As practicing musicians, we all benefit from approaching new pieces with some sort of plan. That is what this post is all about.
When we decide to learn a new piece of music, there are a number of ways we can proceed.
Bad example number one:
Among the most common methods, many will just sight-read the piece into submission. They just hack through it over and over, hoping that eventually it will sound good. In the process, all sorts of fingering errors, note and rhythm mistakes and excess tension are learned into it from the beginning. This way of learning feels good at the beginning (“I can hear how it is supposed to sound!”), but takes a long time on the back-end getting the music up to performance standards (which it rarely does!)
Often, the piece is abandoned long before mastering it, because of the glittering allure of another new piece. Some players do this for their whole lives, and never really play all that well. Sad, sad, sad.
Bad example number two:
Others may like to take a measure or two at a time, and read/play each measure a few times, then move to the next. While this is better than reading the piece top to bottom over and over, it is still not ideal. We still practice mistakes and often work all kinds of excess bodily tension into our muscle memory (kinesthetic memory). Often by the time we figure out what the problem is, we have developed habits reinforcing that problem.
On the upside, this method of learning also provides some immediate gratification with each new measure or phrase learned, which is, well…gratifying. But we can do better. Oh yes. Much better.
A better way to learn music
What follows is a 7 step method to approach learning new music. Each step can be expanded on, depending on your current level of playing and understanding, and on your musical intentions.
If you like, you can Print a reference sheet for these steps and put it somewhere convenient.
Tutorial Video Series
Step One: Make small, manageable sections. (Each subsequent step is for each section individually.)
Step Two: Ask, “Do I know all the notes and musical markings?” (Really? ALL of them?)
Step Three: Clap and count aloud the rhythm of the section. (Optional: Start to determine dynamics, articulation, phrasing, etc. See the “Making it Beautiful” category for more on these.)
Step Four: Play the Right Hand alone, using open strings. No left hand. Continue Counting. Don’t freak out. You can do it.
Step Five: Play the Left Hand alone, no right hand allowed. Keep counting. (this is a quiet step)
Step Six: Play both hands together, using Goal-Directed (aka Aim-Directed) Movement
Step Seven: Play both hands together slowly in time. Introduce metronome.
And there it is. Be patient, be consistent, and you may be amazed at how well this works. You may also find that you are delving far deeper into the music than before. That’s great! It may seem like this process takes a long time, but in actuality, you reach a high level of playing and memory much faster than you could otherwise.
Good luck, Print a reference sheet for these and let me know how it works out!