Beginners Need to Play Songs, 3 Places to Start Building Your Repertoire

Guitar Noises #16: October 1, 2021

If someone tells you they know how to speak another language, it’s pretty likely you’ll ask them to say something in that language. In your mind, whether or not they really know that language depends on how well they translate the word you just gave them.

A similar thing will start happening to you when people find out you’re learning guitar. Friends and family are inevitably going to ask you to play songs for them.

In the last newsletter, I talked about the importance of having a guitar store repertoire regardless of your level (What Should You Play in a Guitar Store). Today I want to speak to the beginners reading this. Confident guitarists will already have a repertoire of songs, and maybe even some ability to jam along on songs they haven’t played before. Beginners, on the other hand, often get stuck on the basic stuff before they even start playing songs. Learning to play songs should be a focus point, even at the early stages.

Why do beginners even need a repertoire?

As a beginner you should aim to spend about half your practice time learning and working on songs you want to play. Working on a repertoire makes practicing more fun. But there’s more to it than keeping you interested in guitar. Here’s one way of putting it:

You can learn all the Spanish grammar you want, but that won’t translate directly to how the language is spoken in Spain.

So it is with music. You can know all the theory, scales, chords, how to read sheet music, and all sorts of other stuff, but still not play convincingly.

That comes from 4 things self-taught guitarists should practice to make everything else easier by Grant Carson. Grant writes a weekly newsletter for self-taught guitarists that I recommend checking out. There are lots of excellent ideas in it and I've actually gone back and reread the above issue a few times.

As a beginner, if someone asks you to play a certain song that they really want to hear, they are being unrealistic. You don’t need to play all the songs your friends like, but you do need to develop a repertoire. A repertoire is a list of songs you are prepared to play. Not bits of songs. Whole songs you can play when called upon.

Here’s a quick tip about learning songs. Don’t feel like you need to start at the beginning. If the intro differs from the rest of the song, you may be better off learning the verses and chorus first. You can learn the intro later. While the intro may be the hook or most recognizable part of the song, you shouldn’t spend the bulk of your time learning what might not even be the easiest part of the song. Verses and choruses repeat so it’s good to learn them first.

The Internet is Good for Learning Songs

The internet isn’t good for learning songs, it’s actually great for learning songs. My guitar heroes learned to play by dropping a needle on a 45 and listening until they could play along, When I was coming up I learned songs by looking at the dots in a guitar book. Today, just start typing the name of a song and auto-complete will bring up “lyrics” and “guitar tutorial” instantly. Before you know it you’ll be getting a lesson as if you were in the same room as the teacher. And they know your favorite song.

I could easily give you a list of 10 or 20 YouTube instructors that do a really great job with beginner songs. For now, I’ll just share three of my favorites.

Justin Guitar

Whenever someone asks for my personal recommendation on lessons, I usually just refer them to Justin Guitar. Justin teaches an extensive repertoire of beginner and intermediate songs on both acoustic and electric.

If you want to split your time between playing songs and learning guitar techniques, Justin Guitar is the right place to start. The beginner lessons and song lessons work extremely well together. As an added bonus, Justin often shows you a few different ways to play a song - usually an easier beginner version and then something closer to the original recording. You won’t feel lost trying to figure out which songs fit your level if you’re following the courses and listening to Justin’s advice.

Lauren Bateman

I’ve written about Lauren’s videos before, back in Issue #1. Lauren’s lessons are a great choice if you find Justin’s lessons a tad too hard. They aren’t as immersive as each song is a stand alone lesson running about 10-15 minutes. If you want to learn a song today and need a simple version Lauren’s method might be for you. Loads to choose from.

Marty Schwartz

Marty Music has close to 3 million YouTube subscribers. If you’re a confident beginner and just need a little guidance on the chords and strumming for a song, this is a really good channel. I’d say this stuff is not beginner-beginner stuff, more like songs for seasoned beginners. Marty doesn’t break things down in as much detail as other instructors. The lessons feel rushed at times, but if you catch on quickly, pausing and re-watching something a few times might be all you need to pick up the essential parts. As far as I can tell Marty’s versions are usually quite close to the originals.

If you’re a beginner up for a challenge, or you see a song you’re willing to work really hard on, I’d give Marty’s channel a go.

The above instructors all share their knowledge for free. Justin asks for donations to keep his lessons free.  Lauren and Marty both have Patreon pages where you can pledge support and get access to extra resources.

Quite a few YouTube instructors use Patreon to help fund their lessons. In a future newsletter I may do a feature on some Patreon guitar instructors. Let me know if you have a favorite instructor.

In the next issue I’ll be reviewing another premium guitar site. You’ll have to wait and see which one. It has free and paid content and they both get a huge thumbs up from me.

Hope to see you all again in two weeks.