Learning New Songs
This is a short article about my process for learning new songs and other pieces of music, on the piano.
I have just confirmed my 30th piano booking of 2023. Quite a milestone! I love playing the piano at weddings, parties and other functions and have a wide range of events to look forward to which are evenly spread across the year. Whilst January and February have been a little quieter, I have already played at two 50th birthday parties, a wake, a James Bond-themed dinner, and a military function to welcome a new Commanding Officer.
All of these events afford me the opportunity to meet and connect with new people, visit new places, exercise my musical muscles and memory to learn new songs on the piano and increase my ever-expanding repertoire.
Most recent new songs
Only in the last few months I have learnt new classical pieces such as Comptine D’un Autre Ete (aka the theme tune from the film Amelie), The River Flows in You (by Yiruma), and Maestro (Hans Zimmer), from the film The Holiday; not to mention around twenty new songs from likes of Taylor Swift, Smash Mouth, Ed Sheeran and Cyndi Lauper. These new additions to my repertoire have all come from requests from clients who have booked me to play at their event.
I play the piano, first and foremost, to entertain and please people. Therefore, it is important to me always to ask my clients what they would like me to play. Usually, people book me after hearing various sample video and audio clips on my website and social media channels and they have resonated with their own musical tastes. However, everyone has specific songs and pieces of music that are important to them that they very often want to be played at their wedding or party. And quite rightly!
My process for learning new songs
Generally, if I already know the tune to sing along to, I can play it on the piano. This is a bit of a gift (though one I’ve worked hard at!) as I am playing by ear and memory, and this means I have a very large repertoire of songs at my fingertips. When I learn new songs, the quickest way is to use a combination of listening and reading guitar chords and piano music. My process is to find the piece of music online and listen to it repeatedly, usually while I’m doing something else, like running, driving, walking, or cooking. I like to get to a point when I’m beginning to sing along to it or whistle it as it becomes increasingly familiar to me. I then sit down with the general chord progressions (if it’s a non-classical piece) or the sheet music (if classical) and study the music whilst listening to it. When I’ve done this a few times I will then begin to work it out on the piano. Some songs use familiar chord progressions that repeat themselves throughout the song, which makes things easier. Others are constantly evolving classical pieces that require meticulous attention to detail using the sheet music.
The time it takes for me to initially learn a new piece of music varies, but it is rarely longer than a couple of hours. It is usually longer when the song in question isn’t normally played on the piano, so additional time is needed to find a way of adapting it (there is always a way!). At this point I will often send a recording to potential clients to help give them an idea of how the song will sound to give them the confidence that I can play their special song for them! After that initial dedicated practice time, the new piece becomes part of my daily and weekly piano practice until, unconsciously, I move from simply practicing the song to interpreting it and adding small idiosyncratic phraseology which puts my own style and stamp on it.
I hope this provides a small glimpse into the work that goes in to learning new songs and musical pieces on the piano. It’s always an interesting process and extremely rewarding when you learn a new piece, play it live, and get reviews!