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How I Choose New Solo Repertoire

As musicians, having goals is vital to our growth as performers, and some of those goals involve learning repertoire that we’ll perform. Practically speaking, I’m not able to learn all the pieces I want to, so I need to decide which repertoire to learn, and which repertoire to leave aside until later (or never).

With that in mind, below is a detailed look at how I decide what to play. I don’t always use the process in this much detail, but I’ve tried to be thorough here for the sake of clarity. I do this around 8-10 months in advance of a performance when I’m learning music for the first time.

Step 1: Brainstorm a list of music you would like to play

You can find a lot of possibilities by consulting:


-Various repertoire lists (your teacher, other teachers, internet, etc.)

-Albums and playlists (Spotify, etc.)

-Old recital programs and recordings

-Old NASA conference, Saxophone Symposium, and World Saxophone Congress programs

-Composers’ websites and lists of works

-Investigation of specific genres or “crossover” styles

In short, list what you’d truly love to play.

Step 2: Consider Your Reasons for Choosing Music You Want to Play

Below I’ve listed some reasons that I’ve learned music in the past, although other people’s reasons probably differ a lot. Some of these seem like “good” and “bad” reasons on the surface, but I think all of these have led me to an immense amount of growth at one time or another, even the first two.

-Our teachers tell us to learn it

-It’s a “standard” that we’re supposed to know

-It’s beautiful or exciting for us and we want to share it with an audience

-We want to add to the saxophone repertoire by playing a new transcription or premiere

-To develop our performance skills

-To learn something about music history

-To find something new and/or hidden (theoretical or interpretive) in an old standard, or to bring obscure information about it to light in program notes or a lecture recital

-We want to revive or maintain something old that’s being forgotten

-The music reflects cultural or musical traditions that are fascinating

-We’re fascinated by the composer’s approach to music or their ideas about music

-It’s an experimental visit to a strange place - like a wilderness or paranormal place - for us and the audience. (Will the audience want to go there with you? Is it that kind of venue/concert?)

What do you want to experience in the music you play? What do you want your audience to experience?

Step 3: Discover Your Restrictions

Almost all of us have repertoire that we “can’t” play right now, due to a number of restrictions including:


Motivation is a great thing, but I tend to think it’s not unlimited, even for people who are highly motivated.

-Our own musical abilities

Be honest with yourself about your abilities and weaknesses, and of course take steps to address shortcomings.


(See Amon’s productivity outline.)

This is a true limitation, and cannot always be totally defeated. I’m not able to learn music that’s as difficult as I used to, just for this reason.


Does future repertoire require electronics (MAX-MSP, etc.)?


Do you have connections with people who have the capabilities and interests that we are looking for?

Make an honest list of your restrictions. Then, for each, make a short, middle, and long-term (if needed) plan to overcome them. Many can be defeated faster than you might think.

Step 4: Narrow Down Your List of Future Repertoire

Narrow down your brainstormed list. Consider your purpose for learning the music. Is it just to learn it for fun, challenge yourself, for a recital, etc.?

I prioritize music into at least 3 levels

-Music I’m very motivated and able to play, even if it’s difficult and time-consuming. (3)

-Music I like, but has some restrictions like technology, collaborators, etc. - (2)

-Music that I become somewhat indifferent about, emotionally, or has serious restrictions, or I just don’t have time or ability to learn.

You should use your own criteria to prioritize - these are just suggestions and what I do.

Enjoy the search and discovery of new music for your performances!

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