For every instrument, there is a standard repertoire. Piano students at the college level have inevitably, during some point in their careers, studied a nocturne by Chopin or one of Haydn’s sonatas. Composers Eugene Bozza and Paul Creston are no strangers to saxophone students. Why should electric guitar be any different?
In my last post, I introduced the Practice Triangle, a way of structuring practice sessions and lessons so that equal time is given the three most fundamental elements of musicianship: Repertoire, Technique, and Improvisation. Let’s begin venturing deeper into each subject, starting with Repertoire.
Because there are a myriad of popular musical styles that utilize electric guitar, we as guitarists tend to specialize. This is reasonable; one cannot be equally proficient in every style. But there are musical works which exemplify electric guitar techniques, and which bear enough historical significance as to demand our study.
Always have at least one song or instrumental piece from the standard repertoire in your practice routine, even if you would never care to play it live. You might even wish to challenge yourself to seek out songs that you directly abhor.
Here is a list of suggested songs at various skill levels to aid you in your search. I selected them for their learnability, historical significance, popularity, and relevance to the student based on the specific techniques they require:
I would classify a beginner as one step above total novice: They have reached a point where they can play simple open-position chords and some moveable chords, like 5th chords and e- and a-form barre chords. A beginner might be adept at playing single-note lines that do not require deft bending or slurs of more than two successive notes, and whose rhythms are simple enough to sight-read. For the beginner, these songs range from fairly easy to somewhat challenging.
- “Brain Stew,” Green Day
- “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Metallica
- “Blitzkreig Bop,” Ramones
- “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” Georgia Satellites (improvised solo)
- “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” The Beatles
- “Mountain Song,” Janes Addiction
- “Rooster,” Alice in Chains
- “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd
- “Livin’ After Midnight,” Judas Priest
- “Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana
- “I Got You (I Feel Good),” James Brown
A player at this level can perform intricate, but not overly complex riffs, and embellish static chords. Some transcribed solos might be within their reach. Extended techniques like partial palm mutes, bends of various widths, and double-stops should come easy at this point.
- “Come Together,” The Beatles
- “Money,” Pink Floyd
- “Plush,” Stone Temple Pilots
- “Sunshine of Your Love,” Cream
- “Gimme Three Steps,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “Purple Haze,” Jimi Hendrix Experience
- “Fire,” Jimi Hendrix Experience
- “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” Van Halen
- “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid,” Led Zeppelin
- “All Right Now,” Free
- “I Feel Fine,” The Beatles
- “Can’t Buy Me Love,” The Beatles
- Jazz tunes (comping, melody, and soloing): “Little Sunflower,” “Blue Bossa,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “So What,” “Now’s the Time,” “Blue Monk”
Any player at this level should feel confident playing a club show. Advanced players can comfortably improvise over simple progressions, and play just about any riff they encounter, short of something virtuosic. Beyond this level, one might be just as well-off without professional instruction, depending on how adept they are at transcribing and improvising. Note that the suggested jazz tunes are still considered rather elementary by jazz musicians’ standards.
- “Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin
- “Dust in the Wind,” Kansas
- “After Midnight,” Eric Clapton
- “No One Like You,” Scorpions
- “Stone In Love,” Journey
- “I Remember You,” Skid Row
- “Enter Sandman,” Metallica
- Jazz tunes: “Doxy,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Oleo,” “Perdido,” “There is No Greater Love.”
I recommend attempting to learn as much of a tune as you can without the assistance of sheet music or tablature. A good instructor can provide guidance. If you seek out tab, please avoid online, user-submitted guitar tab. I honestly have yet to find a single example of a flawless transcription, and it’s often pretty difficult to read. Apart from officially licensed tablature (which still doesn’t guarantee accuracy), YouTube can be quite helpful.
Next, we will look at ideas for practicing improvisation. If you feel there’s something that should be added to the repertoire lists, leave a comment.