Ideas to help my dughter memory better

October 1, 2018, 5:02 AM · Hi, Ive got a young 5 year old daughter and from time to time Ive resorted to your brains to help me get ideas how to help her playing.

Shes doing Suzuki with a good teacher but she seems a bit different than the rest as her ability to play (and read the notes) is far greater than her ability to remember. She learns quite easily but she has to see the notes first. She can learn aurally short verses but if she is to learn any piece her level she has to see the notes,

I and the teacher make her learn the pieces by heart too, first in short segments but after she has learned the whole piece she sort of looses interest when the piece should be drilled into her memory as it is very difficult and frustrating to get everything right at the same time. She can do one ar two long pieces from memory ok, but the book concerts are really painfull even though she only plays a half of the pieces (the harder pieces usually).
She seems to make many mistakes almost regardless of how much we practise. 7 months ago she did book 1 and now book 2 and has been basically dying to get to play book 3 and alas sadly forget book 2.

Last time I asked you about developing aural memory better and got the idea of playing her 5 notes for her to repeat which we did daily and it did really help her, she run the second book maybe because of that.

But, alas, the pieces get longer and more complicated so they are harder to remember.

Im quit puzzled with this thing, I dont understand what part of her memory is the one that is not working at the same level as her ability to play. Is it motor memory or aural memory that is the problem? Or is it just that as she is only 5 her memory is not fully developed as it seems like a sieve. Is it a capacity issue? If she puts something into her memory then some other things fall from it.

We practise daily about 40 mins active practise and listen to the record for another 45 mins.

Are there any here that have experienced similar things with your students or maybe yourself as a child? Any ideas?

It is a bit difficult as Suzuki method stresses the ability to remember and that is the problem. She just doesnt fit the general model of a suzuki student. If she were forced to remember all the past suzuki pieces, she would most certainly quit as it would be just boring drilling in which she could never succeed. She would like to learn new bow techniques and sight read new pieces, but that really is not the essence of Suzuki. By the way, her teacher is great and has more or less accepted that this is how she is so some Suzuki teachers are flexible Im glad to say.

Luckily she herself doesnt mind the mistakes so much and though Im puzzled I dont stress her with that. And I have to admit that I was not good in playing by memory (piano) when I was a child, I did make a lot of mistakes. However I did not make many mistakes when playing a bit more modern or completely atonal music. But Mozart, Haydn aso where painfull to remember. And that I guess is funny as how can it be that it is easier to remember atonal music?

Thank you for having the time and interest to read thorough, this is a bit of a rant I know, but there you are, no questions are stupid in my mind to be asked :)

Replies (20)

October 1, 2018, 6:14 AM · She's five years old. I think therein lies your answer.
Edited: October 1, 2018, 6:15 AM · I've always had a terrible memory, but curiously I'm not too bad at memorising guitar music.
Edited: October 1, 2018, 7:16 AM · One of the central tenets of the Suzuki approach is going back over all your pieces, all the way back to Twinkle. Ideally a child who is in Book 8 should be able to play anything from the previous seven books, from memory. Some teachers stress that more than others. And some kids warm to it more than others too. I have two daughters, so I have seen both sides -- one (younger, cellist) who memorizes everything within earshot, from children's CDs to her older sister's violin repertoire, but sight-reading is a struggle (it's improving as we have set aside family time on Sundays to read trios with yours truly at the piano). Meanwhile the other child (older, violinist) always struggled with memorization but reads very well. I'm proud of both of them. They're both very accomplished, just in different ways.

My suggestion in your situation is: Don't stress out about this. If you are your child's practice partner, just practice every day and work on the stuff your child's teacher has prescribed, but make sure having fun is the top priority -- especially at such a young age. Meanwhile, do give your child lots of simple stuff to listen to -- not Brahms symphonies, but folk melodies, traditional children's songs, Disney themes, and other fun stuff created by folks like John Lithgow and Sandra Boynton. Maybe there is an age-targeted Spotify channel or playlist that you can tap for ideas. If your child watches "Sesame Street," ask her if she can play the theme on her violin. Or the piano. Sometimes kids can pick out tunes more easily on the piano -- it'll translate back to the violin in time.

The other possibility that you have to consider is that your child is going through the pieces just a little too fast. Genuine learning takes time.

October 1, 2018, 8:14 AM · Thank you for the replies !

Paul, she does listen to music besides the disc, we have made a youtube list together of the pieces she likes and it includes quite a large genre from Anna Mutters Vivaldi and Mozart to Disney tunes on the violin. She doesnt like piano music so much, only violin and the trumpet and strangely marimba and gayageum.

I am relieved to hear that there are other kids that also have memorization issues, there are none at out centre that I would know of and having only 1 child I have no experience.

It is hard to say whether she is going too fast or not, at the recitals she plays her piece technically well in comparison to others, not brilliantly but well (while making memorymistakes) and she has a vibrato, so technically I thing she plays at the right level. She tends to learn the pieces in 1-4 weeks and after that they dont really improve but the little mistakes creep in more and more.

Cotton, Im really hoping it is a matter of age. As it is a bit difficult doing Suzuki and not be able to go to all the camps, especially as she grows.

October 1, 2018, 8:33 AM · I am wondering if Suzuki is the best approach for a child like your daughter. Perhaps a more traditional approach with a teacher who is good with young children might be less frustrating. Given your description of everything you are currently doing in an attempt to help your daughter (all of which is very good), it makes me wonder if there is an organic brain difference, and if that is the case, you're fighting a losing battle.

Disclaimer: I am no kind of medical professional nor am I particularly skilled at teaching violin to young children.

October 1, 2018, 8:40 AM · Can she sing the pieces from memory? Can she sing other, non-Suzuki children's songs from memory?
October 1, 2018, 9:11 AM · We are bad at singing the both of us, cannot keep in tune. We both were very late speakers and needed special help to start speaking. But she can sing the pieces all right, just not in tune, with the memory issues of course. So Im thinking she does hear them in her brain. And she does hum her pieces when she plays with legos sometimes. She doesnt sing any other tunes though, and does not sing cartoon toons and such,

I have to mention that otherwise her memory is quite all right. She can read and write some words and do some simple counting so she is not falling behind in any other area. Im also teaching her english which she seems to pick up all right for her age.

She has a fairly good ear and plays mostly in tune. Not real perfect pitch but she has learned to recognize many of the note pitches,

October 1, 2018, 9:22 AM ·
A memory is like a muscle when it gets to the "burn" it doesn't work anymore.
We know our mind is in the 'burn' phase when things become more confusing and concentration becomes more difficult, and thus we see more mistakes. A real practice session should only last 20-30 min. take a break for 20 min. to let the memories refuel(to be taken literally).

This is how most perform a new task:
1st attempt- poorly
2nd attempt- better
3rd attempt- better than 2nd
4th attempt- same as 3rd
5th attempt- getting worse
6th attempt- even worse than 5th

This memory pattern is very common when learning new things. Your daughter could be over-repeating something when the memories she is trying to strengthen are at their weakest; this causes more learned mistakes.


October 1, 2018, 9:32 AM · The reason I asked about singing from memory is that it shows how much she's internalized the tune, away from the violin.

You said that she has memory issues with singing, as well, so that indicates that the song is not well internalized.

She probably needs to listen to the music she's playing a lot more. Twinkle is usually deeply internalized even by toddlers who don't get more than casual exposure to singing. Having to stop a lot to get through that tune suggests that she needs significantly more exposure to learn a song than the average child.

Given that, I am not convinced that Suzuki is the right method for her, given the memorization emphasis. She's old enough to start conventional instruction. Also, I'm not convinced that the violin would be the best long-term instrument for her. All string instruments require a significant amount of "pre-hearing" and anticipation of what's coming. A weak aural memory is going to become an obstacle to learning more difficult works.

October 1, 2018, 9:40 AM · It is quite obvious that memory varies a great deal from person to person and within an individual, from subject to subject.

I agree with Mary Ellen. I started violin and lessons at age 4 - 80 years ago. I'm quite sure I memorized "Twinkle" but probably not much else. My violin and cello teachers never emphasized memorization so I have no recollection of it. I always played with music in front of me on a stand. I've played violin and cello virtually all my life and thoroughly enjoyed it all - especially playing with other people in small and large ensembles. If I had to memorize all the music I have played, I would never have played that much, nor been able to do anything else in my life.

My poor memory hampered me as a college chemistry major, although I did get that degree. It was clear that physics in which one can derive everything with math suited my mind much better - so that was my grad school subject - and most of my life's work.

I totally agree with Mary Ellen - seek out a compatible teacher who does not demand memorization. I taught violin (and cello) for over 40 years using the Suzuki books for 30 of those years but emphasized reading music over aural learning. Don't get me wrong. I am a great admirer of the Suzuki School and its successes, but there are other approaches that work too.

October 1, 2018, 9:55 AM · Personally, I wouldn't obsess about making young students memorize music. For me, the reading scan is much more important. I've had Suzuki-trained students come to me that had to be re-trained to read music so they could get by in their youth or school orchestra. Memory is nice...but reading is crucial. Ask the typical professional musician how much of their career is spent reading vs playing from memory.

I think music memory is a mix of developmental stage, training ,talent, and type of music. For example, I'm terrible at memorizing most music, but particularly bad at Bach. But I'm not terrible at memorizing other types of information, such as vocabulary. I have no idea why, just the way it is.

So Maria, if I were your daughter's teacher, I'd simply say to back off a little and not worry so much that a 5-year-old isn't memorizing fast. I would focus more on correct everything else, including posture and reading accuracy.

For kids, my method is to
-ease them into memorizing, but without making it a huge deal.
-have them memorize typical useful patterns, such as scales and broken thirds.
-Point out how they can recognize and use patterns such as parallel phrases.

October 1, 2018, 10:04 AM · And maybe there's no such thing as "memory" per se - a person may have a good visual memory and a poor linguistic memory or a poor aural memory and a good verbal memory. and so on.
October 1, 2018, 10:34 AM · The "I Can Read Music" books are great, if reading is the issue here. I'm guessing that she's having memory issues because she is primarily relying on muscle memory (basically just physical memory, not knowing which pitches/notes but that she is just trying to remember where her fingers are supposed to go on the fingerboard). I would suggest really working on reading music with her (there are a lot of fun/different ways to do this that would help and not make it seem so daunting) so that when she learns a piece she can think "Ok. B first, then 2nd finger C," etc. I started with Suzuki books but not learning them aurally as it is popularly taught. Some would say this is bad because it makes the child think too much about the music in front of them, but I think an aspect that helped me was that I began to develop reading much earlier and when memory was necessary, was able to think back to the pattern of the notes and even visualize the music in front of me. That's the kind of learner I am, and maybe that's the kind of learner your daughter is, too. Just some things to try! Best of luck!!
Edited: October 1, 2018, 10:58 AM · Ear training is taught, not inherent. Like music reading, it takes practice.

If she can read music, she can learn to memorize it. But memorization is a poor label for it. It is not about memorizing a sequence of notes, nor the music visually. It is training your body and mind to recall feel of the fingers and the bow, the sound of the notes, and the flow of the music. From an artistic perspective, it is one of the most vital parts to be free to express oneself musically IMHO. It’s why most soloists play without music, most orchestra players are watching the conductor and each other.

Can she sing the alphabet song? Happy Birthday? Twinkle? Learning a sequences of pitches or a song, like learning words and sentences, comes with practice. If she’s better on songs with words, there are lyrics available for Suzuki songs too. Or make up your own.

Ask her how she’s reading the music. Does she put the first finger on the A string for a B? Is she looking at the fingerboard or she able to just place it? Does she know already what the “feel of a B” is without looking? Can she hear a B, then play a B?

Have her play short chunks she’s learned, and see how much she can keep her eyes closed - start with so many peeks and work down. (Closing your eyes helps focus on sound and technique too.)

What is she doing during the 45 minutes you listen? My kid listens on the drive to school without much else to distract. There are alternate recordings of Suzuki pieces. I like the recordings by Takako Nishizaki, titled under Suzuki Evergreens, which also have original forms of the pieces. I find them more expressive than the standard Suzuki recordings. There are also YouTube videos of kids playing. I also agree with the comment listen to all sorts of music.

For interest, try using the Music section of the Learning Academy app by Originator if she’s age 3-8. It will teach her to learn pitch with the music she’s familiar reading. I’m sure there are other apps out there too.

Also, it sounds like there is a component where learning relative pitch as been challenging or neglected. It is what helps you learn to sing and play music in tune. Relative pitch takes interval training, scales, arpeggios. On a more basic level for younger kids, it helps them to start with open string octaves where they can feel and hear the string vibrate most obviously, (Open A with A on E string, Open D with D on A string, Open G with G on D string, then E on D string with Open E, A on G string with Open A.) Point out the overtones you hear, when you listen careful to get it in tune. The teacher can help here.

Also, please her teacher to help you set realistic expectations based on her ability, and not impose your own. I recall a parent friend telling me how she had a hard time learning to read, so to her it made sense her kid had a hard time learning too. It didn’t help that she never learned the sound of letters and so couldn’t teach that to her kids.

Arguably, she’s at an advantage that you’ve been able to identify this early so it can be worked on throughout development. Catching up later is harder. I think it’s poor to blame it on the teaching method. Just like when Suzuki students are often blamed for lackluster sight reading skills, learning all aspects is important. Many Suzuki teachers teach sight reading from a young age too. Some demand it at the difficulty level at which they are learning - which is like teaching kids to read books as fast as they learn to pronounce and use the words for younger kids. (A major point of the Suzuki Method is to teach kids music like kids learn their native language. Aurally and by immersion.) The opposite, weak sight reading, is a difficult challenge since it’s hard to catch until later - no one notices as long as you can perform the piece in concert during the early years. But given a good teacher, that too can be overcome.

You are a great parent for noticing and asking these questions. Much luck!


October 1, 2018, 11:24 AM · Clara, it is the opposite. She has been reading notes for a year now. She reds notes the level she plays. She loves reading notes, she begs me to give her notes always.

Jane, this is somewhat complicated to explain, she can play the notes without watching the fingerboard, we have done some pieces blindfolded to check and usually she doesnt look at her fingers but into some distant space. She has a good pitch memory and plays in tune mainly. She also learns the pieces by heart after learning them from the notes, but she cannot hold them in her memory. They just drop out of her memory the moment she puts other pieces to her memory. They just fly away when in others they seem to stick more,

Fortunately the teacher is flexible, I probably just have to say before the next book concert if things are as they are now, that we cannot expect her to memorize so many pieces at the same time.. My girl really loves her teacher so now is not the moment to change and suzuki has many other good aspects when children are very young. And as I said the teacher is flexible, It is a fun way to learn, obviously except for the book concerts in our case which have been very very difficult for my girl. But yes, obviously traditional Suzuki is not for her, it has to flex to suit her as she cannot change her memory capacities unless they change when she grows up that is,

So thank you all for the answers, Im going to stop thinking this is an issue and believe that she will turn into a fine violin player when she grows up, who can do lots of assemble music and such well as she is good in reading the notes. When I think of it only the soloist actually play completerly without the notes and there are not many of those.

October 1, 2018, 11:43 AM · On the forgetting previous books, that’s common without review. Having been a Suzuki kid, I knew to have my child regularly play previous pieces from the start. If you are practicing 45 minutes a day, at least 15 minutes should be review. Or if that’s boring, alternate days, or what is reviewed each day. At tempo, review is very quick. My kid often plays half the Suzuki book before he’s getting into the new stuff, to get it out of the way first. It’s a huge struggle some days, but on other days it’s over before he realizes.

We also do hundreds charts for certain pieces before a recital, a key piece, or one he likes. (They could probably be 50 charts, but he likes 100.) These pieces he learns to play “fast and slow, inside out, and upside down.” He has fun playing them at all sorts of tempos - “fast and slow”, eyes open and eyes closed - “inside out”, and in all sorts of positions - “upside down.” Often he wants to play them five times a day when he gets good at them. He gets a reward for finishing the chart, which is motivational at the start, but at times it’s almost anti-climatic since he’s so happy he’s learned the piece so well.

Anyways, this is bout your kid, not mine, but maybe they can share some of the practicing tips.

Edited: October 1, 2018, 1:50 PM · Jane wrote, "From an artistic perspective, it is one of the most vital parts to be free to express oneself musically IMHO. It’s why most soloists play without music, most orchestra players are watching the conductor and each other."

That's two statements. I agree mostly with the first but disagree mostly with the second. I agree that it's liberating when you've got a piece so well memorized that you can concentrate entirely on all of the other aspects -- and really make music. I've experienced that, although I have to admit that it happens pretty rarely because I'm not good at memorizing.

I recently got invited to play a jazz gig (on the piano, with two other guys) where the club owner has a "no charts" rule. That's fine, I can deal with it, and I'm grateful for the opportunity, but it's a slightly off-putting request, as if one is not a proper "jazz cat" unless playing entirely by ear, and as if it's not a proper "jazz club" if the performers have charts. I predict my "free expression" will only be impeded because I'll have to be thinking about what chord comes next, instead of just reading it off of a lead sheet.

On the other hand, I think the common requirement for students to perform entirely from memory is largely a matter of tradition and artifice. And I agree with Scott that it's not really necessary. I just saw a recital with Itzhak Perlman. He had a music stand and was turning pages in the Franck Sonata! But I'll bet he plays from memory with orchestra, and why? Because it's traditional. Of course I'm aware of the converse possibility that his music is all memorized and the stand is just for show (to avoid upstaging the pianist), but I think he was looking at it. For my daughter who struggles with memorization, her studio's cast-iron rule that all performances have to be completely memorized has made performance a nerve-wracking, nail-biting affair instead of what might otherwise be a joyful opportunity to demonstrate her considerable musicality.

October 1, 2018, 3:03 PM · 40 minutes of practice and 45 minutes of active listening (whatever that entails) seems like a lot for a 5 year old. You could be dealing with burnout. If you're pushing too much or for too long, their brains don't engage fully. Watch for the signs of inattention and redirect. With my students that age, when they start fidgeting or don't seem to be progressing in a passage, I switch to something else - a game, another concept, another activity, etc. Teach your daughter how to tell she needs a 'brain break' and respect that she asks for it. Try a break halfway through a practice session if you're going to have them last that long.
October 2, 2018, 2:46 AM · Hi,
My son has the same issue, even he is not in Suzzuki system.
The main problem is motivation.
To remember something we need an emotion has to be attached to that. The more emotional child is, the stronger emotion needs to be attached.
So our teacher created small poetry attached to etudes or songs where everything is about him.
The other 10 she composed for him. He was very proud and memorised them with a desire.

Now she assigned to him Reiding concert.
For two months of hard work only first page is in his memory. So the progress is slow, but he is progressing.
He likes the concert so much, so he is still working on it.
The plan of work is to read, to sing, to play, to play better. We take only 2-3 measure at a time, always combining with the previous measures.
A mistake? All over again... etc.
Somedays it takes more than 2 hours to bring new 2-3 measures into the piece.
But this possible only because he really likes the music and wants to perform it.

I can not imaging him learning by heart something that is not interesting for him.

Interesting, that the psychologist who made an IQ test for him reported that he repeats with easy up to 7 numbers, which is amazing for this age. Basically, 4-5 is good already at age of 5. He could repeat until he got bored by the game.
Notes are numbers from my point of view.
And as numbers, if they do not make sense all together for a child - there is no motivation to remember. Then it is not important to them which note exactly to play, or which measure to skip.

For me, it looks like your child is very interested in violin sound, and different techniques, but not the pieces she plays.

Nothing to be stressed )))


October 2, 2018, 7:17 PM · Suzuki is based on aural and physical learning first and reading later (similar to language learning wherein a child hears language first before speaking/reading/writing). It's not about being "forced to remember" either; the memory is supposed to be from exposure: immersive, passive listening to recordings, improving your old pieces by applying new musical and technical skills to them (not "boring drilling" playing through with no purpose), and participating in group classes where the repertoire is being heard and played often and social fun is being injected into the learning process. If your sole learning is playing Suzuki pieces for 1-4 weeks and moving on, you're probably not getting what was meant to be gotten in the repertoire sequence and it could help to be using additional material.

I second Lydia's comments about singing and memory. Audiation (inner hearing) is extremely necessary for overall musicianship, and personally I also want memory training to be part of my students' life experience. (It's good that there are teachers with different priorities so that students/families can choose.) I have wondered if certain students have neurological conditions but the families I've worked with (not more than 150 so far in my teaching career), that I remember, have not offered any medical confirmations. Significant "brain differences" aside, if you are "waiting for memory capacity to change by growing up", that almost certainly means letting memory be trained in other areas of life, not that you wait passively.


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