Memorization - Duh!

October 20, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·

I have never been able to memorize anything.  When I was in school plays and trying to recite my part in Shakespeare it came out different every time, driving my drama teacher nuts.  I've come to accept it as part of what I am - and it has a nice aspect as failure to do rote inevitably also generates something new.

I can not learn a piece of music.  Try as I might looking at the line and then closing my eyes results in a few notes and then nothing.  Oddly, however, if I have a tune in my mind I am quite good at giving a good rendition of it - but I never know, for example, what key it will appear in.

So imagine my astonishment when I found I could play the first two sides of my current piece (Mozart 3rd) without music!  And get the bowing and fingering corret.  Sure it still very much a work in progress (probably will be for the rest of my life) but its all in my head.  Why now and why this piece?  Well, I think its quite simple: its the first one that I have ever worked on every note and short phrase separately and in great detail.  I know each set of notes intimately and my peculiar brain has kindly strung each set together - so that i can not only play it but adjust bowing etc as I do. 

Replies (44)

October 20, 2010 at 05:02 PM ·

Elise, obviously there's nothing wrong with your memory, it's just that the last two sentences of your third paragraph show that you've happened on the secret – slow, detailed, and thoughtful repetition. Lots of it.  That's why the Great Ones spend so many hours a day practicing.  With practice like that you can't help but memorize a substantial work.  

October 20, 2010 at 05:23 PM ·


Congrats on the memorizing approach that you've found works for you. 

The strategy of breaking a piece up into short segments to memorize works for lots of people.   I use it also. Two and four bar segments are good - and even a single bar if it is difficult.

For those who memorize to be able to improvise, a couple additional steps are very effective.  After memorizing the entire song by the above "chunks strategy", play the song in different rhythms.  For example, play all the notes in order but make them all eighth notes - or play the melody to the rhythm of a completely different melody.  After working this for a while, the song is really embedded in your brain and fingers.  You won't forget it, and you can stretch and compress it without getting lost.   Secondly, figure out the chord progressions by ear as you play the song.  A piano can help, but don't use sheet music to figure it out.  When you think you've got the chords all the way through, then check your work against sheet music.  Figuring out the chord progressions yourself, and memorizing them as you go will again embed the chords in your brain in a way that reduces your chances of "getting lost" as you improvise.

I'd be interested in other approaches that performers have found useful for improvising - either for recital or for improvising.

October 20, 2010 at 09:36 PM ·

 Elise, I think I stumbled on the same epiphany in a backwards way.  I can never memorize anything unless I consciously try to memorize it.  People would say, "if you play it enough, memorization will just happen automatically," and for me that was just not true.  It never happened automatically.  But, if I was consciously trying to memorize it, I would do pretty much what you're saying:  I would break it down into smaller pieces and phrases, I would repeat those in my head while at seminars or in the shower.  I would just end up doing more repetition because I had a defined, achievable goal in mind:  a memorized piece.  It made me realize that the problem in the first formulation was the definition of "enough."  Without having a conscious goal, I would never play it "enough."

October 20, 2010 at 10:19 PM ·


as the excellent comments here have already pointed to,  the basis of memorization is depth of involvement.   People who say they cannot memorize have basically a9 set up psycholgical blocks by telling themselves they can`t do it and b)  been (in a very nice way) rather lazy about exploring those blocks.  The brain is very comfortable in assuming that it cannot do soemthing and then taking that condition as the default setting.  The problem is how to kick start out of this setting.

Very often the isntrument gets in the way.   Putting aside the isntrument and figuring out hpow to memorize something from the score is one way to challenge yourself.  One can describe a piece verbally,  (this handel movement starts with a a d major arpeggio after a quaver rest.  The notes of the arpeggio are quavers taking up half the first bar.  Ironically,  the second of the bar is not a d but rather one note higher ,  an e played with the second finger in third position.  This takes up the remainder of the bar and tie sopver into the next bar where it takes up the first quaver rest instea dof leaving a blank space like the first bar did)try to creat a photographic image and defintiely see and hear yourself paling the small chunk you have worked on.  One might perhaps only pick up the violin after having palyed through that bar ten times vizually in your head.   This runnign through of mental image is also very powerful before you go to bed.  Also writing out the chunk is useful.   Or when you practice verbalize before each note you play. (open string d, second finger f sharp 1st position,  open a string surng which my hand moves up towards a second finger e in third psotion etc)

