Memorizing pieces

November 28, 2007 at 06:11 PM · What tips and tricks does everyone use for memorizing pieces?

Replies (27)

November 28, 2007 at 07:54 PM · There are tons of tricks, tips and suggestions both here on other threads and in entire books.

I think that the least appreciated fact of memorizing is that you have to practice it. When you first start memorizing, it is quite difficult. As you gain more experience memorizing it gets rapidly easier and easier.

There are quite complicated physical and chemical reasons for this but all you really need to understand is that practice memorizing easy and short pieces and gradually working up to more complex things will "teach" your brain to be a better and better "memorizer".

I don't mean to ignore the many effective techniques for memorizing as it has to be done deliberately and methodically; just have faith that a little practice will yield surprising results.

November 28, 2007 at 08:21 PM · Sean as I emailed you, and above: repetition, chunks, confidence.

November 28, 2007 at 08:33 PM · Going along with what Michael said, simply practicing is almost all of the time enough for me to memorize something

November 28, 2007 at 08:54 PM · An organist once told me a trick that, as she put it, "works like a charm". It's simple: Learn the music bar by bar and then chunk by chunk, only from end to beginning. You learn a bit, then take the next one, and always repeat the first bit with it, and so on. That way, when playing the piece from the beginning, you keep playing into parts you know better, and feel more at home the further you go on. I have done it, and it sounds odd, but it works really well.



November 28, 2007 at 09:02 PM · Look at sequences and patterns noticing the different chords used.

In this way you can simply many single notes into a chord progression,

Of course you have to have it under your fingers, but this method will help you order a section in your head and make it seem less ominous.

November 28, 2007 at 09:24 PM · Yeah, I should add that as someone said, noticing patterns--I'm finally, there with that too.

November 28, 2007 at 09:31 PM · Sean, there's an article about memorization, including some tips, in the latest edition of Strings magazine.

November 28, 2007 at 09:25 PM · Hi Sean,

Here's what works for me: First, I learn the piece, or fairly independent portions of the piece, until I can sing/"think" the melody. Then I figure it out from my memory, preferably leaving the music in another room, or another county, so that I have no option to cheat. I don't worry about patterns or fingerings or even bowings when I do this. In fact, the act of trying to transfer all of the information on the printed page of music into your head, and then play it, tends to obscure the simplicity of the patterns that do exist in the melody.

It's surprising how much of a piece you can recall this way-- kind of like when someone starts singing a pop song you haven't thought about in years, and don't think you remember, but as soon as you hear the first few lyrics the rest just follows naturally.

November 28, 2007 at 10:16 PM · Simply play through it (practice wise!!) over and over, until it seems more familiar. This DOESN'T work with Ysaye....

November 28, 2007 at 10:33 PM · Greetings,

it`s true there is a welath of infomration on this site because this topic is so importnat to people. I like to repeat the very simple advice that Isaac Stern gave: look at a phrase, play it. Turn away form the stand and play it two orthree times. Turn back, do the next one. Don@t force it just let it come in a natural way.`

There is a lot of truth in this but it is also an over simplification. The reaosn Stern could do this (and you should be able to) is that from a young age he payed attention. Instead of hacking through stuff over and over he was both consciously and unconsciouly inputting data about what he wa splaying. At some level I am sure he was saying to himeslf

`Okay, we are in the key of c and this is a scales starting on f 1st finger in second positon of which the firts notes is a 8th note and the next two are 16ths followe dby a shift to third posiiton with the 7th finger. During this time there is an underlying subdominat chord playing 8th notes with generla dynamic being f etc etc.`

Greta artists have this remendous ability to perform this kind of fucniton unconsciously as they work so they only need play a long passga eor a hwole work (cf Enescu!) once or twice and it is in the system. We need ot learn to function in the same way at a more conscious level. In other words be a lot more thoughtful and wide ranging in our approach to a particlaur passage. It is in this proces sthat memorizing occurs as much as in desperately imposing the harsh task of `memorize or die.`

Incidentally, there wa san approahc to the instrument that was veyr prevelant in Europe , that semes ot have gone a litlt eout of fashion. That is, memorize a piece before you pick up the insturment. You had to be able to pick up the instrument and just play through the work without the music on the firts try. When I have worked like this I have found it to be an -extremely- powerfulapproac to the instrument and encourage my studnets to do likewise. You can work on this withsimple etudes and pieces until it becomes fairly habitula if you so choose.



November 29, 2007 at 01:45 AM · holy crap Buri, your keyboard intonation is sometimes ffalt and sometimes schrapre.

Not enough or tu man8y pru@nes!



November 29, 2007 at 03:17 AM · you got it. Learnign to decipher my spelling is a right of passage for v.commie (incidentally- I coined that expression after an extremely violent politicla debate ocucre dhere a few yuears back- gotta be remembered for something...)



November 29, 2007 at 02:59 PM · Admit it Buri,

You're just testing us to sort the chaff from the wheat - the can read its and the cannots.

