Choosing repertoire

We asked singing teachers from all over the UK how they would go about choosing repertoire for a new Grade 1 singing student.


Each student is different, so it’s important to choose the right repertoire for the individual:

‘It depends on the age, sex and musical experience of the student. There's no one-size-fits-all. Allowing students to make their own choice is important too.’

Sarah Stone of King's Hawford and King's Worcester

Many teachers talked about the challenge of teaching boys with constantly changing voices. Isla Keys teaches at Nottingham High School:

‘With teenage boys, I find the two 'Changing Voices' books very good.’ 
Isla Keys, Nottingham High School

Ruth Munro from Putney High School says students should:

'Choose repertoire that plays to their strengths so they do not become disheartened. A syllabic, bouncy song with shorter phrases may be more accessible to a beginner student eg Dunhill’s 'Grandfather Clock' or 'Little April Shower’ from Bambi. Or they may already have nice airflow and find moving around quickly over words harder. In which case, something like 'Moon River' or 'Where is love?' might be more successful.'
Ruth Munro, Putney High School

'My Favourite Things’, ‘Love is Come Again’ and ‘La Cucaracha’. Three very different styles but well within the range and exploring a variety of characters and challenges without being too daunting.’
Elaine Henson, Stoke College and South Lee School

Many respondents agreed that giving students a say in their song choices was an important factor in getting buy-in:

'From experience, I find that if the pupil is involved with the choice of songs, rather than feeling they've been 'given' a song to sing, there is a better outcome,’ advises Jane Findlay from Burgess Hill Girls School.

'I always let them choose within the realms of what suits them vocally. Choices empower the student and mean they actually like the pieces,’ agrees Helen Haviland, from Torquay Girls’ Grammar school.


Many respondents said that folk songs are a good choice for beginners because they are often slower and easier to pitch:

'Folk songs, short musical theatre songs. I often choose slower music because students find the notes easier to pitch. They are also able to learn to listen out for clues in the accompaniment to help them,’ says Frances Israel from Bishop’s Stortford College.

Private teacher Brian Smith Walters agrees that folk songs are a good place to start:

'I’d probably start with something like a folk song – something that is ‘easy’ in its ear-training so the student can concentrate on the basics of vocalising.’
Brian Smith Walters

Jennifer Maslin of Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School, and private teacher, suggests:

'I tend to start most Grade 1 students with folk song. Many folk songs are in our musical subconscious and are easy to pick up. They also offer a good platform to teach the basics from, such as breathing and phrasing.' 
Jennifer Maslin, Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School


Roberta Ritson from Core Music Hexham says it’s important to find songs that students will enjoy performing:

'First of all sing, for the love of it! Show students all repertoire from theatre and pop, to classics and folk to find out what each person loves.' 
Roberta Ritson, Core Music Hexham

Hannah Rogers from the Buckingham School agrees:

'If the students don't enjoy it, they won't work at it so this is a key point – they must like something about the pieces they're singing.' 
Hannah Rogers, Buckingham School

’I ask students what their current favourite songs are and then try to use one of those songs, or even just part of one of them, as the starting point for an initial and informal evaluation of their voice. Students usually respond positively to being involved directly in the selection of their vocal material.’
Grainne McLaughlin, private teacher


Choosing songs that students are already familiar with will help them to feel more confident preparing for their first graded exam:

'Students feel more confident singing songs they are vaguely familiar with so I can assess their voice properly at first. They also generally enjoy singing these songs so it encourages a good relationship with lessons and a good practice regime from the start.' 
Aimée Harris, Broughton Hall Catholic High School

‘Using the 2018-2021 Syllabus, I would choose upbeat and engaging songs they might already know such as: 'Where is Love?', 'You've Got a Friend in Me', 'My Favourite Things', 'One More Step Along the World', 'Twinkle Twinkle', 'Away in a Manger', 'My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean' and 'Old King Cole’
James Oldfield, Dulwich College, Tiffin School, Emanuel School



It’s important to build up a varied repertoire for each student from the beginning, so that they stay engaged and continue to build their technical ability. Private teacher Raymond Isom suggests exposing students to ‘as wide a variety of genres and musical styles as is possible, including songs in foreign languages.’

Dónal Kearney of Fingal Academy of Music advises using the repertoire on the Trinity College London Grade 1 syllabus, as it is varied and she ‘trust[s] that it is an appropriate level.’

Lydia Jane Pugh, of the School of Popular Music, Guernsey, says it is important to give students as varied a repertoire as possible from the beginning:

'I like to make sure the student is singing three songs which are varied (in genre, character and tempo), so as to build their versatility as singers from the ground up. Here is an example for a new singer:

  • ‘My Favourite Things’ (6/8 rhythms, upbeat, keychange)
  • ‘Where is Love?’ (slow emotive ballad, dynamic contrasts)
  • ‘The Crocodile’ (exciting story to tell)’

Lydia Jane Pugh, School of Popular Music

'I choose the repertoire to suit the individual student – that’s what is great about the flexibility of the Trinity syllabus. I don't do set pieces for each student; we look at quite a few from the different genres and lettered sections on the syllabus and then make a choice to create a balanced programme, showing different aspects of style.' 
Helen Perry, Sheffield Music Hub


While some teachers prefer to vary their choice of repertoire on a student-by-student basis, some of our respondents explained that they have some preferred songs to use with new students.

As with some of the other approaches to repertoire selection, folk songs proved to be a popular choice when working with new students:

’’Donkey Riding’ has difficult words, scales and intervals but a small range,’ says Christopher Davies from Associated Music Teachers.

'I would use 'Edelweiss' for legato and breathing. Also 'Seagull' has a lovely lilt and opportunities for working on diction,’ explains Imogen S Nicholls from Musical Originals.

Donna-Marie Povey, who teaches in Warrington, prefers to make use of songs from musical theatre:

'I would begin with ‘Castle On A Cloud’ from Les Misérables and ‘My Favourite Things’, from The Sound of Music. ‘Castle On A Cloud’ helps the student to develop an understanding of legato. ‘My Favourite Things’ requires excellent diction from the candidate and the ability to characterise words and add colour.' 
Donna-Marie Povey

Perhaps bridging the gap between chart music and musical theatre, Disney songs are preferable for Lesley Owens, who explains that they’re great for ‘diction, pitching and expression.’

Donna-Marie Broomfield, however, makes use of ‘Candle On The Water’ from Disney's Pete's Dragon because of its ‘structured phrases, which help with breath management and it has a limited range.’



Learn more about Trinity’s range of singing qualifications

The advice in this resource will be useful regardless of which exam board you’re using, or whether you’re even entering candidates into exams at all.

If, however, you want to learn more about Trinity’s range of singing qualifications, then you can download our specifications and guides on this page.

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