I suspect people who say they can`t memorize may not actually belistening to their palying enough.  I don`t know if you have Simon`s new DVD on tone production but he cites the `sound behind the sound` as a key listenign target. If one is truly focused on this then there will certainly be a lot more attention and involvment than if one is just palyign through soemthing and assumoing one is listening which is actually rarely the case.



October 20, 2010 at 10:43 PM ·

It is not uncommon to find experienced  Irish (and Scottish) folk fiddlers who have extraordinarily large repertoires, often running well into 4 figures worth of tunes. Most of these tunes will have been acquired solely by ear. To put this in perspective, a "mere" thousand Irish dance tunes, each played singly at dancing speed, would represent about 9-10 hours of music. O'Neill's "Dance Music of Ireland" – the Irish fiddler's "Bible" – has 1001 tunes in it for starters, 155 pages of fiddle music.

A ceili band, playing for set dancers, will be playing for up to 3 hours, entirely from memory, the only piece of paper in evidence perhaps being the leader's running order of the names of the tunes needed for each dance set (it is important that the number of bars played matches the number of bars danced – otherwise the dancers will let the band know all about it!)

October 20, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

Fascinating topic, Elise!

Nothing is more difficult than trying to memorize individual things or notes in isolation, and I suspect the bulk of music memory is done holistically -- in chunks, together with the structure, melody, rhythm, fingering, bowing, dynamic, emotion, etc. Interestingly enough, the more bits of information that we pay attention to in a piece that we work on, the easier it is for us to memorize each note. Emotion plays a big role. It's much easier to recall every detail of a recent event we fully engaged, especially emotionally engaged, than some uninteresing numbers we saw yesterday on a spreadsheet at work.

October 21, 2010 at 09:53 AM ·

I have quite a good facility for remembering numbers - when I can be bothered. My brain picks out little bits that have meaning for me like familiar dialling codes and fragments of phone numbers of friends an family and sort of glues them together using less effort than recalling the whole.

With music - as I practice I'm finding that it's the sense, the movement, the development and the story of the piece, almost as if it were a piece of prose, that I learn first... and then the notes kind of just hang on that. Because they have to. Because they're the notes that fit.

October 21, 2010 at 12:15 PM ·

Confucius he says, The palest of inks still better than the best of memory.

The neural processes needed to create the images in our head are better developed in some people, and the rest of us will always struggle to remember that little dots on the tram lines.

I have never proved Confucius wrong. 

October 21, 2010 at 01:08 PM · A number of factors have helped me memorize better & with more ease after many years of playing. 1) Getting past devastating nervousness over missed notes or bowings. 2) Listening many times to a recorded rendition of the piece, either a purchased recording or me playing through the piece at modest tempo. 3) Teaching the piece to someone else. 4) Coming back to a piece periodically over some months or years. I've become a solid fiddler of Cajun music, and have a repertoire of some 150 tunes, all by ear, and from listening daily to something Cajun and learning tunes from other players. Sue

October 21, 2010 at 01:28 PM ·

Trevor raised the example of seisun and dance fiddlers, and the amazing volume of tunes that they can rattle off, seemingly at will.  I've been a seisun player (first guitar, then fiddle) for eight years or so.  During that time, the constant repetition of the same tunes, over and over, week after week, eventually "burned" them into my sub-conscious. However, when it comes to new tunes, I find myself falling back on sheet music, practising small segments over and over until I have the bowing and the flow down pat.  It doesn't matter what tune it is, even a tune I've written myself!  A wee trick I use myself with some success is to play a tune in a variety of keys and positions; say, if the original tune is in D (as many seisun tunes are), I may practise it in Eb or C as well.  This approach probably wouldn't work as well with the standard classical repertoire from an original composer's score. However, it does work with thematic sections.

