How to Build a Book of Songs

If you are just starting out as a singer and you are hoping to gig or sit in, you might want to put together a book of songs.

Set List vs. Songbook
A set list gives the titles of your songs and indicates the order in which you’ll sing them. (It also shows how many songs are in the set and where your breaks will be.)

Your songbook assures that you have a way to rehearse and perform the songs in your sets with the least amount of hassle. (It also means that if you get the call for the gig, you can say yes without having to fly into a panic. *smile*)

Depending on what kind of your singing you are doing, you might adjust some of the guidelines below, but this list will get you started.

1. Identify genres you like, want or may be asked to sing. (i.e. wedding, jazz swing, R&B, rock, country etc.)

Tip: Don’t put songs you don’t like in your book. If you feel like you have to have songs by certain artists or in certain styles, do some research to find versions you can enjoy singing.

2. Pick at least two (2) songs for each genre.

Tip: It’s a good idea for the songs to have varied tempos (i.e. one up tempo and one slower song in each genre.)

3. Gather written music for each of your choices.

Tip: Do your best to get music in the key you sing in. Many of the online music sites allow you to change the key before downloading/printing. (If you can’t find the music in your key, consider transposing it.)

Tip: Get music appropriate to your players. Depending on what and with whom you play, lead sheets, chord charts or sheet music may be most appropriate. Do some investigating.

Tip: AVOID scores and lyric sheets with chords. These are difficult for players to read and in many cases require that your players know the songs in advance.

4. EXTRA CREDIT: Create a table of contents for your book. Include each song’s title and key for quick reference. Once your book gets bigger (upwards of 20 songs), it will help to keep a list of what’s in it.

Tip: I use those alphabetized binder dividers in my book and put an alphabetical list of my songs in the front. (I like having a list in front so I can jot down the info for any charts I add. Then a couple of times a year, I update the list and print out a new TOC.)

Tip: If you sing a number of styles, it’s a good idea to include info on each song’s genre/tempo in your list.

Other Things to Do

1. Practice your songs. Find (or pay) someone to rehearse your songs with you. Ideally, this person (or group of persons) will have a good knowledge of your genres and be able to let you know what things (if any) on your arrangements should be changed or made clearer.

2. Keep your book up to date. Add and remove songs as appropriate and rehearse songs in your book regularly. 
The goal is to create a core group of songs that you could perform at a moment’s notice. (I have accepted gigs that were less than 24 hours away.)

3. Add lyric sheets. You should be able to sing the majority of songs in your book from memory. For songs with lots of verses (i.e. more than 5) or that you don’t sing often, however, you may want to keep a lyric sheet, in addition to the music, in your book for quick reference.

If You Sing Original Material

You don’t get a pass on the organizational steps above just because you sing your own stuff.

If you’re  working with your own songs, you should still have lyric sheets at least, and at best, chord charts or lead sheets for ALL of your songs. At the very minimum, you should know what keys your songs are written in. That way if you have to audition a guitar player, keyboard or a bassist or you are asked to give a production chart to your producer, you can have an effective rehearsal and you won’t have to scramble.

Building a book puts you in a performing mindset. Once you have put in the time and energy to prep your songs, it’s a small leap to finding places to rehearse and perform them.

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