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To memorize or not to memorize #2874016
07/30/19 01:51 AM
07/30/19 01:51 AM
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Candywoman Offline OP
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I've come across an article that supports my view that memorization isn't necessary for a good interpretation to take place. It's written by Susan Tomes:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/apr/20/classicalmusicandopera1

I've come to realize that the need to memorize in order to perform is hampering my progress since I find it takes too much brain power. Even if I have something memorized, I believe I play it better with the score.

Any comments? Do you ask all students to memorize some pieces? Was it Liszt who started this madness?

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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874018
07/30/19 02:16 AM
07/30/19 02:16 AM
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I am not a piano teacher, but from a neuropsychological point of view, your attentional resources have a limited capacity. So if a lot of your attention goes to thinking about which notes to play next, or to worrying about if you'll remember, you have so much less attention left over for monitoring your playing.


Playing the piano is learning to create, playfully and deeply seriously, our own music in the world.
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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874022
07/30/19 02:27 AM
07/30/19 02:27 AM
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As a second opinion, you can read the book of Mackinnon. https://academic.oup.com/ml/article-abstract/XIX/4/466/1252418?redirectedFrom=PDF

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874031
07/30/19 03:26 AM
07/30/19 03:26 AM
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Different strokes I guess. Once I’ve memorized a piece I’m able to play with so much more feeling and expressiveness, add nuances, etc. I guess it’s because I know the piece and can think ‘beyond’ the notes.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874035
07/30/19 03:46 AM
07/30/19 03:46 AM
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In my experience, almost 100% of the kids in method books can memorize music without any hitch. Even the non-practicers can manage to memorize their 8-bar exercise, unless they are severely below normal in terms of intelligence.

However, as the students advance into the early intermediate stuff (Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, Clementi Op. 36 No. 1), memorization becomes more of a chore. The smart ones can still pick up the notes without problem, but the average kids will need some instruction on "how" to memorize music. There are specific strategies that I teach, which are MUCH safer than pure muscle memory.

Kids who DON'T like to think or use their brains fall back on muscle memory, which is very unreliable, and can result in horrific memory lapses at recitals or competitions. I was just at a concert in which a student had a terrible memory lapse in the middle of a very long piece; obviously his teacher didn't bother to teach him how to memorize, and the poor kid was scrambling to find a spot where he could recover and continue.

I guess I'm just lucky that my advanced students don't really have memory issues. They have other problems, though.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Terry Michael] #2874042
07/30/19 04:57 AM
07/30/19 04:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Terry Michael
Different strokes I guess. Once I’ve memorized a piece I’m able to play with so much more feeling and expressiveness, add nuances, etc. I guess it’s because I know the piece and can think ‘beyond’ the notes.

Yes! Because for you, memorisation frees your attention, so you can focus on those important other aspects of playing.


Playing the piano is learning to create, playfully and deeply seriously, our own music in the world.
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... feeling like the pianist on the Titanic ...
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874095
07/30/19 08:24 AM
07/30/19 08:24 AM
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Yes, I do believe it was Liszt who made memorization a performance "thing".

It is entirely possible to play equally (or better) with "the notes" than without. It depends on the strengths of the performer (some of us are great readers, others are better memorizers), and in my case, it depends on the nature of the music I am playing.

-- When I play music which is not common practice, i.e., what people would call "contemporary", non-standard, or highly chromatic, I prefer to use the music in performance. Even in some common practice music, I find that I may inadvertently substitute a different chord spacing from time to time than the choice the composer has made.

When I play Liszt, I always play from memory. To me, that is part of what he would have expected.

There are at least two pianist giants I would cite as examples of people who played with the notes and extremely well: Richter and Pogorelich. In the latter's case, there is a YouTube video of him playing Islamey with the notes and a page turner to help (one could easily use 3 hands to play Islamey...).


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: AZNpiano] #2874100
07/30/19 08:52 AM
07/30/19 08:52 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
In my experience, almost 100% of the kids in method books can memorize music without any hitch. Even the non-practicers can manage to memorize their 8-bar exercise, unless they are severely below normal in terms of intelligence.


