The best way to learn a song can be different for different people. Hugh lays out many helpful methods and techniques to help you memorize and break down songs so that you can best learn them. This lesson will help you find the approach that works best for your learning style.
- Learning how to play a song or learning any kind of music is very much like learning the script to a play or learning to recite a poem by heart. The first thing you should do is listen to a recording of the song that you're working on. Now, here at ArtistWorks, I'll be performing all of the pieces that we're gonna work on. But sometimes you'll wanna go to other sources like Youtube, iTunes, Amazon, and particularly for working on a song that is based on vocal works, somebody singing the words to a song, this'll be even more helpful, because one of the things you really wanna listen for is where the music breathes.
Music is made up of sentences just like scripts or poems, so you wanna hear, and it'll be easier when you're hearing words associated with the song, where's the end of a sentence? Where's a comma? Where is a period? Where does the next phrase begin? The next thing to listen for are the sections of the song that repeat. For example, most pop songs follow an A, B, A, B, C, A, B pattern. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, sometimes there's another different kind of portion of the music and then you go back to the verse and chorus again.
So try to, as you listen, you probably will recognize this instinctively, but try to pay particular attention to where the music repeats. Now, for folks who already have some working knowledge of reading music or if they've had some experience playing an instrument before, one way to study the music is to take a landscape approach at first. So what I mean by that is you're gonna get an overview of the entire piece by playing the song all the way through at least one time, just to get a sense, a full sense of the context of what you're gonna be working on.
Again, primarily this is best for you if you already know how to read some music, if you've had some lessons in the past, and can sort of work your way through, picking out the notes even if you have to stop it every few notes, every measure or so. If you're able to do this, use a pencil, or if you're reading music off of a digital tablet type like I am, use digital ink, and try to identify the major sections of the song as you work through it. Then, after you identify the major sections like the verse or the chorus, then try to break it up even further, and try to see if you can identify the individual sentences, or the musical phrases, as we call them in music.
Now, if you don't read music, and you're brand new to playing the piano, as many of you may well be, then you might want to take instead of a landscape approach, you'll want to take a street approach. Now, what do I mean by that? A street approach is a linear approach, basically that's gonna work a phrase at a time. And again, if you don't read, we're gonna be teaching you how to read, and we're gonna be working a street at a time, really a section, a phrase at a time. So, the way we do the street approach is that first we're gonna figure out which hand has the melody, the part that most sounds like the part that you would sing along with, okay.
And you're gonna try to listen for where that melody starts and where it could pause, or where it comes to the end of a musical sentence. Alright? So sometimes you'll be in the right hand, sometimes it'll be in the left hands, so you wanna identify which is the part that I could most likely sing along with, okay? And so, once you find it, you don't wanna go from the beginning all the way to the end. You wanna go from the beginning to the end of a musical sentence, and it should be pretty short. And then once I identify how long or how far it goes, you wanna practice that melody until you can play it through without any stopping or without any hesitation, okay.
So master that melody and that one hand. Then, take that same phrase where you started with one hand, the melodic hand, and then take the other hand, and play it alone until you're comfortable within just that section. Once you're comfortable with the melody, that phrase, not the whole piece, just the phrase, and then the accompanying hand, again, depending on which hand has the melody and which hand has the other part, then slowly practice putting your hands together until you get to the end of the phrase. And work on that until you can play through just that phrase without stopping.
Once you've gotten through that, then it's time to move on to the next phrase and begin the cycle again, and again, trying to listen for the melody and where does it stop, don't go any further, practice that until it's comfortable first in the melody, then in the accompaniment, then hands together. Then, this is very critical. Once you have two adjacent phrases, then what we need to do is to fill in the pothole between the two streets. Potholes are places in the music where you come across a technical difficulty or a mental break, and you'll find yourself stopping.
Now, most potholes naturally occur between phrases, such as the ones that you're working on. Since we're working on a phrase at a time, it's natural for your mind to kind of stop at the end of that phrase before you start working on the next, because that's how you've worked. So as soon as you've learned two adjacent phrases you really need to work on making the connection between those two given phrases as smoothly as possible. Now, several things can help you as you do your pothole practicing. Number one, try to really understand what is stopping you at that pothole.
Is it a difficult jump? A tricky fingering? A new line of the music that maybe makes your eyes kind of shift across the page, maybe that's slowing you down physically to look from one end of the paper or one of the digital pages to the other? Many things can come into play when you're trying to figure out what is stopping you. So once you've figured that out, focus on fixing the exact spot where you have that problem. Start with simply one note or one beat before the problem spot, then continue to the very next note or beat after that spot, okay.
So once you've worked just on the smallest segments of the part right before and right after that problem spot and solve that, then you'll wanna start the beginning of the previous phrase and your goal will be to work to play smoothly through the pothole, on to the next phrase, okay? So, once you've worked on at least two consecutive streets, as I call them, or phrases, then we wanna start applying the highway approach. Now we wanna try to play through at least two, three, or four more phrases, and try to connect several phrases at a time this time, okay.
And then, remember we were talking about larger sections like a verse or a chorus, once you start building these larger highways, you wanna try to at least get to the end of a major section of a song. That's gonna be your first goal. And then, you're gonna continue working the same manner in the next song section, and then once you have two major highways built, then of course you're gonna work on connecting one section to the next. And finally, you'll work on putting the whole piece together after you've pieced together your streets, and your highways, and then obviously, then you get your whole landscape, which you've built basically a phrase, or a street, or a highway at a time.
So that, in a nutshell, is a very effective way of putting your music together, whether you read music or don't, then don't worry, we're gonna help you in both instances, you don't need to read a lick of music to start the very first lessons in this series.
Note: This course was recorded and produced by ArtistWorks. We are honored to host this training in our library.
- Learning a song
- Practicing piano
- Understanding the keys: middle C, flats, sharps, and octaves
- Sight-reading music
- Playing melody or treble clef with the right hand
- Playing rhythm or bass clef with the left hand
- Combining hands
- Playing songs in different tempos