I'm currently learning to play piano for 6 months and every time I learn a new piece I learn it like this:

  • learn the first line, play it until its pretty good
  • learn the next line and play the first line each time before it
  • when making a mistake repeat the whole piece
  • etc...

I wonder if this is the good way to learn, or that trying to play the whole sheet at once is a better idea as the whole piece is learnt evenly.
Perhaps the way to learn a new piece is personal, but often there is improvement possible in the way you learn something.

  • 4
    One of the most celebrated violin teachers, Ivan Galamian, suggested that students should dedicate time to practicing technique and practicing interpretation separately, and to make the distinction between the two very clear. Practicing interpretation means playing the piece from start to finish with the same mindest as if you were in a performance, and practicing technique would mean to focus on very small sections of the piece, devising variations that you think best isolate the difficulty you're having with each. May 7, 2011 at 1:02

9 Answers 9


One thing one of my choir teachers sometimes did is start at the end and then move backwards through the piece as larger parts starting from the end are perfected, so that you start with some unfamiliar measures then practice the part that you already know to reinforce the knowledge.

However, if you're repeatedly having trouble with a specific spot, it definitely makes sense to work on that specific spot before trying to play it in the context of the entire piece.

  • never thought of it; makes sense!
    – Thomas
    Nov 12, 2019 at 13:18
  • What the difference? Whether to start from the beginning forward, or to start from the end backward, if you use the same strategy (say moving on to the next bar after the current bar is played well", it's the same. Jul 20, 2020 at 3:31

I was taught that it's best to learn small sections independently. That way you can dedicate an equal time to all of them, and play them all equally well. I certainly prefer playing or listening to a piece played moderately well than a song play partially great and partially horribly. And taking the song as a whole is just too much (unless it's very short). You make progress much more slowly that way, and are prone to getting into a rut where the bad playing has become a bad habit/muscle memory.

You do, of course, need to play the parts you've already learned while you're learning a new one, so that your playing of them doesn't begin to deteriorate. You should just play them enough to keep up that playing level, and focus on the new part.

I also practice playing the "joints", if you will. For example, if I'm learning 16 bars at a time I will play bars 9-24 after I've learnt both 1-16 and 17-32, just to ensure that my transition between them is smooth and natural. It shouldn't sound in the end like you learned them independently. And once you've mastered all the parts individually, it's important to practice the song in its entirety to ensure everything is cohesive.


I strongly advise to break the linear, from-the-beginning-to-end working method. At the end, you'll end up knowing the start of the piece better. [Each mistake will weaken the chance of playing the piece to the end with the same concentration level.]

Work on the ending, work on the difficult parts, work on the joints as mentioned before. In my opinion, you're ready to the public performance when you can play the entire piece from virtually every point.

  • 3
    +1 for "you're ready to the public performance when you can play the entire piece from virtually every point". I had a teacher who made me memorize the beginning of every few bars, so that I could pick up the song anywhere and let muscle memory carry me from there if I ever blanked out on a piece.
    – user28
    Apr 26, 2011 at 20:29

You may find some things to be true:

  • it's usually irrelevant which part of the piece you learn in what order as long as you eventually put them all together in right order
  • you will progress a lot faster if you take the hard parts apart slow and detailed enough that you can have full control of them, and slowly speed them up while maintaining said control.
  • I find that starting at the beginning every time you trip up is a certifiable waste of time. You're not trying to punish yourself, you're trying to build a skill. Skills can only be built by maintaining attentive control of execution. When you trip up, don't go back, simply slow down to where you back in control

I think it is really very personal. Everyone has a unique way of learning. I tend to learn the piece from start to finish at a steady pace just to get the tune in my head and to get a feel for it, and then practice playing the whole song and stopping to work on the harder parts till its perfect.

And it also depends on the song. With a long master piece like The Entertainer, I would prefer learning each section individually treating it like its own song as each section can often be played by itself allowing you to play something that sounds good without completing it.

Working backwards from finish to start mite work for some, and it sounds like a good idea, but I don't think it would work for me.


Since you've only been playing for six months, I'm going to guess that the pieces you're learning are not especially long so if that's the case, I'd proceed as follows;

Step 1: Before you even play a note, read the piece through. Try to hear it in your head. Even if you're not able to hear the pitches very accurately, you'll still be giving yourself a rough idea of the shape of the music, where it goes up, down, stays level or rests, what rhythms you're dealing with, and any surprises such as busy passages, accidentals or anything else. This just a general reconnaissance mission so don't get too worried about the details. You're just giving yourself a feel for the piece.

Step 2: Select a tempo that gives you a fighting chance. Now, try playing it through and see how far you get. If the wheels come off completely, collect your thoughts and pick up from somewhere just before the crash scene. Otherwise, stagger on. Repeat until you've reached the end. Don't get discouraged - this is still essentially reconnaissance.

Step 3: Congratulate yourself on having started to take on this challenge.
Now assess which section was the most difficult and have a good look at it again. Use a pencil to make notes for yourself, e.g. write some fingering guides, circle a sharp that you forgot about, make whatever marks you need in order to guide you through.

Step 4: Have a few runs through that section until it's making sense to you. Slow down if necessary but keep the tempo pulse totally regular and steady. You're not perfecting anything yet; you're only improving it and beginning to understand it. Every now and then, take your hands off the keyboard, read the score and try to hear it in your head. Also try to feel what your fingers would be doing to play it. Absorb what you've learned then try playing it again.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 for the next most troublesome passage.

Don't overdo this stage. Your brain will get tired so take a rest when you need to. Resume when you feel mentally refreshed. Whether that's in ten minutes or the next day is up to you. But once you feel you've got the hang of a passage, don't rest on your laurels. Consolidate it by playing it accurately six, ten, fifteen times in a row - whatever works for you.

Bear in mind that this is simply about LEARNING the piece. Practising and mastering it is a different matter. But before you can do that, you need to become familiar with the material and the steps I've outlined above generally work for me. AFTER I've learned it, I then get on with the business of getting GOOD at it!


When practicing it is important to not spend very much time on it in one session. Do small sessions of for example 20-30 minutes and then take a good break. The rest is not that important IMHO and should match your style. I like learning by sections and not by line or pages.


I would suggest to concentrate on the part you play the worst, the shorter the better. It allows to practice it many times within limited time range. Very soon it will no longer be the worst part of your song.

If I learn "beginning to end" instead, the result is a funny music with the quality of performance gradually degrading from perfect at startup to dreadful at the end.


Learning the whole song will be difficult if the song is very long (for example, the Whole entirety 8 minutes of Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 3), but it can help get an idea of how hard the song is. In my opinion, you must divide up the song into sections (similar to how orchestra songs try to have measure markings to practice better). Start with the most difficult sections, if you learn those, the rest will be a piece of cake. You can also start with the most prevalent "theme" of the piece, in other words, the part that sounds the best to you, so that you will be driven to enjoy the piece and play it along with the rest of the song.

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