How to Maintain Repertoire


Does this scenario sound familiar?

  1. You work really, really hard on learning a new piece.
  2. You spend tons of time getting everything as polished as you can.
  3. You start the next piece.
  4. A month later you think about the first piece, go to play it, and realize that it’s not there anymore.

Back “in the day,” I worked at the Butterfly Palace in Branson, MO, and played Christmas tunes in the butterfly room for hours every day. I had built my repertoire up to over 30 tunes and, by the end of the season, I could play all of them flawlessly (most of the time).  But each time Christmas season comes around, I have to start over again, re-polishing my collection of seasonal tunes. And it’s a struggle. I can’t remember the arrangements, even though they're my own, and most of them aren’t written down. They’re filed away in this aging mind. So I started wondering, is there a way to make this easier? Shouldn’t I be able to slide in and out of the Christmas season without having to work so hard to get back up-to-speed on my tunes?

If you’re a musician who practices regularly, you’ve probably learned piles of tunes that you’d like to maintain. Honestly, I think the problem is a “user problem,” as we say in the technology world, so here’s three KEY suggestions to help with this.

  • Create a play list. Duh, that seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us have a mental list, but never took the next step of writing down our goals. That way you are actually making a commitment to maintain these pieces. You could write the list by hand or on a computer. Some musicians use checklists and mark each day that they practice particular pieces.

  • Establish a review cycle. There’s no set formula for how often well-learned pieces should be reviewed. It varies according to the musician, the repertoire, and the level of proficiency. If you’ve been playing a while, you probably won’t be able to fit all your tunes into one practice session, so maybe divide your list above into segments, so you cover each tune at least once a month.

  • Perform often. It’s far easier to maintain repertoire when we share it with others regularly. Regular commitments to perform will keep us focused on our repertoire as well.

I want to be better prepared when Christmas 2023 rolls around, so I came up with a solution for myself. I have decided that, from now on, one day each week will be devoted to maintaining a few older pieces. I’ve nicknamed this old-tunes-only practice time my “Maintenance Session.” My purpose won’t necessarily be to ‘improve’ – just simply to ‘maintain’. The other days I will be working on the newer tunes, but I’ve got to do better about keeping up with my older pieces.

If you couldn’t think of a good New Year’s Resolution, this might be the one for you to make as well. We can do it!

Happy dulcimering,



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