Importance Of Having A Repertoire

Do you have a repertoire? Answer this question for yourself and learn how to have one and do both practicing and playing.

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Over the years, I have met many guitar students who could not actually play anything, even though they had taken lessons, perhaps for years. If they were asked to play something, the best they could do would be offer you some isolated "pieces" of songs or solos they had worked on. They are missing certain pieces of knowledge about the Art & Science of practicing that would enable them to get past a hurdle that stops the progress of many guitar students: how to actually finish something you are learning, and bring it up to what is called "performance level", which is another way of saying "I can get through this without it falling apart so badly I can't keep it going", or "I play it all the way through well enough to not cause me major embarrassment, or the listener major discomfort, or pain".

Do you have a repertoire? (pronounced rep-eh-twah)

Answer these questions:

  • Do you have a group of songs or pieces that you feel comfortable with, feel confident with, and that you enjoy playing?

  • If someone asks you to play something, do you have things you can sit down (or stand up) and play?

  • Do you have a group of songs or pieces that you can play all the way through, not just "pieces of"?

  • Have you tested and refined your repertoire by playing in front of people?

    Here is a letter I recently received, expressing this problem from someone who made the wise decision to educate themselves out of this situation.

    Jamie,

    "Your book arrived today. I am really hoping that your book can help me. I'm getting tired of "trying" to play. I want to be able to play for myself and others, i.e., have a repertoire of at least 10 songs under my fingers that I can play without embarrassing myself. At the moment I can't seem to struggle through a simple song, Devil's Dream, without fumbling even though I know, or at least think I know, it. I have been looking for the correct way to practice for some time. When I saw your article at Wholenote.com and the name of your book, I had to check it out. I'll let you know what happens." Steve

    This letter was good timing, since I had just decided to write about this very important subject of why you need a repertoire, and how to develop and maintain one.

    There are many reasons why having a repertoire is vital to developing properly as a guitarist, and I will go through them. But first, let me tell you that the reason many "players" don't have a repertoire is: #1) Nobody told them how important it is, and #2) Nobody told them how to GET one, #3) it is easier to leave things half finished, in pieces, than to put it together. In fact, putting something together, in tempo, and bringing it up to performance level, is often the hardest part of the whole process of learning a piece.

    Play For Yourself First

    Some people always practice, and never play. Others always play, and never practice. Each is bad, but the first is worse. One day, in the early part of my development, I happened to just grab the guitar, and start playing this piece I was working on in lessons. I realized then, as I started to notice how much I enjoyed playing this little Baroque Sarabande, that I rarely allowed myself this pleasure of "playing", I was too busy "practicing". It is times like this that I say to myself, "Jamey, you are an idiot. Now, stop being like that!".

    And I did! I began to sit every night, after practicing all day, light a candle, and just PLAY. No obsessing about mistakes, or self flagellation about how well I "should" be playing this piece; just playing, and enjoying.

    For me, that was the beginning of developing a repertoire; responding to the simple need of feeding myself emotionally by playing music. I was getting back to the original point of it all, the thing that made me pick up the guitar in the first place, before I complicated the whole issue with "my concerns".

    Then Play For Others

    As time went on, I realized that if I didn't start performing, offering and sharing the results of my "work" with others, I would not get any better. I was starting to feel my motivation for practicing getting weaker, and I knew it had something to do with not having a REASON enough for practicing. Playing for myself the rest of my life was only going to take me so far. I realized that if I did not learn HOW to give a finished form to the many things I was practicing every day, (a finished form that would hold together in front of others) I would simply not break through to the next level as a player.

    So I realized that, like it or not, I had to start performing (and there were many parts of it I didn't like). I had to accept the fact that it would be a shaky start, I would often play with mistakes and various imperfections, but if I did not subject myself to this, I would not learn how to make it all better. So at first, I started to "create" performance situations" for myself.

    I started grabbing family members, and made them sit down and listen to me play a piece or two, just so I could experience the pressure and nerves, and see where I would fall apart, so I could focus on that spot in the next day's practice.

    Then, I started planning a piece to perform for my teacher at the beginning of every lesson. He didn't ask me to do that, I just would go in and say "before we start, just let me play this piece for you". After every lesson, I would plan the piece I would play next.

    As I continued to do this, I got better and better. By setting these informal "performance goals" for myself, I began to see that my practicing was taking on more "structure" and organization, I now had more of a reason for practicing. The payoff of course, was the satisfaction of having achieved the ability to play something for someone else, and receiving their gratitude (applause). For those of you suffering from "lack of motivation" to practice, let me tell you that there is nothing like that experience for acting as an instant shot of "motivation medicine"! As Beethoven said after playing for a group of people who were too moved emotionally to applaud "what's the matter with you people, a performer wants APPLAUSE!"

    From there I went to giving public concerts, and the fun of seeing my picture in the paper!

    How To Get A Repertoire: Write It Down!

    I have often written of the need for developing your Power of Intention, the ability to feel a desire consciously, and put your actions behind it to bring it to reality in your life. One of the important tools for doing this is to write your goals down, and look at them often (many people write them down in a fit of resolve one day, and avoid looking at them later, because it is too depressing to face how they are avoiding working toward them!)

    Putting your desires in writing helps to marshal the inner resolve to put forth the effort to accomplish them. As you begin to discover your own power for doing what you say (have written down) you will do, it gets easier, and in fact, becomes fun.

    As a first step, write down 3 songs or pieces that you like, and that you feel are within your present level of playing ability. It doesn't matter what they are, it is just important to start somewhere, and it will develop from there.

    After practicing them each day, record them, (use a cheap little hand held cassette player). LISTEN BACK, don't wince at the mistakes, but resolve to practice those parts the next day as correctly as you know how!

    You will see these pieces or songs getting better and better.

    When you are getting through things reasonably well, plan on who your first victim will be, the first person you will try playing your developing repertoire for. I usually try to pick someone who really likes me!

    Record that too. Later as you listen back, you can have the reassurance of knowing you are now hearing yourself at your worst. It won't get any worse than that! You will have undoubtedly fallen under the power of Murphy's Law, which was invented specifically for performing musicians: everything that could possibly go wrong, will have gone wrong!

    Now that you have hit bottom, and faced your worst fears, there is no where to go but up! You will take that tape, and little by little, every day, you will improve it. In a month, you will have significantly raised your level as a guitar player, in fact, you may begin for the first time to feel like a guitar player, instead of a guitar student!

    The next time you "perform" those pieces, they will be better, and the next time and the next time. As time goes by, you will have a SOLID repertoire.

    Personally, I have things I can pull out and depend on no matter how many beers I have had, or how tired I am. That's because these pieces have been tested, refined, and tested again over the years. All longtime players develop these "trusted friends".

    Ask yourself how you measure up when it comes to having a repertoire (I'll bet you already have). Try out the ideas presented here, and you will have increased power to realize your goals as a guitar player.

    Copyright 2006 by Jamie Andreas. All rights reserved. Used by permission. guitarprinciples.com

