Learning New Music? Slice It Up

A photo of Jeff Queen.

Have you ever been given a new piece of music and struggled to learn it in a timely manner? One of the main mistakes I see with students learning a new chart is trying to work on too large of a chunk at a time. Just like there is not a healthy way to eat an entire pizza in one bite, there is no practical way to really learn an entire piece of music by just reading it down.

Let’s make the analogy that any new piece of music is the same as a whole pizza with your favorite toppings. I am a fan of pepperoni and banana pepper, dipped in ranch.

So, think of learning your music like this:

The Whole Chart = The Whole Pizza
Phrases = Slices of Pizza
Measures within the Phrases = Bites
Beats within the Measures = Chews

The same way you would eat your slice of pizza is the same way that you want to learn your music. If we are patient and take small chunks (bites) of the chart (pizza), we will hopefully learn it correctly and be able to digest what we learned and apply it in short order.

So pick up a slice of pizza. This slice will emulate a realistic phrase of the music. Let’s say it is eight bars. Now, take a bite. This bite will be one measure within that phrase. Each chew that you make is one beat of this measure.

You certainly need to make sure that you chew your food before you swallow it, so that you don’t choke. The same is true for learning the intricacies of the music. Learn each beat—the dynamics, the stickings, the scale, etc.—and then swallow and move on to the next bite or measure.

As you get down to the crust, that will be multiple measures within the phrase at a time. Once you have ingested that “piece,” move on to the next and repeat the process.

Now, go grab a slice and get to work!

About author

Jeff Queen

Jeff Queen has been involved in drum corps since 1989 as a member, technician, caption head, and now judge. Jeff is an original cast member of the award-winning Broadway Show “BLAST!” and is currently the percussion coordinator for Carmel (Indiana) High School, the five-time Bands of America champion. He is also the author of “The Next Level: Rudimental Drum Techniques” and the “Playing with Sticks” instructional DVD.