Zactly. For young ones with reasonable intelligence, the problem usually isn't "I can't memorize." The musical problem is, "Can't I just play it from memory. That's so much easier." Good students usually want to ditch the score far too early, before they have learned what can be learned.

Originally Posted by AZNpiano
However, as the students advance into the early intermediate stuff (Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, Clementi Op. 36 No. 1), memorization becomes more of a chore. The smart ones can still pick up the notes without problem, but the average kids will need some instruction on "how" to memorize music. There are specific strategies that I teach, which are MUCH safer than pure muscle memory.

Kids who DON'T like to think or use their brains fall back on muscle memory, which is very unreliable, and can result in horrific memory lapses at recitals or competitions. I was just at a concert in which a student had a terrible memory lapse in the middle of a very long piece; obviously his teacher didn't bother to teach him how to memorize, and the poor kid was scrambling to find a spot where he could recover and continue.


Even kids who DO like to think and use their brains can have terrible memory lapses, due in part to a reliance on muscle memory in a few awkward spots. And sometimes those spots are predictable. You do have to instruct on proper techniques for memorization (with active thinking instead of without).

Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I guess I'm just lucky that my advanced students don't really have memory issues. They have other problems, though.


Count your blessings.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874134
07/30/19 09:45 AM
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Performing from memory is grossly overrated. It's one of the big reasons why many concert pianists have such small repertoires. Richter greatly expended his performing rep (including into almost unknown music by Szymanowski and Hindemith) when he started playing from the score.

Clara Schumann shoulders the blame along with her hated rival Liszt for starting this memorization madness, whereas prior to them, anyone who dared to perform from memory would be deemed as a show-off (or worse).

Stephen Hough says he always performs his own music from the score, so that the audience knows he's not making stuff up and that his music is fully thought-out and composed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FmvkYURUKc

No-one expects an orchestral player or chamber musician or song accompanist to play from memory. I've never understood why RCM deducts marks from candidates if they play their pieces from the music - after all, they're only students, not performing monkeys, and few of them will go on to a career in music, let alone concert pianist (the only category of pianist who's still expected to perform from memory). And teachers who require their students to memorize pieces for student recitals should ask themselves - why are they expecting their students to spend so much time on memorization which could have been used far more profitably for learning new rep, or even improving sight-reading skills (which is far more important for most performing musicians)?

The vast majority of pianists making their living from music - teachers, accompanists, répétiteurs, chamber musicians etc - never have to play from memory. (My first three teachers have never played any piece from memory in their lives).

In recent years, I've seen a trend among established concert pianists of performing from the music on their iPad ('turning the pages' with a foot pedal), which is unobtrusive and often even unnoticed by the audience. May this trend continue.......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Animisha] #2874154
07/30/19 10:37 AM
07/30/19 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Animisha
Yes! Because for you, memorisation frees your attention, so you can focus on those important other aspects of playing.

When you drive along a familiar but complicated route, you stop at the stop sign, turn left at "Second Street", make a right a bit after the pink house etc. None of those signposts distract or slow down your driving, and it might be harder if the stop sign and street sign were removed and the house was painted a new colour. If your music reading abilities are in order, then they don't take away focus from anything. In fact, the reassurance of sign posts so that you don't get lost act as a freeing up agent.

This would also go with your other post:
Quote
I am not a piano teacher, but from a neuropsychological point of view, your attentional resources have a limited capacity. So if a lot of your attention goes to thinking about which notes to play next, or to worrying about if you'll remember, you have so much less attention left over for monitoring your playing.

Having the score there would serve that purpose.

At the point of performing, it would be more like glancing at chunks here and there as reminders, rather than like sight reading new material for the first time.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874164
07/30/19 11:08 AM
07/30/19 11:08 AM
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I was a firm believer in memorization until I had to play the slow movement of Bach's Italian Concerto. Oy vey, that's pure torture without the score.

The memorization issue is, though, sort of like the Wallendas and the issue of using safety nets for high-wire acts, you don't want complacency.


