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what is the best way to memorize a piece of music?

14 Responses
Posted: January 17, 2012
Last Comment: January 27, 2012

Posted: January 27, 2012
"...that is to mentally be engaged (really engaged) in singing the melody as you're playing. When you do that, that "voice" becomes a guiding force that will fill in the gaps..."

Excellent advice!  I tried this with a tune that I didn't know previously. Once I had it in my head,  I got it up to speed much more quickly with fewer mistakes by singing it mentally as I played it.

Posted: January 26, 2012
I recently read the following on the subject. It was written in the early 1900's and the copyright has expired. The language is a bit dated but it's downloadable if anyone is interested.

Posted: January 20, 2012
Closing your eyes does help you to focus better on the music you're making....or trying to make...ha.  I have a few pieces memorized...short ones like Ashokan, but Meditation is the longest piece that I have memorized from beginning to end.  Not having to look at the music does help me to pay more attention to what I'm doing, but.....good practice skills have just as much, if not more to do with the end results !   My practice skills "STINK"....so....therefore I still can't play meditation decently well (after a year now)......yet.....but I'm getting a handle on that...resolution and all.. <:-*

Beth Blackerby
Posted: January 20, 2012
Jennifer, that's a wonderful reason to memorize a couple of things. Yo have no idea how many times, someone has asked me to play something, and I've said "well, I don't have any music with me"...I've always been able to play the Meditation by memory though. All the other things I've memorized in the past are long forgotten. I guess the long term/ short term memory rule applies for music too. 

As far as playing with eyes closed, I often do that when I'm practicing. One can always memorize a little snippet of something fairly easy, and playing with shut eyes (for me) helps me live in the musical moment better.

Posted: January 20, 2012
Did you notice that Adrian played his violin with his eyes closed?  I have noticed that many violinists that I have watched in concert keep their eyes closed during a performance, such as Sarah Chang and Lara St. John.  Sarah has said that her violin is her voice.  Lara said that she has a photographic memory and memorizes everything.  Because they began playing the violin when they were tiny tots, I assumed memorizing the music was part of their genius.  It is good to hear that memorizing music is possible for even late starters.

Posted: January 19, 2012
I have just recently developed an interest in memorizing a couple of my favorite pieces.  I like the idea of being able to just play on a whim if someone asks me to play something.  I think it appears pretty impressive to be able to just play from memory for someone.  I was never really encouraged by any of my teachers to memorize any pieces, so it definitely takes me awhile to get into the groove of it.  Definitely takes a lot of patience!

Beth Blackerby
Posted: January 19, 2012
Thanks Robyn. I will!

Posted: January 19, 2012
A very revealing information for me. Thanks for Robyn's post and Beth for your comments.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: January 18, 2012
I agree with Fabiano, your post is extraordinary, Robyn. While I was reading it, I thought, with your permission, it would be nice to post that in the Resources section. 

To nutshell your excellent nut shelling, learning a piece of music using every means available, i.e. all parts of our brain, creates a huge databank of information to draw upon, so that if one thing fails, like remembering a shift or fingering , then some other piece of information you've stored away will pop to the rescue.

In addition to everything you said, there is one simple technique that for me helps in those scary performance moments.. That is to mentally be engaged (really engaged) in singing the melody as you're playing. When you do that, that "voice" becomes a guiding force that will fill in the gaps, and send your bow and fingers to the rights spots (or at least close). That on top of a foundation of thorough study and learning as Robyn described really works. The idea of mentally singing (not along with your playing, but in slight anticipation as only the imagination can do) is good to do anyway. This I learned from my teacher Manoogian, who would sometimes yell "I can tell you are not singing!" Mentally singing also helps me with intonation. If I see a hairy intonation spot on the horizon, I kick in my "head" voice full throttle. It does help.

 It's not a necessity to memorize music, but it's good to do once in a while. I believe it's true. The "liberation" as Anne described it, allows all that brain space, previously sectioned off for reading, to spread in other areas.  Also, I have had more "transcendent" moments playing or performing without music than with. I think you also "listen" better to yourself.

Dick Stanley
Posted: January 18, 2012
Itzhak Perlman says (in one of his YouTube videos) that anything you practice slowly you forget slowly. Anything you practice quickly you forget immediately.

Anne aMaudPowellFan
Posted: January 18, 2012
I did when I was young, even etudes. My current teacher does not require or even encourage it, so usually I don't. But I am thinking of learning my Bach solo by heart. The theory is that it frees your attention, but there is a trade off if you find it difficult, of course.

By the way, in ABRSM exams, you get no brownie points for playing by heart. They don't care.

Posted: January 18, 2012

do all of you memorize all of your music?  I haven't memeorized any, so i wonder if there is a benefit from it.

Posted: January 18, 2012
Take small bites at a time.  Limit yourself to maybe 4 measures at a time...when you get those down in your head move on to the next 4.   Listening to the piece before hand can be a great help too, just as Andreas suggested.  

Posted: January 18, 2012
Hi Michael :)
For me it works best when I hear the piece over and over again and try to follow the notes on the sheet of music; but the biggest part is hearing. Seeing someone else playing the piece is also helpfull for me.