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Hi,

I am wondering about the best way to learn a piece of music. Should you learn to play from the sheet music or should you memorize the piece and play it without music while you are learning it?

I saw a youtube video which said to learn a phrase at at time memorizing the right hand then the left hand then practicing hands together. I assume memorizing means looking at your hands and not at the music.

On an different web site I read that you should learn to play looking at the music. I think the idea is that you benefit from learning to read music better.

I have been playing from the music and it seems like it is taking me a long time to learn pieces so I tried looking at my hands and it seems like I am learning faster that way.

Looking at my hands there is a lot less multi-tasking with my brain (converting what I see on the sheet music to movements in my hands which causes me a lot of mental fatigue) so I am able to practice longer and learn a piece faster looking at my hands. It's more fun, less work, so I spend more time practicing.


I am wondering if there is a consensus on how to learn a piece of music?

Is there a recommended web site that has advice on the subject?


Thanks in advance.

Last edited by harkld; 09/14/21 04:10 AM.
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There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.

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You need to learn to read the music while practicing, in my opinion.

Beginners will typically learn a piece faster by memorizing it, since their skill at reading lags behind their ability just to memorize how their hands move. But this is only for the simplest pieces, since you have to read the music to get started.

But that is at the expense of learning to play while reading the score. In my opinion, that should be your goal, since you will progress much faster in the long run if you can read from the music while practicing, especially as the music gets more complicated.

The advice you mentioned about memorizing each hand separately never worked for me. If I am committed to memorizing something, then I need to memorize hands together. But that comes after I am able to play the piece from the score.

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.
I think there is a consensus among good teachers and it's to learn from the sheet music. Beginners who try to memorize as they go along often never become efficient readers. They often memorize as they go along because they can barely play(and don't learn to do so) without looking constantly at their hands.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.
I think there is a consensus among good teachers and it's to learn from the sheet music. Beginners who try to memorize as they go along often never become efficient readers. They often memorize as they go along because they can barely play(and don't learn to do so) without looking constantly at their hands.
Well, I beg to differ. I did mention that approaches vary depending on your goals and your level. Why does everyone in this forum automatically assume everyone asking a question is a beginner wanting to learn classical repertoire? Did you ask the OP first?

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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.
I think there is a consensus among good teachers and it's to learn from the sheet music. Beginners who try to memorize as they go along often never become efficient readers. They often memorize as they go along because they can barely play(and don't learn to do so) without looking constantly at their hands.
Well, I beg to differ. I did mention that approaches vary depending on your goals and your level. Why does everyone in this forum automatically assume everyone asking a question is a beginner wanting to learn classical repertoire? Did you ask the OP first?
I agree with this. Most professional musicians are able to read music. I suspect this applies to all concert pianists. However there have been and are established musicians who cannot read, and yet are virtuoso's in their musical field.

To the OP, what are your goals. Then choose your method accordingly, but some ability to read will help even if you don't fully master it.

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Originally Posted by harkld
Should you learn to play from the sheet music or should you memorize the piece and play it without music while you are learning it?

Yes, both.

I'm neither a pianist nor a piano teacher, so "for whatever it's worth":

- The "Suzuki method" focuses on listening and playing (imitating) by ear. Notation is also used.
- "Ear training" is a thing and it's useful to understand what it is that you actually hear in music and make a connection between a pitch of a note and a key in the keyboard. (No natural born "perfect pitch" required. You can develop a "pitch memory" by practicing.)
- Listening to the music prevents learning the piece wrong just because the copyist creating the score made a mistake or you misread or misunderstood some marking.
- Not all music is always written down at least not in the way you'd like to play it.

- By only playing by ear you never learn to read notation and then you'd have to listen very carefully (and be Mozart) to learn very complex music.
- In learning long pieces you'd have to keep listening shorter snippets again and again to try to catch everything correctly. It's easier to just find the correct bars in the score and read the notation.
- There is rarely any simplified audio for pieces of music as in "here's the left hand's part" and "here's the right hand's part". It can be difficult to figure out which hand should do what as sometimes the hands might even cross.
- A lot of the music education is based on learning/knowing notation.
- You can then also write down music which you can't if you just play by ear.

