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#1940240 - 08/10/12 08:48 AM Memorizing versus Reading Notation  
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When I first started playing piano I did a lot of memorizing of pieces (mostly pop) because it was "easier" to play if I could look at the keys while playing.

However, I have come to believe that learning to read music notation and also play while looking at the music enables me to keep pieces available for performing much longer than pure memoriation.

I also dabble in sight-reading although becoming a good sight reader is not necessarily a goal.

My question is this ...

Are there pieces of music that you would suggest to one of your students that they should probably just memorize because playing it while looking at the music will not be practical because of the difficulty level of it ?



Don

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#1940410 - 08/10/12 03:06 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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In my opinion, memorizing is more desirable than reading. Being able to watch the keyboard is one advantage, but when a piece is memorized, the performance is enhanced much the same way as a dramatic reading of prose is better done from memory because reading it sounds mechanical. Furthermore, a piece in your head is more available for performing than a piece of sheet music you have to carry around with you.

Having said that, I would also recommend cultivating the skill of reading without looking at the hands. This requires knowing the keyboard very well, which enables a pianist to play fluently -- no pausing to check position, no losing one's place on the page, no bobbing the head or eyes up and down, etc. It develops confidence, which also affects fluency and allows for more freedom of expression.

You might want to reconsider improved sight reading as a goal. The better you can sight read a piece, the less practicing you'll have to do to prepare it for performance. Developing skill in sight reading pays off in a big way.

#1940449 - 08/10/12 04:28 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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I focus on sight reading. The only thing I get my students memorize right away is Hanon.

Most students of average (or even below average) intelligence can memorize music without even trying. In my experience, students who memorize quickly are doing so at the expense of reading notes, and this is precisely the reason I dread Suzuki transfers.


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#1940461 - 08/10/12 04:42 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I focus on sight reading. The only thing I get my students memorize right away is Hanon.

Most students of average (or even below average) intelligence can memorize music without even trying. In my experience, students who memorize quickly are doing so at the expense of reading notes, and this is precisely the reason I dread Suzuki transfers.

thumb
I have my students memorize skills with a big emphasis on chords. For everything else memorization is the icing on the cake, not the cake.


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#1940469 - 08/10/12 04:53 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Memorizing definitely comes more easily to some learners but then there are those who memorize because the reading part is somewhat difficult and memorizing makes it easier to learn the piece. Wouldn't it be a happy meeting point if both skills were equal. Is that possible? I know the answer for me but not necessarily for you. Maybe that is a good goal.

rada

#1940505 - 08/10/12 06:04 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: AZNpiano]  
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I certainly do not advocate memorizing at the expense of reading. Like you, I disapprove of the memorizing methods taught in the Suzuki method. In my opinion, memorizing can be done incorrectly -- and perhaps is a topic needing its own separate thread.

#1940506 - 08/10/12 06:05 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Memorise exercises. Read pieces.

#1940591 - 08/10/12 08:28 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Well, so far ... it sounds like most (if not all) of you advocate reading pieces of music ... period. Memorizing is good but only after having mastered the piece while reading.

That also must mean that if I consider a piece too difficult for me to handle while reading ... then I should not be working on it, yet.



Don

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#1940613 - 08/10/12 09:40 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Originally Posted by dmd
That also must mean that if I consider a piece too difficult for me to handle while reading ... then I should not be working on it, yet.

Of course! If you can't read it, you can't memorize it. Very few people can do what Nobuyuki Tsujii does.


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#1940650 - 08/10/12 11:37 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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It is always fun to see the Suzuki method criticized over and over again!
Here's a question - doesn't memorizing a piece to the extent that Suzuki students do mean that the piece is a part of them? Suzuki students are able to play musically BECAUSE they are taught how to play musically and they listen to quality recordings. They are also able to listen to what they are playing because they know them so well.
They are also taught to read music, by the way.

The concert pianists are able to play from memory becaue they know their pieces VERY well and have played them for years. Is there something wrong with that?

#1940662 - 08/11/12 12:08 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: piano2]  
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Originally Posted by piano2
It is always fun to see the Suzuki method criticized over and over again!

