When my students are trying to decide which song to learn next, I offer as much guidance as possible. However, I know that this can be an overwhelming decision that’s ultimately up to the students. No matter what instrument you’re playing, the same considerations need to be made when choosing a new song.
Can I learn this song now?
I believe that any student can learn any song that they put their mind to learning, but it’s not always the right time to learn certain songs. There’s a reason I start off students with very simple melodies and not full symphonies. I want them to develop confidence in their abilities and not become frustrated because they can’t play songs that are more elaborate. It’s fairly easy to tell if a song is too difficult to learn. I welcome and encourage my students to challenge themselves, but it needs to be done properly.
Is this song too easy?
The point of learning new songs is to deepen our skill set. As my students go further in their musical education, songs that previously took them a week or more to learn can now be learned in a couple days. This is obviously wonderful, but it’s necessary to challenge ourselves. When students are breezing through songs, I can sense some boredom on their part. They’re not engaging their minds the way they need to in order to really succeed. If they become too comfortable with a certain difficulty level, it can be hard for them to learn anything even slightly more challenging.
So, I try to encourage my students to choose songs that are going to require a bit more patience, both with the song and with themselves. It’s much more satisfying to learn a song that actually necessitates effort instead of one that can be played in your sleep.
Do I understand the theory behind this song?
One of my favorite parts of teaching music is watching students develop confidence in their understanding of music theory. Students who previously could only play songs in C major and 4/4 time are able to take on more complex key and time signatures. I make sure that they are able to smoothly transition into each level of theory difficulty, especially with key and time changes. If a song has a student’s eyes boggling with how many sharps or flats there are, I know they’re not ready for.
Does this song build on skills I’m currently learning?
I don’t want my students to feel like they’re haphazardly going through different types of songs with no rhyme or reason as to why. When a new skill is developed, such as two-handed voicings or faster chord changes, it helps to find songs that keep those skills in your hands. Once these skills are effectively mastered, it’s time to move on to learning new ones.
Do I like this song?
It’s significantly harder to muster up enthusiasm for a song that you don’t care for. While you might not absolutely love every song that you need to learn, I think it’s perfectly fine to pass on a song that you don’t at least like. If a song makes a student cringe from the first measure, I know that it’s going to be an uphill battle to get it mastered. Instead, I look for songs that are similar in terms of difficulty and music development but are more to their liking. I want music to be something that my students embrace, not something that becomes a crushing obligation.
Am I willing to put in the effort?
Discipline when learning a new song can be difficult for many of my students. Sometimes, they’ll have so much enthusiasm for a new song, but they’ll get flustered by a certain phrasing and have trouble seeing the song through to completion. Other times, they’ll procrastinate and try to learn an entire song in an evening, producing unsatisfactory results. As a teacher, I’m not going to be able to force my students to learn a new song. That is ultimately on them. If you know that you won’t be able to work on a song like you need to, it’s important to let your instructor know.
What are the easiest/hardest parts of this song?
The best songs to learn aren’t ones that can be categorized as “easy” or “hard.” Instead, they’re ones that contain aspects that can be played with no problem as well as more challenging ones. When I say “more challenging,” I don’t mean that they’re near-impossible, just that they require a bit more conscientious effort. It’s also important for my students to not get sloppy with their skills and rush through the parts that are easier to learn.
What’s my strategy for learning this song?
I find a methodical approach is best when it comes to learning a new song. If a student attempts to learn it all at once, they’re going to have trouble. A song should be fairly easy to break down into different parts. If a certain motif is prominent in the first few measures, I encourage students to focus on those measures first. When each measure is mastered, they can move onto the next one and so on.
How long will this take me to learn?
I don’t want my students to ever feel like they have to rush through learning a song. Instead, it should be a gradual, enjoyable process. When you’re learning a new song, you should ask yourself how long, at a minimum, it will take for you to learn. This factors in how much time you’ll spend practicing it each day and what aspects might be the most challenging. It’s perfectly fine to be a couple days off your targeted completion date, but don’t wildly overestimate your ability to learn a song in a relatively short window of time.
Learning new songs is what makes playing music such a wonderful experience. As my students develop their talents, their confidence grows and they can learn all kinds of new songs. As a teacher, I love to provide them with the training they need to decide what songs would be best to learn next. Sometimes, I am surprised by how quickly they adapt to songs that might’ve been too challenging in the past.
If you’re having trouble deciding which song to learn next, remember that there is no hurry to prove yourself. Develop your skills naturally and work with any music teachers you have. I wish you the best of luck with your playing.