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Expanding Repertoire for the Piano

I received this email from a visitor to the site and wanted to share it with you. He shares some wonderful links for getting sheet music online (free!), along with MIDI and MP3 files for classical music. He poses an interesting question regarding how to expand one's repertoire via software:
Great blog! Iím interested to find out if you know of any software that can help recommend repertoire, by genre, skill level, or similar pieces. I donít play professionally and I havenít had a piano teacher since college. So Iím looking for ways to expand my repertoire and find pieces that would be appropriate for my skill level and interest.

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Iíve been out of college for ten years. I love my tablet pc Ė Toshiba M4, and enjoy using it for my piano scores. Iíve been wondering about a foot switch to turn pages, so thanks for the tip! Up to now Iíve been using a small joystick-like button that is on the tablet that almost ďfeelsĒ like Iím turning a page because of where itís located (bottom right of the screen). I like the larger screen on the M4 (14 inches) especially for reading dense scores. For me the size of the score on screen is much more similar to the size of the score on paper.
I want to push myself to learn new material, but since Iím not playing a lot and I donít have a piano coach Iíve struggled to find material that captures my soul, is at an appropriate skill level, and is actually finishable (i.e. shorter than a concerto). My favorite three pieces Iíve learned since college have been Chopinís Etude In C Minor (Op. 25 No. 12), Etude in F Minor (Op. 25 No. 2), and Gershwinís Prelude #3. Iíve always enjoyed the big concertos from Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin. In high school I enjoyed playing parts of the Prokofievís 1st and 3rd concertos, even though technically they were beyond my skill level. So as I said, Iím looking for ways to expand my repertoire and better my skills as a pianist, and software would be a great way for me to do that if itís out there.
By the way, one of my favorite online classical music resources is the Classical Music Archives ( They have a huge amount of midi and mp3 files that can provide easy exposure to a broad range of mostly piano music, compared to the number of CDs you would have to sort through to get the same amount of material. The archive is not complete, and is missing a lot of key works Ė mostly due to copyright issues from what I understand. Still the resource has been especially valuable to me. I actually first learned the Gershwin Prelude #3 by listening to and playing along with a midi file I downloaded from this site. I finally found a place to download the sheet music online and fixed a few things Ė the most interesting was to see the actual key signature. Much of the site is free; an unlimited subscription to this site is only $25 per year, and as with the scans the quality of the midi and mp3 files can vary.
One other resource I have used is the Sheet Music Archive (, which makes a reasonable set of pdf scans of public domain editions of public domain classical music available for free, or a full cd for 19.95. Again, the quality of the scans varies.

[Hugh's note: you are limited to 2 free downloads a day at this site]
Anyway, I enjoyed reading your blog and wanted to let you know, as well as find out if you know of any repertoire software. Itís always great to hear of another musician who has been so impacted by the tablet pc!

See my reply below - i think i have some possible solutions to his questions!

My reply:
Wow, thank you for this wonderful email! I don't know of any software per se for repertoire recommendations, but a wonderful resource (in book format! hahaha) is the "Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire" by Maurice Hinson. Dr. Hinson does a fantastic job of listing thousands of works by composer, then writing up brief synopsis (pl?) of every single piece with difficulty ratings - that might be the perfect book for you!
You know, now that you have me thinking, i should try to email Dr. Hinson - this would be PERFECT database material! (i program databases for Curtis, so this would be right up my alley...) I'll try to find out if there is an electronic version of this book for you. Email me again if you don't hear from me in a few days.

[Hugh's note: did a good bit of searching online - there are no CD or digital versions of this reference material as far as i can tell.]
I have a friend in Korea who's helping me to track down the Korean company that's supposedly making wireless footpedals for their tablet pc music software, so stay tuned for news about that on my website.

Have you ever considered taking lessons over the internet? this is actually a possible project that Barry and I may try to work on together - not just webcam lessons, but something more along an 'asynchronous' teaching/learning model. Not sure yet what form this will eventually take, but if you're interested in signing up as a 'test subject', let me know! It might be a lot of fun to try!

Stay in touch, and thanks again for your email!

Here's another email reply that expands more on the searchable repertoire database idea:
Wish me luck as i try to track down Dr. Hinson to see what his thoughts are on such a project - most likely there will be copyright issues (there almost always are with these types of things), but perhaps another thought might be to start on a smaller scale - i actually had tried to design an indexible repertoire component in my database at one point (i'm the director of student recitals here at Curtis - i've been working on a massive relational database for the past 10 years or so that does everything from cataloging composers to spitting out automatic programs complete with titles, dates, timings, movement headings, etc...) ; perhaps rather than trying to tackle Dr. Hinson's massive tome, it might make more sense to create searchable indexes of CD volumes already out on the market, such as the CD Sheet Music collection - that way, we could cover 'the basics' of the piano classical literature, for example, in a format that i'm sure the publishers would really appreciate, especially if it helped them sell more units!
I've always dreamed of putting together a database index of technical exercises, believe it or not - something along the lines of,
"Bobby needs help strengthening his 3rd and 4th fingers - what specific exercises target those areas?"

Certainly a 'difficulty index' would be relatively easy to tabulate, if it was a simple E-M-D scale (easy, medium, difficult) - it might be more fascinating if there were more nuances to the index, such as: tonality, rhythmic styles, structure, special motivic notes, etc....

Sounds like we might have a hobby project to work on together! Let me see if some other music teachers/database programmers have the 'open-license' spirit and would be willing to contribute their ideas on this!

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1 comment:

This idea has already been created. It is still in development and soon it will include wiki functionality as well as a nuanced search engine.
by: (contact) - 01 Feb '10 - 13:55

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Meta Information:

Title: Expanding Repertoire for the Piano
Date posted: Mar 14 '06 - 04:00
Filed under: Pedagogy

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Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!


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