Planning the Repertoire
Your repertoire is your quartet’s performance backpack. In it you should find items you use every day (crowd pleasing favorites), items you only use at specific times of the year (holidays) and items you use for specific events (National Anthems.)
Start planning your repertoire when the quartet is first organized. There are a number of factors to consider in determining what arrangements are to be included in the basic repertoire.
First, what is the goal and personality of the quartet? You should step back and do a little self-assessment to get a big picture sense of your group’s talents, abilities, and desires. Most likely your music will be an extension of your personalities, your upbringing, your age, and your music collection. Look for songs that you’re good at and play into your strengths.
Second, what are the musical capabilities of the quartet members? An honest evaluation here will help you to determine the degree of difficulty and types of arrangements to be used. Avoid the pitfall of singing an arrangement because you enjoyed hearing an international champion quartet perform it. Consider, rather, what your quartet can best handle.
Third, plan to present a well-balanced program. Types of songs to consider are: uptunes, easy-beat, ballads, novelty, comedy, sacred, patriotic, and inspirational. The average quartet repertoire might consist of 15 to 25 numbers. From this total, the quartet can build variety shows, holiday shows, and special occasion shows.
How to Develop Your Group’s Repertoire
Expert tips for developing entertaining repertoire – Harmonizer November/December 2016, pp.8-9
Perform Songs That Attract bigger audiences – Harmonizer March/April 2016, pp. 8-9
Selecting the Music
Three questions are frequently asked in relation to song selection. One, where do quartets get arrangements? Two, what are some of the guidelines for choosing songs? Three, how much music do we need?
The Barbershop Harmony Society Marketplace is the best single source for good, singable arrangements. A large number of excellent arrangements are available for purchase and some have learning tracks available as well. Anyone can download songs and tags in the Free ‘n’ Easy series and you may make as many copies of these as you wish.
There is change in the music offered by the Barbershop Harmony Society that you will notice effective January 2018 as the Society has decided to begin moving all of the music publications toward a published-only model. In accordance with music publishing best practices, all commercially available arrangements must have a formal print license from the publisher of the music.
“Unpublished” category arrangements controlled by the publisher Hal Leonard have been vetted with some moving to the “Published” category after obtaining a formal print license and the remainder have been moved to a “Special Order” category. If a quartet wants a specific arrangement that is not available for sale as a published arrangement, they will be able to identify it on the publicly viewable Special Order spreadsheet and request clearance by securing a custom license for use of the arrangement.
For those titles controlled/administered by publishers other than Hal Leonard, those titles will continue to be made available as “Unpublished.” However, the Society will be eventually moving toward a published-only model for all titles available through the marketplace (shop.barbershop.org).
Other sources of music include:
- There is an increasing number of talented barbershop style arrangers with arrangements for sale. A list of arrangers is maintained on the Society website and there are a number of other private arrangers who provide suitable arrangements as well.
- The CASA arrangement library – free arrangements are available to members based on membership level. There’s a database of original and public domain songs in various styles that can help you get started. The majority of the CASA arrangements are not in TTBB voicing or in the barbershop style, but they are worth checking out.
- There are a number of other outlets for a cappella sheet music. Contemporary A Cappella Publishing, Hal Leonard, Primarily A Cappella/Singers.com and Better A Cappella are a couple of the better ones.
Every performer must have a legally-purchased copy of music. It is illegal to learn an arrangement in any manner that would be in lieu of purchase of the music. The most reliable sources for legal arrangements are the Barbershop Harmony Society Music Catalog of arrangements and reputable music stores and catalogs. Purchase one copy for every member of the quartet.
It’s important that your quartet understand and abide by copyright law. The penalties can be severe: hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties can be assessed on individuals who willingly make illegal arrangements, copies of arrangements, and more. For more information about copyright guidelines, please refer to the resources section below.
If you plan to create an arrangement (a derivative work) of an existing copyrighted work, you may do so only WITH PERMISSION from the copyright holder. The Barbershop Harmony Society provides a service for securing such permission.
Here are some guidelines for picking songs for your repertoire. Keep in mind that entertainment value should weigh more heavily on selecting a song than anything else.
