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Joined: Sep 2014
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Hello everyone! I am both a piano teacher and I am continuing my own piano studies because A) I love it and B) I feel that the more advanced I am the better I can teach my students.

I am currently re-opening some Rachmaninoff preludes that I learned in High school because I wanted to go back and get them perfected now that I have more skill and dexterity than when I first learned them.

I have gotten to the point where I am almost past making any technical mistakes when I play through the piece and am sort of in between memorized and not memorized. I am finding that getting the piece truly memorized is very difficult. I have always had trouble with memory of piano music and am looking for some insight on memorization techniques. I do the work for the muscle memory, as well as visual memory and chord structure, but some how when I go to play it, its as though I've done no memory work whatsoever and it is all gone...

Help!


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Probably I'll not write anything new to you, but it seems you forgot about this. When I memorize I try to find patterns. The better you are, the more complicated patterns you can find. These patterns should be "your" patterns - if your brain associate them, you'll remember them almost forever. They can be based on harmony, melody, even color of the keys. These patterns help you with the more important thing - focusing on practice (it's because you're not bored).

It's important to activate your brain in learning process. If you don't focus, the result is always the same - the piece is memorized by muscle memory only.


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Originally Posted by Angela62213

..........sort of in between memorized and not memorized.

Like you, I had several pieces that I'd been playing for a long time that were half-memorized.

When I decided to start memorizing complete pieces, what I did was to try to hack my way through them, one at a time, without the score in front of me. That way, I found out exactly how much of each piece I could play perfectly from memory, and how much of the rest I could 'sort of' get through, and....the rest, which I could only fake my way through by ear. wink

Then I set about memorizing the sections that I could remember the least - in isolation - followed by the parts I already could play partially from memory. Once I got those sorted out, I fitted them all back together to get the complete whole. With the advantage that I could, if I got lost, start again from any of the sections that I'd memorized in isolation, and resume from there.

What I found was that muscle memory made up the bulk of the fast sections (which required me to remember which fingers to start them from), while the slower ones relied on my harmonic sense (meaning that even if I inadvertently started with a different fingering, I could still get back on track).

When I decided that I wanted to learn new pieces, and memorize them right from the start, I adopted a slightly different tack. An initial sight-read through showed me which sections would be hardest to remember, and they were the ones I tackled first, leaving the most straightforward sections till last. Usually by then, they'd have been memorized anyway, just from playing them through occasionally at the end of every practice section, when I always ran through the whole piece once, with the score in front of me. I always did that to remind me how the various sections fitted together.

BTW, at the start of every practice session (after a brief warm-up), I'd go straight to the sections I'd been trying to memorize to see how much of it I could remember. Sometimes, very little - but I'd still attempt to get through them. At other times, I could remember everything from where I last left it.

And when I finally have a piece memorized, I find that I have to play it at least once daily for a month to ensure that it really is secure in my memory - i.e., that I can then leave it alone for a while, and still go back and play it perfectly without mishap.


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Angela :

I think that it's a given that the more you memorize the easier it is to memorize.

You might try taking on "memorization projects" by memorizing shorter, easier pieces, rather than trying to memorize the Rachmaninoff repertoire you had previously learned.

Take some relatively short, relatively simple pieces - Grieg Lyric Pieces come to mind, for example - and work on memorizing some of them, one at a time.

With shorter, less complex pieces, you may find that you are developing your memory skills in more manageable bits and you could be learning some delightful repertoire at the same time.

Do you practice your pieces by analyzing the scores away from the piano?

Regards,


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Originally Posted by BruceD
Angela :

I think that it's a given that the more you memorize the easier it is to memorize.

You might try taking on "memorization projects" by memorizing shorter, easier pieces, rather than trying to memorize the Rachmaninoff repertoire you had previously learned.

Take some relatively short, relatively simple pieces - Grieg Lyric Pieces come to mind, for example - and work on memorizing some of them, one at a time.

With shorter, less complex pieces, you may find that you are developing your memory skills in more manageable bits and you could be learning some delightful repertoire at the same time.

Do you practice your pieces by analyzing the scores away from the piano?

Regards,

The only thing I would add to this very well thought-out response is the following:

1) There is memory, and then there is reflex memory. What you do not have now is reflex memory of these works.

2) A standard memorization technique, in order to boost reflex memory, is to wait one hour, or more, and then to play it again from memory.

3) As accurately stated by Bruce D, this has to be done on an incremental basis. And, it should be done with no stress or pressure as to how much you are supposed to be memorizing at any particular time.

Good luck to you, and remember, your body is your body, and your brain is your brain. So, please proceed at your own pace.

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Thank you for your thoughtful reply smile And I really like your idea of learning shorter less complicated works... unfortunately my memory skills have deteriorated in past years, I was not a piano major in college (which I regret) and so only took it as a non-required secondary instrument. Though my teacher was wonderful and strict, due to my vocal requirements I never had to memorize any piano music for juries. As a result it's been nearly 4 years since I have had to memorize anything eek

I think I will probably take your advice and go after the Grieg. I love those pieces and I think it might give me a more manageable memorization goal.


