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Nothing is worse than the frustration you feel when you don’t get the result you want despite spending time and effort learning a piano piece. This is one of the signs that the piece is currently too hard for you. This raises the question: how do you tell if a piece is too hard for you?
The piece is too hard if you still can’t play most of the piece at tempo despite practicing it for many weeks. You can also ask your teacher if you’re ready to play the piece or look at the sheet music while listening to recordings of the piece to see if you can handle the hard passages.
You mustn’t learn pieces that are too difficult for you at the moment because it’s an inefficient way of learning the piano. In the time spent learning one hard piece, you could have learned many easier pieces.
On the other hand, learning difficult pieces will give you a challenge to overcome, a clear goal to work towards and you won’t be satisfied until you achieve it. So a happy medium is best.
In this article, I’ll discuss some ways you can use to check if a piece is too hard for you currently, as well as the reasons you should learn easier pieces first before tackling a hard one. Finally, I’ll talk about how you can choose pieces that are suitable for your level.
How to know if a piano piece is too hard for you
You make little progress while learning the piece
Aside from the assigned level of a piece, the difficulty of a piece also depends on the person’s playing experience. A person who has played piano for many years will learn a piece more easily compared to a complete beginner, regardless of the difficulty level of the piece.
So if you can’t play most of the piece at tempo comfortably with no mistakes after learning it for weeks (1 to 3 months maximum), then the piece is too hard for you as you don’t have enough playing experience.
Talk to your teacher
If you’re taking piano lessons, ask your teacher if you’re ready to learn a particular piano piece. If you’ve been taking lessons for a while, your teacher will have a good grasp of your abilities and what you are capable of playing currently.
With that said, if you want to learn a piece that your teacher says it’s too hard for you, ask your teacher to make an easier version of the piece that you can play.
Piano teachers understand that having the desire to learn a piece is important as it motivates the student to practice the piano more, so most of the time, they will say yes and make a simpler version of the piece for you to play.
Read the score while listening to recordings of the piece
Look at the score of the piece to see if there are any new concepts or symbols you don’t understand. Do you understand the time and key signature of the piece? Can you clap the rhythms present in the pieces?
Listen to recordings of the piece to identify any new hand techniques you haven’t seen before and if you can learn them at your current level.
There are piano videos like Rousseau’s on Youtube where you can see how the hands play the piece from a bird’s eye view. Use these videos to visually see which sections could be tricky to learn and play through.
Once you identify the tricky passages that are hard for you, before giving up on the piece, see if you can practice each hand separately at a slow tempo before combining them. If you have trouble playing each hand separately, then the piece is too hard for you currently.
Why you should learn easier piano pieces before learning a hard one
A more efficient way of learning
In the time taken to learn one difficult piece, you could have learnt many easier pieces in your skill level to better hone and sharpen your techniques, as well as develop finger strength and dexterity.
These easier pieces also prepare you for more technically demanding pieces by gradually building up the skills needed, and are a more effective way to advance your piano playing
Instead of trying to climb four steps at once, climb each step slowly but surely. The same is true for playing piano: instead of skipping and learning a piece too difficult for you, learn pieces incrementally, increasing difficulty slightly for each new piece you learn.
This is the reason why we don’t see beginners learn La Campanella (considered one of the hardest piano pieces) as their first piece. If they did, they would fail spectacularly.
Ensure proper techniques
Playing a piano piece that’s too difficult for you means you have to make compromises. This could mean you need to reduce accuracy to keep up with the tempo of the piece, resulting in sloppy piano playing and performance that doesn’t sound very good.
You might also pick up bad habits that are hard to undo if you try to learn difficult passages that you’ve never encountered before. In piano playing, a bad habit could take months or years to fix.
Provides more fulfillment in playing the piano
While you may have a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in trying to learn a difficult piece when you’re not ready, those emotions soon turn into frustrations and disappointment because the results you get aren’t equal to the amount of time and effort put into practicing that piece. Over time, you’ll lose interest and quit learning the piece altogether.
Being able to play many pieces more suitable to your level provides you with more satisfaction and motivation to continue trying harder pieces, using the skills and techniques you learned from previous pieces you learned.
How to choose piano pieces suitable to your level
I use this 2015 RCM syllabus to find pieces that I can learn at my level. The RCM exam is split into 10 levels, if you’ve been learning piano for a while, check the pieces in either level 4 or 5 and see if you can play them comfortably. If you can’t then decrease the level.
While you should practice pieces at your level, it doesn’t hurt to give yourself a challenge and try learning pieces higher than your current level. However, keep the harder pieces only 1-2 higher than your current level to make sure you learn proper techniques and don’t accidentally pick up any bad habits that could affect your piano playing.
You may also want to read
Ever wondered what elements make a piano piece difficult? Why are Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Liszt’s pieces considered difficult? Check out What Makes a Piano Piece Difficult?