- Lyrics – G-rated, always.
- Age of audience – Try to have a variety of eras in your show. It will allow you to connect with a wider audience.
- Familiarity – Audiences love the familiar. You can see the crowd have the “oh, yeah” moment when their faces say, “I know that song.”
- Difficulty – Difficult does not always equal better. Consider each song as an investment. You might love an A-level quartet arrangement, but if it requires a refresh at every rehearsal to be in the set list, it isn’t worth it. Consider an easier arrangement of the same song – it will get the same crowd response and take much less rehearsal time.
- Tempo – Remember the tempo. Too much of anything gets boring. You’ll need some exciting uptunes, some medium-speed swing or groove songs, and ballads. That way, you can provide variety and flow to your set.
How much music do you need? If you plan to do community engagements for hire, you’ll need at least a 20–30 minute set which is about 7 – 10 songs. Ten songs, plus applause and some talking with the audience, will yield a good package to present for a 30 minute show. There are, however, many people who would like 45–60 minutes of music, and then you’d have to double that number. However, it is not a good idea to try to expand your repertoire too fast. You will likely wish to learn a lot of songs, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Concentrate on singing well what you have already learned.
A few other considerations when selecting songs:
- Any chart can be vetoed by any quartet member for any reason. If singers don’t buy in, they won’t be performing at their best.
- Make sure that songs are both appealing and entertaining to non-barbershop audiences and barbershop audiences. This includes avoiding comedy that is founded around barbershop inside jokes as well as music that perpetuates negative barbershop stereotypes.
- Entertainment value should weigh more heavily on selecting a song than anything else.
Better A Cappella
CASA Arrangement Library
Who is Making Arrangements
BHS Sheet Music Catalog
BHS Free ‘n’ Easy Series
Contemporary A Cappella Publishing
Primary A Cappella/Singers.com
Contemporary A Cappella Society
Copyright basics for Barbershoppers
Frequently Asked Copyright Questions by Barbershoppers
Arrangement and Reproduction Request Form
Recommendations and Lessons Learned
“We try to learn three to five new songs a year and add to our repertoire.” – 3 Handsome Gentleman
“Ask the other three what they want to sing. If all three wish to learn a particular new song, we do that when we have time.” – Habitat 4 Harmony
“We choose songs we all like that we can sing reasonably well and that fit into our program. Some songs are picked from chorus repertoire.” – The Chordmasters
“We poll all our members to see how they feel about a given song, and all members are equally empowered to suggest music. We try to decide if the music fits our style and performance criteria.” – Under the Radar
“We have chosen songs that we like but have started working closer to supporting our brand and working with our coaches.” – The Front Line Quartet
“If any one of the four of us can’t get behind a particular song, then we won’t sing it. We tend to select more up-tempo songs and arrangements that we can see ourselves having fun with.” – The Newfangled Four
“We have developed our own style and stay true to it in selecting music, writing parodies, building a show package, and putting it on stage. We know our personality, we know what is expected of us, and we try very hard to deliver and not disappoint.” – Razzmatazz
“For the most part we choose songs that are well-known. We can see that familiar songs are most popular when we do gigs. Oftentimes we see audience members singing along.” – Boomerang
“We try to develop repertoire that best fits our identity and sound. Our quartet tends to sing higher-voiced songs, so that is always a consideration. Singing songs the audience loves is an important part of the songs we choose for shows.” – Gimme Four
“Vocality has 4 types of repertoire: Contest, Gospel, Christmas, and Shows. We look for unique arrangements and tunes that a broad audience (not just barbershoppers) will recognize.” – Vocality
“We use Society unpublished and published sheet music almost exclusively. We have found the Society learning tracks (for those songs that have them) to be invaluable, but have also developed our own learning tracks using Finale for those that don’t.” – Smooth Brew
“Have a repertoire that has a broad selection of music, including doo-wop, gospel, country & western, patriotic, Broadway, and classic barbershop.” – 5th Avenue Quartet
“We do music that is recognizable by our audiences. We don’t sing songs or arrangements that you have to do vocal gymnastics to sing. We do songs that are about the song and NOT the arrangement or us!” – Four in Accord