Well, if it's criticized over and over again, there must be a good reason. I've had good Suzuki transfers and bad Suzuki transfers, but the bad far outnumber the good. And the bad ones are truly awful. The students get frustrated. The parents get frustrated. And they all quit piano eventually.

Originally Posted by piano2
Here's a question - doesn't memorizing a piece to the extent that Suzuki students do mean that the piece is a part of them? Suzuki students are able to play musically BECAUSE they are taught how to play musically and they listen to quality recordings. They are also able to listen to what they are playing because they know them so well.

What you describe here applies to non-Suzuki students as well. What good teacher wouldn't do that?

Originally Posted by piano2
They are also taught to read music, by the way.

Yes and no. It depends on the individual teacher. And this is the heart of the problem. Most Suzuki students can't sight read. They take a long time to learn repertoire, and a lot of them can't learn anything until it has been demonstrated to them by the teacher.

Originally Posted by piano2
The concert pianists are able to play from memory becaue they know their pieces VERY well and have played them for years. Is there something wrong with that?

No, there's nothing wrong with that. But how many of these concert pianists grew up using Suzuki method? Is there something wrong with that?


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#1940663 - 08/11/12 12:09 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by dmd
That also must mean that if I consider a piece too difficult for me to handle while reading ... then I should not be working on it, yet.

Of course! If you can't read it, you can't memorize it. Very few people can do what Nobuyuki Tsujii does.


Wait a minute. This doesn't sound quite right. If I only studied pieces that I could play by reading, I would just be playing the simplest of pieces. I can accept that those of us who play by memorizing are not real pianists, but please let me keep my piano, I enjoy played too much to give it up just because I can't play and read at the same time.

#1940670 - 08/11/12 12:29 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: SoundThumb]  
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Originally Posted by SoundThumb
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by dmd
That also must mean that if I consider a piece too difficult for me to handle while reading ... then I should not be working on it, yet.

Of course! If you can't read it, you can't memorize it. Very few people can do what Nobuyuki Tsujii does.


Wait a minute. This doesn't sound quite right. If I only studied pieces that I could play by reading, I would just be playing the simplest of pieces. I can accept that those of us who play by memorizing are not real pianists, but please let me keep my piano, I enjoy played too much to give it up just because I can't play and read at the same time.

I fail to see the logic between what I wrote and what you wrote. You must have misread my previous post.

If you love your piano, please keep playing whatever and however you want.


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#1940677 - 08/11/12 01:04 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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You are correct, AZNpiano. I can't see the logic in what I wrote either! However, I now see that I misunderstood your post.

@dmd: I think your conclusion is a little too restrictive. There certainly are people who learn to play pieces by decoding the score and memorizing rather than only playing what they can play and read simultaneously. That may not be optimum, may not be desirable, but is a way forward.

#1940692 - 08/11/12 02:23 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Quick point: one of the huge reasons for learning to READ music well is to later be able to WRITE it. I spend a lot of time learning and working with music that either does not exist in written form or that is very poorly notated.

The fact that I write out music by no means says that I can only play what I read. It also means that I can put on paper what I hear, and that means that I do no have to memorize hundreds and hundreds of things that I would otherwise have to keep totally in memory, for all time.


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#1940693 - 08/11/12 02:32 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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There is something wrong with *needing* to look at your fingers all the time while you play.

If there are Suzuki advocates here, perhaps they can tell us how Suzuki gets round this? It is one of my concerns about Suzuki, that a student starts by not needing to read, and may become dependent on looking at the hands.

#1940694 - 08/11/12 02:36 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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The faster you can read, the faster you can learn.

First you look at the music. Learn it. Then you close your eyes. Learn it again.

After that, you can look at your hands. Now play it.

(Of course, this is a very broad and horrible way of going about it - it depends on the piece and student and section and so much more - but there is a lot of truth to it too.)

#1940742 - 08/11/12 06:58 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: SoundThumb]  
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Originally Posted by SoundThumb
@dmd: I think your conclusion is a little too restrictive. There certainly are people who learn to play pieces by decoding the score and memorizing rather than only playing what they can play and read simultaneously. That may not be optimum, may not be desirable, but is a way forward.