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Originally Posted by spanishbuddha
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.
I think there is a consensus among good teachers and it's to learn from the sheet music. Beginners who try to memorize as they go along often never become efficient readers. They often memorize as they go along because they can barely play(and don't learn to do so) without looking constantly at their hands.
Well, I beg to differ. I did mention that approaches vary depending on your goals and your level. Why does everyone in this forum automatically assume everyone asking a question is a beginner wanting to learn classical repertoire? Did you ask the OP first?
I agree with this. Most professional musicians are able to read music. I suspect this applies to all concert pianists. However there have been and are established musicians who cannot read, and yet are virtuoso's in their musical field.
One can always find a few exceptions. The number of pianists, either jazz or classical, who cannot read music and who are excellent is minuscule, I'd guess 1 in a 1000.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 09/14/21 07:32 AM.
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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
There is no consensus. Some people swear by the sheet music and will tell you to learn everything while looking at the music and not memorise anything. Other people insist on memorising everything and even go as far as practicing in their head. There are lots of schools and approaches vary depending on your goals and your level.
I think there is a consensus among good teachers and it's to learn from the sheet music. Beginners who try to memorize as they go along often never become efficient readers. They often memorize as they go along because they can barely play(and don't learn to do so) without looking constantly at their hands.
Well, I beg to differ. I did mention that approaches vary depending on your goals and your level. Why does everyone in this forum automatically assume everyone asking a question is a beginner wanting to learn classical repertoire? Did you ask the OP first?
Since the OP didn't post on the non classical forum I assumed he was interested in classical. But I would have given the same answer if he was interested in non classical. I assumed he was a beginner or close to that because virtually no advanced musician learns by memorizing each measure as they go along. That's almost always a sign of someone who never learned to play without constantly looking at their hands or someone who has not learned to look back and forth between the score and their hands.

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Web sites tend to be statistical or personal. The only thing that matters is the statistics when N=1 and you're the one. Try different approaches on short, easy pieces and see what gives you the most reward or the best results before scaling it up.

My advice is to always use the score when reading (audiating) or playing through the whole piece and always use try to short term memory when working individual phrases or fragments. Memorising hands separately before hands together or beyond short term memory while working one phrase (or fragment) at a time is seldom of any benefit.

If you intend to perform without the score then use the score for reading (away from the piano) or playing through the whole piece but try to avoid using the score when working two or more phrases at a time. If you're a natural memoriser you will probably recall the music without effort before you're able to play at recital quality and will automatically increase the amount of music you play without the score as you progress. I'm usually without the score long before I get to the polishing stage.

If you're not a natural memoriser and you get the quality high before you've memorised it overnight then it's probably quicker to keep with the score and not bother with increasing your recall, though I'd still continue to use short term memory when working in smaller units. I resort to this strategy for the odd piece that just doesn't get into memory for me.

If I intend to use the score in performance I need to be used to following it, as much geographically as actually reading it and to know where I am on the page. I can't follow a score if the lines begin or end at different measures or different locations on the page than my working score.

I do not believe that continuing to follow the score has any effect on my reading ability since I'm seldom reading anyway after a short time practising.

If you're thinking of performing without the score it's important that you know the difference between explicit memory (cognisant, deliberate or declarative) and implicit memory (procedural, motor or 'finger' memory). The latter isn't reliable in performance and if you get that before explicit memory it may be worth keeping the number of repetitions low in the early stages, like two or three only, until the music is in cognisant memory, and put a lot more focus on recall.

If you forget how to play pieces after dropping them for a few weeks then you probably use finger memory. If you remember them for three or four months without having to play them then it's probably deliberate memory. You'll need both in performance but you must get it in deliberate memory before finger memory or it takes so much longer and that defeats the purpose. Deciding to include recall when you start joining phrases together may be too late. Trying to memorise a piece after you can already play it is slow and laborious.


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Originally Posted by harkld
I saw a youtube video which said to learn a phrase at at time...

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
...virtually no advanced musician learns by memorizing each measure as they go along...

Hmm.


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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Originally Posted by harkld
I saw a youtube video which said to learn a phrase at at time...
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
...virtually no advanced musician learns by memorizing each measure as they go along...
Hmm.
The first quote says learn a phrase at a time which is perfectly reasonable. It doesn't say memorize.

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But nothing in the OP mentions each measure.

Also the OP states that he's been playing from the music and it seems like it is taking him longer than when looking at his hands.

Last edited by zrtf90; 09/14/21 09:21 AM.

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Originally Posted by zrtf90
But nothing in the OP mentions each measure.

Also the OP states that he's been playing from the music and it seems like it is taking him longer than when looking at his hands.
Whether it's one measure or phrase makes no difference for my comments. It may take the OP longer now when he doesn't memorize the music and looks at the music, but that means he should work more on not having to look at his hands all the time and learning how to look back and forth between the score and his hands. Either or both of those are the reasons that some beginners choose to memorize as they go along and never learn how to play from the score well. No half decent teacher would recommend or teach that approach with the possible exception of the first few lessons or extremely young students.

