It’s easy to feel stressed when you pick up a new piece of music. Where do you start? What should you do if you get stuck? And how long will this take? Read on as Winnetkta, CA piano teacher Anthony B. shares his advice…
Everyone has a repertoire of songs that they practice or play often; but what happens if you don’t have one, or better yet want to expand it? When learning a song on the piano, the biggest struggle resides in choosing a piece of music you’d like to learn, finding the route to go about purchasing the sheet music or locating the book it is found in. Once settled, and you have the music in front of you, there is a pressing question on your mind: How long will it take to learn this?
This question cannot be answered in a generic sense. Everyone has their own way of doing things and their own pace in which to do them. It starts with your level of experience (which is true for almost anything). An experienced piano player, for example, might look all the way through the piece, making sure to note key and time signature, repeats, repetitive passages or riffs, etc.
No one should expect to be able to learn a song overnight, though; it takes time and practice. Michael Jordan didn’t make it into the Hall of Fame shortly after picking up his first basketball; it took him years of training. In other words, do not get discouraged if it seems like it’s taking a long time to get everything right. Start out by learning one section of the song at a time.
Set goals! Consider telling yourself, “By Wednesday, I want to have the first section down.” Once you feel comfortable enough with the first section, move section by section until you can put the whole piece together and play it all the way through. A good way to learn a new piano piece can be simplified even more by playing one hand at a time.
Also, make sure to choose which hand you’d like to start with. I tend to learn the part for the right hand first because it usually contains the melody and the more complicated riffs. Once you have the passage or section down with the right hand, switch to the left and learn that part by itself. After you are confident with both hands individually, it’s time to put both hands together. Note: For some, this may be very challenging. Take your time and play through the section slowly until you get the feel for using both hands. If you are just starting out on the piano, this is a great way to effectively learn a new piece. Be patient and take it slow.
No matter how long it takes to learn a new song, whether that be one hour or one week, you have it in you to achieve any goal you set for yourself. If you get discouraged, take short breaks to gather your nerves and come back to it later. If a certain passage is giving you trouble, repeat it over and over until you memorize it. When the passage comes up again, you will approach it with ease.
And lastly, make mistakes! Even professionals make mistakes; they only make you a stronger player. Think of the following quote as you learn and grow as the musician you are striving to become:
“We can choose to throw stones,
To stumble on them,
To climb over them,
Or to build with them.”
—William Arthur Ward
Anthony B. teaches music theory, trombone and piano lessons in Winnetka, CA. His specialties include classical piano, pop chord comping, pop/jazz theory and classical theory. Anthony joined the TakeLessons team in March 2013.
Photo by Mourner