Four Staple Pieces of Music You Should Play

Living out of two carryon bags for the past while, I’ve become brutally efficient at making choices. I don’t even miss the walk-in feature of my closet back home.

We’re bombarded by choice, and for better or worse, we spend time and energy debating unnecessary options. There is too much music to play, too many clothes to wear.

What if, in the morning, you use the five minutes normally allocated for the what-should-I-wear debate, to set intentions for the day? Generate ten new ideas that could get you coffee with the CEO of Amazon? Or maybe practice that piece you love on the piano?

Here’s how to be a better musician in this cluttered world.

The Ultimate Music Survival Kit

Give yourself the chance to focus.

We are more effective without the clutter of choice. The time between opening your eyes in the morning until climbing into bed that evening is a chance to spend energy on as many meaningful tasks as possible.

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are both known for consistent wardrobes and great vision, and along with others, have said they’d rather not waste brainpower on frivolities like fashion. But let’s be real, wearing the same outfit everyday is boring.

So I’ve become the pickiest shopper; a garment must complement at least two different outfits before gaining access to my wardrobe and Hong Kong’s smaller spaces have had me adapting to fewer material belongings.

“I’m creating a capsule wardrobe,” says Tiff, my new friend. The capsule wardrobe has a twist: you are allowed to own up to 37 garments. Essentially, you construct your wardrobe in such a way that you can pair random tops and bottoms and look great, so you can spend your energy on other, non-frivolous tasks and move your life forward.

In music, we can free headspace by not having to choose what to practice.

Maintain a capsule repertoire in your arsenal: the 4 pieces you keep practicing as the staples of your musicianship.

  1. The first piece, you’ll be good at even if you break a finger; it suits your style and doesn’t take too much work to upkeep. If in doubt, Bach. Or a prelude by Rachmaninoff. Simpler classics: Fur Elise, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (or Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars, as we know it).
  2. The second makes people think twice. Something unusually dissonant or loud or repetitive, or 4’33”. Advanced: Grande Valse Brillante, Polanaise in C# minor.
  3. The third is your favourite impressive, showy piece, of course. Think Liszt, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff. Here are a few grand and flowing pieces.
  4. Finally, the fourth piece is so insanely difficult that you can only play the main snippets that everyone recognizes, and then you convince them that you’re are working on it. Most people will just be impressed that you’re tackling an impossible piece and expect more from you in other areas. We achieve more when people around us expect more. This is the same reason a teacher can singlehandedly choose who will be at the top of their classLa Campanella is one of these classics.

Macau in 9 Shots
Ditch your bucket list.

We all have the list of pieces we could play, one day — but if it worked, then why haven’t you?

A bucket list assumes each piece is an all-or-nothing task; a zero sum game. But music is much more valuable when you give your fingers the time to explore in your repertoire, rather than a weekly pick-me-up.

Armed with destinations to explore in Guangzhou that Zoe sent, I was exponentially more productive than if I’d wandered around on my own (as we’d done in Macau). As such, other friends have also tailored explore lists for me: Taiwan and of course, Hong Kong.

If you don’t finish, an explore list allows you to return where you left off without feeling like you failed, because exploration is always a work in progress. And it’s the perfect way to frame my journey in Asia, because I am definitely not finished here.

Macau in 9 ShotsFocus is valuable.

I’ve been obsessing over how to get things done and move forward. I thought there was a formula for being strong. But I can have moments of rest and weakness and those are just as valuable as when I am winning.

Because the strongest people have stories, and without accepting our shortcomings, we will never truly believe in our strengths.

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7 years ago

I like the 4 piece list idea! As I have gotten older, with arthritis settling in my hands, the bucket list gets shorter. 4 is a good number, especially the piece I am going to be working on forever. Thanks Grace!

7 years ago

for me as i am level one piano, just..i stick to a few pieces that help my brain connect to my fingering movements…i used to want to rush to get better but i have realised it is far better to take time to get the basics right first… i mean it took me ages to learn to touch type but now it is effortless…so i am aiming for my piano playing to be more as this..relaxed rather than a stress that i put on myself to get on faster… enjoy your life and yes giving yourself time to breath and… Read more »


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