It's the similar kind of situation as those who never learn to read music at all and can only learn music from synesthesia videos, an incredibly inefficient way to learn music.

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Hi,

This is the video it think is saying to memorize.



you know of course you know
00:26
my practice method if you watch my
00:28
videos is to start from the beginning of
00:30
a piece read through a couple of times
00:32
and get to work and learn it piece by
00:34
piece little phrase right hand little
00:37
phrase left hand memorizing each of them
00:39
memorizing them together going on to the
00:41
next chunk and connecting as you go

Last edited by harkld; 09/14/21 10:27 AM.
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Originally Posted by harkld
Hi,

This is the video it think is saying to memorize.



you know of course you know
00:26
my practice method if you watch my
00:28
videos is to start from the beginning of
00:30
a piece read through a couple of times
00:32
and get to work and learn it piece by
00:34
piece little phrase right hand little
00:37
phrase left hand memorizing each of them
00:39
memorizing them together going on to the
00:41
next chunk and connecting as you go
He is more likely trying to memorize a piece for performance which most amateurs only occasionally have to do. He also is very adept at reading and playing from a score so for him it is not question of avoiding learning how to do that incredibly important skill. Notice how he said he reads through a piece a couple of times first which is something, based on your posts, I don't think you can easily do.

Many(probably most) professional pianists don't memorize that way. I have read a book(can't think of the title)where the author interviewed many professional pianists. One of the question he asked most of them was how they memorize. None of them said they do it measure by measure. There have been many articles about memorization in various piano magazine, and I don't recall any of them suggesting a measure by measure approach. I don't think the approach is necessarily bad when one wants to memorize a piece but it should not be used to avoid learning how to play well from the score. l

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It's fine to look from the music to your hands and back again when you're learning a piece. There's no rule that it's bad to ever look at your hands. But some people lose their place if they try to do this, though, so they either memorize as they go if that comes more easily to them, or look only at the score and play by feel if that's what they prefer. But being able to go back and forth is a skill that's good to cultivate as soon as you can.

There's debate on whether learning hands separate is at all useful, but it seems to be for some people. It used to always be recommended, but that is no longer the case.

Many beginners who learn their pieces by immediate memorisation bit by bit fail to develop good reading skills. One can counteract this via separate sight reading practice.

But, many beginners who absolutely need to learn measure by measure, hands separate, and don't have a teacher, need to learn that way because they are actually working on pieces that are much too hard for them. This means they often learn to play with a lot of tension in their hands, and ingrain many non-ergonomic habits that are very, very difficult to eradicate, should they eventually get a proper teacher who understands the technique necessary to prevent overuse injuries.

So if you don't have a teacher, be sure you're working from a comprehensive method that will guide you to gradually develop good technique.


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Originally Posted by tangleweeds
It's fine to look from the music to your hands and back again when you're learning a piece. There's no rule that it's bad to ever look at your hands. But some people lose their place if they try to do this, though, so they either memorize as they go if that comes more easily to them, or look only at the score and play by feel if that's what they prefer. But being able to go back and forth is a skill that's good to cultivate as soon as you can.

There's debate on whether learning hands separate is at all useful, but it seems to be for some people. It used to always be recommended, but that is no longer the case.

Many beginners who learn their pieces by immediate memorisation bit by bit fail to develop good reading skills. One can counteract this via separate sight reading practice.

But, many beginners who absolutely need to learn measure by measure, hands separate, and don't have a teacher, need to learn that way because they are actually working on pieces that are much too hard for them. This means they often learn to play with a lot of tension in their hands, and ingrain many non-ergonomic habits that are very, very difficult to eradicate, should they eventually get a proper teacher who understands the technique necessary to prevent overuse injuries.

So if you don't have a teacher, be sure you're working from a comprehensive method that will guide you to gradually develop good technique.
You make many points and I agree with every single one.

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My teacher taught me with a Music Pyramid concept. You start with the basic key signature, rhythm and then work towards dynamics, voicing, style etc. The idea is do not rush to higher level before you build the foundation. Here is the more detailed explanation:



You can see even with a simple piece, you can also do a lot in layers, contrast, and musicality. I think that's fun part of playing piano.

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Some people like myself are natural memorizers. In the beginning a piece of music would be learned slowly by reading. Once it gets to a certain point, I'd turn the music over and play entire sections without reading a note.

Even if you're not recalling notes, your fingers would acquire muscle memory eventually. Your fingers would be on autopilot and able to play compete phrases.

Reviewing the score is necessary every once in a while to make sure you're playing accurately. If you haven't play a piece for a while, you still remember certain parts of a piece but not all. You're not exactly sure all the notes.


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