The Importance Of Guitar Repertoire

“Guitar Repertoire” is the music you know how to play, not the music you’re learning, or struggling with. 

If your first response is to say “I struggle with everything”, even as a joke, you might want to take another look at what you’re practicing. The “how” of practice is crucial, and one of the places many students go astray. But the “what” really matters too (hint: it includes your guitar repertoire).

A well-rounded practice routine should include technical work, learning and improving new material, and executing something fluid. The last part is what many people are missing.


When you practice, are you always at the edge of your ability?

If so, you should add in material that’s easier. Learn a song with two chords and practice staying in the pocket. Play a simple, satisfying melody. Just because something is straightforward doesn’t mean it’s not worth revisiting. Ask yourself how you might improve your performance. Often, this takes you into more musical territory, thinking about the things that make one person’s playing stand out from another.

Students will often ask how it is that a skilled player can make an easy part sound so much better. After all, you just need to hit the right notes at the right time, don’t you?

You likely already know that the above sentence isn’t true. Fluid players make the music sound better because they’re tuned in to musical elements like tone, dynamics, and feel. Practicing those things is not as clear-cut as working on technique, because they aren’t absolute. When it comes to technique, you either hit the note or you didn’t. But when it comes to musicality, there’s no standard other than that it “feels” right, and it’s impossible to hear if you don’t know what you’re listening for.


4 Best Rock Guitar Players Ever
Photo by Zalfa Imani on Unsplash

It’s worth remembering that even the most iconic players have a guitar repertoire of music that’s theirs.

Performing artists have songs they’ve played again and again, to the point they know the music inside and out. When you listen to your favorite recordings, you are often listening to musicians that have focused on and polished a relatively small amount of material. The average bar band plays more songs in a night than your average pro on the big stage! The players on your favorite albums probably worked that set of songs exclusively for weeks at least, unless they were hired session musicians. And session players play new music ALL the time, so their ability to learn and master quickly is highly developed. But a band is going to be well-rehearsed when you hear them on a record or on stage.

What does this mean for your practice routine?

It means that in order to feel any real sense of accomplishment, you need to build a set of music you can really play. If that means baby steps, and music that’s not necessarily your ultimate goal, that doesn’t matter. When your middle schooler goes to band rehearsal, they play simpler parts than they might learn for a solo. But those simpler parts let them concentrate on playing together, which is a very different experience than practicing in front of your computer. 

You don’t need to have a group to practice with, although it’s by far the best way to develop a guitar repertoire. Lacking the pressure of an upcoming performance, many people never even play a complete song from beginning to end! 

You can prepare for an imaginary performance, or serenade your toddler or your dog. Work on performing a whole song on camera, with the knowledge that no one ever has to see it. Choose songs that are attainable and fun. You might need a teacher’s help for this, but if you make a wish list of 10 songs you’d like to learn you should be able to figure out which is most accessible to you. 

Pick out two or three “campfire” songs you could play with a simple strum. You might be surprised how many people never do this. No amount of time spent on scales, speed drills, and spider exercises will prepare you to perform a three-chord song with strong rhythm and a good sound.

“I’m going to walk before they make me run.” – Keith Richards

So even if your goal is to run like the wind, make sure you can manage a leisurely stroll.


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Dave Isaacs Avatar

Dave Isaacs has established himself as a guitar teacher extraordinaire, having built a strong set of educational curriculums for beginner, intermediate, and advanced guitar players alike. Dave shares his expertise largely through video platforms, but also through his thoughtful writing. You can take guitar lessons from Dave Isaacs via his comprehensive video guitar courses on

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