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Popular Piano Lessons: Fundamentals - How to Learn a Song

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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 it listen
to a recording of the song that you're
working on.
Now here at Artists Works, I'll be
performing all 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 will 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 a song.
Where is the end of a sentence?
Where is 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 an A,
B, A, B, then a 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 at 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 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 wanna
take instead of a landscape approach,
you'll wanna 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.
All right, so
that's, sometimes you'll be in the right
hand, sometimes it'll be in the left hand.
So you want to identify which is the part
that I could most likely sing along with?
And so once you find that,
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.
So, master that melody 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 which hand has the melody,
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, 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 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 for 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 figure 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 at 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 streaks,
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 are gonna work on connecting
one section to the next.
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.