October 21, 2010 at 01:48 PM ·

Trevor : "It is not uncommon to find experienced  Irish (and Scottish) folk fiddlers who have extraordinarily large repertoires, often running well into 4 figures worth of tunes. Most of these tunes will have been acquired solely by ear. To put this in perspective, a "mere" thousand Irish dance tunes, each played singly at dancing speed, would represent about 9-10 hours of music. O'Neill's "Dance Music of Ireland" – the Irish fiddler's "Bible" – has 1001 tunes in it for starters, 155 pages of fiddle music."

Brendan Breathnach, the expert academic in Irish trad music, said that the average experienced player has around 200 tunes in his / her repertoire. He also said that (within the tradition) too much reliance on printed music was not recommended, as it would leave the memory under-developed. Seems to be fair comment, given that printed music is normally absent from sessions and performances.

Just putting things in perspective, this music's structure is generally quite simple, with lots of repeating bar patterns. The individual tunes are usually in 2 parts (but sometimes 3 or 4), and   each part is repeated, usually at least once. So, the actual notation per tune of 2 parts could actually be written in a single line (about a quarter of what is actually played, considering repeats, etc), and tunebooks often do that - one line per tune, and several tunes on each landscape page. So, for experienced players, learning and remembering is fairly simple. It's recall that is more difficult, which is why tune name lists, but not notation are often used as a reminder.

Contrast that with something like Vivaldi's 4 Seasons, and suddenly I realise there's a big difference in what's required to be remembered! I haven't yet counted the lines per page, or the total pages in that suite, but at a conservative guess, 10 pages, each with 10 lines = the amount of notes in 100 "tunes"! And in the classical world, something like that is chicken feed compared to some of the works on offer ... something to think about :)

I found Paganini's Moto Perpetuo difficult to memorise at first, and it's by no means complex - but it does have quite a lot similar phrases which can be confusing. It's in there now, and I can concentrate on actually playing the music itself without the need for the print. For something as regular as that, I'd use my own sense of dynamics rather than remember the print.

It is refreshing (I think) when you "know" a piece and can dispense with the print until you need it again.

As for the original topic question, how to memorise? Simply (sometimes endless) repetition, sometimes by playing from music or by ear, sometimes repeating listenings offline on an iPod during non-music time.  

October 21, 2010 at 01:59 PM ·

A slight aside : 

Don : "What happened to execution ?  "

Reminds me of reading an alleged quote by some famous master (can't remember if was Heifietz or not)  - he was asked by a very, very pushy mother after the daughter's recital, "what do you think of my daughter's execution?" which he replied, "I hope it will be soon".  Anyone else heard of this quote? Or is it just urban myth?

October 22, 2010 at 08:58 AM ·

Repetition, repetition,  repetition.


I can't say it often enough.


October 22, 2010 at 09:29 AM ·

But thats why I started this post.  For me its NOT about repetition. 

I can repeat till the cows are mooing in pain.  I will not learn by rote.  I seem to miss that brain nucleus. Something different was at play for me other than repetition.  And this is more than 'learning a tune'.  That I understand and am quite good at.  In a previous life I played guitar and sang with my brother, we would spend vacations trailing round Europe playing in bars and restaurants and the occasional club to make our way.  We probably had a repertoire of over 100 songs.  For me the difference between playing tunes (and sining) is that each time you recreate it based on the song in your head and the words that go with it - it never really comes out the same and it really shouldn't.  Thats not what its about.  Surely fiddling is the same - you follow a mental tune and enjoy the actual output (please correct me if I am wrong).  With classical music you have to get every note right.  Its true mirror-memorization with very little flexibility.  Thus, I can easily play a tune that sounds like 'Jesus Joy..' (my mental image of the song) but I can not (or could not) do the same for the actual note and execution sequence without the music in front of me.

Thus, for memorization I have to distinguish the 'sound of music' (excuse joke) from the 'written music'.  Rendering the latter from memory is, for me, probably 100X more difficult.

