musical abilities, sight-reading skills are enhanced, and since the notes and rhythms are relatively accessible, students are able to learn a large quantity of repertoire. In addition to devel- oping their reading skills, this also exposes them to a wide variety of composers and styles. Two or three weeks on each of these pieces usually provides adequate time for polishing the selection and playing it with a solid understanding of the musical and technical concepts. This fast turnover of repertoire sustains student interest, gives a feeling of achievement, and helps to avoid the frustration of being "stuck" on a particular piece for an extended period of time. I do not usually require students to memorize repertoire at this level, and it is rarely per- formed in public.

Repertoire at student's level

Pieces that match the student's level pro- vide attainable technical and musical challenges. When encountering new concepts in these pieces, students are prepared to tack- le them and should be able to overcome the difficulties with only a moderate amount of work. Students keep literature at this level about two or three months and have compositions from each style period. These pieces are usually memorized and performed for recitals, music festivals, and competitions. 

Advanced repertoire

Music that provides a challenge for students will stretch students' playing ability to a higher level. Although their current technical or musical ability may not yet match the demands of this repertoire, students must apply problem-solving skills and practice with diligence to overcome the difficulties. If the piece is also something they have wanted to play for a while, they will have the motivation required to forge ahead even when a particular challenge seems insurmountable.

While assigning repertoire at this level can be beneficial, it also has potential dangers, especially if the student is practicing with incorrect technique or tension in their playing apparatus. The teacher must be careful to monitor students as they work through the learning process. If the technique is not developing correctly, it may be wise to take a break from the piece and return to it later. In my experience, students are often amazed when a previously studied piece suddenly feels easier and "clicks" in a new way. This can be very encouraging for both teacher and student since it is clear that progress has been made.

Students usually play only one or two pieces a year at this level and rarely perform them the first year. These are works to put away after the challenges have been faced and to be brought back in the future, when musical and technical maturity match the level of the repertoire.

Additional suggestions

In order to select appropriate repertoire for each category, it is vital that teachers regularly play through a large quantity of music to broaden their base of knowledge. To keep a record of the literature reviewed,

it is helpful to create a database that lists the general characteristics and details of each work such as the level, key, meter, technical components, and any other distinguishing attributes of the piece. One resource I find particularly helpful is Jane Magrath's The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature.1 Repertoire in this book is grouped by style period and organized alphabetically by composer. It provides the level of each selection as well as commentary on the outstanding features of each work. It is an excellent reference guide to use for inspiration when searching for new teaching literature.

Selecting the right repertoire for our students is one of the great joys of teaching. It demands careful consideration and investment of time from the teacher, but it will motivate students, challenge them to higher levels of playing, and sustain their interest in making music for years to come. ...


1 Magrath, J. (2005). The Pianist's Guide lo S tandard Teaching and Performance Literature. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Company, Inc. 

Use festivals and recitals to organize choices

by Kim Bakkum 

I've always had an enormous appetite for "unearthing" and discovering new (to me) off-the-beaten-path piano repertoire. I challenge myself to choose magical pieces that will encourage my students to develop their listening skills, challenge their imagination and intellect, improve sight-reading, and above all, develop and maintain a love for music of all types and styles. I believe that the selection of reper- toire is where we teachers should invest the largest portion of our energies in regard to each student. There is no greater joy than watching a student's eyes widen as they listen to the elegance of Schubert, the rhythmic intensity of Ginastera, or the melodic poignancy ofChopin.

My studio's participation in National Piano Guild Auditions, National Federation of Music Clubs Junior Festivals, and other competitions secretly helps me organize their repertoire, especially in the selection of music from different style periods. I feel each student needs a repertoire diet rich in a variety of styles. I'm often astonished when transfer students come for an interview with only one or two books of music. My students love weekly assignments that include three to four pieces of varying styles and lengths. For example, if an early inter- mediate student is learning the Benda "Sonatina in A minor" Applause, Book One (Alfred), I would fulfill the other style period aims with shorter works such as Gurlitt's "The Little Norwegian," from his Album for the Young, Op. 140 (Alfred), and a selection from Tajcevic's Lieder von der Mur-Insel (Henle). These are fabulous, one page, Bart6k-like pieces with tremendous humor and rhythmic personality. The final piece could be the Zipoli "Fughetta in E Minor" from Baroque Spirit, Book One (Bachus/ Alfred). This program would be easily learned in two months, perhaps with the addition of a jazz or light-hearted piece.