WhoDwaldi
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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: WhoDwaldi] #2874218
07/30/19 02:50 PM
07/30/19 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by WhoDwaldi
I was a firm believer in memorization until I had to play the slow movement of Bach's Italian Concerto. Oy vey, that's pure torture without the score.

Usually slower pieces are harder to memorize, but that movement should be easy. There are circle-of-fifth progressions everywhere. It's one of those pieces that can be memorized via harmonic analysis, and by circling all the nonharmonic tones and finding their functions.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874241
07/30/19 04:15 PM
07/30/19 04:15 PM
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AZN, if only that were true! We can write chord progressions in the score to help students see the simplicity of it (not always), but then they have to memorize the analysis. Either way, if your memory isn't great, it can really ruin a performance. I've seen so many students want to play from memory and suddenly stop, with a "deer in the headlights" look. It's not a memory I want my students to have in recitals. i always let them have their music on the music rack.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874512
07/31/19 01:16 PM
07/31/19 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
I've come across an article that supports my view that memorization isn't necessary for a good interpretation to take place. It's written by Susan Tomes:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/apr/20/classicalmusicandopera1

I've come to realize that the need to memorize in order to perform is hampering my progress since I find it takes too much brain power. Even if I have something memorized, I believe I play it better with the score.

Any comments? Do you ask all students to memorize some pieces? Was it Liszt who started this madness?


I haven't read the article, but I'll give you my take on what you're saying.

Many pianists play better with the score. I certainly do. The score can act as a security blanket, and also provides many helpful reminders to keep you on track. Nothing wrong with any of that.

At the same time, I am convinced that memorization has great value. The amount of understanding you have about a piece after memorizing it is typically vastly greater than if you are only reading it. You mention that memory takes too much brain power, but this is precisely why it leads to faster progress. Let me emphasize this: memory may lead to worse performances in the short-term, but it leads to faster progress in the long-term.

My reading is very good. My memory, not so much. I don't perform from memory. But, I do practice memory, because of the benefits it gives me.

Yes, if you are worried about forgetting notes, it will distract you from your playing. This is why you should practice memorization. It will teach you how to stop worrying about forgetting notes, and as a result will help you learn how to stay focused on your playing.

It has to be done correctly, though. Yeah, in my opinion, the way most piano students are required to perform from memory does more harm than good.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874644
07/31/19 06:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman


I've come to realize that the need to memorize in order to perform is hampering my progress since I find it takes too much brain power. Even if I have something memorized, I believe I play it better with the score.



Is this an issue for you personally Candywoman or are you asking on behalf of a student or a hypothetical case?


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874697
07/31/19 09:18 PM
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I have done both - playing from memory and with score.

While I am definitely less nervous leading to performance when I don't memorize, I can not say I play better with score. In my own experience, if I play with score, I would give myself some "false sense of security" - meaning I think a piece is ready for performance while it's not really ready yet. Having a security blanket or something to fall back on tends to make myself lower my guard and less alert. Yes I have to spend LOTS of extra time on a piece and work out all the "bugs" of memorization, and people can certainly argue whether or not these extra time and effort is worthwhile. I guess it's really up to our own choice.

I have seen lots of amateur pianists performing - both from memory and with score. The better ones tend to all play from memory - not really because they look impressive and flashy. It's some kind of energy or confidence coming through, and that makes the performance somehow different.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Midlife_Piano] #2874771
08/01/19 06:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Midlife_Piano

I have seen lots of amateur pianists performing - both from memory and with score. The better ones tend to all play from memory - not really because they look impressive and flashy. It's some kind of energy or confidence coming through, and that makes the performance somehow different.


You've already hinted at it, but I'll be more forthright - when watching a solo pianist perform, most of us lower our 'expectations' down a notch when we see the performer read from the music, because we've been conditioned to expect soloists to perform from memory. And we then think less highly of their playing.