Something extra happens when you work through a piece note by note than rote and memorizatoin.  I also like the 'burn in' term but would suggest a different meaning for it than used above: To me 'rote' is, if you like,  in essence a poor mans photographic memory - you place the music into a mental repository with a litteral representation based on the tune itself.  Burning in is much more - you learn the relationship between the notes as much as the notes themeselves: how one sounds juxtaposed to the next, how to get the exact rhythm and timing, how to hit each note in tune, what fingering to do, what bowing - and most important, I believe the learning I am experiencing in this process is independent of the tune. Its the actual note sequence itself.  And then the tune is used to incorporate these note to generate the full work.


October 22, 2010 at 09:41 AM ·

Helen.  I have to admit I had to look up 'solfege'!  Which is the use of the do, re, me, ... to learn the relationships between the notes.  Interestingly, you stimulated a strong childhood memory since thats what my mother (who was trained in music in Germany) used to use all the time.  I can see how that might help establish the note sequence but not much beyond that - it does not seem to work for rhytm or the myriad of other relationships you need to learn.

"Was it in Galamian's book that I read that if you really learn something on Day One, then you will be able to start to learn something new on Day Two?"

Wish I could really learn something in a day!  Seems I only get a part each day, sort of a declining log sequence till eventually it will not improve any more!


October 22, 2010 at 01:28 PM ·

...interesting choice of comparison Don considering most voice students are learning music written in a foreign language they do not understand so they are memorizing sounds...much as an instrumentalist does.

October 22, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·

Don Roth,

Yes, training to navigate the fingerboard, and training to be on pitch are not the same, and this shows up early in violin teaching.

If you came to your 'eureka' by thinking about the value of learning/singing melody, consider a few more things.  Most trained musicians have had a solfege course (sometimes called ear training) to learn the sound of intervals, among other things.  Singing a song can help memorize it because the brain observes and memorizes the intervals (or at least critical ones) in the piece.  It is yet another way of embedding the music in the brain. I know some improvising professionals who rely heavily on this perception of intervals.

You are right that written music is a map of fingering and this can be seen in the marked up fingerings on a classical piece.  A classical recital is a recounting of that map - along with a lot of other artistic input that goes way beyond the written page.

On the other hand in improvised performances, knowing the music and chord changes takes precedence over a map.  Here are some examples of why that is the case. The melody may be played in different positions. It gets "interrupted" by improvised notes, and then the performer has to return to the music - potentially in a different position on the fingerboard.  The melody gets fragmented and reassembled - on the fly - so knowing how to enter and exit at various places is important. Melody fragments can be played in a different key than originally played by starting them in a different place in the chord progression.  (In physics terms, it has probabalistic elements, not solely deterministic ones.   ;-)  )  And so forth . . .

Your question about what do we really memorize is a good one.  I hope you can see that whatever the answer is, it is at least two answers - one for classical recitals and another for improvised performances.  Just as the musical techniques differ, the memorization techniques differ for these two classes of performance.

October 22, 2010 at 08:10 PM ·

I think thats the point I was making above - comparing performance of a popular piece, where the tune is the driving force, and a classical one where the tune is there but the accuracy of every other detail (including how the tune is played) has to be incoporated too.  I suspect that in many cases the tune serves as the background lattice for the addition of the other infinite details.   But perhaps one can learn it the other way round: the details from which the tune emerges - and maybe that was my epiphany.

October 22, 2010 at 09:23 PM ·

Play it a ton and go over the fingering in my mind at other times during the day -- when I'm taking my daily walk, when I'm in bed relaxing prior to falling asleep, etc.  I've always been on the other side of the spectrum, though -- I don't get how someone could play something more than five times without memorizing it.

This is probably something where players who have been doing it by ear for a couple decades can blow everyone else out of the water, too.  I'm not surprised at what Trevor mentioned about by-ear fiddlers.  It's like the old Greeks reciting the ships in the Iliad.

"Thus, I can easily play a tune that sounds like 'Jesus Joy..' (my mental image of the song) but I can not (or could not) do the same for the actual note and execution sequence without the music in front of me."


