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Published on March 19th, 2012 | by Sam


How to Build and Keep up on your Tune List

At one point in my career/education it was my goal to know something like 200+ songs, and I spent a lot of time learning tunes. The problem was always that I had holes in almost all of the songs. I would know a few really well but forget the bridge to some, or a chord here or there, or just not have a deep understanding of the tunes.

It just didn’t work.

So I came up with a strategy to solve that problem, sort of a GTD approach to your repertoire. Categorize your repertoire into sections. 

Make a repertoire list

First you need to get all the songs in your head out.  Write down the names of all the songs you know, kind of know, have played, or want to play.  There will probably be one, two, three hundred or more, but the point is to organize all of this stuff so you can effectively get your repertoire together.  You will also have to keep adding to your list over time-it might take you weeks to get all of the songs out. Thats OK… just keep your master list going.  Remember this is ALL songs you know or want to know, or need to know.  You can included keys here if you want, but it’s not essential.  If you teach you may want to make additional lists in all the areas for teaching.  There will be some overlap here, so don’t worry about any of that, right now just write down the names of all the songs you know. Here are some triggers to get your mind going

  • songs your band(s) play

  • tunes you commonly call

  • tunes that you learned in college/hs/any other formal setting

  • songs you have taught

  • songs you play in a cover band

  • tunes that you like

  • tunes called at sessions in your local area

  • tunes from other ‘must know’ lists

  • tunes you like from recordings

  • tunes that your teacher has suggested

Need to Know

The first list to make from your master is the Need to Know.  Note that this is not a “Must know” list.  Put all of the songs you need to know for other gigs on this list.  If you play as a sideman, all of the songs played in that band should go here.  You may not have all of these memorized right now, but that’s ok.  You may want to make a second column on this list of ones that are not memorized.  Learning these tunes is extremely important-they should the first tunes to memorize since other people are depending on you knowing these songs.  You also might lead a band regularly.  The songs you play in that band should also be a part of this list.  It’s for songs that you need to play regularly, so if it’s in your own band that’s fine. 


Teachers should approach this list a little differently.  Need to know songs will depend on your students.  Sometimes there are songs that most of your students ask to learn.  Those are the songs that should go in this list.  Again, make it a priority to memorize this list first-even if they are not songs you love, you’re using them to work so they should be the first ones memorized.  


In the next installment I will go over how to develop your lists to be more usable.

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2 Responses to How to Build and Keep up on your Tune List

  1. Pingback: Creating a Jazz Repertoire | Sam Smiley Music

  2. Pingback: 10 Jazz Songs Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know - The Jazz Guitar Forum

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