How To Play Difficult Songs On The Piano

how to play difficult songs
5 minute read

Piano players share a common issue. It’s likely you have it too: That one piece you wish you could play, but it just seems too difficult. And, in general, how do you learn and play difficult songs on the piano? We have detailed tips on how to do it in our 7 step guide. To help you perfect that one song in no time!

Perhaps you are a beginner on the piano hoping to master one of your favorite songs sometime soon. Or maybe you are a more advanced player, wishing that you could dedicate some time in your lessons to a particular piece that your teacher has deemed as too difficult right now. As musicians, we all go through periods of wishing to play a certain piece to perfection. And often, we are not sure what the correct steps are to achieve this. If you are in this situation then don’t worry.

Follow our 7 steps to ensure that you can play difficult songs on the piano. And once you have finally nailed it, the level of achievement that you will feel, will be so worth all the hard work you have put it in!

Here’s an Overview of the 7 Steps:

  1. Read the entire piece of music
  2. Listen to the music
  3. Break the piece into sections
  4. Practice each section
  5. Increase your speed
  6. Use a variety of techniques to master difficult sections
  7. Practice it all together

Step 1: Read the Entire Piece of Music Beforehand

When we are so desperate to learn our favorite piece of music, we tend to rush into it. Often we immediately play the piece from the beginning to the end. With more difficult piano songs, it is vital that we take our time and really prepare for learning it.

The first step is quite obvious: Try to get your hand on the sheet music and study it without your hands on the piano. Listen to samples on Spotify or YouTube and get a specific image in your head on how to play and interpret it later. This will ensure that you truly understand the actual music on the page before you start playing it.

Study each of the sections in the sheet music to identify the difficulties of the song

Look out for changes in harmonies that may be difficult while playing, and ensure that you are ready for any tricky jumps that will pop up throughout the piece. Make sure you are aware of the starting key signature, and any key changes that happen in the music. There may also be extra markings made by the composer that you would want to understand. Prepping in this way will help you be prepared for anything that happens in the piece that you will need to concentrate on. 

Step 2: Listen to the Music

Aside from studying the music on paper, you will, of course, have to listen to the music as mentioned before. Now, you may think this is redundant because if it is a piece that you have been wanting to play for such a long time, you will already know it!  But this time, really listen to the music. Listen out for key changes, or sections where the particular performer has really expressed his own musicality. All these small things that you may have missed before, will definitely help you on your way to perfecting the music. You may even want to take notes while you are listening.

Step 3: Break the Piece Into Sections

We would not advise you to dive straight into playing a difficult songs on the piano. The best way to learn, particularly when you are trying your hands on a very difficult song, is to always break the piece up into sections. For example, if the piece you want to learn is 3 minutes long, you could break it up into three 1 minute sections. Or, as an alternative, let the sheet music guide you as there’s certain recurring melodies, themes or repetitions. In pop music you could break it up by each verse and then the chorus.  You should decide what’s best, depending on the piece you want to learn. 

Still asking how to actually PLAY that difficult song on the piano? Keep on reading.

Step 4: Practice Each Section Slowly

Now that you have broken the piece of music up into the appropriate sections it is time to start practicing (finally)! Take the first section of the piece and begin to practice it slowly. We recommend using a metronome to help you with this. You should play the piece at half the speed it is originally played. Even if at half speed it feels too easy, doing it this way will really allow you to get to know the music. Furthermore, you will develop and practice the muscle memory you will need. Once you feel, you have mastered the first section at half speed, move on to the second section. And then the next section, all at half speed.

Step 5: Increase Your Speed

Once you feel like you are comfortable playing the individual sections of the piece at half speed, you should start increasing it. You shouldn’t immediately begin to play the sections at the full, original speed the piece is usually performed at. By using your metronome, simply increase the speed for the first section slightly. Once you have mastered each section at this increased speed, then you can re-do this at a slightly higher speed.  You can keep increasing the speed in increments for as long as you need, to feel comfortable with every section.

Step 6: Use a Variety of Techniques to Master Difficult Sections

When you are practicing, and especially if you want to learn songs on the piano that are very difficult, you will encounter small parts of the piece, where you will continue to make mistakes. That’s normal!

The important thing is, not to ignore this. Continue practicing in order to be able to play most of the song. Be strict with yourself: If there is a part that you continue to make mistakes on, try a variety of techniques.

Change the difficult part into a different octave to master the song and use triplets

It’s interesting, that sometimes when you slightly change a section of music you can then easily play the original. For example, changing the small part into a different octave, or using triplets instead of the original written notes can really help you learn the original part better!

Step 7: Practice the Entire Piece

Now that you have mastered all of this, it is time to puzzle the entire song together! No more playing at half speed and no more playing the song in smaller sections. Now is the time for you to play the piece of music from start to finish! Of course, during your first couple of tries at this you may need to work at a slower speed. But keep pushing yourself, until you can play from start to finish at the correct speed with no mistakes or stops!

Perform it! And Don’t be Afraid Anymore

Now you have achieved what you have always dreamed of: playing that difficult piece to perfection! You have worked hard and all that work has hopefully paid off. Now, what should you do? Perform it of course! 

Whether you perform it in front of a friend, for your family or on the big stage – take this opportunity to show off your hard-earned work! Some of the greatest rewards from playing the piano are can be reaped, when you perform the pieces you love in front of an audience. So enjoy this!