October 22, 2010 at 09:25 PM ·

Janis: I was wondering about that.  At my stage I have to think of learning SO MUCH including subtleties of intonation.  surely once most of that is internalized the remaining issues to be memorized - perhaps only the tune and the key - will be so much easier and so much faster...

Can but hope....

October 22, 2010 at 09:39 PM ·

Interestingly, I've found piano to be easier to memorize than viola despite there being, well ... more notes.  Piano gives more information, which makes it easier to build the structure of the piece in my head.  The left hand functions as a metronome, which makes it easier to keep time.  (Keeping time on a single-note instrument is an absolute B*TCH.)  It also tells you what chord you're in, which makes it easier to say, "Ah this is the part where I go into A minor ... "  You're memorizing whole chunks and structures instead of just one note after another.

This may be an artifact of my having played piano for much longer though, which wouldn't surprise me.  But I was surprised to discover that more notes == easier.  It's the difference between trying to make out a halftone photograph with just a few dots versus stepping away from it and seeing thousands of dots, which my mind resolves into a smooth image.

And I'm with you on wanting to internalize the note-crafting stuff.  I'm starting to become dimly and unwillingly aware that that stuff will always be a part of this instrument, though.  I keep thinking that once I "get it," I'll stop having to work so damn hard on hitting the notes and bowing properly and can start thinking about the music itself.  But on this instrument, that stuff -- the actual sound production -- is just always going to be a permanent part of what I have to think about.  Coming from a "hit this lever and let the machine make the noise" perspective, it's a little daunting.

October 22, 2010 at 10:03 PM ·

A big part of memorization of repetition. I always memorize pieces naturally as I play them over and over again. The pieces I play so many times are usually pieces that I will be performing, so it works well for me. A lot of it is also muscle memory. Music seems to flow, and I don't have to make any efforts to recall passages. I also believe that different people have different ways of memorizing that work for them. Some may just have a better memory than others. 

How quickly you can memorize things also seems to depend on what piece it is. Complex pieces with irregular fingerings that may sound unmusical seem to be harder to memorize than lyrical or "logical" pieces.


October 23, 2010 at 09:12 AM ·

How long?  Fascinating.  When I picked up my violin after a 40 yr hiatus I immediately played several pieces that I learned as a child without any music.  So it seems music can go into your permanent memory - somewhere in my head are some neurons who's sole job is to play brahms lullaby!

On the other hand that obviously does not work for everything - and here I think its the tune that really counts.  If its one you memorized well for whatever reason (repetition, love) then its there for good. 

October 23, 2010 at 02:52 PM ·

 When I started playing again about 4 years ago, I remembered this Anton Stamitz viola concerto that I had played the first violin part for, in the accompanying orchestra, when I was 17.  It had been 23 years since I'd heard or even really thought about the piece, but it stayed with me and I wanted to learn the viola solo part.  It took me a long time to find the music, because it turned out it wasn't a well-known viola concerto, at least in this country (I'd played it in Germany back in 1983).  Instead, everyone plays a different viola concerto in D, by Karl Stamitz.  

But I did find eventually it, after a couple of false starts, based on remembering the first page or so of the first violin part of the accompaniment, and I learned the solo part last year.  The solo part ended up being relatively straightforward to memorize, also.  The Stamitz brothers were contemporaries of Mozart.  

I find music from that period to be much easier to memorize than later music.  Come to think of it,  I can also remember quite a bit of Mozart #3, which I last worked on sometime during the Carter administration. I am trying to commit the 4th movement of the Franck Sonata to memory, now, and I'm struggling.  I've also been struggling to memorize the Sweet Child O' Mine piece for the Rockin Fiddle Challenge.  Stamitz and Mozart both went down a lot easier!


October 23, 2010 at 03:05 PM ·

"I have never been able to memorize anything.

This is the opening comment on this thread but you are still able to play music from your childhood ? ..."

I hope I made it clear that I could not memorize anything by rote - it comes out with the same content but always with a different lanuage (be that words, phrasing, - any detail).  I'm good at remembering tunes and reproducing them, well sort of!