Otherwise it'd be too much like watching TV. This way we gotta think a little.

I'm glad not everyone does it. Sometimes I just wanna veg out.

November 29, 2007 at 11:14 PM · you amd me is sould mates

November 30, 2007 at 10:51 AM · I find I memorise pieces very quickly (it's about the only thing I memorise!). I put this down to the fact that I often practice without the music. If I forget a section I take a quick look and then put the music away again. I think the more you get used to playing without music the easier it becomes.

November 30, 2007 at 11:36 AM · Practice, practice, practice.

November 30, 2007 at 09:17 PM · ideally, a piece shouldn't be memorized; it should be internalized. It is much harder to make music when you are trying to remember it than when it is a part of you.

December 1, 2007 at 02:12 AM · I noticed that when I begin a new knitting pattern, I follow it for several repetitions. For instance, the latest pattern has a twelve row repeat, so it takes a while to remember what each row does. After several rounds, though, I begin to understand how each of the stitches contributes to the overall pattern. I begin to set the book aside and glance at it only every once in a while to make sure I'm on track. The pattern is fully memorized when I can see the full scope of it and remember where I am as I make each stitch along the way.

The same holds true for memorizing music. I don't try very hard to memorize a piece, but it comes as a natural by-product as I come to understand the piece better. I'm humming bits and pieces of it throughout the day, thinking about the fingerings and accidentals for each section, and after a while, I'm only glancing at the music every once in a while to make sure I haven't forgotten anything and I'm still on track. But it's like I have to understand it completely first.

December 1, 2007 at 04:05 AM · Use imagery--from the piece: country,setting,weather,circumstances involved,people,situation...

Incorporate imagery into you brain and play accordingly to the piece.

Easy to teach imagination but to incorporate into your playing is oft not easily done.

Become one half of Vengerov--do it with class and assume the role of the situation and setting...

Get it--you are there to entertain the audience--so 'become' what you play.

Posture correct and soul correct.Slide your hand up and down the neck of your violin--not aware [that much]...

Loose yourself and 'just play'--but play well.

Allow imagery to carry you throughout the piece you play.

Use colour in imagination and 'enter' the situation.......

December 1, 2007 at 05:28 AM · Basically, if you are going to perform a piece, you should know it so well that there is no effort to memorize it. If you actually have to try to memorize, then you probably don't know the piece well enough. But this is just according to my strict standards.

December 18, 2007 at 08:36 AM · I like what Joe says. I use imagery, make up a storyline, and tag the portions of the piece with that story, meaning or situation. Then when I'm playing I need to think slightly ahead of which part of the story comes next. Of course, there is the chance that if I think too far ahead, I have a memory lapse of what I'm supposed to be playing under my fingers.

December 18, 2007 at 10:31 PM · Greetings,

but if you get stuck you cpould end up in The Never Ending Story,



December 18, 2007 at 10:55 PM · That happened to my brother on the piano once, kept taking the first ending. After a few laps, the plot ended quite violently, elbows and palms mashing forcefully on the keys.

December 18, 2007 at 11:13 PM · Greetings,

tehre is a story abotu a famous cello teacher, maybe at Curtis, who wa s rather past his prime but did a recital of unaccompanied Bach. He got stuck in a loop on a phrase early on. Repeated it about twenty time . Grunted `I`m stuck.` walke d off and didn`t come back.



December 19, 2007 at 12:54 AM · Memorization is easy!


1. Get an iPod.

2. Put the piece on the iPod.

3. Listen to the iPod A LOT. (This is my fave part.)

I find that by listening to the piece as much as possible, especially different artists recordings, along with regular practice it just happens. Forcing memorization has always been a horrible decision for me. When it's meant to happen it will! I don't know how all of you have such complicated ways to do it!

December 19, 2007 at 01:33 AM · For me the most important principle for memorizing music is: The more detail you give yourself to memorize, the stronger and more invulnerable is your memory of the music. Because memory works by association, if one knows only that a certain note is D natural, his memory is weak. However if, during his practicing, he has asked many things of himself regarding the playing of that particular D natural, his memory is much stronger. When he is about to play it, it will be the moment where he prepares his left arm to shift into fifth position, the moment when he wants to get a sospirando pianissimo, the moment when he wants a very tiny vibrato, the moment when he needs to fit exactly with the piano's rhythm etc. etc. The greater the number of details he has trained himself to associate with the action of going to this note the better. Sometimes students make the mistake of trying to protect their memory of a piece by giving themselves few things to remember, and hence few associations. The irony is in that the more associations formed about each moment of a performance, the stronger the memory.

December 19, 2007 at 02:12 AM · Greetings,


Then having followed Oliver`s principle it is importnat to sit/lie down and vizualize yourslef from outside yourself playing the piece. Feel each action as you do it in your head. Themoment you feel ubcertain you have hit a spot thta is not accurately inputte dwith sufficient data. Taht needs to be worked on in the head and with the insturment in the manner Oliver prescribes,



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