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#2031085 - 02/11/13 11:42 AM Help! Relying too Much on Memorization!  
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ClsscLib Offline

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Before I started studying piano, I was worried that I'd never be able to memorize piano pieces. Now, after a bit more than a year of serious study, I find I have the opposite problem -- I rely almost entirely on memory (I find I'm really good at memorizing music, much to my amazement), and I feel as though I'm not developing any skills at reading printed music.

When I practice, I practice almost entirely from memory. When I do my lessons, I'm playing almost entirely from memory. On the rare occasions when I play for others, I do it almost entirely from memory. I go days without looking at sheet music, and when I do, I can't read it very well.

My teacher -- who is great, and who has really helped me develop some technique and musicality -- does not see this as much of a problem at this stage, though I have raised it with her several times. It may not bother her, but it bothers me a lot.

Have any of you had this problem? If so, do you have any suggestions on how to start focusing on the printed music again and developing more reading skills and real-playing-time connection with the printed scores?

I'd be grateful for any helpful suggestions!


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#2031097 - 02/11/13 11:55 AM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Originally Posted by ClsscLib
I'm not developing any skills at reading printed music [...] I go days without looking at sheet music, and when I do, I can't read it very well.


To improve readability, it is best to read.

You can include into your daily routine the sight-reading of one or two pages. Start with easy material, two or three grades below your current level.

The sight reading is good because it prevents you from using the memory.

There are several posts here with material and tips about sight-reading.

Last edited by supertorpe; 02/11/13 11:57 AM.

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#2031100 - 02/11/13 12:01 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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If I understood well, I wouldn't call it a problem. The same happens to me. After I know, for exemple, the first page of the piece, it becomes rare to look at her (I will not say I never look at her after that, because I look, but I feel it's not really necessary to look since I know what's in that page).

And the opposite happens to me... Even if I don't look anymore to the page, I still feel my skills at reading music are developing, because I've "wasted" time to learn that page, reading the notes.

Last edited by ThePianistWay; 02/11/13 12:03 PM.

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#2031101 - 02/11/13 12:01 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I have the same problem only I've been probably playing a lot longer than you. When I used to take lessons I was told over and over again to stop memorizing so much and read more. She would put up Hannon exercises for me to "read" and I even memorized them. I never fixed the problem and what ends up happening is that you leave a lot of forgotten pieces in your wake that are very difficult to resurrect because you don't read well. And I still do it... smile I can only suggest to you what was constantly told to me... READ MORE.


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#2031103 - 02/11/13 12:05 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Besides sight reading (already mentioned) I find it useful to force myself to "read" the music even if already memorized. Hmm, occasionally I've spotted I have remembered it wrong!


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#2031107 - 02/11/13 12:11 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I have this exact same problem. My teacher also thinks it is actually not much of a problem, but she has given me some extremely easy material to sight read at home.

I find that it also helps for me to force myself not to start a piece from the beginning, nor at the logical beginning of a musical phrase, but on some random measure that, musically speaking, is in the middle of nowhere. This is something my teacher has been encouraging me to do for other reasons, too (basically so that making a mistake while playing won't cause me to loose my footing entirely, because I can start anywhere). I'll usually pick up the thread of the piece within three beats, and be playing from memory again, but at least I'll have forced myself to read whatever the beginning of that measure was.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2031114 - 02/11/13 12:23 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Saranoya]  
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Originally Posted by Saranoya


...I find that it also helps for me to force myself not to start a piece from the beginning, nor at the logical beginning of a musical phrase, but on some random measure that, musically speaking, is in the middle of nowhere. This is something my teacher has been encouraging me to do for other reasons, too (basically so that making a mistake while playing won't cause me to loose my footing entirely, because I can start anywhere). I'll usually pick up the thread of the piece within three beats, and be playing from memory again, but at least I'll have forced myself to read whatever the beginning of that measure was.


I find this to be particularly insightful and a suggestion I will pursue in tonight's practice. It hits home because, especially at lessons, I get unnerved when asked to begin playing at a spot indicated by my teacher midway through the score.

I also think that in my nightly practice session, I should spend a little less time on scales and playing my settled rep from memory and more on sight-reading... starting from some level 1 books and working my way up.

