Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should You Learn the Notes of a Piece First?

An interesting question with a useful answer

In this video, Robert shows you how the concept of separating the theory from practice can be a trap for trouble in your music learning, no matter if you play the piano, the violin, or any other instrument.

Released on November 13, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. This is with a viewer question. Is it okay to learn the notes first in a piece of music? This is a really loaded question. A lot of people think, "I'm just going to learn the notes first. Later, I'll worry about the fingering. I'll worry about the expression. I can certainly put the dynamics in later." Or can you? Well, that's the question for today.

There's a great fallacy in thinking that you can learn the notes first. Now, some people might think, "Of course you should at least learn the rhythm with the notes." And maybe you might even think the fingering, "Hey, I can understand why you'd have to learn that along." But can you add the dynamics later or the phrasing? Here's why this just doesn't work. You see, whenever you play a piece of music, you're reinforcing something. And the fallacy is that you can play without expression, without dynamics, and without phrasing. It's virtually impossible.

How can this be? Well, what is phrasing? Phrasing is the way in which notes are connected or detached. That's a nice simple definition of it. Well, let's say a passage is written to be played staccato, and you're playing it legato. You're actually learning it wrong. You're getting used to playing it, not the way the piece goes. And here's the reason why it's so important to learn not just the notes, the rhythm, and the fingering but the phrasing and even the expression. Why can't you just add the expression later? Add the louds, the softs, the slowing down? It's because you're always playing at a dynamic level. If something's written piano, and you're playing it medium loud, and then something's written forte, and you're playing it loud, you're actually learning the wrong dynamic. Not that you're meaning to, but you can't play without a dynamic, so you're learning the wrong one.

Here's why it's so important to learn correctly all of the elements of your score. It's because unlearning is much harder than learning. Once you reinforce a mistake, getting rid of it is so incredibly difficult. It takes massive amounts of practice to unlearn what you've solidified wrong. So you may think, "I'm just going to get the notes. I'm going to get the rhythm better later." No, this is a great mistake that does not serve you well in your practice. Take the extra time as you're learning your music to learn all the details, and you will be rewarded by not having to go through the tedious process of trying to unlearn what is learned wrong.

Great question. Keep them coming in. Again, Robert at, your online piano store. Thanks so much for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on November 13, 2019 @4:42 pm PST
My biggest issue is with learning the correct fingering from the beginning, because of my extra small hands. So I learn with pencil ready and after trying a few different fingering, I write over the notes which way works for me, and I repeat it at least a dozen times, to erase from my memory the other previous fingerings I might have tried. My fingers seem to have a better memory than my brain !!
Robert Estrin on November 16, 2019 @2:28 pm PST
Figuring out the best fingering possible first, is a very smart strategy. Later, if there are sections that aren't reliable, you can always revisit other fingering possibilities.
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