  • 69 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Inf1n1tY.
      really true. i think every guitarist on the beginning level hat this problem once
      Let it Happen
      Atreideslegend wrote: hmmm a good article but the idea does have some problems, for example, what about multitracked recordings? A song will not sound complete with just playing the guitar part on its own. What happens when the bass takes the lead, or there's a drums fill, do u just sit there like an idiot counting the beats till ure part comes in again?
      good point, although if you play covers with a band, that problem gets solved.
      recklessftw
      That was a great read. I agree with WRITING your songs down. What I find is that sometimes even when I'm playing (just for me) I forget all the songs that I have to chose from. One little peice of paper (or computer doc) can solve that if you have the titles on them....
      auranos
      Dan Steinman wrote: Good job. Learning a bunch of riffs without being able to play a whole song through is a bad habit. Learn every song the whole way through and practice it till you can do it smoothly. It even helps to learn it in more than one key, especially if you play with a freaking sax or horn player who refuses any key but Bb and Eb (and trust me they do)
      Haha! How true! And just playing it with a capo doesn't count. All in all a good bit of advice in this article.
      WiKiD
      this is the first time i'm ever giving a 5 aswell, i've been playing for about 15 months now, and it's the best advice i've ever gotten, cuz i've gotten into this funk and never really realized how bad it is until now... cheers!
      Mikeoman
      I learned the hard way. Played at school for a few times, then everyone wanted me out because I played the same old dribble over AND OVER AGAIN. You know, I'm not too obsessed with learning a bunch of solos. A) I can play fast, but I ain't super good with my ear. I learned, like, one solo by my ear and that was all the solos in the Thrill is Gone. I know a few fast solos but I ain?t too obsessed with learning all the Hendrix songs by heart. I like to improvise a lot, give it a little twist. Do I have to learn a bunch of solos or is it OK for me to learn a bunch of rhythm parts to song? B) Excessive soloing ain't the best thing in the world. I don?t like Malmsteen that much. I?ve been trying to learn a bunch of new songs lately, and they?re all just chord songs.
      Necronomicon
      that was really a waste of time, isn't it kind of obvious that people need to be able to play songs to show off? its not exactly hard to figure out "hey if I play through this I'll get better". Obviously you're gonna practice the parts you can't hit and then try out the whole thing again. Guitar is fun, practicing is fun, this article was useless.
      silvertone420
      how was this article useless?? get a life and stop trying to feel better by saying this was a useless article because your probably one of those "im cool cuz i can play a bunch of fast solo's" people, i know that probly 7 out of 10 guitarist are solo/riff's people, at least that i see and it's really annoying
      dangermatt
      Your always gonna get some negative feed-back, even if you are trying to give some good advice. I remember being so scared to perform in front of people I would be shaking with fear. I friend of mine once told me that he practises so hard that when the time comes his music does the talking. I eventually developed a repertoire of songs that I can pull off really well, and now I do'nt feel uncomfortable at all. Don't forget your not just a solo-playing guitar machine/freak, but a musician! Performing for people and entertaining them, touching them is what it is all about...
      lacerhead
      Good article. Some additional advice; start with a simple song and sing it while playing the rythm, tabs will allow you to read from the tab sheet in case you forget the lyrics. Even if your not a good singer this will teach you the structure of the song and also improve your concentration since your doing 2 things at once. From there you work on putting in the fills and solos. A good 4 beats per bar song is a good choice such as boulevard of broken dreams-green day or across the universe-beatles.
      Atreideslegend
      hmmm a good article but the idea does have some problems, for example, what about multitracked recordings? A song will not sound complete with just playing the guitar part on its own. What happens when the bass takes the lead, or there's a drums fill, do u just sit there like an idiot counting the beats till ure part comes in again?
      Jens Hoorn
      when you can play whole song, it's pretty cool when you're asked to play a song. which you, at that point, can. including all the riffs and solo. when you play just a solo. people can say like wauw, cool solo. but when play a whole song, then you make a good impression
      Gman400
      I listen to mostly metal (classical is 2nd) so learning entire songs for me is really tough. There's always a solo or insane fill or something that's practically impossible at my stage (about 2 years of playing) plus many songs I feel would be great to elarn aren't available. Thank god for powertab though...that program helps so much. Yeah anyway, I COULD be working on a reportoire of easy, complete songs right now but for me I feel that I cna do that anytime and I should be PRACTICING not playing. After all, whats the point of playing and not practicing if that;s not going to get you to a technical level to be able to play harder, more impressive songs? Personally though I do have few classical songs, and a couple metal songs pretty much completely under my belt (though not perfect.)
      ror
      excellent article. some really good and inspiring stuff in here
      Jbetter_thanu
      nice article, i am now at the stage of losing motivation to practice, and kind of figured out that i needed to perform my stuff, i dont have much of a repertoire (only been playing like 14 months..? i think) but i really want to perform with people, like a band but i dont know any1 good enough to play with and i cant find a band or something... anyway, 10/10
      arp
      pottsy wrote: nice article, would you say that being able to play a song more or less perfectly but having to have the sheet music infront of you counts? i can play loadza songs well with some form of music with some form of music infront of me, although, when im without i sometimes struggle. any advice?
      If what you play is musical, it doesn't matter if you have sheets in front of you ... but that's just my opinion.
      arp
