Should You Learn the Hardest Part of a Piece First?

Piano Lessons / music theory / Should You Learn the Hardest Part of a Piece First?

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today the subject is about learning the hardest part of a piece first. I’ve talked before about learning a new piece from the beginning and working in sequence. You should read through a piece a couple of times to familiarize yourself with it, then get to work bit by bit learning each phrase hands separately, then put the hands together and connect the phrases. So what’s this business about learning the hardest part first? I talked about starting from the end of a piece also, as one pianist once suggested to me.

I find that learning a piece sequentially generally makes much more sense.

It helps you to understand the whole evolution of thought and the mathematical materials and motifs of a piece of music. Sometimes, though, there’s a piece that has such a monstrously difficult section later on that if you don’t tackle it early, it will hold you up later. Something like a coda to a Chopin Ballade is going to take you a long time to really get polished and solid. If you just start with the coda first, by the time you get there, you’ll have the whole piece together! Because that coda is going to take you so much longer to be able to get up to the level of the rest of the piece.

In certain instances, you want to zero in on the hardest part of a piece first.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t start at the beginning? No. Quite the contrary. You take two approaches at once. You start the piece from the beginning in the manner I described earlier, while dividing part of your practice for working on the hardest section. Just working on the hardest part the whole time when you’re starting a new piece can be very discouraging. After all, you have a piece that you love the sound of, for example the Chopin G minor Ballade. The coda is hard. It will require special attention. But you might want to play that beautiful first theme. That’s something that you can get on a high level much sooner than the coda. So it keeps you engaged, working from two fronts. By the time you get to the coda, you’ve already learned it! You don’t have to learn the whole coda before you even start the piece. But you can work concurrently on the beginning, as well as the coda, and perhaps a couple of other key sections. So when you get to them, they’re not in their infancy. They’re already starting to gel. It is a tremendous benefit in your practice to zero in on some of the hardest sections while going through sequentially from the beginning. That way when you get to these hard sections, they’re already mature. They’ve started to coalesce for you. I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “Should You Learn the Hardest Part of a Piece First?”


  1. Good topic. I do find when I have put a piece away for some time–one that I planned when I put it away to finish it off next time I picked it up–upon returning to it, I prefer to attack first the hardest part and conquer that once and for all. Even then, it won’t be possible to finish it off on that second attack–the coda to the final movement of the Waldstein Sonata, for example. In that particular case, I might work solely on that coda until I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, then once again put it away in the oven to cook for a while. When I do this, I often find myself able to play what stalled me before (Good example: the Overture in the Goldberg Variations just never made sense the first time memorizing the piece. But when I came back and found myself playing that variation comfortable, I was really motivated to pick up again on the rest of the piece, enjoying it especially when I would get to the Overture.).

    1. It is amazing how music incubates inside you! Returning to pieces you have played before can reveal growth in your playing you may not have even realized had occurred!

  2. I totally agree with you Robert.
    Make an effort to enjoy the hardest parts teaching as a teacher to the student,also more interesting and less gruelling…

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