Theme recitals

I also select repertoire for performances in my Theme Recitals. By pursuing a theme such as Spanish and Latin American music, students are exposed to a specific genre and culture that becomes a great subject for group lessons. The big plus is that I get to read through, and bathe in, all of those tango, samba, rhumba, and malaguefia styles. I also try to include ensemble reper- toire in these recitals with tudents performing not only a memorized solo but also having the experience of playing four-hand or two-piano music with the score! This year's theme recitals will include a Dance Recital and a Theme and Variations Recital. Several of my high school students have begun to learn one movement from J.S. Bach's Partita in B-flat Major. They will present the suite as a whole on the Dance Recital. I also plan to have several group lessons on various dances. I use a similar approach with the Theme and Variations recital. Three or four people will play different variations with the entire work present- ed at the recital. There is nothing like Kabalevsky when it comes to this genre!


This past year, I selected a minIature etude that would work in tandem with each student's solo. An example of this pairing would be Lemoine's Etude Op. 37, No. 20 in F Major (Schirmer) with l S. Bach's Inven- tion No.8 in F Major. Both share sixteenth- note descending scale passages as well as key. Another merger of technique and repertoire is the Moskowski G minor Etude, Op. 72 No. 2 and Hanon #42 with the first movement of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto inGminor,Op.25.Theyalsosharethesame key center, a selection technique I frequently use when grouping the sryle periods. A wonderful surprise occurred last year when I assigned the Lemoine Etude, Op. 37, No. 15 (Schirmer) to several students. These high school students wanted to know how fast their peers were playing it, and we had a "play-off" of that etude at a group lesson - a perfect opportunity to also discuss the famed competition between Clementi and Mozart!

Personalities and pieces

Since we are constantly dealing with a variety of personaIities and technical levels, being aware of individual personality traits often helps expand students' tonal potential at the instrument. For example, if I am trying to inspire a larger sound from a timid high school student, I might assign "The Montagues and Capulets" from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (Sikorski Edition) or the "Mazurka" from Granados' Escenas Romanficas (Salabert/ Dover). Conversely, if a student leans on the side of aggressive, brassy tone, I would encourage tonal refinement through Mompou's Canci6n y Danza No. 5 (SalabertiHal Leonard) or the Poulenc Novelette No. 3 (Chester).

I also try to feed the distinct musical tastes of each student. If a late elementary student is inclined toward "dreamy" music, there is nothing like William Gillock's Fountain in the Rain (Willis). The intermediate crowd adores the Norman Delio Joio "Prayer of the Matador" from Lyric Pieces for the Young (Hal Leonard). More advanced students love Poulenc's Improvisation #13 in A Minor (Salabert).

Favorites that expand harmonic and rhythmic perspectives include Bela Bart6k's "Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm," from Mikrokosmos vol. 6 (Boosey and Hawkes) and the collections of Tonadas by Joaquin Nin-Culmell (Broude International). These come in four volumes and feature a wid e variety of rhythmic and tona l characters, pI us they are short!

As piano teachers, we delight in the process of getting to know each of our students both musically and personally. Matching pieces with personalities is an extension of the wonderful relationship we share with our students. As I sit in the middle of my piles of music contemplating personalities and pieces, I'm always amazed by, and grateful for, the vast choices we have as pianists. Thank goodness I'm not a bassoon player! 

