First steps in learning a piece

Most western music tells a story with melody and creates mood with rhythm and harmony.

  • What is the rhythm of the piece?
  • Walk
  • Run
  • Skip
  • Sway?
  • ... or something else?

What is the key?

Listen to the melody and mark the phrases with curved lines. The phrases will usually end with a cadence. Cadences are musical punctuations - pauses, anticipations and endings.

By marking the score this way you are making clear the plan of the piece - the underlying architecture.

  • Where are the main arguments?
  • What are the main characters?
  • Is there a dialogue going on?

Fingerings should really be the very last thing you look at.

Learn the story first. Get the broad sweep then fill in the details.

Why learn fingerings last?

Here is one example:

Let's say the melody in a particular section is broad and impassioned, simulating the pain of lost love. That sort of emotion is going to be conveyed much better by playing up and down the length of the string rather than staying in one position and crossing strings.

Now in practice, especially with the demands of solo guitar music, you may not be able to play the melody on one string and keep the accompaniment going. But at least you have identified the character of the melody - and even played it on one string for a while, as expressively as possible. That will show in your interpretation.

Now if you had just looked for a convenient fingering without reference to the character of the melody - your fingering would dictate and limit your expression.