The other thing is that while I'm not looking at the score while I play, I do look at my hands. A lot. That can't be good, can it?

Last edited by ClsscLib; 02/11/13 12:24 PM.

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#2031124 - 02/11/13 12:43 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Originally Posted by ClsscLib
The other thing is that while I'm not looking at the score while I play, I do look at my hands. A lot. That can't be good, can it?


I don't know about that. Professional concert pianists who play from memory seem to be looking at their hands pretty often, too — at least in most of the YouTube I have seen. But of course, if you find yourself unable to play the piano, even for short spurts, without looking at your hands, then you've developed the kind of habit that will only add to your sight reading troubles.

My advice: once you have a piece pretty secure both in terms of musical and muscle memory, try to play it with your eyes closed. For my recital pieces, I have been forced to do this because I have a neurological problem that causes me to occasionally lose my eyesight temporarily, and the chances of this happening seem to be slightly higher when adrenaline is involved. However, I find that simply knowing I _can_ play without looking helps my confidence while playing tremendously, even when my eyes and brain are working perfectly.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2031134 - 02/11/13 12:58 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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You have gotten really excellent advice above. I memorize very easily too and don't actually feel that I can do a piece justice UNLESS I have it memorized. I am hoping that as the years go by, this will change because I would love to sit down and play something, at least acceptably, while simultaneously reading. To this end, I read A LOT of music. I have a small son who takes lessons (and he memorizes after two or three times through a piece...Our teacher lovingly refers to us as "The Memorizers"), and I use a lot of his old material to sight read. I try to be disciplined and do it daily, but always four to five days out of the seven.
So, don't think of your ability to memorize as a weakness. There are a lot of people who CAN'T memorize well and CAN'T read well.

My teacher is really particular about not looking at your hands. Just like Andy Platt suggested, even though you have it memorized, track the music as much as possible looking at your hands as little as possible. When I am learning a new piece, one of the first things my teacher does is point out the moves that she believes I ought to be able to make without looking and those that I should look for. I HATED this at first (very different from my first teacher), but after 3 years, I am extremely grateful to her for being so strict regarding it.


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#2031149 - 02/11/13 01:20 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I need the sheet music but my daughter memorizes too easily. Our teacher commented on how my reading was improving month to month. She wants my kid to improve her skills. I noticed that she memorizes songs she really enjoys, I.e., Fur Elise, first movement but needs music to study songs that aren't her favorites. In order to keep her going we've given her Hanon and other various songs to practice in addition to her main pieces. Sometimes it seems like a lot but she needs a variety or she becomes complacent. Her practice always includes something she has not memorized. When she does, I find another. My failure to memorize really keeps me reading smile. I hope this helps.

#2031181 - 02/11/13 02:13 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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You can add one more name to the "YES I have this problem" crowd. My teacher constantly reminds me to stay focused on reading the music. I'm guessing that most teachers would say that the gap between reading ability and playing ability comes back to haunt us if we allow it to get too wide. Peyton mentioned a wake of hard to ressurect pieces, which I can second, and I would think it eventually slows the learning process on longer, difficult pieces. I'm actually surprised to see Peyton in this thread, as I think most in the ABF would agree that he is a very accomplished player.

There's not really much we can do about the pieces already in our head and hands, but we can start fresh on new pieces. I really force myself to read every note and actively try NOT to memorize in the early stages with a new piece. I've also taken to singing the letter notes of melodic lines or arpeggiated chords in either hand, all while keeping eyes glued to the sheet. Eventually it is nearly impossible to not memorize, but you will find that staying focused on the score right from the start has real advantages. Once you have it in your hands and secure, the music really slows down for me and lets you use the score instead of the ragged edge of memory to alert you to what is coming up. It doesn't happen for me all the time, but when it does it is a much more secure feeling than memory alone...at least for me it is. YMMV.

I also try to read something every day, whether it is denovo sightreading or just read/play from a book of standards, easy classical, fake book, etc. that I might have tried in the past.


