It is important to consider carefully which works you choose to study because more often than not, they stay with us throughout our entire lives. Our repertoire can shape us and even define what type of musician we are. It has been said that “pieces choose us” and at times it does feel that way because we skim over so many and whilst some stick others fade away. I tend to believe that choosing repertoire is a conscious decision and a very important one. The following points are not meant to be a definitive guide as many of them are contradictory to one-another, rather, they are intended to help you think about what you should include in your repertoire and why.

  • Love what you play
  • Guitar Repertoire that will educate you
  • Popular repertoire
  • Guitar repertoire that you play well
  • New repertoire
  • Guitar Repertoire that will help you

Love what you play

There is no getting around this one. Pieces that you choose to learn will stay around for many years and it is important to love each one. Sometimes we get forced to learn certain repertoire by teachers, for events or just because we feel obliged to play it. However, if you don’t have a real appreciation for a piece then the many hours you dedicate to it will feel very long and frustrating. The audience too will recognize when there is a lack of commitment to a piece from the performer making the process arduous for everyone involved. Be careful, however, not to discard a work too soon if the appreciation is not there or it is waning. Our relationship can follow a common path of initial infatuation, loss of interest, a re-gaining of appreciation through understanding (analysis and familiarity) and finally a strong personal bond with a piece. Awww that’s sweet.
Guitar Repertoire that will educate you

If you already have a couple of works under your fingers by Sor and Giuliani maybe its time to diversify your repertoire. Its often tempting to stick closely to the same genres and composers as the familiarity of them makes us feel comfortable and speeds up the learning process of new works. Try taking on new works from a style you have never worked on before or by a composer you have never heard of. In doing this you will broaden your musical horizon and gain a deeper understanding of the musical language which is common to all music from Bach to Britten to Babbit. You may find that you will be pleasantly surprised with your new venture into the unknown and once foreign composers may become a new favorite. By diversifying your repertoire you will learn a lot about music in general and your musical abilities will grow as you tackle new challenges in rhythm, harmony, structure and phrasing. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Popular repertoire

There is often a big gap between the rather insular guitar community and the outside world in respect to how the guitar is viewed. We all know of the riches and diversity of out repertoire but for many people our instrument is ‘the Spanish guitar’ and its most challenging piece is Asturias closely followed by Recuerdos del Alhambra. There is nothing wrong with this popular conception of our instrument, even if it is a little narrow, and at certain times its great to give the audience what they want and hold dear. The occasions when you will be asked to play some of the evergreens of the guitar repertory are many and varied and you will find that knowing a selection of the guitar’s most popular repertoire is very useful.
Guitar repertoire that you play well

All too often musicians, and artists in all fields for that matter, focus on negative aspects of their playing and holes in their repertoire. This is well and good to keep progressing but keep in mind that we all have our strengths too. If you have a flair for nineteenth century music or a passion for Argentine tango then exploit it! The confidence and positive reinforcement that comes from playing music that you love, and playing it well will permeate the whole of your performances and the audience will love you for it.
New repertoire

Performing new or rare repertoire has pros and cons, however, I believe that if new works are performed with care and selectivity it can be a huge asset to your repertoire. If you go to any large guitar festival over the summer you may attend up to ten or twelve concerts (sometimes more) and after a while the concerts, performers and pieces all start to blend in to one another. The same repertoire is often recycled again and again in guitar concerts and when a new work is performed it is guaranteed to stand out. As a musician you can carve out a niche for yourself with new repertoire, you could be a champion of a certain composer or of new works from your country. You will, however, need to use good judgment in selecting your works because with the huge array of new compositions to choose from there are as many duds as there are gems. The standard repertoire benefits from the thousands of guitarists who have tried and tested the older repertoire leaving the true masterworks to endure the test of time.
Guitar Repertoire that will help you

There are certain situations that need certain pieces. Auditions, competitions and even public events or concerts often require specific works or composers. For this reason it is a great idea to learn a range of pieces that are very useful for these situations. For example, in an audition there are often required pieces. A piece by Bach, a classical and romantic piece, a tonal and non tonal twentieth century work for example. Even if Bach is not your favorite composer perhaps it would be worth your while learning a suite or a sonata that can be used in a wide range of scenarios. When it comes to performing for non-guitar audiences it is great to have some works written by ‘big name’ composers that are more familiar to the wider population. Walton, Britten, Ginastera, Paganini, Villa Lobos, Rodrigo and Berio are all composers that non guitarists would probably recognize and often by performing works by these composers your choice of repertoire might be taken more seriously.