I know people who do that because I was one of them. I am just trying to find out if I should quit doing that.

If I was one of your students, would you only prescribe pieces that you felt I could play while reading notation and then insist upon it ... regardless of how slowly I progressed with it ?

Or ... Is there a place for memorizing it FIRST and then work on playing it while reading notation afterward ? Maybe memorizing it first will help with this.






Don

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#1940748 - 08/11/12 07:27 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Many students who are traditionally taught are also not very good at sight reading. It's not fair to blame a method (Suzuki).
One of the biggest reason for Suzuki transfer students who cannot sight read, is that sight reading is not started until a student begins Suzuki Book 2. Book 1 is devoted to developing the student's ear through listening, developing technique through careful practice, and making a beautiful tone on the piano. This includes the ability to play with a singing melody and a quiet accompaniment.

Another thought to keep on mind is that The Suzuki Method was intended to be started at a young age - 3 or 4. It is a mother-tongue approach, which means that student learn through listening and demonstration, with loving support from their parents.
When you have Suzuki transfer students, especially who were in Book 1, something broke down in the system. Most likely the parents didn't provide the environment that would allow the student to learn best.

Of course these students are frustrated when they start traditional lessons - the traditional teacher is expecting them to be able to do something they haven't learned yet - read. You have to provide an environment where they can succeed - start at the very beginning for reading, and allow the child to continue playing some pieces by ear. Or else do lots of ear training games at the first few lessons with these kids. They will be very good at them (if they listened to their Suzuki CDs) and feel good about themselves.

Or you can just complain about the fact that they can't read music yet and they've been playing for 1,2,3 years - then their confidence will be shattered. Then they will not progress very quickly with reading, when most kids will progress quickly in a supportive environment.


#1940779 - 08/11/12 09:30 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Two things that I don't see mentioned here:

1. In regards to the taboo of not looking at the hands, ever, when reading. For distant keys and such, one can and does look at the piano. You want to have secure reading skills so that you glance at the piano and find your way right back to the sheet music. The instruction not to look at the hands is a way of getting a student not to depend on the hands and memory. I think a better instruction would be TO read the music because that's what the real goal is. Otherwise you get the quandary in the OP: if you should not (ever) look at the piano, then when the music gets hard should you memorize? That either/or should not exist.

2. Nobody has mentioned things like theory, understanding music, musical form and such. If you know there is such a thing as ABA form, can recognize patterns and repeating patterns, know where the music is leading to a cadence point and has reached it, recognize harmonic progressions, etc., then this will help both memorization AND reading. Part of playing is anticipation or knowing ahead of time where the music is going and where it came from.


#1940791 - 08/11/12 09:56 AM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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i like Suzuki... it's very logical.. my only complaint is that once you are in the more advanced literature, it moves really fast. there are no pieces to reinforce what one has learned..you really need supplemental literature. I must have the perfect mother for this literature, because her kids have come to me well prepared. All i have to do is establish the music, hand, keyboard triangle and teach them to keep their eyes on the music. i love it.


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#1940851 - 08/11/12 12:35 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: piano2]  
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Originally Posted by piano2
When you have Suzuki transfer students, especially who were in Book 1, something broke down in the system. Most likely the parents didn't provide the environment that would allow the student to learn best.


I find it silly to blame the parents for their children's inability to read notes. I blame the teacher.


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#1940868 - 08/11/12 01:16 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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AZN piano - pleae re-read my post (piano2), as I wasn't blaming the parent for the child not reading notes. I was merely explaining that in Book 1 Suzuki, note reading is not taught yet.
As I'm sure you know, for Suzuki method to work, the parent assists the child at home by playing the cd, and practicing with the child. The hardest job is to be the parent, and lots of them can't handle that role and take their child out of Suzuki as a result.
Then you get transfer students who can't read becaus they haven't been taught yet. It's your job to teach them since their parents have decided to go with traditional lessons.



#1940891 - 08/11/12 02:22 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Does it become a problem that they are used to looking at their hands?

