Episode 008: How to Approach a New Piece of Music

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Every week or two, piano students are assigned a new piece of music to learn. This ongoing challenge of facing new music can be daunting so here are a few suggestions to help the process run more smoothly.

Like solving a jigsaw puzzle

It helps to see the picture.  Listening to a piece of music helps students hear what they are aiming for in their own performance.

Work on the straight edges first, then fill in the middle. In music, notice the key signature, time signature, tempo, repeats and codas.

Put the pieces together. Work on smaller sections of the music and find patterns that are the same in the piece.

Enjoy the beauty of what you’ve created. Once you’ve invested in a piece, come back and play it often.  Don’t let it get rusty.

Consider the Historical or Conceptual Context

Where does the piece fit in history? You play Mozart differently that you would play Beethoven’s music.

What skill or concept will I learn by mastering this piece? Focus on the concept the music is teaching: contrasting loud and soft or working in a new key signature or in a larger range of piano keys.

What’s the point? Some pieces are assigned to give the student a rest after working on a challenging piece.  Some pieces are assigned for the simple joy of music.

Seeing, Hearing, Doing

Eyes see – always scanning and looking ahead in the music for information to send to the brain and fingers

Ears hear – should be actively engaged, listening not only for mistakes but also for musical expression.

Fingers do – so much of learning new pieces has to do with training your fingers to execute new patterns; finger crossings, leaps, piano key combinations, in/out motion, etc.

Take a break

When you’ve worked on a section for a while and your brain and fingers aren’t cooperating, stop and take a break.  You can come back and try again when you are fresh. A little break helps calm our frustration and lets the information settle in our brain.  When we come back to the music, we might notice something that we missed earlier when we were tired and frustrated.

Talk to your teacher to help you work through a difficult passage.

This week’s challenge:

Work a jigsaw puzzle with your child! Use teachable moments if they arise but don’t forget to simply enjoy spending time with them.

Post your puzzle pictures here.


Hey there and welcome!

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