Back in the days before we had Google and Youtube, before Tim Berners Lee and the internet, before Bill Gates and Microsoft and affordable home computers even, I used to learn songs by recording them onto cassette and playing and singing along, over and over, until I knew them off by heart. Most of the songs I learnt then I can still play now without recourse to lyric sheets and chord charts.
When I was in my first proper band The Big Car Girls, we used to rehearse every weekday. We probably only had a repertoire of a few dozen songs in total, so after a while I guess they got so ingrained that I could play them in my sleep (I presume I didn’t: I’m sure my big sister – who slept in the room next to mine – wouldnt’ve let me get away with that).
These days, I still rehearse most weekdays, though nowhere near as intensely as I did then. And instead of being the singing bass player in a rock band doing Rush and Dire Straits covers, I’m now a solo, acoustic guitar-playing singer/songwriter doing the Beatles and Dylan and my own Beatles/Dylan-esque numbers.
As the years and the gigs have gone by, my repertoire has expanded exponentially, just as my capacity for learning has diminished. I no longer learn songs off-by-heart: I just find the chords and lyrics via Google, correct the lyrics, transpose the key so I can sing them, then print them off and stick them in my songbook.
I’ve just finished pruning my repertoire down to 500 covers and 100 originals. So, that’s 600 songs at an average of let’s say two and a half minutes each: that works out to just over a day’s worth of material. Or putting it a different way: 10 songs per set, three sets per gig, that’s 20 gigs without repeating a song.
I think that’s more than enough, don’t you?