#1940898 - 08/11/12 02:43 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: piano2]  
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Originally Posted by piano2
As I'm sure you know, for Suzuki method to work, the parent assists the child at home by playing the cd, and practicing with the child. The hardest job is to be the parent, and lots of them can't handle that role and take their child out of Suzuki as a result.

So you are blaming the parents.

Actually, the Suzuki transfers I've gotten are those who want to take CM, and then they find out that they actually have to (gasp!) do sight reading. I have several Suzuki transfers who have been doing CM several years, barely passing each year, and always getting "average" in the sight reading portion. BTW, "average" is the nice way of saying "you failed."

If most parents cannot invest that much time and effort in their children's Suzuki piano education, then maybe they are better off seeking traditional lessons. Do we agree there?


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#1940935 - 08/11/12 04:24 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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So what are you doing, AZN piano, to help these students improve their sight reading once they come to you? Do you build their confidence by giving them sight reading that is easy and then progressively more difficult as they are ready for it? Do you allow them to learn their new pieces hands separately, section by section so that they can use their limited sight reading skills more easily? That is the way Suzuki students learn their pieces. Do you allow them to listen to recordings of their new pieces?

If they are Suzuki transfers and doing CM exams, then they aren't really "doing" Suzuki, are they? There are all kinds of Suzuki teachers - some take training, some do not. It's just like traditional teaching, in that respect.

If parents want only minimal involvement in their child's musical life, and think of music as something only for fun, then they should go with traditional lessons.

#1940958 - 08/11/12 05:07 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: piano2]  
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There are ridiculous assumptions all over the place.

If parents do NOT help, the lessons are traditional. Whatever that means.

If parents DO help, lessons are not traditional. Whatever that means.

I teach scales, chords, foundation. I teach Bach, Beethoven, etc. I'm a fanatic about good fingering. And I absolutely insist that all my students begin reading music, in some manner from day one.

But I also insist that parents of my young students attend every lesson and help at home by learning WITH us. That's not traditional. That's not untraditional. It is just sane. I want educated parents.

In addition, the year is 2012. There are SO many kinds of music out there. I do not restrict my students to only one kind of music, so anything that is notated is fair game if they have the skills to learn the music. And part of being a fine musician is improvising, writing music. This is all TRADITIONAL.

Delaying teaching reading is not non-traditional. It is a mindset that justifies teaching one half of music, listening, playing from sound, exploring, without balancing it with the rudiments of the written part of the musical language.

So it's not traditional vs non-traditional. It is balance vs. no balance, where one aspect of music is hammered on while another is totally neglected. And when reading is neglected for two or three years, that part of music is hurt. The damage in tat area is often irreparable.

If, on the other hand, students are taught to reproduce written music like robots - even if said robots play "musically" - what in heaven's name is the good of that?

My point: don't talk about traditional. Talk about balance.


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#1940964 - 08/11/12 05:16 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Thank you Gary, you read my mind, I agree to everything that you said upstairs!


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#1940969 - 08/11/12 05:25 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: ten left thumbs]  
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Originally Posted by ten left thumbs
There is something wrong with *needing* to look at your fingers all the time while you play.

For Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?

Or for a Chopin Etude?

The issue is not about needing to look at the hands. The issue is that the looking takes the eyes off page too long, and then the eyes lose their location.

The solution is quick looks. The need to look often is insecurity about finding the keys without looking, and the cure for that is confidence. The confidence comes from better reading, and that automatically cuts down on the time the eyes are focused on the hands.


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#1940971 - 08/11/12 05:31 PM Re: Memorizing versus Reading Notation [Re: dmd]  
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Are either of you aware of the mother-tongue approach to music? It compares music learning to the way children learn their language. Most children learn to speak before they learn to read - it is similar with Suzuki piano. The students learn to play beautifully before learning to read the music.

Does this mean that children are "robots" because they repeat what their parents say when they learn to speak?

A little more education into what the Suzuki method is all about might be in line here.

I think there are many great methods for teaching piano. It's only the Suzuki method that is constantly put down. Why is that?

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