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#2262490 04/16/14 07:45 AM
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How do you incorporate memorization into your lessons? Do you require it for performances? I make it a goal for performances, but more and more of my students are struggling to meet this goal. I give them endless suggestions and strategies. When working together during lessons, some of them struggle to memorize even the smallest bit of music.

Has anyone else had this problem? I am wondering if I am doing something wrong or if students are just not used to exercising this part of their brains in a world where information is instantly available and rote learning and memorization of facts is deemphasized at school.


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zrtf90 has a nice methodical process discussed here: http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/2165131.html#Post2164366

And while hs (hands separate) practice is oft-debated as necessary, hands separate memorization often does prove invaluable. Have you tried memorization assignments - perhaps starting big with things like the form; chord progressions; being able to start playing from anywhere in the piece (or perhaps at least from every phrase), and working down to smaller aspects like fingerings; dynamic/articulation markings; etc.?

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Originally Posted by clarikeys
When working together during lessons, some of them struggle to memorize even the smallest bit of music.

Could it be that your students haven't spent enough time learning/practicing the piece? I work with some very, very, VERY slow students, and even they can memorize. Granted, I do give them over a year to memorize something as simple as Minuet in G.

Memory problems are more prevalent once students get past level 10 music. Heck, I have a hard time memorizing Chopin Scherzos or anything that runs past 10 pages. Modern music that lacks obvious patterns is also very hard to memorize.


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I require it for some performances, but not all.

Yes, some students have trouble with it. We want to do what we can as teachers to help our students with memory, but it's not a challenge that is going to go away. Just make sure you are giving students enough time to memorize. It doesn't sound to me like you are doing anything wrong.

Don't back away from asking your students to work.


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Thanks for your responses. You are probably right that I am not giving them enough time and that I am backing away from asking my students to work. Between snow days, illness, and a death in the family, I am scrambling to put together a recital. I am afraid of requiring memorization for participation in recitals because I have such a small studio that I worry I would not have enough students left for a performance.

My students range from early elementary through early intermediate, so we are not talking anything very complex. A few students do okay with memorization, a good handful are either too short on time or simply lazy or don't follow instructions, but I have a couple who really struggle. They play their pieces well, but stumble over memorizing the smallest bit. I am talking about a 16-32 bar piece. We analyze it together and look for patterns. We work on very small chunks. I've gone as far as breaking it down to a two-note group, then three, then four. . .but even getting through a measure is a challenge. There is some sort of disconnect happening here. Has anyone who has had these memory-challenged students find anything that helps? How long on average do you expect a student to need to memorize a relatively short and simple piece?


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I have the opposite problem as a Suzuki teacher. Everyone wants to memorize instead of read tired

If you are teaching reading so effectively that they can play without having to remember a thing, that's wonderful. Maybe to increase memory you might try just a smidge of what we do -- give students a few simple pieces with no score at all, something simple like London Bridge or other known tune -- melody only for beginners, basic I-V chords for others. For the recital pieces, a building block to memory would be memorizing only the melody.

I can't help with the ones who can't remember a single measure as have never been there, but I do have a couple who struggle to read a measure without skipping notes or losing their place. It might just boil down to what your teaching emphasizes. We can't do everything in half an hour a week.

Last edited by hreichgott; 04/17/14 10:09 PM.

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Expect them to memorize! I would say every student has to learn to memorize pieces. I just don't give them a choice.

If the student plays the piece enough, it just happens.

After the student has been working on a piece, turn the music over, and try to have them try to play it by memory. Then turn the book back over, work on a section, then turn the book over and have them try again to play it by memory. I'm talking about a piece they've been working on, not just when they get it.

I just had one student who would look like a "deer in headlights" when I took her music away and she she would start to panic!! Eventually she started to memorize. It will happen.

I think it's fun to memorize because what do you do when you encounter a piano and you want to play? Do you say, I have to go home and get my music? I hope not!

Memorization is freeing and fun. Tell your students that and I'd just expect it from them.


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Originally Posted by Diane...
If the student plays the piece enough, it just happens.

As long as we are talking about method book stuff, then, yes, that is correct.

Right now I have just two students who can't memorize anything. So I give them a year. For one of them, things are now going over a year. This is what happens when the child touches the piano once a week, during their piano lesson. Since their parents are equally lazy and irresponsible (as if it would KILL them to watch their kids practice piano!), I turn their lessons into practice sessions. I make them play the piece at least 5 times during the lesson, so in a year they'll have played the piece 250 times.

If they still can't memorize the short 16-bar piece after playing it 250 times, then it's safe to say that:

1) they hate piano,
2) their mental capacity is limited, or
3) both.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by Diane...
If the student plays the piece enough, it just happens.

As long as we are talking about method book stuff, then, yes, that is correct.

