by Jamie Andreas
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Over the years, I have met many guitar students who
could not actually
play anything, even though they had taken guitar lessons,
perhaps for years. Asked to play something, the best they could
offer were some isolated sections of songs or solos. They are
missing certain pieces of knowledge about the Art &
Science of practicing that
would enable them to get past the hurdle that is stopping the
progress of many guitar
students: how to actually finish something you are
learning, and bring
it up to what is called "performance level". This 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
Do you have a repertoire? (pronounced rep-eh-twah)
Answer these questions:
Do you have a group of songs or pieces that you feel
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
Here's a letter I recently received, expressing this
someone who made the wise decision to educate
themselves out of this situation.
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.
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
Nobody told them how important it is, and
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
It is times like this that I say to myself, "Jamie,
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,
flagellation about how well I "should" be playing this
piece; just playing, and
For me, that was the beginning of developing a
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
Then Play for Others
As time went on, I realized that if I didn't start
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
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
nerves, and see where I would fall apart, so I could
focus on that spot in the next
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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