“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On Memorizing: A Snippet

A student who reads quite well but had been having trouble memorizing her music asked about a plan for memorizing. So often, students rely on mindless repetition to somehow hammer the music into their brains by striking the piano with their fingers. This can result in too much reliance on digital memory, to the detriment of the other memory tools: aural, visual and intellectual.

Here's a basic plan. Once you've tried it, you can adjust it to suit your own predilections. 

1) Make a conscious decision to memorize. "Accidental" memorizing is usually muscle memory primarily and this is not totally reliable.

2) Select a small amount of music to consider. This could be the first measure or the first phrase. It could also be a particularly complicated passage in the middle of the piece.

3) Look at the example and notice whatever you can about it, i.e., there is a broken chord figure; there is a scale figure; the R.H is the same (or different) as the L.H; one hand leaps while the other stays put; one hand makes a leap but to the same note 2 octaves higher. I even say these things out loud. (My cats seem to enjoy that.)

4) Play the example from the score very slowly.

5) Look away from the score and play as much as you can, still very slowly. Repeat this process until you can play that example reliably, still very slowly and deliberately. The slow, deliberate playing will help you engage the other types of memory: aural, visual, intellectual, minimizing the digital.

6) Move on to the next section and repeat the process. Do not try to connect the two sections yet.

When you can't concentrate anymore, stop. At the next practice session continue where you left off. When you have finished the new material for the day, then go back and review the old material, one section at a time, or if it feels right, try playing 2 sections together. You may need to refer to the score again; this is normal. But you can tell yourself that you know this material.

Once the piece is learned and up to tempo, practice playing the entire piece excruciatingly slowly. This takes away much of the digital memory and will help you locate places that are fuzzy. It is also a useful test, though more difficult, to practice away from the piano. Close your eyes and see your hands on the keys playing the piece very slowly, thinking of each note in advance of playing it.

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