      Atreideslegend wrote: hmmm a good article but the idea does have some problems, for example, what about multitracked recordings? A song will not sound complete with just playing the guitar part on its own. What happens when the bass takes the lead, or there's a drums fill, do u just sit there like an idiot counting the beats till ure part comes in again?
      Yeah, excellent article! I think this article was originally written by Jamie Andreas. I read it over an year ago and took her advice quite seriously. At that time, I had no repertoire at all, but I've worked on changing that. Perhaps you want to find some good backing tracks (or even MIDIs) so you'd have a virtual band to accompany you. I've managed to find/build/buy fairly decent backing tracks for most of the songs in my repertoire. In fact, I rarely add a song to my repertoire unless I can find a backing track for it. When using MIDIs, I often use software to mute the lead and/or rhythm guitar tracks and play along with them. I suppose it's the next best thing to playing with a live band, and it even prepares you to play in one. While many of the songs in my repertoire are simple, it's a wonderful feeling to be able to play "all my parts" in them from beginning to end! So now when someone wants me to play something for them, they get wholesome music, not an arbitrary assortment of 20 second solos!
      pottsy
      nice article, would you say that being able to play a song more or less perfectly but having to have the sheet music infront of you counts? i can play loadza songs well with some form of music with some form of music infront of me, although, when im without i sometimes struggle. any advice?
      campbed_2000
      yer please refrain form using the word noob around music an stuff i think its just so gay, yer he/she may be a noob but this aint a competition or some shit like that yer my repetoire changes like coupke of riffs/solos etc
      rap_Fn_sux
      ... Anyway great article, i think it will help me improve my playing. I made some connections with how Jamie was talking about losing motivation
      As time went on, I realized that if I didn't start performing, offering and sharing the results of my "work" with others, I would not get any better. I was starting to feel my motivation for practicing getting weaker, and I knew it had something to do with not having a REASON enough for practicing.
      I was starting to feel the same way, now i know why. Thanks.
      Night_Lights
      As Beethoven said after playing for a group of people who were too moved emotionally to applaud "what's the matter with you people, a performer wants APPLAUSE!"
      wasent he deaf? lol just kidding i suppose i am one of those who practise and dont play
      Nolan Whyte
      The inclusion of that 'fan letter' seemed like blatant advertising, and was pretty unnecessary.
      Stratocaster93
      TyphoidSpider wrote: I have been playing for around 4 months. I have a bit of a repertoire, mostly Greenday and Tool (not very technical but awesome nonetheless). By Repertoire do you mean songs i have written or just other artists' songs?
      Other people's songs, dumbass! You're own songs are a completely different subject. PS 4 months!?!?!? Noob!
      v8ko
      Its the simple things that can sometimes slow you down or even stop you. This is really great advice to certain people to get to that next level. A few months ago I was right there...years of music theory bouncing around in my brain and yet spinning my wheels. A couple months ago I joined a band (for the first time) and for the first time I thought to myself "I dont know JACK!" not that the other band members knew anymore than I did. Now my list is probably around 40+ songs that are pretty tight. This Saturday night we test the theory and play our first gig. Mind you Im the only guitarist. Live by this article and record yourself at every possible chance. Oh and one more thing (this sounds really lame) but play in front of a mirror every now and again watch your fingers, hand placement, how you hold the pick, strumming technique. Its no different than what an athlete (not that were athletes) would do to make sure theyre doing things properly. Great article! Albeit a little late for me.
      silvertone420
      dont matter if they are your songs or someone else's, and to jens i agree a whole song makes a great impression especially if you do it well and put alot of emotion or expression in it
      TyphoidSpider
      I have been playing for around 4 months. I have a bit of a repertoire, mostly Greenday and Tool (not very technical but awesome nonetheless). By Repertoire do you mean songs i have written or just other artists' songs?
      spankbass
      Ah, I think we all have or have this problem. Very true as a bassist I also had this problem when I started out... then it diminished when I got a teacher who was a solid help and forced me to play something at recidals so I had to be good. It's great that you took the time to bring this topic up. Thanks!
      gu1tar4lyf3
      great stuff, i have always been in the habit of always practicing random intros...playing through a whole piece and performing really helps
      yawn
      Wow I'm exactly the type of person you wrote this for. I know hundreds of riffs, but I can't even really play through one full song. Kind of pathetic
      greeneggs'n'ham
      i'm impressed. You've done a very good job motivating me, as i was reaching the stage where practicing is beginning to lose its luster
      Metalology
      Excellent advice, I was like this before. But, I've been going back and learning the songs I've started from begining to finish.
      cefasnacht
      i think this is the first time i'm giving 5 stars, very good, very informative! playing in front of people is by far the best way to improve your playing!!!
      Dan Steinman
      Good job. Learning a bunch of riffs without being able to play a whole song through is a bad habit. Learn every song the whole way through and practice it till you can do it smoothly. It even helps to learn it in more than one key, especially if you play with a freaking sax or horn player who refuses any key but Bb and Eb (and trust me they do)
      SteveHouse
      Mortigi Tempo wrote: ok so as guitarists we should learn to play things wow thanks for that
      Don't be an arse. He is saying that we should take the time to learn to play things all the way through and well, instead of just a riff here or this lick there and quitting. And the performing bit is gonna be my killer with vocals, but in time I will get over it. Thousands of props for Guy, and for Dude that I quoted: The Finger. ,l,,.