October 23, 2010 at 03:17 PM ·

Some years ago Daniel Barenboim performed over the space of a couple of weeks, from memory and live on TV from various castles and places in Europe, the whole corpus of the Beethoven piano sonatas – about 10 hours worth of playing, I guess.

October 23, 2010 at 10:21 PM ·

Come to think of it, Mozart #3 VC is easier to remember and that was the one I could play a few lines after more than 20 years of hiatus, as I recall. Another one was Handel Sonata in D major. It was my fingers "knew" where to go when my mind went blank. Knowing the melodic lines and key changes do help with memorization.  Also, I agree with Helen's suggestion of using movable do, which is what I've been doing most of my life.  

October 23, 2010 at 11:16 PM ·

 Yixi, for me it was Handel sonata in F that I remembered a long time later.  But I think the same principle applies.

What's really odd is playing the 1st violin part now of a symphony that I played the 2nd violin part for 30 years ago (Brahms #2).  I remember many of the rhythms and melodies and dynamics, but the fingerings are all different.

October 23, 2010 at 11:27 PM ·

great thread - there's an oldie amongst you taking notes (if i can only remember where i put them ... )

October 23, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

I've always had a good memory - I find that I quickly memorize the pieces I'm working on, even though I make no conscious effort to do so.  At least I quickly get the melody down pat - an extra complication with violin is the fingerings and shifts, which keep me referring to the sheet music long after I know every note..

It definitely helps to think of notes in the context of the entire piece.  I used to be active in local theatre, where you have to memorize your lines for the entire play.  I found it easier if I thought of my lines as part of the ongoing dialogue.  One of the most difficult sets of lines I had to memorize was for "The Boys Next Door", where at one point the various characters are shouting out phrases at random.  There was no coherent dialogue or context on which to hang the lines; the memorization process was one of sheer brute force.

October 24, 2010 at 05:29 AM ·

How long I can keep something memorized depends on how well I know the piece, and where the knowledge is located, for want of a better way of putting it.  If it's mostly muscle memory and in the hands, it has a shorter shelf life -- almost like the "fill and spill" of cramming for a test back many moons ago when that was relevant for me.

If I REALLY know it -- as in, can close my eyes and play it in my head from start to finish sitting in a chair away from the piano, and can write it down -- it sticks a lot longer.  It's got to be both in hands and head if it's going to stick around.  That process also takes longer.

I'm currently working on getting Grieg's "Last Spring" (his piano arrangement) back up to speed, and it's fairly hard since that one was only in the hands.  Ginastera's 2nd Argentine dance will probably stick in my head to the end of time and beyond.  I can't play the first in my head, and can only play it at speed, but the second I can do silently to myself while I'm sitting in traffic, and can play it at any tempo.  Neither are terribly challenging except for the stretches, probably medium grade 6.

At this point, the viola stuff I've been playing is just too short to be a useful memory barometer, and I haven't been doing it long enough.  I'm curious to see how it will go.

October 24, 2010 at 10:58 AM ·

I was wondering if anyone knew of a player who has true photographic memory - the ability to see the music in your head (I knew one person with this - they described it as a rolodex they could click through to pick the page they were interested in).  Would this help or hinder learning?  It could be great for solo performance I guess but you would still have to read the notes and notation...

October 24, 2010 at 11:31 AM ·

@Elise ;

People who can do that are called 'Idiot Savant' and they will also be able to remember the street address of the copy right holders. 

That reminds me I was at the rehearsal of the young violinist Avigail Bushakevitz playing Lalo's Symphonie espagnole 3rd movement   when the conductor stopped the orchestra in mid flight turned to the young soloist and said  "can we start again at bar 43?". She was playing from memory and immediately knew where to start.  To me it was amazing but perhaps it is common practice with these virtuoso.           

October 24, 2010 at 05:47 PM ·

Elise: Terrific discussion. Memorization certainly is a fascinating subject. FYI, I've compiled links to various memorization resources on my site - many informative articles are freely available online:

October 24, 2010 at 06:53 PM ·

"I was wondering if anyone knew of a player who has true photographic memory - the ability to see the music in your head"

I have had several students with this ability, photographic recall. These could actually see the music in front of them in their head. They never had a memory slip, by the way.

