Want to know how to progress faster at the piano? Then read on because it’s probably not what you think.
If you want to go further, go slower.
What do I mean by that?
If you want to progress faster at the piano, start slowly from the beginning. Take it one step at a time. Avoid brushing over the fundamentals just so you can get to your prize quicker. Climb the ladder with the small steps, not the one with the huge steps you can’t reach.
I say this because all too often, I see people trying to learn pieces like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (1st movement) or Für Elise, Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca or Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, which may appear “simple” when in actual fact, they’re not.
To put things into perspective, the 1st movement of the Moonlight Sonata is about Grade 5 or 6, Für Elise is around Grade 5 if you take the middle section into account, Alla Turca is about Grade 6 and Chopin’s Waltz is Grade 5! This makes them all late intermediate pieces, NOT beginner pieces.
(If you’re learning one of these pieces, know that I’m NOT picking on you. I’m simply making an observation. Please read on 😊)
While these pieces are famous for a reason, why start there? Why start with Grade 5/6 pieces? You have years ahead of you. Why spend months learning pieces that are WAY outside your current level when you could spend that time learning dozens of short, beautiful pieces to develop your technique and reading skills?
Why not progress towards these intermediate pieces with beginner and early intermediate pieces instead of jumping 5 grades all at once and going straight to them? What do you gain by doing that?
The danger in learning pieces above your level
The danger in learning intermediate/advanced pieces as a beginner is that it’s going to take you much longer than it should and so you’ll easily feel discouraged. You may even decide to quit thinking it’s just too hard. Well, of course it’s too hard! If a baby tries to run before it can crawl, it’s not going to go very far.
So, walk before you can run.
You will get there in time
I promise you this: You WILL eventually reach the stage where you CAN play intermediate and advanced pieces. If you practise and learn things sequentially, in a logical order, you WILL get there. I guarantee it. And when you do, you’ll have a MUCH more enjoyable time learning these pieces because you’ll have gained the technique, the theory, the musicianship and the reading skills required to play such pieces. Instead of taking you a year or more to learn just ONE of these pieces, it’ll take you a few months maximum. And that’s how you’ll progress faster.
Here’s a little story to illustrate my point…
I was once given a clarinet by a total stranger on the street (true story!). I was carrying my violin on my way to a lesson and this old man came up to me asking if I’d be interested in his old clarinet because he couldn’t play it anymore. I’ve always loved the sound of the clarinet so I was super excited to learn! This was about 10 years ago.
When I went home with this new addition to the family, I didn’t immediately attempt to play the legendary opening theme of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue even though I loooove the tune and would love to be able to play it!
You know the one I mean, right? This one:
I did NOT even attempt it, even though I could probably work it out by ear if I really wanted to.
A few days later, I went to a secondhand music store and bought myself beginner method books that kids use and AMEB grade pieces (up to Grade 5 – no need to aim so high!) and sloooowly made my way through the grades.
I started with a soft reed for beginners (a 1 ½) and then when I built the strength in my embouchure, I bought slightly harder reeds (2 and 2 ½ – professionals use 3-3 ½). I also had a few private lessons with a clarinet teacher to make sure my technique was okay.
I reached around Grade 5 but I did so by starting with very simple music. I focused on the quality of my sound and on my breathing, my mouth and my fingers. I worked out the fingerings for a number of scales and arpeggios and worked on the harder notes (the higher register). I then worked on grade 1, then grade 2, then 3, and so on. Had I skipped the lower grades and jumped straight to Grade 5, it would’ve taken me much longer to learn the pieces. And I doubt it would’ve sounded any good.
Even now, I know I’m definitely NOT ready for the Gershwin solo. If I attempted it now, it would be a squeaky mess! 😂 I’m more than happy to let the professionals do it!
Take your time and enjoy it
I know it’s tempting to try learning pieces you see everyone play on the Internet but PLEASE – take your time. It’s not a race. You’ll get there. Start at step 1 and go from there. And I assure you that you’ll encounter many delightful pieces along the way that you didn’t even know existed. You’ll enjoy learning them because they’ll be at your level or just above it, not WAY above it. And THAT is the true joy of playing an instrument.
So go keep exploring but pieces at your level or just above!