When I used to moonlight as a lounge lizard in the local piano bars in London, my specialty was taking current pop songs and putting a jazz spin on them.
The punters would eat their dinner with a jazzy background (passive listening!), all of a sudden exclaiming, “I know that song!” in the middle of a Lady Gaga reinterpretation–I got a kick out of it every time.
But taking modern songs meant I often had to learn the latest pop song of the week very quickly! As I operate on a strictly last-minute is the best minute basis (fancy way of saying I’m a procrastinator) I tried ALL the ways of learning a song quickly and I’m sure you recognise some of them too...
Teaching yourself a song usually entails one of the following methods:
Trawling Youtube for a half-decent looking tutorial, this takes some time to find and often is disappointingly unclear or hard to follow.
Searching the song title + “chords” or similar to try and learn from a chord chart–which is difficult to translate into a full-arrangement if you don’t have the skills and these chord charts are often incorrect in part if not completely in the wrong key.
Looking for sheet music via an online retailer or music shop for the specific song and arrangement you want, spending time and money for the search and only occasionally finding what you want–if you are lucky enough to be able to read sheet music in the first place!
I tried all of these solutions and they never quite took me to the piano arrangement I had in mind to play.
These options aren’t bad necessarily, but in order to make any use of them it requires a special set of skills to interpret each of these options into a piano arrangement that sounds great, is in the right key and has some musical appeal!
Get a strong musical foundation first.
These methods were helpful to me since I had a strong foundation in music theory and experience in using the Songs By Ear process–they simply gave me a jump-off point. But without the Songs By Ear techniques, these song-learning methods are incomplete and frustrating to use.
So while these options for learning a song you want to play are all helpful, none of them will truly satisfy you or really teach you anything other than how to depend on others and waste time, and potentially money, each time you want to learn a new song.
Become self-sufficient, independent, FREE!
I’m sure you’ve heard the axiom–
Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.
–this perfectly applies to the idea of learning to teach yourself songs on the piano by ear.
When you learn how to figure out a song for yourself with nothing but a recording of the song and access to a keyboard instrument, then you are ‘fed for a lifetime’!
You are self-sufficient in acquiring new repertoire and no longer dependent on the sheet music that is deemed commercially viable enough by publishers to print and sell; or reliant on a YouTuber having enough requests to warrant creating a tutorial for maximum views!
If you love the song, no matter how obscure it is, you can teach yourself to play a version of it.
Not sure if you can pull it off?
If you doubt whether you are capable of learning this skill, allow me to point you toward this blog post of mine. Here I walk you through the process I use when teaching myself a song by ear and show you how I break down a particular pop song in minutes, not hours. (Includes video.)