Printer-friendly version weekend vote: When is the last time you played something by memory?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: August 29, 2014 at 5:09 PM [UTC]

When is the last time you played something by memory?

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Performing a with the music and performing by memory involve different levels of preparation and different kinds of concentration.

"If you don't know it by memory, you don't really know it. It has to become part of you," said Curtis Professor of Violin Aaron Rosand in a recent interview with The English language has a nice idiom for playing by memory: "playing by heart." Anyone who has put in the effort to memorize something knows that this saying contains much truth.

Students routinely memorize pieces for their teachers and often are required to perform them in recital. In the early stages, some students prefer playing by memory to reading music. But what happens when we move on from being students? Once we get adept at reading, though, we can also grow reliant on it. The wonderful thing about reading music is that it allows us to play new music on sight and prepare a performance without as much rehearsal as memorization would take. Orchestra playing often involves just a few rehearsals -- with music, of course!

And once you move past having a teacher, do you memorize music on your own?

When was the last time you memorized music, and performed it? Please vote, and share your thoughts about this topic in the comments section below.

From Jo Parker
Posted on August 29, 2014 at 5:28 PM
half an hour ago, EVERY DAY!!
Posted on August 29, 2014 at 5:29 PM
If you are not playing by memory, you are not playing.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 29, 2014 at 10:08 PM
Yesterday evening -- for about 90 minutes.

This may be a duplicate post. Didn't notice I wasn't logged in earlier; so previous attempt a few minutes ago was unnamed. You may throw it out.

From Daniel Huston
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 3:00 AM
When I reprised the violin a few years ago, since I already knew how to read music, my new teacher insisted that I learn instead to play by ear and from memory. Now, I don't regard a work as belonging to my répétoire unless and until committed to memory.

I learned the practical importance of memorization the hard way when at church a couple of years ago. While playing Franck's «Panis Angelicus» for a communion anthem, a photographer set a camera flash off right in front of my face, washing out my vision and for an anxious moment rendered the page useless. I had no choice but to continue to play from memory.

Yes, I still put my sheet music on a stand, but if a draft blows it away, or someone accidentally knocks it over, I play on. To be able to do so, even when I may not need to, I'm now convinced is necessary for musicianship.

From Kevin Keating
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 3:32 AM
Since the vast majority of what I play is fiddle tunes, almost everything I play is done from memory unless I'm learning a new tune. So I didn't vote because none of the choices even come close.
From Paul Deck
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 4:11 AM
To those who wrote that they do this every day, the question was about performing not practicing.

Rosand is right, you cant internalize, visceralize a piece until it's soundly memorized. If one does not have a lot of experience performing or gets very nrevous, though, or if one was never taught to memorize when young, as in my case, then it's hard. Funny thing is that I memorize my daughter's pieces just fine, maybe because I dont feel the pressure that comes with thinking about performing them.

Did I say pressure? I meant weight...

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 6:00 AM
Does playing by memory for your teacher at a lesson count?
Sometimes she'll simply say, "Play something" and the pieces I always feel most comfortable playing on the spot are those I've memorized.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 12:04 PM
@ Paul: I'd say what I'm doing counts as performing. Some might call it busking, although I don't get paid for it. I play the evening sessions in the garage from memory. FWIW, neighbors and passers-by keep saying they like it.

On the other hand, afternoon sessions, a few hours earlier, are definitely practice -- with sheet music at hand.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 12:57 PM
I memorize music that I have composed myself, it still takes ages.
From John Rokos
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 5:53 PM
Although I could play by memory I always had problems if I forgot where I was in the music, so I might omit/add a repeat, or play the subject continuation when I was in the recapitulation, etc. My memory repetition of poetry at school was atrocious.
One day the master kicked off a discussion on how one memorized with the assumption that we memorized our poetry by getting the page into our visual memory, i.e., photographically. I simply can't do that, whether it's literature or music (and I was bottom of the class in geography and second from bottom in biology because I cannot draw). My memory is aural and mechanical only, although I think that if you distinguish between the morphological and topological aspect of "visual" memory I'm a lot better at the latter, because my maths was good and I got to be captain of the school chess team (and my friendship while at school with Bernard Robinson Music Camp's J D Solomon - some of you may have known him or members of his family - led to my bringing my school team into the London Schools Chess League).
Bottom line is, I think those who have a visual memory of the page are at an advantage when it comes to performing from memory - and I think that's most of you.
From Zina Francisca
Posted on August 30, 2014 at 8:54 PM
@ John

That is interesting. I am sure I do not remember the visual image of my sheet music, the melody just plays in my head, and, given that I have had enough repetitions, my fingers try to find that melody. I used to sing a lot before. My vocal teacher told me to sit down with a new song and a cup of tea, and just sing it inside my head a couple times, then put it away. The next morning after waking up the song would play in my head like a radio. Usually I would never look at the sheet music again.

Even though I am a beginner (of nearly 3 years now) with the violin it seems to work in a similar manner. Of course there is the added complexity of where on the fingerboard one is playing a melody. It has happened more then once that, while practicing from memory, I played the right notes but in the 'wrong' position, i.e. a position that I had never played it in before. Very interesting how the mind works!

From Kevin Keating
Posted on August 31, 2014 at 12:06 AM
As for practicing vs playing, I almost never have sheets in front of me. With practicing it depends on what I'm doing.
From Michelle Jones
Posted on August 31, 2014 at 3:17 PM
Every single day, including today. For my groups Violectric and Fretless Rock, everything must be performed from memory. We create all of our own arrangements, and we all practice regularly to review our parts and learn new songs. We can interact with the audience as we perform since we are not tethered to the sheet music. This also allows us to stroll freely and interact with our guests while playing. As a solo violinist for Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings & Honeymoons, EVERYTHING must be performed from memory and we are auditioned that way, too. When things are memorized, one can take the time to make eye contact with the audience and other band members; the connection is stronger as there is no music stand creating a barrier between you and your audience.
And, for the record, even being considered a "professional" for over twenty years, I don't think I'll ever move "past (the point of) having a teacher." There is always so much to learn!!!! I learn from reading, observing, watching, conversing, improvising with others, sitting in with others, and paying for master classes and additional lessons. That's part of the beauty of playing the violin!
Posted on September 1, 2014 at 2:39 PM
The question varies between "played" and "performed", is the difference that performed suggests an audience?
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 1, 2014 at 5:16 PM
I really meant performed, but I think most people answered for "played" ! I'm afraid I typed the headline wrong, apologies. Perhaps I'll do another one that's more clearly "performing," as I'm interested in that answer. It's one thing to play familiar things in practice, but quite another to make them memorized and performance-ready.

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