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#2031210 - 02/11/13 02:58 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: JimF]  
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Originally Posted by JimF
You can add one more name to the "YES I have this problem" crowd. My teacher constantly reminds me to stay focused on reading the music. I'm guessing that most teachers would say that the gap between reading ability and playing ability comes back to haunt us if we allow it to get too wide. Peyton mentioned a wake of hard to ressurect pieces, which I can second, and I would think it eventually slows the learning process on longer, difficult pieces. I'm actually surprised to see Peyton in this thread, as I think most in the ABF would agree that he is a very accomplished player.

There's not really much we can do about the pieces already in our head and hands, but we can start fresh on new pieces. I really force myself to read every note and actively try NOT to memorize in the early stages with a new piece. I've also taken to singing the letter notes of melodic lines or arpeggiated chords in either hand, all while keeping eyes glued to the sheet. Eventually it is nearly impossible to not memorize, but you will find that staying focused on the score right from the start has real advantages. Once you have it in your hands and secure, the music really slows down for me and lets you use the score instead of the ragged edge of memory to alert you to what is coming up. It doesn't happen for me all the time, but when it does it is a much more secure feeling than memory alone...at least for me it is. YMMV.

I also try to read something every day, whether it is denovo sightreading or just read/play from a book of standards, easy classical, fake book, etc. that I might have tried in the past.


Great ideas -- very helpful.

Thanks, Jim.


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#2031235 - 02/11/13 03:22 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I would view it as a gift and go with it. Especially if the results are good.

#2031251 - 02/11/13 03:43 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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This post made me laugh a bit -- I have the OPPOSITE problem! I had a lesson last week with a different teacher -- he's given me voice coaching so he knows me as a musician quite well, but not as a pianist -- and he made the observation that because I'm such a good sight-reader, I never really get 'off the page'. He suggested that I learn a piece by memorizing right from the get-go. So I took a piece I've been struggling with for the last few months (I was actually starting to question if it was even in the realm of possibility for me to play..), and I had it under my fingers in a day. And of course, getting away from the printed notes, I have a much better feel and understanding for the music than I would have otherwise.

So I have to say, I don't think your reliance on memorizing to learn new music is that much of a problem. It's still a good idea to work on your reading skills though -- just make sure you spend some time reading new music every day. It will get easier, I promise!

#2031254 - 02/11/13 03:48 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: LadyChen]  
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Originally Posted by LadyChen
...So I have to say, I don't think your reliance on memorizing to learn new music is that much of a problem. It's still a good idea to work on your reading skills though -- just make sure you spend some time reading new music every day. It will get easier, I promise!


Before I took up piano a little over a year ago, I had been an orchestral string player for many years. I hardly ever memorized anything, and my eyes were glued to the music every second I was playing.

Something about the piano, though... Mostly I think it's the fact that, as a string player, I was only worrying about playing one musical "line," while a pianist is often required to read and play three or four lines. So what has been second-nature for me for years as a string player just went out the window once I got in the habit of memorizing piano scores.

As I said, no one was more surprised than I was to learn that I had this "gift". smile

Last edited by ClsscLib; 02/11/13 03:50 PM.

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#2031305 - 02/11/13 04:36 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I wish I had this problem.


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#2031334 - 02/11/13 04:53 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Yeah I do this too. I didn't even realise I was doing it until I was happily playing something, nearly got to the end and then realised I wasn't looking at the right page or even the right piece. I had been staring at it convinced I was reading it, but I wasn't even really seeing it.

I'm not sure what I could really do about it though, as by the time I've practised something all week I pretty much have it memorised, it starts after the first few times really, even though I have to have the book in front of me, despite the fact I'm only vaguely staring at it.

At one point my teacher exclaimed "you're almost memorising it" in a manner which suggested it was some kind of strange and interesting curiosity. I hadn't really thought about it being a bad thing, just thought everyone did it.


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#2031377 - 02/11/13 05:18 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Toastie]  
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I have (or had*) the same problem as the OP. I really had a hard time connecting with the page of music as I played, and relied on memory. I really did this as a kid too, which was frustrating for my teacher at the time, I recall. It does mean you're stuck if you forget something, plus you don't see the fingering notes. This behavior was ingrained as I played another instrument by ear for 35 years.