Right now I have just two students who can't memorize anything. So I give them a year. For one of them, things are now going over a year. This is what happens when the child touches the piano once a week, during their piano lesson. Since their parents are equally lazy and irresponsible (as if it would KILL them to watch their kids practice piano!), I turn their lessons into practice sessions. I make them play the piece at least 5 times during the lesson, so in a year they'll have played the piece 250 times.

If they still can't memorize the short 16-bar piece after playing it 250 times, then it's safe to say that:

1) they hate piano,
2) their mental capacity is limited, or
3) both.


Life's too short. Having a student who won't work for you is like having 3 students. It will drain the life out of you!

That's when you get the "waiting list" out and yell ... NEXT! grin


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
[quote=Diane...] I make them play the piece at least 5 times during the lesson, so in a year they'll have played the piece 250 times.

If they still can't memorize the short 16-bar piece after playing it 250 times, then it's safe to say that:

1) they hate piano,
2) their mental capacity is limited, or
3) both.



What, you have them play a piece 5 times in every lesson, for a whole year??
That alone might cause them hate piano...


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Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
[quote=Diane...] I make them play the piece at least 5 times during the lesson, so in a year they'll have played the piece 250 times.

If they still can't memorize the short 16-bar piece after playing it 250 times, then it's safe to say that:

1) they hate piano,
2) their mental capacity is limited, or
3) both.



What, you have them play a piece 5 times in every lesson, for a whole year??
That alone might cause them hate piano...

Are you familiar with the term hyperbole?


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Originally Posted by hreichgott
I have the opposite problem as a Suzuki teacher. Everyone wants to memorize instead of read tired

You just got at the main point. I stress reading above all else, so my students don't care about memory. But at some point I want them to start. When I do, break things up very carefully.

Not all good readers have problems memorizing. Some are naturally good at it. But a surprising number are like me. They find it so easy to read, memorizing is an extra pain.

Those students have to be taught HOW to memorize.

There is nothing more dangerous than the usual approach to memorizing: "Go magic fingers." That's where you hear people plowing along just fine, until something goes wrong, then there is a major train wreck.

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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by wouter79
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
[quote=Diane...] I make them play the piece at least 5 times during the lesson, so in a year they'll have played the piece 250 times.

If they still can't memorize the short 16-bar piece after playing it 250 times, then it's safe to say that:

1) they hate piano,
2) their mental capacity is limited, or
3) both.



What, you have them play a piece 5 times in every lesson, for a whole year??
That alone might cause them hate piano...

Are you familiar with the term hyperbole?


Ok so your statement is not to be taken literally. SO what did you really want to say?


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The idea that AZNPiano, I think, is presenting is that if some student after MANY repetitions and (supposedly) studying cannot get it in their head, then there's something "wrong" with them, since it's not normal, to be repeating literally 200 times a work (which, if you think about it, if a student is studying normally per week, then 200 times is TOO LITTLE count) and not remember how it goes.

It must be slipping their mind because:
1. They hate piano
2. Their mind has limited capacity.
3. Both!

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There is a saying: If you keep planting cabbages, you will keep getting cabbages, not roses. In other words, if you do something and it doesn't work, then doing it a lot more doesn't make it work. The other saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again." has its limitations. Is memorization achieved by repeating over and over and over again? If somebody fails, and you tell them to do it the same way over and over, and they still fail, then I'd be looking at the strategy (doing it over and over in the same way) as possibly being flawed for that student.

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Originally Posted by Nikolas
....then there's something "wrong" with them, since it's not normal, to be repeating literally 200 times a work (which, if you think about it, if a student is studying normally per week, then 200 times is TOO LITTLE count) and not remember how it goes.

It must be slipping their mind because:
1. They hate piano
2. Their mind has limited capacity.
3. Both!

Can one know how a student is studying at home? If it's not effective, then more of the same won't produce much. In that case it's not that "there is something wrong" with the student, but rather in the manner of studying.

In regards to repetition, I am not at all convinced that it is an effective means of memorizing music. There was a time that I tried repetition in practising and it caused my mind to blank out, my body to go on autopilot, and that empty state didn't do much for quality either. Otoh, if you try to stay focused while repeating over and over, that is impossible. It's a no-win.

I understand that there are a lot of strategies to memorizing music. Going from beginning to end over and over would be a very poor strategy. Some form of chunking is probably good. Recognizing patterns: for example musical form where something repeats in a different key, phrases, progressions - a significant interesting physical thing happening at certain points. How you set up the timing of your work. If the only thing a student is doing is to repeat over and over, then he is also not doing any of these other things.

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Originally Posted by keystring
There is a saying: If you keep planting cabbages, you will keep getting cabbages, not roses.


The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results wink.

Psychologists have been studying the human memory for a very long time. Mindless repetition of mechanical actions only helps motor memory or, as Gary says, "go magic fingers". Deep learning and long-term retention are primarily a function of relating new concepts, skills and ideas to the things that you already know, thereby integrating something new into your own conceptual framework. This makes initial learning faster and more meaningful (it's personal), and subsequent recall easier because there multiple connections with the framework, and therefore multiple paths to retrieval.

