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Playing memorized music?
#2529695 04/11/16 11:46 AM
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After a point of practice, whether intentional or not, the notes are 'in the fingers'. I've run across a few problems when playing memorized and I'd like to see if anyone here has had a similar problems and found a solution.

1. Periodically, while playing I'll get lost. Lost can mean my muscle memory forgot or if distracted my brain loses all sense of where it was/is or absent an obvious distraction my brain just goes out to lunch. Typically, I'll have no clue as to my current lost location relative to the sheet music location and stop, hunt around and restart at a location somewhere close. I've tried playing while watching the music but, after the music is memorized, I find that even more distracting. I've tried watching my fingers but then that doesn't work too well since it seems to start, at some point, stimulating periodic unconscious wrong finger/key choices. Lastly, my preferred method is not to consciously look at the notes or the keyboard and it seems as long as I don't drift off while playing I'm okay?

(note) Heading off the potential suggestion to 'follow the music in your head'...I only wish my simple brain had that capability ;-)!

2. When I think a piece is memorized and I 'lose it' it often means I really didn't know it as well as I had thought. So, after learned, I've taken to playing the piece in all sorts of ways: changing the metronome rate, not using the pedal, starting at different locations within the music. It's too soon to tell if these efforts will make any difference.

Any input gratefully accepted,

Mark


1995 Steinway B
Goal: clair de lune proficiency
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Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529711 04/11/16 12:19 PM
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Yours is a common complaint. It sounds to me like you are pecking away at the surface level of the piece. Average people can peck for near forever and never memorize anything. Muscle memory is weak, and tends to fail under pressure.

How are you learning the pieces to begin with? Are you doing short sections, very slowly, repeating them (better)? Or doing complete play throughs (near worst). Do you rehearse from different starting points (better) or always start at the beginning (worse)? Do you spend equal amounts of time, or focus more time on tricky sections (better)? Do you have a teacher? Have you asked the teacher for tips?

Memorization is a popular topic. For deep memory, I like to be able to separately play with the eyes closed, the sound off, and audiate the piece away from the piano. If I can get to without sight, without sound, without touch, it is deep into memory. Complex pieces can't be entirely done this way, but sections can be. The cost is 2x to 4x as much time and effort for one piece as compared to the surface level, which is likely where you are now. So be selective about which pieces you want to get to know intimately because the time cost can be prohibitive.

Some like to be able to sketch out the sheet music from memory. Some look for patterns. Some use common mnemonic tricks such as making up a story, or associating images to parts, and apply them to the music. Engaging different parts of the brain is better than trying to depend on weak muscle memory.

Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529718 04/11/16 12:30 PM
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You're right about the prep-work. If you can sight read, then take away the paper and see the notes in your head that's great. Here's the trick I use: Music theory. I have a stigmatism so cleffs are difficult to see. So while I can read notation I can't read fast enough to matter. So I will know everything about a piece. Starting with the chord progression, the mode, the melodic center (key), if there are chord arpeggios or passing chords or accidentals I will identify them. The motif. Lyrics, if there are any. Harmonies (chords gain). Rhythm, poly-rhythms, and time signatures. By the time I have all that stuff, if/when I hit a clam it's ususally in the key and in time. If you catch yourself embellishing what you're playing, you getting close. They say familiarity breeds contempt. If you're sick of it, you're there.


Rhythm & Chords, it's what I do.
Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529723 04/11/16 12:53 PM
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I think it happens to most everyone. I don't really worry about it. I find that if I have gaps in a memorized piece that crop up, all I need to do is tinker around a bit work it out by ear/jog my memory or in the worst case revisit the sheet music. Generally, all I need is a bit of a nudge to bridge the gap and the rest of the piece falls back into place. I suspect that's true for most people. Even if you've forgotten a piece entirely, you can relearn it the second time much more quickly than the first. In fact, I think there's value to forgetting pieces and relearning them.



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Re: Playing memorized music?
fizikisto #2529771 04/11/16 03:06 PM
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I have to have prompts. I play without the music usually but it has to be there as a crutch at certain places. Along with chord symbols which help enormously in formulating finger position.
Couldnt hack it without chord symbals. And thats for classical stuff. . .


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Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529849 04/11/16 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Markg22b


I've taken to playing the piece in all sorts of ways: changing the metronome rate, not using the pedal, starting at different locations within the music. It's too soon to tell if these efforts will make any difference.

Any input gratefully accepted,

Mark


To me, you're lucky the memorization process is somewhat automatic, I have to bash the piece into my head, note by note.