But my new teacher says it's not a problem, it's a gift. She also says it's ok to look at your hands a bit. Yet, on my own I've spent quite a bit of effort on working on my sight reading by buying a whole load of music books at or below my level, and flitting around from piece to piece to piece without fully mastering them. Also bought and worked from the ling-ling sight reading books starting from the intro level. These things have definitely improved my sight reading to the point where I'm not really concerned about this as a problem any more. This is a big change for me. I'm even starting to be able to scan ahead and see both clefs. Another thing that has helped a lot (thanks to my teacher for insisting on this) is to play pieces very slowly. In fact there is a speed below which you have all the time in the world to scan ahead and read both hands etc. And slow speed work has lots of other benefits too.

I'm playing a digital and put the music on a floor-mounted music stand. I have it really high up, as if on a grand, and have forced myself to play easy pieces without looking at my hands, and really did see improvement in this after just a few weeks of work, improvement that has crossed over to my other pieces.

One thing I've learned from reading this forum is adults can be their own worst enemies, as far as creating problems for themselves by overanalyzing their shortcomings. This is something kids don't do nearly so much.

*I don't regard it as a problem any more


"There is more to this piano playing malarkey than meets the eye" - adultpianist
#2031392 - 02/11/13 05:33 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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A few years ago, I was taking a piano lesson and as I was playing a piece ... my instructor stopped me and asked ... "What is that for ? (As he pointed at the piano book).

He had noticed that I was not using the book at all and was playing from memory.

After that we began working on playing while looking and following along in the book. It was slow going for awhile but it gradually got better and now it no longer is a problem. Of course, as the music gets more difficult (lots of jumps in the notes) this becomes more difficult and I do not strictly adhere to it anymore but I do what I can.

The main advantage of gaining this skill is that I can pick up a piece that I played some time ago and have basically forgotten and pick it up again very quickly. When I was strictly memorizing, that was much more difficult to do.



Don

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#2031412 - 02/11/13 06:22 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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It's been mentioned a few times already, but I will offer what helped me tremendously. First, in order to read better, one must read. It falls in line with, "If you want to do anything, you have to actually do it (not think about doing it, or dream about doing it, or anything else)." Next, you have to practice it.

When thinking about reading music, there are really only a few reasons why you have difficulty:

1. You don't recognize the notes
2. You don't recognize the chords
3. You don't recognize the progressions
4. You don't recognize the musical 'line'
5. You can't find the notes on the piano itself without 'counting'
6. You can't find the notes on the piano itself without looking
7. Your technique does not include the skills necessary for that particular passage/piece (quite often due to one of the above six, but there is a separate "playing" category, into which I lump this grouping)

These are the really basic ones. Once you've identified which one(s) cause you trouble, you can attack them specifically. (It may be all six to start, but eventually you'll get better at most, if not all, of them.) If you can figure out which of the six, I can offer more detailed suggestions on how to practice that particular item.

As for general "making sure you read everyday," I picked up a two volume series of Mozart sonatas, and read through one movement every day. When I reached the end, I started over. When I started to recognize the pieces, I switched to Beethoven's early sonatas. Now, I am considering Bach or Haydn. Eventually, I will probably get back to Mozart.

The most important thing is to practice reading things you can actually read. In other words, if you're reading a book, and you have to stop every four or five words to look up the meaning of the word, you will get no satisfaction out of it, and very little practice reading for comprehension, understanding, fluency, and speed. You can't "skim" a book that has many words you don't understand. You have to read books one or two levels below your ability for this (though eventually you will 'catch up'). Same goes for music. Find something below your level that you recognize, can play, and understand and start there.


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#2031423 - 02/11/13 06:39 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Derulux]  
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Originally Posted by Derulux

3. You don't recognize the progressions
4. You don't recognize the musical 'line'


What dou you mean by «don't recognize the progressions» and «don't recognize the musical 'line'»?


As for counting. I'm no sure if it is the most correct way, but I use reference notes, for exemple (and this is only an example, I know more than just the F and C obvious :P), I know where the "two" F and the C are in the F clef (F - below first line; fourth line | C - the first ledger line above staff; the space above the first line). Then I think, here is the F and there is the C, then this note is...

Last edited by ThePianistWay; 02/11/13 07:34 PM.

