I Was Never Taught How to Learn How to Learn to Play Music

The piano teacher I had from age 7 to 9 taught me about how to read music, how to strike the keys, what staying on time meant, etc. But she never taught me anything about how to learn. I would start a tune at the beginning, play until a mistake screwed me up so much that I couldn’t untangle and continue, then start over at the beginning. Quit piano lessons in frustration because I couldn’t get past the same point in the piece I was working on. Why the F didn’t she tell me to restart 2 measures before the hard part? Or slow the tempo down in the hard part until it was playable? Or, or … ah, what happened then doesn’t matter.

What matters now is I’m considering learning techniques that may make this journey more enjoyable, productive or faster. Some I picked up learning in other contexts during the last 48 years, some were music learning tips found on the net, and some were from a retired professional musician I know who has been teaching ukulele at guesthouses to fellow travelers as the crosses the globe. I’m using some or all of the following techniques, listed in no particular order.

An important note. In all of the following, ‘play’ means two things: to play like a child, and to generate music. Won’t do the latter if I can’t do the former.

  • Learn the music in chunks, assemble later.
  • When frustrated, do something else.
  • Leave the instrument out and ready. Play a bit or more whenever I take a break from whatever else I’m going.
  • Read the music before ever starting to play something new. Identify potential hard parts, look for repeating patterns, see the highest and lowest notes, etc.
  • The time signature, tempo and note duration are the only time measurements that matter while playing. The number and length of play sessions are based on whim.
  • First time through a difficult section, play it with one finger, note by note, as slow as necessary to hit the right notes. Repeat until either the tempo or number of fingers used can be increased.
  • When frustrated with a hard part reward myself by playing an easy part a few times then tackle the hard part again.

There’s more techniques, but I want to get off the laptop and go start to learn the next 4 measures of Speak Softly Love by Nino Rota, which is best known as one of the leitmotifs (recurring themes) from The Godfather. That’s right, I’m learning music written for the accordian.

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2 Responses to I Was Never Taught How to Learn How to Learn to Play Music

  1. Ishmael says:

    Did I hear the melody to “My Funny Valentine” when I walked past your place the other day ?

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