Some of the masterclass videos on YouTube suggest playing the piece one bar plus one note, taking a rest, then playing the next bar plus one. Maybe that's what you meant by "different locations." The expert in the video suggested this step-by-step movement through the piece embedded it deeper in his memory.


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Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529873 04/11/16 06:47 PM
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I have the same problem sometimes. One thing one of my teachers recommended is memorizing hands separate as well as together. Well I have done that with Bach but find it difficult to do with Romantic period music. I will analyze the harmony though. I am playing a Chopin Nocturne for the recital near the end of May. I have played it many times from memory with no problem but it fell apart in class today. I have both a private teacher and a class teacher. The class teacher suggested that I practice it slowly and all stacatto using the music at first if I needed to. I tried and did need to use the music. I could see how that would help make the memory more solid. I also practice starting from many different places in the music so that If I do forget I can continue on. I did forget one measure but was able to go to the next measures and continue. When I was younger, I could memorize with ease but not so much anymore.


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Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2529928 04/11/16 10:09 PM
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Hi Mark, If you're getting lost a lot, it might help to figure out the structure of the music a little more carefully. What are the sections? Where are the phrases within the sections? How many phrases in each section? Are there any phrases or sections that are partly the same as each other and partly not? Can you hum the piece to yourself phrase by phrase, knowing what section you're in, start to finish?

Then you can try memorizing just the melody line, phrase by phrase, knowing what section you're in, until you can easily start the melody at any phrase in any section and know where you are.

This will help your brain and ear memory catch up to where your finger memory is smile in my experience, finger memory is great when it works, but it fails easily and needs brain and ears to help it out.



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Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2530654 04/14/16 05:21 PM
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Hi,

I'm just a beginner but I can memorize quite well using the following method. It's similar to what other users have listed already. With it I can memorize one page of music equivalent in length and complexity to, let's say, one single movement of a Sonatina from Clementi or a Burgmuller Etude Op. 100 in one-two days. Depending on individual memory skills, of course, one might be able to do a bit more or a bit less than that.

1) isolate one single section (depending on how easy/hard the piece is, the section might be half a measure, one measure, two measures. It needs to be something short enough that you can play it just a couple of times and then repeat it many more times without looking at the score). Let's call it section A.

2) play the section hands separate, very very slowly at first, then progressively accelerate until you're confident enough to play it repeatedly quite fast without looking at the score.

3) repeat step 2 with hands together.

4) go to the next section (let's call it B), repeat setps 2 and 3.

5) you should now be able to play A and B without any pause between the two and without looking at the score. Do look at the score if needed, but first try to go by memory. repeat steps 2 and 3 on A and B together.

6) go to the next section (let's call it C). Repeat steps 2 and 3.

7) now you should be able to play B and C together without pauses. Repeat steps 2 and 3.

8) continue going like this with all following sections. When you reach the end of a row, repeat the whole row without pauses multiple times (check the score if you need to, but try first to do without).

9) When you reach the end of the page/part that you want to learn, repeat the whole thing multiple times, HS and HT, first slowly then progressively faster (check the score if you need to, but try first to do without).

10) try experimenting playing the piece by heart starting from various random points (not only from the beginning of each section you isolated).

NB: very important, before getting from step 1 to 10, try to identify chords, arpeggios, scales, intervals used in each section. This really helps memorization.

This works especially well with spaced repetition. What I do, for instance, is applying these 10 points in the early morning, then going with my usual piano routine, then replay steps 9 and 10 after the end of my piano routine. Later, in the evening, I will again both start and finish my evening piano session with steps 10 and 11.

Generally on the morning of the second day I will be already able to play the whole piece by heart. Possibly there will be very few doubts in some points for which I will briefly check the music score, but by the third day I won't need the score at all anymore for that learned page.

Hope this helped at least a bit.

Good luck!

Re: Playing memorized music?
Markg22b #2530791 04/15/16 07:02 AM
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Quote
2. When I think a piece is memorized and I 'lose it' it often means I really didn't know it as well as I had thought. So, after learned, I've taken to playing the piece in all sorts of ways: changing the metronome rate, not using the pedal, starting at different locations within the music. It's too soon to tell if these efforts will make any difference.

Any input gratefully accepted,

Mark


EXCELLENT!! I say once you know a tune, why not play around with it and make it yours? Some people even start playing around with them sooner than that.

Everyone has a creative side buried in there somewhere ... well, I think everyone does grin - put it to work every now and then and see what happens. Find the fun.


Rerun

"Seat of the pants piano player" DMD


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