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#2031427 - 02/11/13 06:48 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Great posting, and one which obviously strikes a chord with a lot of us here, including myself. My reading`s bad `cos my eyes aren`t brilliant. But neither`s my memory! I find if you use music as a prompt rather that reading every bit, phrases become more legible as it were. I`d rather read phrases and words than letters only. But I`ve a `ell of a long way to go . . . I find Bach`s French Suite Allemande (opener) to be great practice. I need the music to get this right; if I play it from memory, I take shortcuts ..

Good luck; I think you`ll get there!


"I am not a man. I am a free number"

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#2031449 - 02/11/13 07:50 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ThePianistWay]  
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Originally Posted by ThePianistWay
Originally Posted by Derulux

3. You don't recognize the progressions
4. You don't recognize the musical 'line'


What dou you mean by «don't recognize the progressions» and «don't recognize the musical 'line'»?


As for counting. I'm no sure if it is the most correct way, but I use reference notes, for exemple (and this is only an example, I know more than just the F and C obvious :P), I know where the "two" F and the C are in the F clef (F - below first line; fourth line | C - the first ledger line above staff; the space above the first line). Then I think, here is the F and there is the C, then this note is...

I suppose we should add one for, "You don't recognize the rhythm."

I tried to be as general as possible, and apply these axioms to a wide variety of printed music. Some may apply less to classical music than others.

Progressions can refer to:
-chord progressions
-variation progressions
-rhythmic progressions (as separate from rhythm as a whole)
-bass line progressions
-key change progressions
-etc

Unlike 'progressions', which can apply to several ideas, the musical line is very specific. This largely refers to interpretation. One who cannot "hear" the music usually falls into this category at the very least. It basically means you can't follow the melodic line in your head as it swells and subsides, ebbs and flows, speeds up and slows down. It requires you to 'actively' interpret the melody, instead of intrinsically 'understanding' it.

Think about a piece of music you know very well by ear. Perhaps Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, mvt 1. Once you learn the notes, you basically know how to interpret it because you've heard it so many times. If you approach a piece you have never heard before, do you have the same intrinsic understanding of melody? If not, that would most-likely be this issue.


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
#2031453 - 02/11/13 08:01 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Derulux]  
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ThePianistWay Offline
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Originally Posted by Derulux
Originally Posted by ThePianistWay
Originally Posted by Derulux

3. You don't recognize the progressions
4. You don't recognize the musical 'line'


What dou you mean by «don't recognize the progressions» and «don't recognize the musical 'line'»?


As for counting. I'm no sure if it is the most correct way, but I use reference notes, for exemple (and this is only an example, I know more than just the F and C obvious :P), I know where the "two" F and the C are in the F clef (F - below first line; fourth line | C - the first ledger line above staff; the space above the first line). Then I think, here is the F and there is the C, then this note is...

I suppose we should add one for, "You don't recognize the rhythm."

I tried to be as general as possible, and apply these axioms to a wide variety of printed music. Some may apply less to classical music than others.

Progressions can refer to:
-chord progressions
-variation progressions
-rhythmic progressions (as separate from rhythm as a whole)
-bass line progressions
-key change progressions
-etc

Unlike 'progressions', which can apply to several ideas, the musical line is very specific. This largely refers to interpretation. One who cannot "hear" the music usually falls into this category at the very least. It basically means you can't follow the melodic line in your head as it swells and subsides, ebbs and flows, speeds up and slows down. It requires you to 'actively' interpret the melody, instead of intrinsically 'understanding' it.

Think about a piece of music you know very well by ear. Perhaps Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, mvt 1. Once you learn the notes, you basically know how to interpret it because you've heard it so many times. If you approach a piece you have never heard before, do you have the same intrinsic understanding of melody? If not, that would most-likely be this issue.


Hum... I'm understanding what you meant. I might have that last problem you said, since, so far, I've only learned and play musics that I heard before.


Working on:

Am Abend - Hofmann


"Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. "
#2031530 - 02/11/13 11:08 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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Deleted... Accidental repost.

Last edited by HalfStep; 02/11/13 11:11 PM. Reason: An accidental repost...
#2031557 - 02/11/13 11:55 PM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Derulux]  
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Whizbang Online content
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Originally Posted by Derulux

2. You don't recognize the chords
3. You don't recognize the progressions
7. Your technique does not include the skills necessary for that particular passage/piece (quite often due to one of the above six, but there is a separate "playing" category, into which I lump this grouping)


I'll bite. And I may answer my own question.

