By this stage you are getting into some pretty great repertoire, and the pieces are starting to get more complex. In simple pieces, it might work for you if you just sit down and start digging into the notes but once you get to the intermediate repertoire things need to change.

First of all, you can save yourself a huge amount of time by sitting down with the score away from your guitar. I know it may sound ridiculous, and completely un-fun but the revelations about repertoire will be far more apparent without the guitar being there to distract you. We all love the guitar, we love playing the guitar, but in the case of learning repertoire it often blinds us to some pretty important information.

So, before you get the guitar, answer me this about your new piece:

  • What key is it in?
  • Does the key change?
  • What is the overall form or structure (binary, ternary, sonata etc.)
  • Are there repeats? A Dal Capo?
  • What are the tempo markings?
  • As a matter of fact, what about the other markings, do you know what they all mean?
  • Here is a big one, where are the phrases?
  • What style of music is this?
  • When did the composer live?
  • Was this even written for the guitar? If not, do yourself a HUGE favor and go and listen to the original. Even better, get the original score.

Then go and prepare a practice copy, by this I mean, if the piece is over one page long, make photocopies and stick them together so you don’t have to make pageturns and you can see the entire score.

The fun keeps on going…

  • Make more photocopies and grab a couple of colored highlighters. Get ready, its arts and crafts time.
  • Mark in with one color all of the melodic line
  • Mark in the bass
  • Mark in the inner voices that are connected.
  • Have a look at this piece by sor for an example.
  • What about the harmony? Are there any weird or interesting chords? Try to understand them in relation to their surroundings. Can you name the chord?

Now, you have started thinking about the music, and musical ideas. Now you can get the guitar. That is going to be the tool that helps you realize your ideas.

  • Have a quick read through the piece and see how it feels/sounds. Then start playing through your phrases that you marked out. Play through the melody that you highlighted. And the bass. And those intereting harmonies.
  • Identify the main themes. Do they come back again in the piece? Do they transform?
  • How about that structure that you identified, play through the piece and hear how all the sections link up.

Now you are ready to go into fingering.

By this point you are starting to get a good idea of how the piece should sound. Fingering can be your best friend or your worst enemy in regards to realizing your musical ideas. If you practice and practice, but you have a bad fingering, you will find it difficult to get your ideas working properly. So, it is very very useful to get good fingerings from the outset. Experiment. Try different things, have a look at videos online and see what others have come up with. In the end you need to find the fingering that will suit you and your musical idea. There are musical fingerings and technical fingerings and in the end it is up to you what to use at any given moment.

From here on in it is going to be the meat and potatoes work. Find difficult passages and isolate them, break the passages down, make exercises, look at other works by the composer, read about the history, the style. All of this will build into a great piece. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it is a labor of love, right?

A note on memorization.

I am not a believer in aiming to memorize, or trying to memorize. I think using the score is completely fine on stage, and a must in the practice room, I believe that if you have practiced thoroughly and well (like above) the memorization will be a product of good work. If you can play it from memory, great! If not, don’t force it.


Got any good preparation tips of your own? Write them in the comments below: