Poor Memory Victim

December 29, 2014 at 11:47 PM · I happen to think that poor memory is a serious limitation to my "career". So, I read many relevant posts in the archives but I still think the matter is generic.

What is not quite clear is what memory means. How about "remembering the tune and playing it?"

Maybe one has to visualize the note(s) on staff for the graphical cue?

Perhaps the only difference between me and Hillary is memory skills but I guess we'll never know!

Replies (93)

December 30, 2014 at 12:57 AM · The ability to memorize is crucial in ANY career, not just music.

Even without discussing the type of memorizing that soloists must do, it is very important in the orchestra. I think that the higher the level of orchestra, the better the musicians will memorize everything--their fingerings, what the conductor has asked for, etc. They memorize quickly and accurately.

I've seen in lower-level orchestras that people constantly forget what is told to them, or do something right after the conductor says it but forget to do it the next time around. One of my pet peeves is people who either circle, or make "eyeglasses" next to something they forget. Just make an effort to remember it--it's not an art show.

December 30, 2014 at 01:07 AM · I have attended two concerts at which the concertmaster played the concerto with the music in front of him. The first concert he played the Barber concerto, and there was no admission charge. The second time he played the Korngold concerto.

I have also seen a lot of YouTube videos in which famous performers have had a musicstand placed in front of them in an unobtrusive way. Perhaps they were called in as substitutes at the last moment or the piece is brand new and there was not sufficient time to memorize it.

December 30, 2014 at 01:39 AM · I've noticed a lot of performers playing sonatas with the music stand in front of them, but they never look at it or turn any pages. I think they are just paying a courtesy to avoid upstaging the pianist. To them, printed music is a distraction that wastes mental bandwidth.

The amateur can do what (s)he is comfortable doing. I memorize just fine, but I am a nervous performer and I especially fear memory lapses to an irrational degree. However, what I have learned is that having the music there as a "just in case" thing does not really work for any kind of fast piece because you can never find your place quickly enough to avoid a noticeable flaw.

December 30, 2014 at 03:12 AM · The responses certainly support the important role of memory.

I always wonder about the groups who advertise as wedding specialists and list a full page repertoire. They have a great memory or a briefcase full of sheet music?

I also realize that there are many situations where stands may actually be the only way to go. (Quote my Broadway musician buddy, "Yeah, we have to be great sight readers because they don't want to give us rehearsals !!"

Lacking a good memory doesn't bother me as an amateur but I think that reading music is a burden to performance.

A family member sings with the Tanglewood chorus and he/they have some definite rules. No music. You can't sing and read music at the same time. All performances are in the original native language which is also memorized (gimme a break!) (The memory gene really missed me!)

December 30, 2014 at 03:20 AM · A lot of soloists do use music either for subbing last minuet or for a complex piece (e.g. Mitsuko Uchida used music for the first half dozen times she played Schoenberg piano concerto). Menahem Pressler uses music now in his late flourishing concerto soloist career...

It's fascinating the attitude of using sheet music vs. playing by memory has been constantly shifting over the centuries. Mendelssohn could have played his own piano trios by memory but asked someone to put something on the stand so it looks like he's reading off his notes, and nowadays there's a general sense of awe and respect for people who have memorized all these little notes in their heads, and memorization is strictly expected in school auditions and competitions, although I feel the tide is slowly turning the other way again especially with issues dealing with historical performance practice.

"Maybe one has to visualize the note(s) on staff for the graphical cue?"

I think unless you're Seiji Ozawa, like most people you can't rely on seeing notes in the mind but use on a combination of muscle memory and musical planning and experience to get you through.

I also discovered besides natural aptitude, often there's reasons why people are great or terrible at performing or playing by memory. Often it's the way you practice or listen. I wouldn't mark yourself as a victim with poor memory so quickly. If your brain can remember random TV jingles, I'm sure it can remember things you practice everyday if you learn how to work with it.

I really agree with Scott, to add to that, I make an effort to try not to write in fingerings in orchestra parts because in my practicing I aim to have it internalized, and also not to create more visual junk as much as much as I can help it. Similarly in chamber music, if it's really well learned, you should be able to play much of it by memory in a non-stress situation. I see "bad memory" often times linked with not so great practicing/learning rather than a hardware problem. And if it's poor memory retention to blame, then the more reason to maximize your learning ability!

December 30, 2014 at 03:47 AM · Dorian

Good information but I'm not able to forget that reading music just adds to the multi-tasking burden of violin playing.

Sometimes, like others do, I will often pick up the violin and simply play something original. I really sound best without any written music. Now, I have to figure out how to do that "live"!

Maybe if I were better with technique, it would go away :)

December 30, 2014 at 04:15 AM · Darlene, I've found that listening plays a huge role in memorizing. Try listening quite a lot (like to saturation point) to a piece that you are learning, and see if that helps you memorize the piece. Another exercise: choose a fairly simple and do-able tune to learn, and learn it completely by ear, without the music. Probably best to learn a tune for which you have a recording. I think this can help you tap into a different part of your brain.

December 30, 2014 at 04:47 AM · OK. Sounds interesting.

December 30, 2014 at 06:13 AM · "I make an effort to try not to write in fingerings in orchestra parts because in my practicing I aim to have it internalized, and also not to create more visual junk as much as much as I can help it."

Yes, I also try to memorize fingerings without writing them down (unless it's just a totally hairy passage). This also helps with the next time you have to play the piece, especially if it's a different edition, or you're sitting in a different place (inside vs. outside).

December 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM · Think about an ear training course that will get you to instantly recognize the intervals between notes.

I found that people can usually memorize a tune that is played to them for playback in their head. Once you can translate that sound into intervals, it becomes easier to play and to transpose to different keys on the fly.

December 30, 2014 at 04:25 PM · Don't forget--the ability to perform from memory isn't just about remembering what notes to play. I'd bet even more has to do with focus, mental stamina, and the lack of fear of playing from memory at all.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this last factor--fear of a memory mistake, rather than memory itself--is really the underlying issue for most musicians.

A few years ago, I performed with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. It was curious to see a monitor with the words to decades-old hits:

"Need a whole lotta love

Need a whole lotta love

Need a whole lotta love"

So memory issues aren't solely the domain of classical musicians.

December 30, 2014 at 06:24 PM · Obviously, the issue here is that you were not properly indoctrinated into the Suzuki method at an early age.

Classically trained violinists can't remember a thing. Suzuki trained violinists remember everything, but can't read music.

*heavy sarcasm, pointedly directed at recent MOC accusations*

(Hey, someone has to stir the pot once in a while....)

December 30, 2014 at 07:29 PM · I sometimes wonder if the panic over memorization isn't inculcated somehow...I mean, we ALL do MANY things by memory every day...drive, make coffee, repeat learned activities...what's different about violin?

Driving a car is at least as complicated, mechanically, but most of us do it successfully--with, often, a larger 'audience' in traffic than most soloists ever meet.

I, too, have trouble memorizing music, but it occurs to me it may be an attitudinal, not an actual problem.

December 30, 2014 at 07:39 PM · Seraphim, that is incredibly far from the truth, on all levels.

I do think that playing by memory takes practice, as does playing with music. Start with something do-able and grow from there.

December 30, 2014 at 07:44 PM · I don't see the act of driving a car as being equivalent to the task of memorizing a long piece of music. Driving a car depends on a few tasks that one uses all the time--steering left vs right, knowing which pedal does what, which side of the road to stay on, etc. Music involves a much longer sequence of events, some of which fit into patterns and some of which don't, and it has to be done in front of other people who are judging you.

The cause and effect of the Suzuki system on memory proficiency would need to be proven. Plenty of Suzuki students probably can't remember anything...

December 30, 2014 at 08:03 PM · Sorry Laurie. That post was intended as sarcasm.

Often the Suzuki method is criticized as creating a bunch of violinists who memorize everything.

Darlene has brought up the inability to memorize as a hindrance. Which, to me, shows that this is a valuable attribute to strengthen (as per Suzuki).

December 30, 2014 at 08:09 PM · The Suzuki method was criticized for that 30 years ago and as a result, Suzuki teachers have gone out of their way to become experts at teaching music-reading, and it's worked very well. No need to perpetuate that stereotype. And plenty of non-Suzuki-raised people can memorize very, very well!

I'm just sayin'.

December 30, 2014 at 08:10 PM · I find that I have no problem remembering tunes. I used to sing a lot. My singing teacher used to tell me: sit down with your new sheet music and a cup of tea, imagine the song, play it on the piano maybe, then you'll wake up the next morning with the tune playing in your head like a radio. It actually works like that for me.

The violin is different. Although I have no trouble at all memorizing the music (it happens without making an effort, usually), it seems that I am not always 'encapsulating' the extra info like which position something is supposed to be played in. So I sometimes find myself continuing a phrase just fine, but in a different position. It is an odd experience.

As to drawing glasses in orchestra music, Scott, our conductor explicitly tells us to do that at points where she needs us to look at her. I never do it, since it is nonsense: we need to keep her in sight all the time, as far as I'm concerned. But I understand her, 'cause hardly anybody does ....

December 30, 2014 at 09:35 PM · SIDEBAR

Gee, I did not realize that memory was so controversial.

But there may be something worse.

How long is a memorized piece retained in memory?

What (if I may ask) is the potential for "return on investment"?

December 30, 2014 at 11:24 PM · Read Moonwalking with Einstein.

December 30, 2014 at 11:58 PM · --How long is a memorized piece retained in memory?--

Depends on how healthy your mind is.

From what I've read over the years, the general consensus is that: anything that increases blood flow and lowers inflammation aids memory. Anything that slows blood flow and causes inflammation creates poor memory.

December 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM · Darlene, I took 25+ years off from the violin, from age 17 to 44. When I took the violin out of the box and tuned it, I could still play a couple of nice short (i.e. two-page) pieces through by memory.

December 31, 2014 at 12:09 AM ·

December 31, 2014 at 02:36 AM · Memory or not, there are so many things going on with a violin, that any decent performance is a great accomplishment IMHO.

December 31, 2014 at 04:19 AM · Luckily we are able to build strong memories, but the problem is people rarely know how. Finding the weak areas in the mind and applying the right exercises is almost a life's work and it takes a lot of study. I've been working on memory techniques for years now because some of my students struggled with learning the violin, because of poor memory. But don't kid yourself, because those weak areas of the mind can be strengthen, you just need to find the right exercise.

December 31, 2014 at 05:25 AM · "Gee, I did not realize that memory was so controversial.

But there may be something worse.

How long is a memorized piece retained in memory?

What (if I may ask) is the potential for "return on investment"?"

I'm not sure what's controversial about the need for memory. As I said originally, one can't be good at anything unless you have a good memory. And very successful people have great memories.

Do you think you can get through law school, or medical school without memorizing vast amounts of material?

One simply can't function professionally if you keep forgetting things and have to relearn them. What if I had to relearn every piece I teach? Even as a teacher, much of the repertoire--including unwritten fingerings--needs to be at your command.

December 31, 2014 at 05:42 AM · Hi Darlene,

at least for me, the question of retention is quite complex . For example, I could remember everything I played without any effort up until puberty. those works stayed in my mind more or less indefinitely for 40 years although the degree of polish required to revive them depended on how many times I took them out for a quick dust. Ten Have Allegro brilliant is not something I choose to review before breakfast everyday. After that time memorizing became difficult for me due to bad practice habits among other things. but I would say there is an age connection if you want to look at the whole lifespan and make comparisons. Plenty of soloists, teachers etc. have noted that the difficulty of learning new stuff increases.

But this not an excuse for anyone not to persevere and achieve remarkable success in this area. While acknowledging this is sometimes problematic for some people there are things we can do. It is like any aspect of violin playing that we feel is weak. Practice it rather than avoid it!

There used to be something of a European tradition in which a student was supposed to have a piece already learnt mentally before putting he bow on the string. I used to do this quite a lot. I think this connects to Lauries point about listening a lot and also the practic eof players such as Anne Sophie mutter who learn works at the piano first. Or Milstein who also doodled at the piano first rather a lot.

Something to experiment with, perhaps with shorter chunks? Start with the end rather than the beginning.

Getting off track a bit, but I wonder for example, how the lady in another current thread who is struggling with the Bruch would do if she actually got away from the obsession with the left hand and really worked hard at visualizing herself playing beautifully in her lessons .

It may be off track in one sens ebut in another it is perhaps the core issue? Are we really paying attention when we practice ?

Using rhythms and Bowings is a no brainier these days, but do you look at the music while doing this? I would suggest that is far less useful. Are we really setting goals for ourselves before we begin practicing? Without goal setting and constant reference to them everything is just a bit more aimless, including memorising.

Concerning the performance thing why not visualuse yourself playing the work in front of an audience before going to bed every night? Really feel the bow arm and left hand as much as possible while you hear your sound. when the mind goes blank that is the point you don't knows! now you have a target for tomorrow's practice.

Finally, always keep one day for recycling at least some repertoire by plaing it through without stopping. this is performance time, not detailed practice although memos about problem spots are useful.



December 31, 2014 at 03:05 PM · I am at a point where new skills(?) are encouraging me to make plans for my violin future. What do I like? Who will be my audience? Is there any hope for "part time" pro such as weddings, etc. Is my playing good enough?, etc., etc.

This thread is really a search for consensus. Call it a reality check from experienced members.

I don't want to be stuck always playing the same hymns in church but I also do not want to pursue music that is too challenging. (that includes need to memorize)

My only real natural skill is good intonation. I have to think about almost everything else and memorization is a main concern.

Yes, I expect to improve but is it enough?

Decisions, decisions!

December 31, 2014 at 03:38 PM · @Scott C.

I think that I have to disagree with you.

Tell me this ..... what is it that is remembered when a person "remembers violin music" in contrast to remembering a laundry list of people's names?

December 31, 2014 at 04:13 PM · Get into chamber music and you won't have to play from memory. :D

December 31, 2014 at 04:26 PM ·

December 31, 2014 at 05:02 PM · Kevin C

Chamber music. Perhaps. I do prefer smaller groups and the genre.

December 31, 2014 at 05:18 PM · Liz B

The violin is a miserable instrument compared to others being it offers basically 4 strings and a "box" while other instruments have at least (discrete) notes. This forces me to actually have a real laundry list clipped onto to my music stand:

Bow direction.

Bow speed.

Bow pressure.

Bow tilt.





Sounding point.

I would rather challenge the people list !!

December 31, 2014 at 06:43 PM ·

December 31, 2014 at 07:11 PM · Liz

I usually do not connect well with the music but I'm not sure how to put all the details on autopilot to achieve more freedom from technique.

I meant that I would rather try to memorize a people list than memorize all that goes into a violin performance. You remark about too much detail but a solid performance includes a lot of details by which we judge a performance. (Yes?)

December 31, 2014 at 07:24 PM · I think what everyone is trying to tell you in this thread is that memory is actually directly linked with all the skills you're complaining about, and when you practice and listen well, memorizing will come much more naturally and isn't one more scary thing you have to deal with.

You can't be staring at music all the time anyway in high levels of chamber music or wedding gigs. Often you'll need to watch when someone's walk is ending so you can cadence, or watch your colleagues to match whatever, or find you're missing a page while playing in stage and have to play by ear/memory...

In fact you probably have memorized your church hymns already, or at least I hope so!

December 31, 2014 at 08:27 PM · Well, I have a new year to test my new information. I will also surf around for people/groups doing chamber music.

I did not memorize my church hymns, I just play them by ear. Is that the same thing?

December 31, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Darlene, putting a laundry list to music has been thought of before - Rossini said he could do it.

December 31, 2014 at 10:50 PM · and given his propensity for wearing women's clothes it must have been quite charming,



December 31, 2014 at 10:57 PM · Don't poke fun at laundry lists. Who would want to fly with a pilot who did not do the pre-flight routine?

I bet that pros have similar worries but they master their music with talent, practice and discipline.

And they also have nerves of steel knowing that a violin can smell fear.

January 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM · They don't necessarily have nerves of steel. Many of them just enjoy playing with all that adrenaline.

January 1, 2015 at 01:41 AM · "I did not memorize my church hymns, I just play them by ear. Is that the same thing?"

No. Church hymn, being strophic, are easy to remember. Anyone can remember a church hymn. It's not the same as memorizing a complex piece of music.

January 1, 2015 at 10:07 AM · 'I never saw a soloist using a music stand?'.

I saw Josef Suk play the Berg concerto - with music and stand. Whether he actually needed them or not is a different question. But I think this is the only time I've seen a violin soloist playing from music, which may be why it stands out in my memory (apart from the quality of the performance!).

Richard Goode once played a Mozart piano concerto from music in the Edinburgh festival. This attracted some adverse comments in the interval, but the people making them presumably had not heard Alfred Brendel earlier in the week playing without music and getting into a terrible mess in another Mozart concerto (I'm sure this was age-related as Brendel could play the same concerto from memory with ease many years earlier - maybe another consideration).

So as far as I'm concerned (admittedly as a non-performer nowadays) it's a question with many considerations and no 'right' answer. If using music helps the performer to deliver a memorable performance then I'm all in favour and I see no reason to censure them for doing something which helps them to give of their best.

Having a good memory has its drawbacks as well as advantages. In my youth I rehearsed and performed a Haydn symphony as a second violinist. I had the misfortune to memorise the entire part unintentionally during rehearsals. It was about 20 years before I could listen to that symphony without mentally following every note of the second violin part!

I'm not aware of a setting of a laundry list, but an English renaissance composer (I forget which one) did set the index of an Italian songbook (as a joke). I have no way of knowing whether the performer(s) memorised it, or what the composer was wearing at the time.:-)

January 1, 2015 at 11:37 AM ·

January 1, 2015 at 12:34 PM · Greetings,

Liz has a good idea that I think highlights why you seem to be getting less results than you deserve. The problem is with your list. It's well thought out and accurate but it's a micro list of stuff and we just can't function trying to approach music in this way.

I would like to recommend a book called Practicing for Artistic Success by Lewis Kaplan. The basic idea he puts forward is indeed, we do need to have clear ideas about what to focus on but these should be the following which he calls 'the Pie Strategy.'

According to Kaplan musicians should focus on Intonation, Rhtym, Expression and Tone when practicing a work. These are represented as slices of a pie. In your case this would be an appropriate -macro- list. So we play while paying attention to these things using the following straegy:

Say out loud: I am going to play from a to b and observe for the strongest and weakest slices of the pie. You must specify the exact beginning and ending of the excerpt you have chosen.

Play all the way the specified passage. Undo no circumstances stop and practice it. Try to observe these four qualities AS YOU PLAY NOT AFTER. If you cannot do this then repeated trials will help you develop this skill.

Within 10 seconds of finishing the play through say out loud I observed the strongest slice was ..... and the weakest slice was...... If it takes longer than ten second Shen you are making post performance observations which is wrong!

Have a piece of paper with a strong and weak column prepared. Write down the two pieces of the pie you chose in the relevant columns. Repeat this procedure five times.

This should help you identify where to focus attention.

Note that without the speaking aloud you probably will not pay adequate attention to what you are doing. This is considered da central component of the strategy!

Now he moves onto the 'berry strategy' Sorry for the funny names......

Y ou have probably realized this refers to detailed analysis. But now you are in the right work area! If the problem is tone then you need to put labels on the sound such as harsh, crucnched, whsiperhy.

Now say out loud

I am going to play from a to b and observe the beauty of the tone.

Play the passage.

Your observation now has two parts. First of all try to allocate a number between one and ten for beauty . It is probably easiest to allocate something like one number per bar. If the first bar was to ally ok and got a seven but the second sounded awful with a two ant the third got an 8. you have now located where you need to work Say out loud ' what did you hear that made bar two get a two?

Only now is the time to apply the kind of micro list you have described. If you cannot find the reason behind the problem you located then you have a super cool question to take to your teacher.

Sorry this is patchy but I tried to give a good impression of a very helpful book that I really feel would increase your success quite substantially. If I remember correctly there is an excellent violinst on this site who studied with Kaplan. Joyce?



January 1, 2015 at 01:03 PM · A few almost but not quite unrelated random observations:

In the 1980's, Daniel Barenboim performing, from memory, all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas live on television in a series of broadcasts from ducal palaces in Europe. You can view this feat here:




The pianist Maria Joao Pires arrived at a concert hall in Amsterdam expecting to perform the Mozart piano concerto K467, only to find to her horror that the orchestra started playing K466, which she hadn't performed for a long while. She managed to retrieve it from the depths of memory and gave a near immaculate performance. Look for her name on YouTube.

Organists traditionally play from sheet music, sometimes enlisting a page turner who might also be required to actuate stops when necessary. Given the complexity of the instrument and its music this is understandable.

Soloists in double and triple concertos almost always have their music in front of them. Each has another soloist to think about and the risk of inadvertent error is probably at least doubled.

The Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter had an unfortunate memory lapse during a solo recital. It was presumably age-related because he thereafter used sheet music in performance.

A former conductor of my chamber orchestra during a rehearsal, without any warning, asked everyone to remove their music from their stands and then he took us through the Elgar Serenade for Strings, everyone playing from memory. It is firmly in the orchestra's repertoire so the experiment worked. Some players, possibly more recent arrivals in the orchestra, who were less certain of the notes got pulled along by others who were certain. The same conductor on another occasion changed the programme of a concert on the spur of the moment during the interval, so in the second half we found ourselves sight-reading Eine Kleine which, although in the repertoire, we hadn't played for three years. Again, that worked.

The one category of musician for whom memory is all important is the folk musician. I know Irish musicians, for example, who have in their head tunes numbering into the high hundreds and even low four figures. Some of these musicians don't read music, although that is less common today. A number of the younger outstanding Irish folk musicians today have been to music college and can move easily between classical and folk genres.

Some Shakespearean actors are word-perfect in the entire corpus of the plays, as are some regular members of their audience.

Great classical Greek epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey were committed to memory in their entirety by the bards, although probably only extracts would be recited on specific occasions. These, and other epics dated back to the Bronze Age, when writing was unknown.

Many years ago I saw Kyung Wha Chung performing the slow movement of the Korngold live on television. She had the music in front of her.

When I was an orchestral cellist we were performing the Elgar Cello Concerto in Bristol's St George's Hall with a professional lady cellist who had played the concerto many times in public (it's usually one of the first "real" concertos that a cellist gets to grips with, so everyone knows it). Halfway through the final movement our soloist had an unaccountable memory lapse. The conductor was instantly on the ball, holding out his score in front of her for a few seconds thus enabling her to find her place and proceed without further ado. The interesting thing about that episode was that the only people who noticed it were the front desks of the strings; nobody else in the orchestra and nobody in the audience, even those sitting a few feet away in the front row, were aware.

January 1, 2015 at 02:47 PM · Buri

That seems like a very busy routine!

My approach actually has been similar without the vocalization. I simply play a piece until I have a problem and then I stop to diagnose what has gone wrong. Then, I decide on corrective action and do a few reps but I may, later, return to rehearse that problem passage or note(s).

I put a lot of emphasis on identifying the real problem so I'm sure what needs fixing.

Just this however doesn't help me memorize anything.


Absolutely fascinating report.

January 1, 2015 at 04:24 PM · Darlene - do you happen to have a recording of your playing that you would share? I was a bit surprised by your comment that you don't connect with the pieces you play (if I'm not misunderstanding) - but I think that can only really be assessed by listening.

January 1, 2015 at 05:22 PM · No, I do not have a useful recording.

I can define my "style" as uninspiring and I have even been (politely) called a "careful" violinist.

The issue has to do with focus on musical performance and being able to support that with basic skills running in the background. I can do a lot of things well but not all at the same time!

Memorization to me seems to free up resources compared to reading.

I can't wait to see how 2015 develops. (We have our 3rd Music Director at church in 3 years !

That should add interest!) (They did not quit because of me (I think!)

January 1, 2015 at 06:08 PM · @Darlene,

FWIW, for me the focus on music seems to be where it's at. Those 'basic skills running in the background' usually seem to function much better for me when I have an actual idea of how i want to play the music. Of course, a lot of the time I'm just focusing on technique through scales, exercises and study. But even those improve when I imagine them to be 'real music'.

@ Scott,

Re: hymns: so you seem to say that playing by ear is different from memorizing the music. For me playing by heart seems to be: recreating the music in my mind and then playing it by ear. So does that mean I'm not actually memorizing my pieces? Or is this only possible because my pieces are still quite simple? Interesting thread!

January 1, 2015 at 06:37 PM · The first memory component is your ability to recall the tune/melody. From there you play by ear meaning that you remember the notes(pitch) and know where those notes are located which is a second memory task.

January 1, 2015 at 08:43 PM · Hi Darlene,

sorry my description was messy. To be honest, I think there is some important differences between what you do and the Kaplan ideas. From your description and looking at the list it might be possible that you are not connecting as much with the music as you would wish because you keep stopping to repair things you correctly perceive as not as you would wish. it can often be more productive to play through while making mental notes and then play through against one or two more times seeing what happens to what you noticed the first time.

Too much on the spot repar can build in the very insidious habit of never being able to enjoy playing th rough works. it can also build into our memory the feeling of 'oh, here comes a problem passage, here comes the next one and so on,'



January 1, 2015 at 09:16 PM · Your remarks agree with a situation I had recently involving a piece on the internet simply called "Bach 5". I just happened to like it.

After a few days of false starts and retreats, I simply lost interest

and patience. I'm sure I could eventually play it even though it was a challenge.

Your description seems to define this sort of problem.

I'm also curious about your opinion on a related matter. How about generic problems? For example, I can sometimes lose the sounding point with any piece of music. Is this just mind over matter? More training?

January 1, 2015 at 09:45 PM · Greetings,

interesting question. The fact that you understand the significance of SP and when you are losing it already puts you way ahead in the game. One cause of slipping from where you want to be is the angle of the violin. it may just be pointing down too much in general or it may be dropping for a specific reason. A very common case is shifting. Sometimes even advanced players have the habit of this shift and droop. it can be helpful to have the scroll resting on a stand until we internalize the notion of the violin not swaying up and down during moments of difficulty.

As we play we choose the SP that is the absolute best sound at one moment in time. This may change quite rapidly as you know. We cannot continue the same bow speed and weight on the e and g strings. The former will crunah and the latter whistle. Then we move into a higher position , and the string is shorter so SP changes again and so on.

So the problem is how to change SP. Just keeping the bow straight in relation to the bridge and shoving it away seems crude as is the opposite pull. It's then we see that although mastery of the straight bow (through curved movements) is crucial, we also need to master the ability to move the bow between sound points by pointing it in slightly different directions. If you like, learning how to utilize curved bowing.

so I think the kinds of exercises found in basics that focus on this area are absolutely invaluable in increasing our awareness and control.

However, having written things backwards, I would actually strongly recommend daily practice of Simon's Tone Production exercises where one stays on an SP until the perfect sound is found for a given bow stroke. Huge dividends at any level and less complex than the SP changing exercises. One should apply what one learns in our pieces.

Suppose you are playing a moderately fast passage and you identify a specific note as not sounding well. Play it on all Sp s many times until you have fully internalized what that note needs. then repeat the chunk and see what has changed.

incidentally, one of the most important practice techniques of all in my book is to play a long ish phrase, chunk, on only one sound point with perfect sounf. Do all five SPs including right next to the bridge, adjusting tempo to the degree required to produce a flawless sound. Then just play it without thinking, as if you were performing it as a gift to an audience in a concert hall. Be surprised what comes out!

Hope this helps,


January 1, 2015 at 10:01 PM · OK.

That exercise actually sounds pretty educational and I hope I won't sound too bad !

January 1, 2015 at 10:59 PM · There is a freedom of expression that comes after the notes and basic tempos are memorized that is hard to describe, but very satisfying.

You will be able to focus on the quality of the sound, and techniques to change articulation and dynamics will feel easier.

You can find practice methods to memorize music on the internet written by famous soloists. What will strike you is how much repetition they put into just the notes and tempos of a new piece before moving onto the more expressive elements.

They may repeat a small section 50 or more times at various tempos before worrying about the musicality of the section.

It sounds like you need a plan to memorize music and the discipline to stick to it.

Definitely check out Brivati's references, but also take a peek at the Sassmannshaus website:


He breaks it down into 4 stages:





I found memorizing the notes and rhythms at the same time easier, then intonation and finally sound.

Breaking it into small chunks and repeating each stage until you never get it wrong is one approach.

I prefer repeating a section until I can hear it clearly in my head without playing. Then I play back the section in my head as I play. At that point it is firmly committed to memory. I can sit back in a chair and practice by "listening" to the piece in my head. No violin needed.

By carefully listening to the sound as I practice scales, arpeggios and etudes, the fingers associated with notes activate by instinct. This is why really focusing on the sound while doing exercises has helped me a lot.

Using this approach, I have memorized arrangements of classical pieces about 80 bars long and can still recall them a year later with no reference to sheet music.

If you find a system that seems to work for you, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

January 1, 2015 at 11:01 PM · Trevor,

I may be remembering incorrectly but I think I heard from someone who studied with her that KW Chung had more trouble memorizing stuff than your average soloist. Didn't stop her being one of the great violinists of all time though.......



January 1, 2015 at 11:55 PM · Carmen

Re: Your post.

I'm surprised that just sitting back is mentioned so often in this thread. But I have always been aware of the mental game with the violin. I'm a believer in the whole notion of "mind set".

Yes, I have played from memory once in a while and I know I won't be happy without more of that freedom.

I also give special attention to scales because if I can't do that very well maybe I should be playing something else!

Sassmannshaus ..... good idea ..... I used to go there often.

I was hoping the thread would tell me how to minimize my memorization time and effort but I should have known better. My violin has never given me anything for free :)

January 2, 2015 at 02:37 AM · "...I was hoping the thread would tell me how to minimize my memorization time ..."

It might be interesting to hear how long it takes people of various skill levels to learn a new piece.

Two weeks ago I looked up the original 8 bar melody from a piece recommended on the ABRSM Grade 1 Exam and expanded it into 24 more bars of variations on the theme. So 30 bars in total. Not as complicated as a classical piece by a well known composer, but well beyond your typical Sunday hymn or pop song.

The theme starts simply enough on the G string and ends up on the E string with steadily increasing texture, but nothing beyond first position.

I spent about 30 minutes a day playing it and today, say 7 hours later, I can get through the whole thing from memory with some expressive playing.

Does that sound like too much time for you to spend to get a piece to the point where you no longer need the sheet music?

January 2, 2015 at 03:49 AM · Hi Buri, having difficulty locating this book....

Practicing for Artistic Success by Lewis Kaplan

January 2, 2015 at 04:06 AM ·

January 2, 2015 at 04:21 AM · Here is just one of my music memory strengthening games for myself and my students.


Once you get confident at repeating the notes, try repeating the notes a minute to five minutes later: this is what really strengthens your music memory and focus. Doing math problems in the time frame also helps a lot.

I think sight reading too much can make the mind lazy, it's good to learn a few melodies by ear once in a while.

January 2, 2015 at 04:39 AM · Henry,

very sorry. Often confuse Lewis Kaplan the violinist with Burton Kaplan. Happens to everyone older than 25.

Peter, I wonder if one could set up a quick program so that the computer beeps at progressively longer intervals throughout the lesson. At which point you have to stop and play the offending passage from memory? Wiring the cat to the mains seems a good idea now I am in this vein of thought.

Incidentally, I wonder if Darlene has tried writing the music down??



January 2, 2015 at 01:00 PM · Buri

Writing down notes. It is disturbing just to think about it but I'm curious enough to try.

I did the sounding point trials and found great differences. I like the tone nearer the fingerboard but not the loss of volume. Also, the strings are slower to respond. Poor feedback.

Charles. C

I can not do YouTube at this time but I'm working on it. I agree that only sight reading dulls the musical senses.

Carmen. I personally know of an area high school contest winner who played a major work after working on it for 7 months. She won.

January 2, 2015 at 01:48 PM · Darlene, writing out music to learn it - which includes studying and analyzing it in detail - has been going on for several hundred years. Any aspiring composer, may of whom were soloists in their own right, would have copied out entire works to see how it was done. Go into any major art gallery and you will see student artists copying great works in order to learn the skills of the masters.

January 2, 2015 at 03:13 PM · Something else has come to mind.

There are at least two reasons I am struggling with memorization. One may simply be that I'm simply not good at it and the second is that it is not cultivated in the popular learning/ methods literature. I'm sure memorization is a brief topic here and there but not in the main stream.

I have been ambushed by the system.

I have a modest library of student material but where are the memorization etudes, etc?

January 2, 2015 at 04:48 PM · "I have been ambushed by the system. "

?? You're blaming "the system" for your memory problems? Andfor good measure you've labeled yourself "simply not good at it."

What about this: you don't work hard enough at it? Learning complex musical works require, for most people, a HUGE investment in time and energy. But you're trivializing it, expecting it to come easily. If someone were to have organic memory issues, such as alzheimer's or dementia, or smoked a lot of pot, then I'd understand.

Have you used all available techniques and resources? I've also heard that many are successful in memorization by writing out the music. Do you organize by areas of key? Do you practice visualization? Do you always start your memorization from the beginning (a mistake)? Do you take time off after intensive memorization, like weeks or months, and then return to reinforce? Do you practice memorization for a few minutes--or hours each day? Do you have an end goal that will force you to memorize?

You don't need "memorization etudes" because you can chose to memorize any of them. But mostly, have respect for the difficulty of the task and what it takes all of us.

January 2, 2015 at 08:27 PM · The subject was trivialized long before I got here. For instance, if I wanted to know about proper use of the bow, there is plenty of information available starting with even the very young student. At what stage of development should a student begin memorizing? Is that unimportant? I find that there is no organized approach to the subject which makes reports of personal experience so valuable.

My abilities or not will only become important once I attempt something but the loss of time is maybe more important.

I think I will go with Laurie's "listen" approach which strikes me as being very real.

January 2, 2015 at 08:43 PM · I have young (age 6) students begin memorizing very soon so that they can get used to the idea, learn a piece better (usually one short piece a week) and develop confidence. But unlike Suzuki, I emphasize reading more. I'd say 80% reading/20% memorizing.

January 2, 2015 at 08:48 PM · What is the usual Suzuki split memory/reading?

January 2, 2015 at 10:14 PM · The problem with a lot of memory games and techniques is that they are always "shooting the puck a foot from the net." They ask you to repeat something back seconds later after seeing or listening to it. The goal to 'STRENGTHEN' memory is to repeat something 5 minutes after(mental images aid in this); so now you are shooting the puck 20-30 feet form the net and you are actually learning a new skill. The goal isn't to repeat something endlessly over and over until you memorized it, the goal is to create a memory system so that memory recall is efficient.

January 2, 2015 at 11:17 PM · Greetijgs,

exactly. I use an Igo problem training system which asks you to evaluate how much trouble with the problem you had and then allocates a suitable time gap for doing it again. These kind of staggered memory systems are quite common with flash cards as well. I wonder if we couldn't have a similar program for reviewing repertoire.



January 3, 2015 at 12:12 AM · Are you left undisturbed during the time gaps?

January 3, 2015 at 05:45 AM · not if you have a cat like mine.

January 3, 2015 at 06:38 AM · Soloists often use music for recitals -- almost always contemporary works are played from music, and often sonatas are as well. Many soloists, especially the ones who don't play concerts every week, also have music available to them for concertos. I use that phrasing because I think in many cases the music is there as a safety net, rather than something they're truly reading from -- but it's still an important safety net. The less they've performed the work, the more likely it is they'll use the music.

In the end, memorization is just a form of learning. When you learn a piece, you are implicitly memorizing the sequence of motions necessary to play it. To play the entire thing from memory requires really solidifying the sound and the motions in your head, but it's also part of the organic process of learning the work. There's certainly a trick to mastering the retrieval of that memory without any cues from the printed page, but memorization should be incorporated into the whole learning process.

January 3, 2015 at 07:28 AM · Hi Darlene,

I have a memorization problem too! I also play piano and I took the CM piano exams, and you are required to memorize a number of pieces--for level 10 it's five--one baroque, one classical, one romantic, one contemporary, and one ├ętude. I'm deathly scared of memorization problems, mainly because I've had bad experiences with them (I had to restart an entire piece on level 6 or 7 and the examiner seemed really irritated, amongst other bad happenings).

I think I'm getting better at it because I practice more now, but I also find violin easier to memorize on than piano! Probably because there's more cohesive movement as opposed to pressing keys (like how it's easier to memorize sentences rather than a series of notes).

If you're able to memorize simple church hyms, i think you shouldn't have trouble with memorizing the melody of a piece, at least. Is it the individual notes or dynamics or order of the sections of the piece or anything like that?

It's just my opinion, but I don't think memorizing the score graphically will be very efficient -- it's like memorizing the series of random notes vs. something that makes sense. As long as you have the melody down, I find that I can memorize notes and rhythm and everything if I just download an mp3 of the music and play it in my ear when I'm doing homework or anything that allows me to keep an earbud in my ear. The more I listen to it, even if I'm not paying attention, the more I am able to recall even the individual, fast notes that you can't really directly memorize just by looking at the music. The rest I think is resolved through practice. :DD good luck!

January 3, 2015 at 01:11 PM · About putting in fingering on orchestral parts. I never did, but my desk partner might occasionally do so, after asking if it was OK. I have a poor memory but I managed mostly to remember not to do her fingerings! (Which were often pretty good anyway).

I watched Nigel Kennedy in a two hour TV programme yesterday. Boy - he played for an hour from memory and was at the same time totally relaxed and laid back, although it was with gaps where others played, but his contribution must have been over half an hour, and he was directing the group at times as well. (A mixture of Vivaldi, Jazz and well you name it. A wonderful example of music making and without the elitist attitude). In another programme there were lots of clips from the past, and some of the most beautiful unnacompanied Bach I've ever heard, and on Milstein's level. That's something!!

P S Driving a car is easy in comparison to fiddle playing. Any fool like me can drive a car (or lorry) but how many can play the violin? I can't.

January 3, 2015 at 06:12 PM · Here was the extent of my discussion with my high school teacher on memorization:

Him: "Can you memorize?"

Me: "Uhhh...probably?"

Him: "Ok. Do it then."

Next thing I knew, I performed the first movement of Mozart 5 from memory for a concerto competition, and that was my first experience with playing from memory. In retrospect, it went amazingly well, although I didn't win!

However, my teacher also didn't do recitals, so I had little opportunity to perform from memory. I wish now that I'd had more experience with doing so in my formative years. So I'm quite interested in methods for teaching students to play from memory. Earmarking this thread to read later!

January 3, 2015 at 09:15 PM · In Vivien Mackie's account of studying with Casals, she describes how at her first lesson she was told "Oh we don't use the music here". That prompted me to try to memorise whatever I am working on, and make a small folder of studies learnt by heart. It gives me something to think about in boring meetings, journeys, or sleepless nights. (But the D Major section of the Chaconne is very resistant for some reason!)

January 3, 2015 at 09:55 PM · Greetings,

nice to hear Somoene enjoying 'Just Play Naturally' .Ive always been so inspired by that book!

I met Vivien many times here as well as having Alexander Lessons from her. She play us an impromptu a Bach cello suite concert from memory at age eighty or whatever and it was so full of life and energy. Brilliant in fact.



January 4, 2015 at 12:08 AM · I began a Laurie N. "Listen,listen" routine only to realize I really did not like the music I had chosen so I'm changing that.

But I had a disturbing thought. I should be weak at memorizing because I hardly ever did it. What I am trained to do is use printed music as a "map". No map, big confusion. I do pay a lot of attention to pitch after the fact of landing a note but I depend on the map for reckoning.

Woe is me!

January 4, 2015 at 09:11 AM · Maps? Get a SatNav ...

January 4, 2015 at 12:55 PM · The little clip on tuners are not that different but much too slow for me. (Nice to be faster than something!)

January 4, 2015 at 01:47 PM ·

January 4, 2015 at 02:34 PM · I think it's been said in one way or another already but I'll add my own take. According to learning theory, you have to practice what you need to do. So to play from memory, you have to practice playing from memory. What it means is, you just start playing from memory. And if you get stuck, look at the music for a few seconds, go back a few bars and try again. Eventually, you'll get rid of all the memory kinks.

January 4, 2015 at 03:56 PM · Liz B.

Just a few closing remarks here:

Adjustment after landing a note(s). No one can tell precisely all the time what note they are about to play.

I mentioned a girl in a contest who had been preparing her winning selection for 7 months. What was she doing for 7 months?

I can't figure out what "playing be ear" is ?

If I want to know where the notes are per my "map", I consult a fingering chart which is also the same map for finding pitch.

(Does it matter ?)

I believe that the essence of memory is repetition which is the same way I learned to speak English.


January 4, 2015 at 04:26 PM · "I mentioned a girl in a contest who had been preparing her winning selection for 7 months. What was she doing for 7 months?"

Well, certainly she was not checking fingerboard chart for 7 months, like that c sharp is played with 2nd finger on A string, that e will be played with 1st finger on D string etc.

She would get the notes in one day (or week depending on the length of the piece). She would know precisely what note she was going to play next all the time.

Depending on her approach she could listen to her piece intensively (several interpretations), study the sheet music, determining difficult places.

She would be working on the scales, arpeggios the piece is in, working on the intonation, rhythm, articulation, phrasing, dynamics, sound point for each note until it sounded right to her and would be polishing the piece until perfection. That is what she would be working on for 7 months, one layer after another.

Playing by ear is exactly what is says, you hear a musical excerpt and you play it exactly as you have heard it. By ear.

January 4, 2015 at 05:22 PM · Most of your post describes useful skills that are pretty general. However, the girl and/or her teacher had to focus on their piece. I guess you could call it a "game plan".

My guess is that she spent this long time to memorize the piece having gone through the basics in the early stages. The piece was long and difficult. This girl came prepared and showed only a little nervousness.

But again, I think that the magic word was "repetition" .

January 4, 2015 at 06:17 PM ·

January 4, 2015 at 07:05 PM · Liz

OK. Understood.

Excuse any strange events with my posts. I seem to sometimes suffer from a computer problem called :syncopation.

I am personally challenging my own memorization to help define what I plan to do in the future. I used to think that "small group" was a safe place but not so even though they may use music. I know 2015 will be an important year.

Funny story I was once at a tribute to Leonard Bernstein and they had just a few instruments there. At one point the piano player announced that he would solo the complete score of a Broadway show that Bernstein wrote. (GASP!)

He did just that without any music at all and everyone wondered if they really heard right !!!!

January 4, 2015 at 09:26 PM · Not quite a feat of memory as we know it, but something at least equally impressive: the director of music at my school sight-reading onto the piano the orchestral score of Mozart Sym 39 while he discussed it in detail. The occasion was that the school orchestra was rehearsing the symphony and the director broke off the rehearsal to give us a mini workshop on the symphony from the piano.

I believe he was later appointed organist of Sydney Cathedral in Australia.

January 6, 2015 at 05:55 PM · "...not if you have a cat like mine."

And thus the origins of cat gut...

Unfortunately, we all know what happened with that:

1. restless cat, probably owned by a Medici (might have also had allergies)

2. catgut first used, although only enough for a G string.

3. eventual increase in rat population

4. Black Plague

5. Obamacare, imperial presidency

6. socialist paradise

7. oil price collapse

8. everyone buys SUV

9. Price rebounds

10. I finally get a Landcruiser I've been coveting at a steal.

January 6, 2015 at 09:13 PM · Careful here ...... my best friend was a cat.

But again, she was an inside/outside cat and moved out during the summer I began playing violin.

She came back but my friends said it was Fall and she wanted back in.

Or did I just improve ? Yeah, that's it.

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