Melinda Moon

Learning Music

Tips that will help you get started learning music or get back into it

My story of how I got back into playing piano (that I hope will help you and/or your child learn music):
I had not practiced piano for several years (even thought I had kept my violin going) until I got a calling to play piano for Relief Society.  It made me have to practice to be able to fill my calling, and in the process I started to gain my skill of piano playing back.  I remembered how much fun it was to play, and so I kept practicing even after I was released.  It was like I got addicted to it.  I started searching for songs I wanted to learn.  The secret to get to where you love to play music is to start, and commit to practice every day for about 20 minutes, practice correctly to build your skill and find songs that you like to play.  If you aren’t taking lessons maybe you could commit to perform every week for someone and so you’ll need to practice to be ready.  Make practice time your break time, everyone needs to have breaks anyway.  You might as well spend it on something productive instead of wasting too much time online, with the TV, or on some form of social media.  You will be taking breaks in some form whether you want to or not, so you might as well take a break doing something enjoyable and productive.  Music is a skill that serves you as well as others and is something you can take with you beyond this life.  Enjoyment of playing music may come after some disciplined effort, but don’t give up.   The best motivation to make you want to practice is to practice, even when you don’t feel like it.  Make a commitment to practice at the same time every day, like you should be taking your breaks anyway (not just keep grinding until you lose productivity, or burn out and can’t move anymore).  Keep practicing and soon you will build skill, start really enjoy making music and be able to share it with others.  Even if you never do share it with others, it is so beneficial for you to learn music.  It’s fun!  It gives you creative outlet, really develops your brain, and keeps it working well as you age.  Learning art helps people do better in school, there is a lot of research to back this up.  (I know this because in college I did a 10 pg. paper on the effects of music on children in elementary ed., and there are often new studies coming out.)  

Here are some more tips to keep you motivated and learning: (these apply you both you and your child).
1.    Be consistent, commit to every day at a set time for about 20 minutes or more.  The time can increase as you build your skill, but you won’t mind!  Don’t push yourself too much if you are not really in the mood or way to busy once in a while, but be consistent.  Taking lessons or joining a performing group can help you be motivated to practice to be prepared.
2.    Make sure that you are learning correctly.  Parents learn how to play the music along with your child so you can help your child practice.  If you had years of training in the past you may be able to teach yourself or your child, but if in doubt get a teacher.  You can even make arrangements for a single lesson here and there, or a lesson every other week.  I have done both and it worked well for me with my musical training from past years.  Teachers were very willing to work with me like this and I have done this for my students as well, especially adults.  Children progress much faster when the parent listens to their practice and helps them when needed (especially on the discipline of doing practice spots).  Play it correctly every time, even the fingerings matter!
3.    Play songs that you like and have fun!  Find music that makes you want to learn even if they are a bit above (or below) your level, you will learn a lot from them and your motivation is key.  If you love the song you will want to practice.  You could start with a good method book or just a piano book full of progressive songs.  You could look for specific favorite songs online to print out (a good site is  I bought a book of progressive pieces and played a bit of the start of several songs until I found one I really liked, and then learned the entire song.  If going through a method book, don’t’ be afraid to skip a song in the book if you don’t like it.  It’s better to keep motivated than to quit and it’s hard to practice if you aren’t having fun.  Try to find a level that challenges you a bit and songs that you like.
4.    Don’t worry about your progress.  Everyone can learn music.  As long as you are trying, you are progressing, assuming that you have the instruction to do it correctly.  Don’t let yourself get frustrated, or you won’t learn.  Your brain is progressing even if you don’t see it yourself.  It works as you sleep, I promise.  I have seen it over and over where people struggle on a hard spot and then the next day or few days it just happens magically, and is so much easier.  Think about the seedling under the soil; a lot of really hard work is going on even though you can’t see it, but if you give up trying (or watering the seedling) you will never see it.  If the going seems slow, remember you are laying a foundation and that takes time, but there are great rewards waiting.  No matter how simple, everything you learn is a valuable skill you will keep using and is a building block for the next skill.  Learning music is learning a foreign language.  It takes daily practice and it just starts to “click”.  Just enjoy the process, and remember how good it is for you.
5.    Practice effectively.  (Parents really need to help their child do this.)  If you have a hard spot in the song, play it over and over until it becomes easier.  Once you get it right, then play it 3-5 times in a row correctly.  If you miss it, start the repetitions over.  Separate hands, etc. whatever you have to do to simplify.  Slow a section down, or the whole song.  Simplify until it is possible for you to do it.  Everyone has to learn this way; it’s just how the brain works.  Great musicians had to start with the basics also.  Figure out what works for you to help you learn; there are books on the subject.  Think about what you are doing to use your time effectively, and become your own teacher.  Don’t forget to practice performing the song several times once you have mastered all the details.  I like to do performance runs every day even if a concert isn’t coming up.
6.    Learn how to make music by listening to others.   Listen to all the classical music you can every day, or whatever genre you are interested in learning.  Attend all the concerts you can.  Listen to recordings of the songs you are learning.  Find several different artist’s interpretations of the song you’re working on, (u-tube is great) and then make the music your own.  Make your own interpretation.  Getting into the details of dynamics and phrasing is what really makes your songs into music and makes it really fun.  Become the storyteller of the music, and communicate with your audience.  I can’t stress how important this is!!
7.    Develop a repertoire of 3-5 songs that you keep currant and know well enough that you could perform them at any time.  Perform!  Have at least one song memorized.  Then you could perform without your music.  Don’t just learn a piece, drop it and move on to the next.  Review these songs daily as well as working on a new song.  Reviewing will bring depth to your playing; helping to develop your musicality, technique, reading etc.
8.  Provide extrinsic motivation for practicing so you can get to the point where music alone is the reward, or the reward is intrinsic.  It can take time to get to the point where you just love to practice.  Reward yourself for your efforts by performing or with something else special you want.  My kids cannot “play” with toys, games, tv etc. until they’ve done their “work” of practicing (although I try not to label it work or give it any negative connotations because music really is a privilege and opportunity).  Practice is like a chore, we just do it every day and then they can play.  The more consistent we do it the less resistance children are.  Make practicing enjoyable; invent games, be silly and laugh.  It is fun to spend one on one time with your child helping them learn music.  Do not stress out about achievement because every child will learn at their own pace, but do try for progress and good effort.  Recognize that some days no progress will appear to be happening and let it go; just establishing a good practice habit and work ethic is worth it anyway.  I wouldn’t push a child to do more than they are capable of doing, because they will resent it and not want to practice next time and could cause other problems for them.  Some days they may only be able to do a couple things, but it’s ok.  Celebrate every little accomplishment; this will help them want to practice!  It is better to celebrate their efforts than their performance because it is something they have control over.  Children are less likely to get discouraged if you praise them for good effort over achievement or performance.  It is good to have them regularly perform; kids love to show off so put on a concert for grandparents etc.  Praise as well as material rewards can motivate children to practice.  Earning something special can help establish good habits, but may not need to be used all the time.  My kids love practice money and this system really works.  They earn practice money for their good attitude and quality practicing efforts.  Then we have store once a month (once a week or even daily is even better for younger children).  They love to cash in their practice money for their reward.  Here is how it works:

