Recently, for whatever reason, a number of my students have been asking me how I learn a piece of music. That is, what are the steps that I go through when learning a new piece? I've never really externalized it to the degree that I would write out steps for someone, but I thought through my blog might be a nice way to get my point across! Hopefully, then, more people than just my own students might benefit!
So here's the first step:
1. Read through the piece, from beginning to end.
Now, that might seem like an obvious place to start, but you'd be surprised how many people neglect that crucial step. Doing that first read-through gives you a very important bird's eye view. You slowly become familiar with the voice-leading, harmonic, and architectural structure of the piece, while at the same time identifying sections that might be harder than others.
This applies, by the way, to pieces that you may have been listening to for years - as well as relatively unknown ones.