Variety is essential 

by Laurent Boukobza 

Choosing repertoire for a student is fascinating, exciting, and also a daunting part of each piano teacher's life. "With great power comes great responsibility." Just by the repertoire assigned, piano teachers can either stimulate a student to practice, continuing to fuel their eagerness to learn to play the piano, or create quite the opposite reaction. My philosophy is to try to mix both exciting and less exciting repertoire through what I believe to be the keyword: VARIETY - variety in style period, articulation, speed, and length. A student's repertoire should have a mix of short and long pieces, difficult and easier pieces, and brilliant and more meditative/ introspective pieces, along with a variety of styles. Counterpoint being the root of all Western music,all piano students MUST learn some of the 17 two- and Three-part Inventions as we ll as selections from the W011 Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is also necessary for students to be introduced to contemporary repertoire, being sensitive to the cost of such scores by selecting interesting, affordable music. 

Technical considerations

A regimen of scales, arpeggios, and etudes is necessary to develop the skills necessary to learn the piano repertoire. It will always be stimulating for a student to learn basic skills and piano patterns (e.g. scales in thirds, sixths, and tenths; arpeggios and their inversions; "etudes" by Czerny, Hanon, Moszkowski) and then experience their direct and practical application in a piece of music. Since it is not always easy to reach technical goals, I approach the problem by working backwards from the music.

Instead of just assigning all of Czerny Op. 299, I look for a piece the student would like to learn (or one I think they should learn), and then find an etude with the same specific technical difficulty that will be encountered in that piece. Once the student has mastered the etude, the new piece is introduced. This has two benefits: the piece is learned faster and easier, and the student now sees etude practice as a preparation rather than a "chore."


I also choose repertoire according to the strengths and weaknesses of the student. For example, if their sound quality or "touch" is a problem, Chopin's Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No.4, or one of his nocturnes can be a good way to address this problem. In the meantime, the student may be working simultaneously on longer pieces where tone quality is not a priority, perhaps works by Prokofiev or Bartok. If the student is already advanced, I might deal with the problem of tone by choosing more virtuosic pieces of Chopin such as the Prelude in G major, Op. 28, No.3, the Prelude in F Sharp minor, Op. 28, No.8, or the first movement from a sonata of Haydn or Mozart.

If the "balance" between the two hands is unsatisfactory, it can be helpful to assign Chopin's Prelude in B minor, Op. 28, No.6, where the left hand has the melody. Simultaneously, I would assign a Bach Invention to show the "changing" balance between the hands, along with Czerny's Op. 299, No.7 or No. 10, where the left hand must remain very discreet (yes, it is Op. 299 - sorry!). 

Interests of student

Giving a student a piece they want to play is a good way of keeping them stimulated. Asking about their musical interests - what they like to listen to (which can be very different than what they like to perform) - helps me to better know and understand them and make wise repertoire decisions.

Other major elements to consider are the student's long-term goals and reasons for studying. Do they hope to be a professional musician, are they uncertain, or do they just want to play and enjoy music throughout their life? Will they practice minutes a day, hours a day, many hours a day? Obviously the "wannabe future professional" must be introduced to more difficult repertoire earlier than a recreational player.

Introducing chamber music (four hands at one piano or two pianos) can also be a stimulus for students. Here the repertoire is vast and helps to break the "loneliness of the pianist." Obvious benefits are the gained listening and ensemble skills.

Future performances

Choice of repertoire can be driven by future examinations, competitions, recitals, aud itions, and other performances. For studio recitals, the choice of repertoire can be much more daring - sometimes a little too difficult for the student, but offering a chance to "try" new things (such as controlling a half-pedal in a Debussy prelude or controlling tempo and technique in a fast piece). For an examination or competition, the repertoire will need to demonstrate the strengths of the student, with few weaknesses. In this instance, experimenting would not be the wisest choice!

The role of a piano teacher is to ensure that the student has been offered the widest variety of repertoire possible, from the early Baroque period through the latest Contemporary genres - including minimalism, new piano notations, or even prepared piano. It is paramount that students realize that the musical world is continuing to evolve. Additionally, we teachers must also continue to expand our own knowledge of the piano repertoire so we are able to offer a broad range of music to our students. We must never stop learning and discovering new repertoire. In this way, both teachers and students are winners. 

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