Unlike the memory / aural players here, I'm an eye player with *crap* aural and weak memory. Aural / memory players, from my vantage point on the eye side (which I had to learn, perforce), I've got a great deal of envy for your gifts on the other side of the gulf.

With crap aural, all chords have the same 'colors'. This makes progressions mostly meaningless to me, except in a rudimentary gut sense.

I fear 2 and 3 make 7 harder to attain.

So, can an eye player do for 2 and 3? And by 2, I don't necessarily mean look at the printed shape and make a hand motion--that I sort of do automatically in my genre. But there's some sense of knowing where to go and... more importantly, knowing how to move when you botch a left hand figure or right hand figure that I worry I'll be blocked from if I just focus on a straight printed music approach.

Can my singing head connect up with my playing head at this point or should I try to somehow leverage eye strengths in a way that I haven't heretofore been able to see?

What would you recommend I do to broaden my musicality?


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
#2031570 - 02/12/13 12:22 AM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Whizbang]  
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Derulux Offline
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Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by Derulux

2. You don't recognize the chords
3. You don't recognize the progressions
7. Your technique does not include the skills necessary for that particular passage/piece (quite often due to one of the above six, but there is a separate "playing" category, into which I lump this grouping)


I'll bite. And I may answer my own question.

Unlike the memory / aural players here, I'm an eye player with *crap* aural and weak memory. Aural / memory players, from my vantage point on the eye side (which I had to learn, perforce), I've got a great deal of envy for your gifts on the other side of the gulf.

With crap aural, all chords have the same 'colors'. This makes progressions mostly meaningless to me, except in a rudimentary gut sense.

I fear 2 and 3 make 7 harder to attain.

So, can an eye player do for 2 and 3? And by 2, I don't necessarily mean look at the printed shape and make a hand motion--that I sort of do automatically in my genre. But there's some sense of knowing where to go and... more importantly, knowing how to move when you botch a left hand figure or right hand figure that I worry I'll be blocked from if I just focus on a straight printed music approach.

Can my singing head connect up with my playing head at this point or should I try to somehow leverage eye strengths in a way that I haven't heretofore been able to see?

What would you recommend I do to broaden my musicality?

I assume we're not talking about classical, based on the context clues in your post? It might alter the way I approach the answer.. we talking blues/jazz lead sheets? Printed ragtime? Improvisational stuff?


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
#2031589 - 02/12/13 12:56 AM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Derulux]  
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Originally Posted by Derulux

I assume we're not talking about classical, based on the context clues in your post? It might alter the way I approach the answer.. we talking blues/jazz lead sheets? Printed ragtime? Improvisational stuff?


Printed ragtime. But realize, like Baroque music, it has an improvisational tradition as well.


Whizbang [Linked Image]
amateur ragtime pianist
https://www.youtube.com/user/Aeschala
#2031603 - 02/12/13 01:56 AM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: Whizbang]  
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Derulux Offline
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Originally Posted by Whizbang
Originally Posted by Derulux

I assume we're not talking about classical, based on the context clues in your post? It might alter the way I approach the answer.. we talking blues/jazz lead sheets? Printed ragtime? Improvisational stuff?


Printed ragtime. But realize, like Baroque music, it has an improvisational tradition as well.

No worries, ragtime is one of my favorite genres. Were you part of the "ragtime" vs "stride" thread a while back? smile

This is easiest to show if we were able to sit down at a piano and look at a piece. Let's take Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf, since it's a standard and I'm hoping you're at least familiar with it, even if you don't play it.

If I'm looking to sight-read this score, I'm going to do the following:

1. It's in Ab, except for one section in Db
2. The opening theme repeats 3 times, so I'm paying especially close attention to it
3. The opening is Ab, Eb7, repeat, Fdim, repeat, Abm, repeat, [Bm7, Ab, Fb maj (Emaj), Ab, Eb7, Ab], repeat bracket
3a. I can already see that I'm going to keep my index finger on the Ab in the bracket section, so the Bm7 to Ab change is very very small (half steps on thumb and pinky). Same thing for Fmb/Emaj and Eb7. All very small movements.
4. Look at the left hand beat.. octave, octave, chord, chord, repeat.. pretty standard stuff there
5. Now, I look at the right hand. Doesn't really change from notes actually in the chords represented. So, I look at what position. Ab is 2nd inversion, Eb7 is root. Fmb/Emaj is root, Abm is root. Bm7 is 1st inversion.

