Exam Preparation Part Two – Picking Your Repertoire

Today’s post is part two in a ten part series on the key stages in preparing for a grade exam on the classical guitar. It is intended to be a general approach to preparation rather than a specific guide to a particular syllabus (AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity and so on) or any specific grade level.

In case you missed it this was part one: Preparing for a classical guitar exam: Part one – deciding when the time is right.

So today we’re looking at how you might go about picking your repertoire (a fancy way of saying your pieces or your tunes) to play in the exam.

Well, the first good place to start is the syllabus for the grade exam you’re aiming to take. Whatever syllabus you’re following – AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity (my personal favourite syllabi) or one of the others out there – there will be a set list of pieces to pick from across a range of different styles and time periods.

These pieces are usually grouped together into three or four different lists reflecting, for example, the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Classical and Romantic periods, and Second Half of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century music. You’ll be required to pick one from each of the lists and this to (a) get you used to playing music from different eras and styles, and appreciating those different types of music and (b) demonstrating to the examiner that you’re able to play those different styles.

My advice, is that when picking your pieces don’t just pick it because it’s on the list, pick something because you like the sound of it, or you feel inspired by it, or because it’s something you’ve always wanted to play, or perhaps even because it’s something you’ve never ever heard before and it interests you.

And don’t just pick three or four pieces (whatever number is required) straight off the bat and go with those. Explore the lists a little, try a few different pieces out – there may be some which are more “you”, that you may personally click with more than others and how do you know that unless you give them a go?

Extra Pieces

In some syllabi in certain grade levels you’ll also be asked to present one or two extra pieces of your own free choice. These could be pieces that are on the provided list, but often don’t have to be. What they do have to be though is of at least the same standard as that particular grade level would require. Your teacher can certainly help you with picking something appropriate if this is the case for an exam you might be taking or thinking of taking.

The “extra list” pieces are a great idea by the syllabus coordinators, I think, as they go some way to ensuring that you’re not just playing pieces on the list, or playing just for the exam.

It’s my personal opinion that just learning pieces off of a syllabus list because that’s what’s written there, and going from one exam to the next to the next can be very limiting in terms of your musical and technical development. Not to mention that it can become very boring for all the developing, up and coming guitarists to be playing all the same things, in the same way because that’s what gets you through an exam!

For me, the idea of the examination is to take a snapshot in time of where you’re at musically and technically on the guitar, and the pieces you present in the examination should be a reflection of that.

My Top Tips In A Nutshell

  1. Explore the repertoire lists a little before plumping on your final selections for the exam.
  2. Don’t just play pieces from the syllabus – learn, practice and play other stuff outside of the set lists – the learnings you take from this will transfer over to your exam pieces making them that extra bit special.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something new, different, or that you’ve not heard before.
  4. Enjoy the pieces you eventually select. You’ll have fun playing them, and the examiner will definitely hear that come across.



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