Whether you’re an advanced musician or a complete beginner, learning new repertoire can be challenging. But no matter how difficult the piece is, learning it off by heart can be made simpler by breaking the process down into the following steps.
Find as many recordings and interpretations of your piece and follow along with the sheet music. Notice the subtle differences, tempo changes, dynamics, accents. Were they indicated in the music or did the performer add them in?
BREAK IT DOWN
Notice the structure of your piece. If it’s a pop song, it could be Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus. Compare all the verses – are they the same? Great! Once you learn one verse, you’ve learned them all! If there are slight variations between similar sections, mark them in the music and play the exact part where they differ a number of times one after another to reinforce those variations.
Start with the right hand and learn the melody. Play through the whole piece with separate hands and listen to the bass notes, chord, harmonies and other secondary melodies that might pop up. Break the piece down again and play just a few bars with separate hands and then try putting them together in phrases.
SLOW IT DOWN
Practice slowly and thoughtfully, always being aware of what comes next. Don’t rely on your muscle memory at this early stage. Try playing with a metronome to keep your tempo consistent.
PRACTICE IN YOUR HEAD
You don’t have to have the piano in front of you to practice! It’s been proven that running through the music in your head can be just as effective as physical practice. You can drum your fingers on a table or your own lap if it helps but the idea is to go over every note in your head without looking at the music. This forces you to analyze what you’ve memorized in minute detail which makes it much easier to identify those areas you still need to work on.
KEEP IT UP
Once you’ve learned the piece off by heart, the only way to retain it in your memory for years to come is by playing it through often. Once it gets stored in your muscle memory, it’ll become easier to instantly recall it whenever you desire!