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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875047
08/01/19 08:14 PM
08/01/19 08:14 PM
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I like that. "Knowing a piece". I just wished I knew more!


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: RayR3004] #2875070
08/01/19 09:07 PM
08/01/19 09:07 PM
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Originally Posted by RayR3004
You hit the nail on the head. We don't refer to it as "memorizing" we call it knowing a piece.

This highlights the problem with saying a piece is memorized. Sometimes it means a piece has been well studied and practiced. Other times it means “my reading skills suck” and I avoided the notation as much as possible by memorizing it.


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And we are the dreamers of dreams.
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875314
08/02/19 02:27 PM
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Interestingly, my own piano teacher stopped playing from memory about 3-4 years ago. She is an active performer playing many concerts every year including solo works, chamber music, duo, trio..etc. She makes sure she puts this in all contracts so there will be no surprise. At first she was concerned she would not get as many concert invites but she seems to get more. She feels like she can play more concerts and more pieces now she does not play from memory. She said she has "paid her share of dues" over many decades playing from memory so she does not feel bad about her decision now. This seems to work for her.

I watched her solo performances many times. She does not stare at the score all the time or sounds less confident on stage. She told me playing on stage with score also requires some practice. She carefully marks all the places for page turns, repeats (or skipping repeats), and circle many dynamic marking to make sure she does not forget...etc.

Most of her students (myself included) still perform from memory even though she never requires me to do so. I guess it's personal choice.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875455
08/02/19 09:43 PM
08/02/19 09:43 PM
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John Mortensen did a video on memorizing music:




Last time I was playing with a string ensemble (2 violins & viola) we did a piece that was not familiar. I memorized much of the piece. The rest was filled in by reading. The score was 3 pages. In the performance I lost my place reading the wrong line a few times. I kept playing until I get to the top of the next section and bring my eyes back to the correct spot and didn't miss a note.

Once I was playing "Seventeen Come Sunday" from Vaughan Williams "English folk Songs" with an ensemble. There is a section with fast notes. I played just that section from memory. The other bits was played by reading. The fast section I can't read fast enough and get all the notes perfectly.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875498
08/02/19 11:37 PM
08/02/19 11:37 PM
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That video was useful but the main problem is it takes hours and hours to nail down those harmonic progressions. It's just too time-consuming relative to the rewards. Plus it takes some of the fun out of playing music. Instead of thinking, "I'm playing a big swoosh of notes that cascade like diamonds," you are telling yourself, "I'm playing a b minor melodic descending scale." It's just a tragic way to think of music really, and the amount of time left to think about imagery is severely cut.

Thanks for all the comments.

Last edited by Candywoman; 08/02/19 11:37 PM.
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875527
08/03/19 03:47 AM
08/03/19 03:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Candywoman
That video was useful but the main problem is it takes hours and hours to nail down those harmonic progressions. It's just too time-consuming relative to the rewards.


I listened to that video again and yes, it is very useful, especially the analysis of the four types of memory. However, everyone is different in respect of the four memories. He basically describes what works for him but for someone else the emphasis and methodology will almost certainly be different.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2875968
08/04/19 11:17 AM
08/04/19 11:17 AM
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I will offer an anecdote from singing, which is inspiring me to think about whether it can have any meaning for my piano playing.

My summer chorus is singing Mozart’s Requiem, and recently I’ve been listening to some of the sections on practice tapes enough to have memorized those sections. I think this improves my singing, for a variety of reasons: I can have a sense of the shape of the whole phrase from the beginning, I can pay more attention to other aspects of my singing (e.g. diction, or breath support, or lifted palate, or vowel quality, or (mirabile dictu) I can watch the conductor more because I can look at the score less), etc.

I wonder if memorizing some of my piano music could have the same effect of freeing me up to pay attention to more of the musical aspects of my playing.

One of the dramatic differences is that I’m a natural memorizer at singing: just from repetition I often end up with something memorized. By contrast, it is extremely rare for me to memorize any piano music just from repetition (or really, any instrumental music — I find flute memorization very hard as well). So memorized piano music for me usually ends up being an added burden on my attention, as I struggle to remember what I have laboriously committed to memory.

This suggests to me that I spend some time trying to explore that switch from laborious to extremely-well-internalized — because I would like to find the freedom of memorized-singing, in my piano playing.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: PianoStudent88] #2875977
08/04/19 11:37 AM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88

I wonder if memorizing some of my piano music could have the same effect of freeing me up to pay attention to more of the musical aspects of my playing.

One of the dramatic differences is that I’m a natural memorizer at singing: just from repetition I often end up with something memorized. By contrast, it is extremely rare for me to memorize any piano music just from repetition (or really, any instrumental music — I find flute memorization very hard as well). So memorized piano music for me usually ends up being an added burden on my attention, as I struggle to remember what I have laboriously committed to memory.

This suggests to me that I spend some time trying to explore that switch from laborious to extremely-well-internalized — because I would like to find the freedom of memorized-singing, in my piano playing.

Singing isn't the same as piano playing.

With singing, the instrument is yourself, your own vocal apparatus. Every sound you make comes from you. That's why it's so much easier to memorize songs - without even trying to - than piano music (apart from the fact there're a zillion more notes in piano music).

Everyone can still remember songs they haven't sung - or even heard - since they were kids, including myself. (In fact, many of the pop songs I can still sing now, I haven't sung or heard since I was a kid, when I knew no English, meaning that my memory of the words are entirely based on the sounds I made, copied from the original singers - mispronunciations included).
And I can still sing the bass part of the Bach and Mendelssohn motets, Handel anthems, Mozart and Fauré Requiems, carols and hymns that I sang when I was a teenage chorister in my high school.

