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To memorize or not to memorize

Posted By: Candywoman

To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 05:51 AM

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?
Posted By: Animisha

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 06:16 AM

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.
Posted By: Nahum

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 06:27 AM

As a second opinion, you can read the book of Mackinnon. https://academic.oup.com/ml/article-abstract/XIX/4/466/1252418?redirectedFrom=PDF
Posted By: Terry Michael

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 07:26 AM

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.
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 07:46 AM

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.
Posted By: Animisha

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 08:57 AM

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.
Posted By: Seeker

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 12:24 PM

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...).
Posted By: Piano*Dad

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 12:52 PM

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.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 01:45 PM

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.......
Posted By: keystring

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 02:37 PM

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.
Posted By: WhoDwaldi

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 03:08 PM

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.
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 06:50 PM

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.
Posted By: chasingrainbows

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/30/19 08:15 PM

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.
Posted By: MichaelJK

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/31/19 05:16 PM

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.
Posted By: malkin

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 07/31/19 10:41 PM

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?
Posted By: Midlife_Piano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/01/19 01:18 AM

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.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/01/19 10:31 AM

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........
Posted By: TimR

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/01/19 11:32 AM

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.
Posted By: joggerjazz

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/01/19 12:20 PM

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.
Posted By: RayR3004

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/01/19 06:53 PM

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.
Posted By: Terry Michael

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/02/19 12:14 AM

I like that. "Knowing a piece". I just wished I knew more!
Posted By: Groove On

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/02/19 01:07 AM

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.
Posted By: Midlife_Piano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/02/19 06:27 PM

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.
Posted By: thepianoplayer416

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/03/19 01:43 AM

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.
Posted By: Candywoman

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/03/19 03:37 AM

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.
Posted By: Colin Miles

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/03/19 07:47 AM

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.
Posted By: PianoStudent88

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/04/19 03:17 PM

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.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/04/19 03:37 PM

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).
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/04/19 10:33 PM

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.
Posted By: currawong

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/04/19 11:20 PM

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
Posted By: Animisha

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/05/19 09:06 AM

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.
Posted By: manyhands

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/09/19 09:12 PM

Would you please be specific about memorization strategies you teach?
Thank you.
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/10/19 05:32 AM

Originally Posted by manyhands
Would you please be specific about memorization strategies you teach?
Thank you.

Are you asking me?
Posted By: Sweelinck

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/16/19 06:25 AM

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.
Posted By: manyhands

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/24/19 12:04 AM

yes, AZN, please, or anyone else who teaches specific strategies.
Posted By: AZNpiano

Re: To memorize or not to memorize - 08/24/19 06:15 AM

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.
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