The rings in a tree trunk with one leaf

Creating an Annual Music Program Rotation in 3 Steps

If you’re performing monthly programs, planning those programs can begin to get quite time-consuming. Even with my easy method for turning your current repertoire into a concert program, it can become frustrating to start this over each month.

On top of that, it can be hard to remember all the pieces you’ve studied over the years, and which ones you already played in a previous performance. This makes it even harder to figure out what to play each month.

After a few years of this, I realized I had accumulated quite a bit of music and wasn’t always making the best use of my extensive repertoire. I decided I needed to have a regular rotation for all of my pieces. With this rotation, each of my pieces shows up in a program a few times a year. Thus, nothing is forgotten, nothing is wasted.

The best part was I no longer had to spend so much time scouring my music each month to figure out what my next program would be. Instead, I had it all planned ahead of time so I could spend more time practicing!

In this post I’ll describe my process so you can make a similar program rotation for yourself!

Step 1: Take Inventory

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Compile all of the music you know. I have a Google Spreadsheet where all of my pieces are listed. I highly recommend creating something like this so it’s easy to keep track of everything.

Once you have everything listed and organized, you need to time everything. If you’ve been playing for awhile and have accumulated a lot of pieces this might take a long time! It’s worth the time though, so go ahead and get started. Divide the work among several days if necessary.

Next add all the times together to calculate how many total hours of music you have. (I have my Google Spreadsheet programmed to do this for me automatically.)

Now that you know the total hours of music you can play, calculate the total hours of concert programs you wish to perform annually. For example, if you wish to have a different 30-minute program each month, the total hours would be 6. If you only perform every other month, but the program is 45 minutes, the total hours would be 4.5.

Now divide the second number by the first number to find out how many times you’ll repeat each piece. For example, when I first did this my first number (hours of learned music) was 4. I wanted to perform an hour-long program each month, so my second number (hours of concert programs annually) was 12. 12 divided by 4 is 3, so I needed to perform each piece 3 times per year to fill up the time and use up all of my repertoire

Step 2: Decide on Distribution

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There are a few different options on how you’d like to distribute your pieces throughout the year. One option is to repeat entire programs the needed amount. For example, if you choose that option for monthly performances you could come up with 4 unique programs and repeat them 3 times. Your schedule might look like this:

January: Program 1

February: Program 2

March: Program 3

April: Program 4

May: Program 1

June: Program 2

July: Program 3

August: Program 4

September: Program 1

October: Program 2

November: Program 3

December: Program 4

This is actually what I did at first, and it works great! However, perfectionist that I am, I didn’t like that the programs had nothing to do with anything outside of themselves. I liked the idea of playing pieces that matched with seasons, holidays, etc.

At this point I got a little obsessed with program themes. I determined different themes I wanted for each month and distributed my pieces accordingly so no two months were alike.

It’s sort of like a 3D puzzle because not only do you need to repeat each piece a certain number of times, but you also have to make sure each time the piece is repeated it matches a different program.

Because there are so many options, I’ll soon be publishing an entire post about theme ideas. I’m sure you can think of several yourself as well!

Step 3: Compile the Pieces

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Now’s the fun part where you will actually put together your programs! The way I did this was I made copies of every piece in my repertoire, so I had a unique copy for each time it was to be repeated throughout the year. In my case, this meant making three copies of each piece. I hope the trees will forgive me!

Next I bought enough three-ring binders so I could have a separate binder for each separate program. In my case, since I had a different program each month, I needed 12 binders.

Be sure to label the binders so you can easily tell which program is which. This is easy if you have a different one for each month, because you can just label them by month. If your programs aren’t organized that way, you’ll have to figure out other names for your programs. Program 1, 2, etc. like above is possible, but I’d recommend a more descriptive name, ideally one that matches the theme you’re following in that program.

Now all you have to do is find an appropriate place to put each copy of each piece. For example, let’s say one of the pieces you’re playing is Ombra Mai Fu by George Frideric Handel and you need to repeat it 3 times. One of your programs could be Baroque period, so there’s one. One of your programs could have a love theme or a nature theme, so there’s two more (Ombra Mai Fu is a love song to a tree).

Handel’s birthday is in March, so if you’re doing monthly programs that’s an option. He’s also German so you could have a German themed program that he would fit into. He also spent a lot of time in England, so there are options there as well.

The piece was also originally an opera aria, so perhaps you could put it in a program of pieces all from operas or that are otherwise parts of larger works. It’s in Triple Meter so it might be fun to create a collection of diverse works all of the same meter.

As you can see, the options are endless. After identifying all the possible categories, start recognizing which themes a lot of your pieces fit into. If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, definitely consult my post on Concert Program Themes which will be coming out soon!

See what a fun puzzle this becomes? It may take some time, but once you have your pieces all assigned you’ll have an entire year’s worth of programming done!

A Note About Keeping Things Interesting

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I don’t know about you, but I can sometimes grow tired of playing the same pieces over and over again. For this reason I keep my programs flexible and remain open to adding and subtracting works depending on what’s inspiring me at the time. This is one way I avoid the dreaded musical burnout.

As you get more and more comfortable with your programs you may decide you’re not enjoying certain pieces, or there are other pieces you know of that would be a great addition. You’re the boss of your program so if you’re sick of a piece, quit it! Just make sure you add something new and give yourself enough time to get comfortable with the new piece before the next time that program shows up in the cycle.

This can be a good way to build your repertoire over time by programming pieces in future programs that you don’t know yet but would like to learn. Just make sure you don’t make these too ambitious! I’m guilty of doing this and it’s a whole lot of unnecessary stress.

Always remember that as long as it’s played well, the majority of your audience will love whatever you play, even if it’s mostly pieces you’ve already played two or three times that year!

I hope this has given you some good ideas about how to put together your own performance program rotation. Now all you have to do is start practicing! Good luck!

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Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

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