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I'm also beginning to learn how to memorize properly after many years of never really attempting to do it. The truth is, they ARE memorized, especially if you have played them hundreds or even thousands of time in practice. The problem, as it appears to me (and maybe others' experiences are different) is that my memory of them requires certain visual cues and that cue is the page, for better or for worse.

I know the cue of looking at the page is not actually transmitting any information because if I take the time to transfer certain visual cues to my hands and the keys they are hitting, I continue to be able to play it fluidly. Heck, even if I take the time to make a complete visual map in my head of the measure as notated on the page, I can play it with my eyes closed! Now, of course, that's not terribly useful for anything other than passages that are easily played without looking, and one of the major reasons I want to memorize is that looking at the keyboard and my hands will improve accuracy and fluidity. I read quickly and have always mostly looked at the page, and since that tends to be something somewhat positive, I was never really encouraged to look down. (I never had one of those teachers that required you not to look at your hands, I just didn't often do it and nobody really corrected me.)

So now I'm trying to "re-memorize" any given piece by giving my eyes something to latch onto that's on the keyboard itself and my hands. Once I do that, the piece is basically remapped in my head as a visual picture of my hands and the keys themselves rather than the symbolic one on the page. Then I find what I'm looking for on the keys, and can even "read" ahead just as I'm used to when I'm looking at the page. It's helping. I can see how I can do longer works this way, too. I can now even practice without my music, depending on the piece, which is terrific.

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I've also thought about memorization in the last few years. My problem was that my memorizing had always occurred too automatically, and therefore wasn't dependable.

Something I've found immensely helpful is memorizing the hands separately. It's very hard, and sometimes tedious. But it forces you to really think through all the elements of a piece. When memorizing my LH alone, for example, without the cues provided by my RH, I'm forced to realize things like: "Here the chords change from three notes to four... I never actually noticed that before."

I don't actually memorize most of my pieces hands separately. But I've done it for some of them, and it's taught me to be more aware of the components of a piece, which helps memorization generally.


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Transposing memory-resistant passages into other keys helps me tremendously. Especially if I sing along (in my head - I wouldn't dare foist my singing voice onto innocent bystanders) to the melodic stuff, or a movement in the bass, etc.....

Granted, it usually involves a drastic reduction of tempo - and involves travelling around a cycle of fourths or fifths (not always through all 11 other keys) - but when I get back to the home key, I'm amazed at how comfortable and familiar the passage feels.

Happy New Year!


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I feel your pain. When I retired almost 5 yrs ago, I determined that I would memorise some of the pieces I'd more-or-less learned in years past. I've been successful to an extent, but with the more basic pieces from a long time ago (Brahm's Waltz, Fur Elise, Paderewski's Minuet, Bach Prelude Book 1 (not fugue) #17 etc). I suspect that the older I get, the harder it is getting.

One of the suggestions I was given was to block pieces of the score out - using sticky notes (blank). I started with small ones, just covering a small piece of maybe the bass or treble, then, horror of horrors, the larger stickies. Then came the real test - sticking them at random over a score. But I was amazed that it helped.

I must try it again - but I've no pieces ready at the memorizing stage at the moment.


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Originally Posted by TwoSnowflakes

So now I'm trying to "re-memorize" any given piece by giving my eyes something to latch onto that's on the keyboard itself and my hands.


Thanks, TS--your post meshes helpfully with something my teacher was saying recently. And here I once was proud of not having to look at my hands. But I sure had to look at the music!

It's true that the music is in memory somewhere, once it's learned well enough to play. The challenge is in getting instant and reliable retrieval. The more different kinds of cues and patterns, the better.


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Hi Angela,

Partly-memorized is a very difficult stage for a piece, isn't it?

You have received some excellent advice already. I'd like to chime in also with some things that work well for me.

Hands separately memorization.

Ear memorization (singing out loud or in my head, away from the piano).

One voice at a time memorization. Takes a long time, but is worth it, and as Jason said, this is often a time when I notice things in the music that I'd never noticed while playing from the score.

Memorization in sections starting from the end, not moving on to the next-earlier section until the one I'm working on is absolutely solid. Starting from the end means that when I play the piece through, I'm always moving toward more secure material.

Practice a different piece for 15 minutes or more, then at the end of the practice session, play the memorized material once from start to finish.

(The only way I can memorize Bach is by doing all of these things.)

I leave a period of at least a month between finishing memorization and performing from memory. During this period I play the piece from memory every day. For a couple of weeks I usually have momentary lapses where I know what the next note is, but it won't come to me quite in time to play it. By the time it's been a month, everything works better.

I never train muscle memory for a whole piece on purpose. Maybe for little sections during the learning process when I'm training myself to do a large jump or a certain kind of slur. Enough muscle memory happens naturally during the normal course of practicing, and while muscle memory is useful it tends to fail me right away if there is a distraction or an oddity of the piano or if I have to recover from a wrong note. In those situations, I have to know what all the notes are.


Heather W. Reichgott, piano

Working on:
Beethoven - Diabelli Variations Op. 120
Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
Tommy (whole show)

I love Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and new music

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