But I can hardly remember even any of the titles and composers of the pieces I once played in my piano exams, let alone their notes - not even which Bach P & F (nor its key) I played in my performance diploma exam (for which I had to memorize - and spent months on memorizing it securely).


"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] #2876096
08/04/19 06:33 PM
08/04/19 06:33 PM
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I think for the overwhelming majority of amateurs not memorizing makes the most sense because:

1. It removes one of the main fears in teacher's studio recitals.
2. It frees up so much time that one normally spends in an attempt, not always successful, to have a piece memorized securely enough to avoid a memory lapse. This time can be used to learn more repertoire etc.

In my own case, if I had tried to memorize the music, I don't think I would have learned even 10% of the pieces I've played in my lifetime.

Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: PianoStudent88] #2876113
08/04/19 07:20 PM
08/04/19 07:20 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
My summer chorus is singing Mozart’s Requiem, and recently I’ve been listening to some of the sections on practice tapes enough to have memorized those sections. I think this improves my singing, for a variety of reasons: I can have a sense of the shape of the whole phrase from the beginning, I can pay more attention to other aspects of my singing (edit... technical and interpretive things...edit) I can watch the conductor more because I can look at the score less), etc.
I wonder if memorizing some of my piano music could have the same effect of freeing me up to pay attention to more of the musical aspects of my playing.
It improves your singing because you’ve been working on getting to know the music. It’s not so much the total memorisation as the familiarity with the piece, as a whole and in detail.

As an accompanist and ensemble pianist I don't find using the score limits my ability to do any of these things I've put in bold from your post. It's not like I'm sight reading when I'm performing a cello/piano sonata with the score. I've obviously practised it thoroughly and know it well. I’m not reading it note by note just because the score is there. In fact, because the score is there I may be reminded by a glance that a particular section is coming up and feel a sense of the shape of the piece more than if I had it solely in my memory.

Life’s too short to limit my performing repertoire to things I’ve memorised. I think Richter came to a similar conclusion later in his life. So much music, so little time. smile


Du holde Kunst...
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2876212
08/05/19 05:06 AM
08/05/19 05:06 AM
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Actually, this thread motivated me to practise more sight-reading! I have always quite liked it, because I have a huge pile of nice books to sight-read, but I haven't felt any motivation. I practise my pieces thoroughly, and I cannot imagine myself in a situation in which I would have any use for sight-reading. But! I don't memorise and there is not one single piece I know - because I forget my pieces when I stop playing them. I have tried to memorise, but it took a long time, and I forgot those pieces just like any other piece.

And here is where the sight-reading comes in. Because if I get better at sight-reading, it will be easier for me to re-learn my favourite pieces that I have previously practised. And that would be very valuable to me.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: AZNpiano] #2878127
08/09/19 05:12 PM
08/09/19 05:12 PM
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Would you please be specific about memorization strategies you teach?
Thank you.


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Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: manyhands] #2878201
08/10/19 01:32 AM
08/10/19 01:32 AM
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Originally Posted by manyhands
Would you please be specific about memorization strategies you teach?
Thank you.

Are you asking me?


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: Candywoman] #2880051
08/16/19 02:25 AM
08/16/19 02:25 AM
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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 think Clara Wieck Schumann was the first well known pianist to perform from memory regularly in public performances. I think it is fine for someone not bothered by memorization to perform from score, but I think a student strongly opposed to memorization should be asked to memorize as part of completing the learning of a piece to get over the resistance. I think playing from score can be a significant impediment to learning some pieces. You may find that memorizing early in the process will shorten the time it takes to learn a piece.


Login name is a tribute to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, arguably the historically first great keyboard virtuoso.
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: AZNpiano] #2882860
08/23/19 08:04 PM
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yes, AZN, please, or anyone else who teaches specific strategies.


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Big Mama Yama U1
Re: To memorize or not to memorize [Re: manyhands] #2882917
08/24/19 02:15 AM
08/24/19 02:15 AM
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Originally Posted by manyhands
yes, AZN, please, or anyone else who teaches specific strategies.

These are strategies I use for late-intermediate to advanced students:

1) Starting from different points in the music. These are like "landmarks" where students can begin and finish a piece. It works well for longer pieces with well-defined sections. This strategy curtails the "start from the beginning and run through to the end" method of practice, and it provides each student with several places where they can re-start in case they have a memory lapse.

2) Detailed sectional analysis. Within each section, students find what is alike and what is different. Sometimes a composer would start two phrases exactly the same way, but finish differently. Students highlight these differences and practice those problem spots in isolation. This strategy would prevent "memory loops," whereby the student continues a phrase by going back 14 bars to the previous phrase, or to a similar spot in a different section. This is especially important between the exposition and recapitulation of a piece in sonata form.

3) Choreograph physical movements and gestures. This is a form of muscle memory. Students plan a set of movements, usually to negotiate a particularly difficult passage. This might involve using creative fingering and unorthodox displacement of hand positions, plus creative pedaling. All the movements have to be done in sync with each other, in the correct order. Then, repeat until memorized. I am actually using this strategy right now as I learn a particularly awkward 20th-century piece. Instead of thinking notes-notes-notes-notes as the composer notated (in a very unfriendly fashion), I imagine movements, going from one hand position to another, and choreographing a series of leaps and landing spots.

4) L.H. shaping. Usually students have no problem memorizing the R.H. melody, but for slower pieces L.H. accompaniment can be nigh impossible to memorize. For slower pieces, I ask students to play L.H. by itself and look for every possibility to voice L.H. lines. Even when the L.H. sounds nothing musical, make music out of it. This strategy takes a lot of imagination and creativity.


Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member
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