post, I wrote about finding time to practice as a working adult. Yet, once we leave school, we also have to decide what to practice. With no teachers telling us what we have to play, and no recital/graduation/jury requirements, it's hard to decide what to work on in my limited practice time. Obviously, I spend time working on music for any upcoming concerts I have, or pieces I need to learn for any other reasons. But I don't have looming concerts all the time, so what to do then?
For me, I've found I like to try different kinds of music, things that don't fit the standard repertoire I learned in college or grad school. I've loved learning Medieval music, for example, or experimenting with playing/singing troubadour songs. Likewise, as a strings player I've learned far more fiddle tunes since I've left school, as well as fun music like movie theme songs. Since so many of my students enjoy playing pop songs, I've learned quite a few of them as well (these are also useful for weddings--Lady Gaga string quartet medleys, anyone?). Learning music like this can be enjoyable, and imitating the human voice encourages me to experiment with tonal colors and other interesting musical things on the violin or viola.
As a teacher, I often make an effort to learn (in depth) pieces my students are playing or might want to learn, such as All-State audition material. Learning the All-State etudes helps me keep up my technical skills and makes sure I'm prepared for any students who'd like to work on them as well. I also work on other etudes from books I use with my students, including Kreutzer and Campagnoli, for similar reasons.
For a long time, I had a hard time choosing solo music to work on. I'd grown pretty tired of the standard repertoire at school, so once I was on my own, I didn't feel like breaking out the same concertos I'd played for years. Instead, I sought out unusual pieces I'd either never heard on recitals, or only heard rarely. Switching instruments often helps too. Since I studied viola in college, I never worked on most of the violin repertoire. But I actually ended up playing violin frequently once I graduated, in orchestras as well as private violin lessons. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn those gorgeous violin pieces I'd always loved but never played. I even worked a bit on my (admittedly poor) piano playing.
When I first graduated, I felt a bit lost. Without a recital or an audition to practice for, what was I supposed to work on? Now, I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of choosing pieces for myself. It's given me a chance to explore music outside the narrow repertoire I learned in school, and I think that's made me a deeper, more interesting musician.