Adding New Literature

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Survival Guide Part III

Adding new literature to your repertoire is an important part of surviving as a musician. Contrary to popular belief, I do not think that we are “defined” by our sounds. Instead, I believe we are “defined” by our repertoire (to read more about this feel free to read my post titled “What Defines Us?“). When the slow times hit, that is the best time of the year to add new material to your personal identity.

This is true regardless of what style of music you play. For jazz musicians you add jazz tunes. Orchestral players should learn new excerpts. Quintet players should work on new quintet literature. If you are a salsa player, there’s nothing wrong with learning a few new songs.

What Should I Learn?

Three Types of Literature to Add

I have always categorized new literature into the following three categories: music I need to know for professional performances, music that would help me grow as a musician, and music I want to learn for my own pleasure.

Music You Need to Learn

I almost always carry something to write with, even on most gigs. So every time I perform a piece that I don’t know, I add it to the “Need to Learn” list. I do this no matter what kind of gig it is. If it’s a jazz gig, I add the jazz tune to my list. If it’s a classical thing, I will ad the composition to my list. Because I am a professional musician, this music should get top priority over all the other music I want to add to my repertoire.

You can do the same. Next time you find yourself struggling in a performance, take notes, start a list, so that every time you sit down to practice, you will have something to look at.

Music that Helps You Grow

Some music is rarely performed but having the skill to perform it strengthens us as musicians. For jazz musicians, Giant Steps is a great example. As a classical musician, very difficult concerti like the Tomasi Concerto for Trumpet would be something you will only rarely (if ever) be called to perform, but working on it would make you a better player.

When you choose a tune to work on from this category, look for something that addresses your specific weaknesses. If you have trouble with double tongue, look for something that features double tonguing. If you want to work on your endurance, specifically choose something that will challenge you that way.

Music You Want to Learn

Music should not be all work and no play. It’s important to add a piece to your repertoire for your own pleasure now and again.

What songs do you like? Perhaps you have a favorite song you never considered playing on your instrument. Well, now’s your chance.

Rotate Between the Three

After you’ve created these lists of music to add to your repertoire, alternate from each category. Spend time working on a piece you need to know but when you are done preparing it, move on to something you want to learn for educational reasons. Then, every once in a while, throw in a song you like to play. When you keep your repertoire balanced like this, your musical personality will grow and people will be able to recognize who you are as a musician.

The slow times are the best times to add the most music to your constantly growing musical personality. When you are organized about it, you can work through the list of your most important songs before things pick up again and then you will be more valuable as a player.


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