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7 Steps to Learning Any Piece Quickly and Easily (video series)

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!

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10 Responses to 7 Steps to Learning Any Piece Quickly and Easily (video series)

  1. Neil Burnett March 10, 2017 at 7:08 am #

    Hi Allen

    I need to learn a piece for a workshop in June and found your 7 steps video series. Simple but really looks effective thanks!

    One question on clapping the rhythm. I assume I need the rhythm as the right hand would play it. i.e. without the second note in a pull off or hammer on?

    Neil

    • Allen March 10, 2017 at 11:36 am #

      Hi Neil,
      When clapping and counting the rhythm, include all notes, even the ones that the left hand will articulate (it needs to play in time as well!).

      Good luck!
      Cheers,
      Allen

  2. David Biering February 4, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    Well I am an old jazzguitarist of 80 years, but still playing every day !
    I am playing jazz and classical guitar and I have been playing since I was 12 years old.
    I find Yoyr educating very good – so I would like to follow You.
    It is certainly fine that You go into details – I like that very much.

    Yours David Biering
    Kajakdavid.dk
    kajakbumserne.dk

    • Allen February 5, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

      Thanks David!

  3. Alexandra January 27, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

    I’ m now into my second year of playing the classical guitar and I found this breakdown tremendously helpful. Thank you very much Allen.

    • Allen January 27, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

      Thanks for the note Alexandra! I am glad it helps.
      Cheers,
      Allen

  4. Phuong Tran January 25, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Allen, thanks so much for putting all these video together! They are really really helpful! I’ve never thought of practicing with a metronone will help that much! But now I believe it is very powerful as it helps me highly focus and control much better.

    Best,

    • Allen January 25, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

      Thanks Phuong! I am glad you are benefiting from the videos. I love the metronome! Super-helpful.
      Cheers,
      Allen

  5. Jeremy Graham April 27, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    Hi Allen
    Have you covered the subject of warm up in your blog. If so, how do I access it.
    Thanks
    Jeremy

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