Day 1 (Sunday): $1 Concert day for family
Day 2 (Monday): $1 Full day of Practice with a good attitude
Day 3 (Tuesday): $1 (  )
Day 4 (Wednesday): $1 (  )
Day 5 (Thursday): $1 (  )
Day 6 (Friday): $2 (  )
Day 7 (Saturday); $3 (  )

To get the $2 and $3 dollar days they have to be on the sixth or seventh days in a row.  They are on the weekend since those seem to be the hardest days to practice sometimes.  Every day the dollar is negotiable, if they are not willing to do certain things, tell them they will lose a quarter of their practice money.  They could also earn extra money.  The practice dollar doesn’t equate to a full dollar, just a fraction of a dollar (like 10 cents; you decide the amount).  It doesn’t have to be expensive to work, it just has to be something they want to earn.  I buy stuff for them to earn that I know they like, or let the child choose something to earn.  Then I put a price on each item and they go crazy about store time!

Books that I used (and more):

A good beginner method book:
•    Alfred (It has a couple adult courses as well)
Good methods I have heard about but don’t have experience with (from an amazing concert pianist Kelsie Call,
•    The Music Tree Series, start with primer, A Time to Begin
•    The Piano Adventures
•    Faber
•    Bastian (Use the scale book only or combine this method with other methods.)
The books that helped me get back into piano (with past piano experience you could too, just find songs that you like and want to learn, starting with something simpler and move to more complex):
•    LDS Hymnal (You can get a simplified version).
•    Children’s Primary Songbook
•    60 Progressive Piano Pieces You Like to Play (There are other books like this).
•    Hymn arrangements by Jason Tonioli
•    Songs by John Williams
•    Piano accompaniment for Suzuki Violin books, church music etc.
Where to find music:
•    Day Murray Music (They can ship and have a wide variety).
•    Online printout sheet music (like can help you find specific titles.
•    Your local music store, but call before you go because they may not stock it
How to find a teacher (They usually have a preferred method they teach with):
•    Call and ask your local music store.
•    Look up one at
•    Ask people you know who take lessons for a good teacher.
•    Ask about the teacher’s training and experience.  Also it is a good idea to observe a lesson and see if you like their teaching style before you sign up for lessons.  Sometimes there is a personality conflict.