October 24, 2010 at 07:32 PM ·

...and how did they compare as players?  Were they equaly good/bad?  Photographic memory is exceedingly useful for some tasks - maybe learning music is one - where the litteral information is of prime value.  However, it can be a hindrance for correlative recall - the information can be seen but it is not integrated.

Thus, its of interest if these students played as musically as others? 

October 24, 2010 at 11:31 PM ·

 Photographic recall may cause problems if you're in a situation where you've got play from a copy on the stand, and it isn't exactly the same as in your mind.  There could be conflict.

I had an analogous situation a couple of years ago.  I was attending a day-long workshop on English country dance music (mostly Playford and the like), culminating in actually playing for dancers in the evening.  The workshop was aimed at a wide selection of players and instruments from all over the county and beyond, and it was made clear well beforehand that all attendees must be able to sight-read – an essential point because it shouldn't be assumed that all folk musicians read music.  On arrival we were each given a fat little book of about 90 dance tunes. On glancing through it I realized I already had about 70 or so already in my head from learning by ear or from sheet music. I don't have a photographic memory.  

The rehearsal began, and that's when the problem started.  What I was sight-reading didn't exactly correspond to what was in my head and fingers; it was close enough so that a listener wouldn't notice but the little differences were bringing about a conflict with my memory of the music, causing me to make silly little mistakes and generally get out of kilter. The only solution, which I quickly put into effect when I realized what was happening, was to push my stand away out of eye focus, so I played those tunes from memory, and all was well. There were only about 20 other tunes that were new to me, and sight-reading those was no problem.

October 25, 2010 at 01:31 AM ·

So thats sort of forgetizaton! :)

October 25, 2010 at 03:09 AM ·

 Some people are naturally better than others at memorizing music. For me, since I am an 'auditory learner' it's pretty easy - the visual part (note-reading) has been a struggle. The exact opposite tends to be true of others.

What I have found that can aid many people in memorizing music is humming it. If you can sing the tune, you can play it from memory. Then, you just need to go back over the notation and make sure you're putting the mechanics in the right spots. Have you tried breaking it down into sections - learning the tune well enough to hum it, and making sure you've got the dynamics right, then moving on to the next section...ect...?

October 25, 2010 at 04:09 AM ·

".and how did they compare as players?  Were they equaly good/bad?  Photographic memory is exceedingly useful for some tasks - maybe learning music is one - where the litteral information is of prime value.  However, it can be a hindrance for correlative recall - the information can be seen but it is not integrated.

Thus, its of interest if these students played as musically as others? "

One of these students was by audition placed as  concertmaster at University of Michigan where she went for a Masters degree. She was recently accepted  for the DMA program at Indiana University. She plays very musically.

October 25, 2010 at 06:57 AM ·

Very interesting, that seems to fit for classical music - now I wonder if any of them can play jazz :)

I'm primarily a kinesthetic learner - I have to go through the action to get it.  I suppose thats the root of my 'duh' above - but going through each bit carefully I present the information in a consistent way and retain it.  Probably the worst way for me to memorize is to try to look at the music and hope it goes in.

October 25, 2010 at 05:15 PM ·

I'm trying to develop a photographic memory.  :-)

Sometimes I find myself remembering where on the page a particular passage is.  This is helpful if I look away while playing a part I know well, but have to quickly find my place again to look up some small detail like fingering.  I'd hate to think of what would happen if I tried playing from a different printing where things weren't in the same place on the page.  In fact, when memorizing lines for a play I found the same thing happening - I'd remember where on the page of the script a particular line was.  If someone had pasted up a working copy of his script and started one page off so that the left- and right-facing pages were reversed, I couldn't use his script; it was just too disorienting.

December 25, 2010 at 06:42 PM ·

Very interesting - thanks.  I certainly like the idea of active participation in the music, as apart from just the notes.  Sounds obvious (excuse pun) but not quite so in practise...

December 26, 2010 at 03:23 PM ·

A great diet is very important for  good intonation,processing  and memory.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine