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Memorization
#1860076 03/11/12 07:14 PM
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On another thread, wouter79 said:
Originally Posted by wouter79
Maybe you have a different idea about what it means to be able to play a piece, but for me when I can play it to my satisfaction it in fact means that I have mostly memorized it. The weak points are in fact those points that are not yet that good in memory.

I read a lot on this board about people who memorize easily, just by playing the music over and over.  Some people even find it easier to memorize than to read music.

I am completely the opposite.  Normally, unless I really focus and go through mental gymnastics, I don't memorize at all, no matter how often I've played a piece.  It certainly doesn't happen in any automatic way.

A striking exception is that recently I memorized Satie's Gnossienne No. 1, just from playing it so much.  This is the first time this has ever happened to me.  Part of it I attribute to the fact that it's a relatively simple piece, highly structured and repetitive. Plus I really love the piece.

But normally, memory and me are sworn enemies as far as piano music is concerned.

I'd love to be able to memorize more easily.  Any thoughts on how to do it?

Also, how can you tell if a piece is just in muscle memory, or in some more secure form of memory?

What is different about you easy memorizers, compared to someone like me for whom it's a struggle?


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860105 03/11/12 08:30 PM
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I'm like the OP and I have to deliberately work on memorizing something -- it doesn't just happen by itself. Of course there are some things that I will "know" from muscle memory -- stuff like quick scale passages, but it's not really securely memorized.

I would say that you can tell something is just in muscle memory if you screw up somewhere and then have no idea where you are and can't pick it up and keep going.

There are five different types of memory when it comes to music, and it's the combination of all of them that makes for a very securely memorized piece.

1. Aural memory -- basically, you memorize how it sounds. This could be the harmony, melody, rhythms, dynamics, etc.

2. Visual memory -- this is memorizing the printed page, or being able to "see" certain passages as they are notated. You can memorize a score away from the piano. I've never actually tried this but my teacher loves to go on and on about how her teacher locked her in a room and didn't let her out until she memorized the score..

3. Tactile -- this is muscle memory. It's important in fast pieces because you aren't going to be thinking C-D-E-D-C etc in your head, you're just going to rely on your fingers knowing the way to go.

4. Analytical -- this is memorizing the form and structure of the piece. For me, I need to have a solid grasp on this before I can memorize a piece. I look at cadences, key changes, repeated sections, etc, and memorize them. It's especially useful when memorizing sonatas.

5. Kinesthetic -- this is memorizing the sense of movement of a piece, in terms of keyboard geography. As in, knowing your hands leap up in this section, or go down in this one, etc.

When it comes down to it, they are all important. Tactile and kinesthetic memory come quickly to most people, but they are the most unreliable types of memory and may fail when the performer is nervous. Or as i mentioned above, you make a mistake and your muscle memory is interrupted. This is where you need to fall back on analytical memory to get back into the piece and make it through to the end.

Something I find helpful is numbering the obvious sections of my music, and memorizing them separately. I consider them "pick-up points", so if I do have a memory lapse in a performance, i can go to the next pick-up and keep going.

Sorry for the essay .. I'm studying for a pedagogy exam so I've read quite a bit on this stuff.. smile

Last edited by LadyChen; 03/11/12 08:31 PM.
Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860108 03/11/12 08:37 PM
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Great post, LadyChen!


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860115 03/11/12 08:47 PM
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If your brain is not entirely engaged and doesn't know what notes comes next, you are relying upon muscle memory, and that is a potential weak spot in the piece.

I think the more you work at something you get better at it, even if it's not something that comes naturally to you. Looking at a piece of music in many different ways certainly helps to secure it in memory.

"Muscle memory" is really just doing something over and over again until the body is so efficient at it that the brain puts it in sub-consciousness - kind of like how we are when we've been walking for years, or driving a car, etc. It is necessary for pretty much anything in life, but it can often be unreliable, especially in moments of stress (i.e. a performance).

There's auditory memory, where you have memorized how the piece should sound from start to finish. This is helpful because you know when a pitch goes up and by what interval it can help you to play through without having to know the exact pitches involved. This I think is the most basic form of memory beyond "muscle" memory, and one that should come in early on in the memorization process.

Then there is visual memory, where you can visualize the score and/or the notes of particular passages. I am able to do this, but I understand not everyone can. However, by studying the score away from the piano and "listening" to the piece as you look at the score will help solidify things tremendously, as well as help with difficult technical passages in visualizing yourself being able to play it.

There is also the structural memorization, which tends to be less "passive" than the auditory and visual forms. We'll call this conscious memory for lack of a better term (I'm sure someone's thought of a better term, I'm speaking purely from an experiential standpoint here and not scientific/psychological). This is where the brain is fully engaged in what comes up next in the music: "I play a C major chord here," or "this arpeggio starting on G," things like that. This also comes about from studying the score and creating cues for yourself to help you remember a new part of the music. These cues help out the muscle, visual, and auditory memories by giving specific instructions on what's next. Note that muscle, visual, and auditory mostly are passive as I mentioned above. This means that they are aids and will just sort of happen from studying the piece for an extended period of time. The conscious memory, however, only happens if you have made these cues for yourself and practiced using them as you play. They usually don't just come about. When you are performing, it is imperative that you focus on these cues, because without them you will be on autopilot and in danger of memory slips!

So all of these work together in this fashion:

-The conscious memory knows that the LH begins on a C# and the right hand comes in on an E natural
-You have the auditory sense of how the piece should begin.
-The muscle memory kicks in and gets things going from there, auditory and visual memories follow along
-As the muscle memory is working, the conscious memory is thinking of the next Cue in the music, then the auditory and visual and muscle kick in once that place in the music occurs

Notice how the muscle, auditory and visual memories are mostly in the moment, whereas conscious memory is primarily one step ahead of the music. Hope this helps!


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860117 03/11/12 08:49 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88


Some people...find it easier to memorize than to read music.



I plead guilty.


Originally Posted by PianoStudent88


...recently I memorized Satie's Gnossienne No. 1...it's a relatively simple piece...



Now you've got it.


Originally Posted by PianoStudent88


I'd love to be able to memorize more easily.  Any thoughts on how to do it?



Yes, you can apply the information which you already possess in a more thoroughgoing manner.


Originally Posted by PianoStudent88


Also, how can you tell if a piece is just in muscle memory, or in some more secure form of memory?



I don't know.


Originally Posted by PianoStudent88


What is different about you easy memorizers, compared to someone like me for whom it's a struggle?



I am not a "sworn enemy" of the prcess.
.
.

Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860138 03/11/12 09:14 PM
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About muscle memory vs other kinds of memory--many people say that muscle memory fails if you play a piece really, really slow (everything in slow motion), so this is one test of which kind of memory you're looking at.

I find that in general I don't memorize a piece by playing it often (my most-played piece I still don't have in memory, dang it!). I have to start with the idea that I'm going to learn/memorize chunks, usually HS.

I guess I fall into the "analyze" category--I look for repeats, patterns, phrases, etc. For example, a piece I recently started learning has a series of octave chords at the end with some other stuff thrown in, then some more chords (how's that for talking technical?). How to remember? Well, the chords go in descending order D-C-B-A (I can remember that), then a couple of G and F chord repeats an octave apart (easy to remember), a couple more chords, then ascending C-E-A-C-F (easy to remember). Then string them together.

Another thought. For me, when studying some new subject or new information, memory is reinforced if I take notes. The very act of writing something down reinforces memory. I recently downloaded MuseScore (free music notation program) and have been having a blast transcribing some pieces. For one thing, this makes you really look at the notes and see how the piece is constructed. Perhaps more importantly, entering the notes is like "taking notes" and helps reinforce memory. If you're at all inclined to play around with notation programs, it's worth a try now and then.

Edit: What Morodiene posted while I was writing this--conscious memory and cues are what seem to work best for me when I set out to memorize/learn from the get-go.

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Re: Memorization
Stubbie #1860201 03/11/12 11:08 PM
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First of all, thanks to PianoStudent88 for starting the thread. I might bump the other one just to resond to wouter79 on the HT aspect but this is a good one.

This may be long but bear with me. The following might seem familiar.

Originally Posted by anonymous
I read a lot on this board about people who sight read easily. Some people even find it easier to sight-read than to memorise music.

I am completely the opposite. Normally I don't sight-read at all, no matter how often I've played a piece. It certainly doesn't happen in any automatic way.

A striking exception is that once I did sight-read Bach's Prelude no. 1 from the WTC. This is the first time this has ever happened to me. Part of it I attribute to the fact that it's a relatively simple piece and repetitive.

But normally, sight-reading and I are sworn enemies as far as piano music is concerned.

I'd love to be able to sight-read more easily. Any thoughts on how to do it?


From my first tentative steps at the piano I had to work out the notes then look down at the keyboard and play them. (I didn't have a teacher.) And that was that. Once I'd worked out the notes I could look down at the keyboard and play them. I had no need to read. In fact it was anobstacle to my looking down at the keyboard. Time passed.

I've always memorised. I'd be singing Beatles songs on the school bus. I sang from memory. I 'listened' to music and songs in my head. I could lie on my bed and play through the whole of Tchaikovsky's 1812 in my head down to every note and every cannon blast. Or the whole of the first two sides of the Beatles 1962-66 album, every word, every principal note and every isolated drum beat. Still can. I can because I do.

I can't sight read because I don't. That's the difference.

If you're a good reader, can you remember songs? Do you listen to them in your head? Do you do the same with pieces you play?

This is a serious exercise. Try it.
Get a recording of a piece you want to play. Make it simple; Schumann's Erster Verlust, Burgmuller's Arabesque or whatever. Don't play the piece on the piano, just listen to it. Follow the score if you like.
Listen to it a few times a day. Listen to it until you can hear it in your head, note perfect, when you're lying in bed, boiling a kettle or are otherwise unoccupied.
When you've reached that stage go to the piano. Look at the score. Learn a few notes in the right hand. Just as many as you can remember, then look down at the keyboard and play them. Repeat until you can play them correctly from memory.
Now do the same with the left hand. Now put the hands together. Don't play a note without looking at the keyboard.
Repeat with a few more notes in each hand.

Now take a break for a couple of minutes.

Now come back and play those two phrases again from memory. If you can, move on to the next phrase (up to about 8 bars a day), if you can't then go back to learning the first few notes from the score.

When you've got 8 bars (or whatever you're comfortable with) take an hours break and come back. Try to play them again just once or twice, refer back to the score if you have to. Then leave it to the next day.

The next day, refresh what what you learnt the day before and continue with another 8 bars. Rinse and repeat till you get to the end of the piece.

This is important. Keep playing the piece in your head during the day when you're away from the score and the piano.
If you can try and imagine your fingers on the keys. Press them on your desk if you like. But practise away from the piano.
The more you try this, the better you get.

Now I'm standing in front of you, head bowed, and muttering reluctantly, like an admonished schoolboy, almost under my breath, "And I promise to do ten minutes a day of sight reading". I'll give it a bash for another two weeks, anyway.



Richard
Re: Memorization
zrtf90 #1860214 03/11/12 11:40 PM
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Originally Posted by zrtf90
I've always memorised. I'd be singing Beatles songs on the school bus. I sang from memory. I 'listened' to music and songs in my head. I could lie on my bed and play through the whole of Tchaikovsky's 1812 in my head down to every note and every cannon blast. Or the whole of the first two sides of the Beatles 1962-66 album, every word, every principal note and every isolated drum beat. Still can. I can because I do.

I can't sight read because I don't. That's the difference.

It seems to me that you are talking about more than memorization here. You are talking about conceptualizing a piece of music in your head, the sound, the rhythm, the flow. If you can only do this for music you have heard someone else perform, then what do you do with a piece that you have never heard?

How do you develop an interpretation that is based on a mental performance if all you have to start with is a piece of paper (the score) and whatever you already know about the composer, his or her period, and your own historically situated notions of musical aesthetics? This is the composer's problem, of course: creating something new that has never been heard before. This is the central problem of music notation: conveying a new musical concept to someone who hasn't heard it yet with mere ink on the page. Learning to take everything you can from a new score, whether you finally wind up memorizing an entire performance or not, is an important kind of music making. It isn't the only kind, of course, but it has many charms.


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Re: Memorization
packa #1860220 03/11/12 11:57 PM
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Excellent point, Paul. Again!

Yes, but the conceptualisation process carries over to new pieces.

No, you can't get all that conceptualisation in when you're following the score. So don't follow the score.

If you can't sight-sing then play through the melody one handed. Play some of the other hand too, if you like. Get an idea of the piece. Then stop. Go away from the piano. Study the piece until you can hear it in your head. Do a structural analysis of it. Look what keys it's passing though (use your teacher if you can't do this yourself).

The score is not a bunch of notes. It's a piece of music. Get the music then start practising it.


Richard
Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860542 03/12/12 04:12 PM
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I used to memorize easily when I couldn't read music because I HAD to.
Now that my reading is getting better I don't really memorize things. Or at least I don't make it a point to. I suppose I really am playing from memory and just using the music as a guide but take the music away and I'm not sure I could play it with out the visual cue.

So! The way I used to memorize (and I didn't necessarily set out to memorize so much as I just wanted to learn a song and didn't know how to read well so this what I had to do to make that happen) I would painstakingly figure out the notes, sometimes even writing them in the music (I did this with the entire score for fur elise-lol) I would look at the music (the notes I wrote in) and would play them NOT looking at the music at all except to see, initially, what notes I needed to play. Then I would play them over and over. Once I got that down I would go on the the next measure or two and so on. If it was a long song this could be a painful process-unless it has a lot of repeats-ha ha ha.

This may not be the best way to memorize but its how I did it when I really didn't know any other way to learn and it worked well for me because I really memorized things easily. Almost too easily because I relied on it so much I think it hindered my reading.

Now that you've brought it up I think It might be a good idea for me to start memorizing at least some things now instead of relying on the music.

Good Luck!


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860586 03/12/12 05:41 PM
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There is also the structural memorization, which tends to be less "passive" than the auditory and visual forms. We'll call this conscious memory for lack of a better term (I'm sure someone's thought of a better term, I'm speaking purely from an experiential standpoint here and not scientific/psychological). This is where the brain is fully engaged in what comes up next in the music: "I play a C major chord here," or "this arpeggio starting on G," things like that.


Let me add (if I understand correct) that these "conscious chords" are only available for "important positions", for insteance each first chord of each 4 measures. It is like with video encoding, where only a few shots in time are fully stored, and the rest is stored in a kind of differential coding. Correct?


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860587 03/12/12 05:43 PM
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"And I promise to do ten minutes a day of sight reading". I'll give it a bash for another two weeks, anyway.


LOL I consider sight reading a waste of time, since the pieces I want to play usually can't be sight read anyway.


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Re: Memorization
wouter79 #1860658 03/12/12 07:27 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
Also, how can you tell if a piece is just in muscle memory, or in some more secure form of memory?
Almost missed this!

At the piano, play it really slowly or name some of the keys like the bass key in a waltz or one your going to leap to.

Away from the piano, visualise the score or the keys. Play through the melody with one finger on the kitchen table.


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Re: Memorization
wouter79 #1860666 03/12/12 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by wouter79
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There is also the structural memorization, which tends to be less "passive" than the auditory and visual forms. We'll call this conscious memory for lack of a better term (I'm sure someone's thought of a better term, I'm speaking purely from an experiential standpoint here and not scientific/psychological). This is where the brain is fully engaged in what comes up next in the music: "I play a C major chord here," or "this arpeggio starting on G," things like that.


Let me add (if I understand correct) that these "conscious chords" are only available for "important positions", for insteance each first chord of each 4 measures. It is like with video encoding, where only a few shots in time are fully stored, and the rest is stored in a kind of differential coding. Correct?


Intervals are a kind of differential coding. I use them a lot when memorising.



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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860676 03/12/12 07:45 PM
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Are you saying you should have arranged your cds in intervals Eglantine?




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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860701 03/12/12 08:23 PM
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What a wealth of ideas and suggestions about memorizing! Thank you all!

LadyChen, are you studying to be a piano teacher? I am fascinated by piano pedagogy, and the more I learn the more amazing does the role of the piano teacher seem.

Morodiene, what you had to say about visual and conscious memorization was particularly helpful to me. I hadn't thought in those terms before. I am also quite visual, and it's nice to know I'm not a lunatic for having that as a strong component. The kind of things you said about conscious memorization helped me to think about that in a new and useful light.

Kymber, having to memorize as a substitute for reading sounds really daunting. I don't think I could ever do that, so kudos to you for having that kind of memorization skill. I'm glad to hear you're finding that you're improving at reading; I think it's a really useful tool to have.

Many people have given tips for how to memorize, thank you. I'm going to give them all a try.


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860776 03/12/12 11:25 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88

LadyChen, are you studying to be a piano teacher? I am fascinated by piano pedagogy, and the more I learn the more amazing does the role of the piano teacher seem.


Yes, I'm working on my pedagogy through the RCM in Canada. It's split into three sections, and I've completed the elementary and intermediate pedagogy, and am now working on the advanced. The first two sections were easy but I'm finding the advanced to be a challenge.

It has certainly made me respect the wealth of knowledge that my music teachers have acquired over the years!

Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860820 03/13/12 01:19 AM
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LadyChen and Morodiene, you both mention visual memory in terms of memorizing what the score looks like. Does visual memory also include memorizing what keys to play by visualizing what it looks like to play them? Or is that not something that one should do? When I'm reading music, I don't often look at my hands, but when I'm trying to memorize, I'll watch my hands and fingers, and try to remember what the key patterns look like. But I don't really know if it is worthwhile trying to do that, since I don't ever hear anyone offer that as a suggestion.


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Re: Memorization
PianoStudent88 #1860848 03/13/12 04:15 AM
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MaryBee, my first post in this thread (the long one) includes an exercise that asks you to look down at the keyboard. My third post (the short one) mentions visualising the keyboard away from the piano.

Everything you do to try and remember is worthwhile. That's why schools teach us to read it, write it and say it when we need to learn things. It involves more of the senses. Looking down at your hands involves visual and tactile senses together, but I'd try to look at the keys you're playing rather than looking at your hands per se.

Have another read of Morodiene's post too about visual memory and the summary.


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