In this view, memorization should (predictably) be easier for students who have a well-developed inner base of musical knowledge: memories of pieces they've heard or played before, a personal understanding of the way tonal music works, knowledge about style features and the ability to isolate them in new music, technical proficiency, etc.


Even for students who lack all of that (which would be most beginners), I think the teacher can help make memorization easier by trying to draw parallels to pre-existing knowledge every student brings to class. Recently, I saw a music teacher teach a compound rhythm by having the student recite a popular rap song, and then making the connection to that piece of classical music she'd been struggling with.

Memorization is also always easier when there's a logical structure involved and you can see it, sometimes literally. When the student can't see the inherent logic, teachers might be able to help make up personal logic that works for the student. Like remembering a random string of words by combining them into a sentence. I know someone who memorized at first by telling stories: different note values were different characters who went up and down stairs, sat on each others' laps, skipped over obstacles, fell asleep behind the wheel and bumped up against the guy in front of them, etc.


Just a few things that popped into my mind ...

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Originally Posted by Saranoya
Originally Posted by keystring
There is a saying: If you keep planting cabbages, you will keep getting cabbages, not roses.


The definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results wink.

Psychologists have been studying the human memory for a very long time. Mindless repetition of mechanical actions only helps motor memory or, as Gary says, "go magic fingers". Deep learning and long-term retention are primarily a function of relating new concepts, skills and ideas to the things that you already know, thereby integrating something new into your own conceptual framework. This makes initial learning faster and more meaningful (it's personal), and subsequent recall easier because there multiple connections with the framework, and therefore multiple paths to retrieval.

In this view, memorization should (predictably) be easier for students who have a well-developed inner base of musical knowledge: memories of pieces they've heard or played before, a personal understanding of the way tonal music works, knowledge about style features and the ability to isolate them in new music, technical proficiency, etc.


very nicely articulated

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I have most of the well known memory improvement books in my library. Well, I think I have all of them except for Moonwalking with Einstein, I read that one at the public library.

For items like shopping lists, strings of numbers, names, states, vocabulary words, turns on the way to your destination, etc., brute force memorization does not work. The studies show when you practice memorizing any type of list by reading it over and over, you eventually cram it in, but you never improve your ability to memorize lists.

But there are memory tricks that make many of these tasks easy. Tricks may be the wrong word, there are association strategies that work, many of which rely on some prememorized functions.

I have not been able to directly relate this to music but I think the potential is there (and I think the people who memorize easily are already doing something similar).


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Originally Posted by TimR
But there are memory tricks that make many of these tasks easy. Tricks may be the wrong word, there are association strategies that work, many of which rely on some prememorized functions.

I have not been able to directly relate this to music but I think the potential is there (and I think the people who memorize easily are already doing something similar).


One of the tricks for memorising shopping lists (or other lists of random items) is to visualise them. For a simple example, imagine you need to buy bananas, a roll of duct tape, some thumb tacks, paint for your proverbial white picket fence, and new batteries for the portable radio. Some people will remember this better if they imagine themselves trying to attach the bananas to the newly painted fence while listening to the radio, first using thumb tacks, and then turning to duct tape when that fails ... or something equally absurd like that.

(Well, not so absurd, maybe ... Was it MacGyver who insisted that if you can't do it, whatever "it" is, with duct tape, you just haven't used enough?)

Anyway, the point is: people are visual beings, and we are storytellers by nature. Which is why I think the technique I referred to above, in which the notes became characters in a story where changes in the music corresponded to actual "events", can work well for some students.

It requires, of course, a type of divergent ("out of the box") thinking that has been shown to become less prevalent with age. Read Breakpoint and Beyond, if you're interested. It reports on a study in which school-age children were periodically asked to come up with as many uses for a paperclip as they could think of. If they could come up with a certain number of them, they'd be classified as "geniuses".

At kindergarten level, 98% percent of the kids tested hit the "genius" mark, by asking questions such as: "well, does it have to be a paperclip as we know it? Or can it be ten feet tall and made of rubber?" (hat tip to RSAnimate). When the same children were re-tested at 15, only 23% of them were "genius" divergent thinkers.

So to all the teachers here, I would say: have your students tell stories about their music! The more absurd, the better, because that'll help in two ways: with memorisation, and with divergent thinking. And then, when the next person asks you what the use of teaching the arts is, you can legitimately tell them that if they send their child to you, he or she will become (or rather, remain) a genius divergent thinker, with great memory to boot! wink

Also, because of the "integration of new information into an existing framework" that is the way most people most easily acquire new knowledge, teach not just performance from memory, but also theory, music history, "listening practice", basic analysis, technical building blocks, ...

But that, of course, is just stating the obvious (I hope wink ).

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