Anything that we learn takes time, energy, practice, and dedication. Learning something as complex as playing an instrument can take far more energy and training than other things, but I think we can all agree it’s well worth it. Once you’ve learned how to play the instrument, you get to move on to playing different songs with the instrument. While learning new songs to play on the piano does require a certain amount of practice and energy, there are tips and techniques to help you digest a new piece in a shorter amount of time.
It is always easier to learn something if you like it, so if possible, choose a song that isn’t too easy or too hard and that you enjoy listening to. Now, if that isn’t possible and you are faced with quickly learning a song you don’t necessarily enjoy– no worries! These tips will still get the job done faster.
Step #1: Analyze
Reading music is a lot different from reading a book. You don’t need to flip through the pages first or think of the author’s tone before reading a book. Whereas with music, it is far more beneficial to take it slow and look for valuable information before diving in. In particular, you want to focus on the song’s basic tempos, harmonies, rhythms, and phrasing, as well as structural aspects, such as time signatures, double bars, and repeat signs. While looking for these aspects, read through the entire score and sound out the music in your head.
Step #2: Divide & Conquer
It is easy to think that playing through the entire piece is a good way to learn a song. However, that technique is quite misleading. Although it feels like you are doing enough work to learn a song, it actually creates more work for your brain and therefore hinders the learning process. Instead, break it down into smaller pieces (studies suggest fragments of 4-10 seconds work best).
Step #3: One Hand At A Time
Now that you have your song divided into easier learning sections take time to practice slowly, one hand at a time. No this is not a tip for amateurs. This technique makes learning the song far easier. Instead of focusing on the notes for both hands and the coordination of playing both together, your brain can put all its energy into learning the notes. Then when you move to your next hand, your brain can quickly take it in. Once you have them both down, put them together to see the magic!
Step #4: Practice
It has been said a lot, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. No amount of reading or thinking about playing piano can teach your hands to play the notes; only practice can give you that. Throw out your old idea of practice for a new and improved one: it’s not how long you practice, it’s how often! Instead of sitting down for a grueling 2-hour practice session each week, break it up into four sessions per week. It will be more manageable, more enjoyable, and more efficient.