I never thought of that until a few years ago when I settled down to watch a BBC Proms concert broadcast live on TV. Richard Goode was playing Mozart's K488. With my back turned to the TV (I was making myself a sandwich - one should always have the equivalent of popcorn when watching a classical concert on the screen), I listened to most of the first movement, and thought it was nicely played. Sandwich prepared, I turned round to sit down..........and saw that Goode was laboriously reading from the score, with glasses on. I'd never seen a concert pianist perform Mozart from the score before, unless he was also the conductor.

Almost instantly, my impression of his playing went down. He seemed almost to be sight-reading, peering intently at the score. His playing sounded somewhat 'careful' and boring, and I wondered why I thought it was much better earlier, when I couldn't see him play. His tempo was slower than other pianists'.....or was it really?

A few days later, the BBC repeated that concert - on radio only, and I thought I'd listen again. With no visuals, I thought his playing was extremely fine - in the whole concerto. confused No matter how 'immune' I thought I was, there was no getting away from the fact that I'm influenced by what I see.

Since then, I became a performer myself, playing a solo recital monthly - from memory. (Originally, because I didn't have my music with me, and in any case I don't have a page-turner). And I discovered that even those who knew no classical music were particularly impressed by the fact that I played from memory, showing that I was a 'proper performer' rather than a one-time student trying my hand at performing in public grin. (My audiences in those recitals are mostly in a similar profession to mine, so they know I'm not a professional musician). And they listen more intently, and are more ready to be receptive to pieces that don't appeal immediately. And let's face it, classical music is rarely immediately appealing to those brought up on pop - there are no catchy riffs like pop/rock and even the nice tunes get 'mangled up' and submerged (as one of my younger listeners once told me).

So, despite the fact that it takes me on average five times as long to learn a piece to perform it from memory as it would to play from the score to the same standard, I never perform in public with the music in front of me - simply because my main purpose in playing the recitals is to introduce (and hopefully convert) audiences to classical music, and I want them to 'trust' my playing, and that I'm really 'into the music' that I play (for want of a better term). The few people in the audience who play the piano (or once played it when they were young) are even more receptive, because they knew how difficult it is to memorize even a short five-minute piece....and like those who aren't into classical music, the only classical musicians they knew of who performed from memory were all professional soloists.

In other words, for my purposes, I feel obliged to perform from memory, if I want people to listen to classical music seriously. (BTW, pop singers never perform from the music.....of course, they probably can't read music anyway wink ). That is unfortunately the legacy of Clara & Franz, and it's not going away anytime soon........


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874789
08/01/19 07:32 AM
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When I was under 20, by the time I'd learned a piece it was memorized without any conscious intent to do so. Some of those pieces are still with me today.

Now that I'm over 60, the effort to memorize is enormous and the security marginal. What I memorized last week may not only be unmemorized but have to be relearned.

I have discovered that some simple things can be played without sheet music - not memorized, but played by ear. That was a skill I always believed beyond me, but has come somewhat with age, maybe a compensation for loss of memory.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2874805
08/01/19 08:20 AM
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Speaking for myself, as I get old I realize there's only so much time left to play and there's so much music I want to play. So your sight reading improves but it takes a little more time to memorize. I've been finding I can get away with reading some things ok, but when you work on things that are faster with keyboard leaps chances of messing up increase.
For example, Moonlight sonata last movement. I also worked on Kasputin etude no8 but unless you're using a e reader with foot page turner there's no spot to really turn pages. It goes so fast and with the leaps I only got so far playing without mistakes. I plan on relearning it with memory.
I think it's we just get used to sight reading as it's an asset. But years ago like a lot of us, I played student competitions and as you know all memory.
So I started to try memorizing recently and the ability is still there just dormant I guess.
Also, played a Chopin Nocturne from memory that I always read and was surprised could play most of it with no problem.
The problem is you only have so much time doing one thing or the other.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Terry Michael] #2874943
08/01/19 02:53 PM
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You hit the nail on the head Terry. We don't refer to it as "memorizing" we call it knowing a piece. Once you can play without the music you know it and are able to put your efforts into the feel of the piece. You can also play wherever and whenever you like when not relying on the music any longer.

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