So, there really is nothing getting "throw at you" in the opening theme.

Looking at the 2nd theme, we've got some chromatic octaves and some arpeggiated stuff. But all standard, and nothing out of the ordinary.

Then, we repeat the main theme.

Then we get to Db. Not much different than Ab. In fact, the section starts in Ab7. So we're still dealing with I-V7, or in this case, V7-I. (Notice, I'm not getting overly complicated in chord names, naming every single change, etc.)

In the first 2 bars, the thumb changes position. In the next 2 bars, the 2nd finger goes up to a Db, and the thumb continues the change from the first two bars.

This whole thing repeats, then it modulates to Bb and follows the same pattern. Then, it does the same pattern in octave form (root-2nd-root that the thumb did before)

There's really only one odd measure out, with the syncopation in the LH. So, I look at that specifically and notice it's a Gdim6.

Last section goes back to Ab, but notice it starts in Db. In this section, you've got Db, Ab, Eb7. Notice it's all 1-4-5.

So, that very basic, 2 minute overview of the piece tells me what chords, and what progressions, Joplin uses in the rag.

Knowing ragtime like I do, I know that you're typically going to play a LH stride using either 1-3-5 octave, and then either root, 1st, or 2nd inversion of the chord. Typically, when you play the root octave, you won't play the root chord. The most common is root/5 with a 2nd inversion, and then probably 5/root with a root7.. so root-2nd-5-2nd.. or in a V chord, 5-root7-root7-root (octave lower). The reason for this is the octave there sets up the root of the I chord. (Look at 2nd measure of Maple Leaf for an example of this.)

Now, I'll touch on improvisation..

I actually believe the best way to learn to read ragtime is to improvise ragtime. (This probably goes for all music, but I have a real tough time improvising classical.)

You will get very comfortable with chord changes, little half-step raises and drops to get to the next chord in the progression, little ornaments that help make those changes, modulations of chords, etc.

Best part: if you don't have an ear, you can do it almost entirely academically. (Obviously I recommend some ear training, but if you just can't get the ear in line, it's not the end of the genre. It's highly academic at its root.)

To take the improv back to the music.. when I look at the rag, I see the following technical difficulties:

1. Stride bass
2. arpeggios
3. octave work
4. repeated chords
5. alternating octaves with notes/couples

That's about it. So, if you have a technical difficulty, look at which one, and then take it over to the improv side. Don't try to solve it in the piece itself.. you'll screw yourself up. (You tense up when you have to hit a "specific" note. When you improv, mentally, you accept mistakes and tend to correct them more fluidly. Then, when you go back to the piece, you weren't learning the technique while practicing the specific notes in the piece incorrectly.)

I hope this was a little helpful. Like I said, I wish we could just sit down and talk about it, but I tried to be thorough (without being long-winded) and give some examples that might help. Steer me from here.. what made sense? What didn't? More examples? Etc.


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
#2031606 - 02/12/13 02:06 AM Re: Help! Relying too Much on Memorization! [Re: ClsscLib]  
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I think it's great to be able to memorize. I am a better reader than memorizer. However my reading isn't that much better. I can sight read easier materials but have never tried my current level except for Bach pieces. It's not good enough, my teacher says. She is having me play the Haydn piece without looking my hands. I can play it slowly but have to keep rhythm and dynamics. She showed me how to feel the keys and different intervals. Try it. It's not so bad. I'm doing it little by little. She says it will make me learn a new piece quickly and be able to sit and play Mozart duets or whatever when someone brings a score I have never seen. I have already playing Bach pieces without watching the keys but it is the first time to try a classical period work this way.



1) Bach c minor fantasy
2) Beethoven sonata g major 14 No. 2 (re do)
3) Chopin a flat major Ballade (schubert Impromptu A flat D935 No2)
4) Scriabin op11 prelude #2 and #14 (Re do #2, new #14)
5) Bartok. 4 old tunes and Scherzo)
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