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Originally Posted by outo
Originally Posted by johnstaf
Originally Posted by outo

Not sure what Sam meant, but it is exactly the same for me, practicing playing in my mind only is too hard and I get a headache...I know it would be useful but just cannot.


It is hard when you're not used to it. Perhaps your playing ability is way in advance of your aural development. If you start with something simple it helps. I went through the Kodaly method of ear training, and now it makes learning and playing so much easier. It's quite a commitment though.


It's a bit different for me, because I cannot keep my mind focused on tasks like that. I have and can do it, but only for a very short time and them my head explodes smile
Same here. My brain doesn't do keep-going-to-the-end very well.


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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop


Originally Posted by ShyPianist
Now I find memory acquired through those passive methods is not so reliable, perhaps because I’m even more self aware, and so I’m paying much more attention to the analytical side of things.

Interesting. Not sure why that would have an effect unless it is something akin to "analysis paralysis" - over analyzing? Thinking some pattern of notes can't possibly be correct because of some analytical knowledge you have about the music?
.



This happens to me sometimes and something I really relate to with my style. I feel as though there is a substantial difference between learning a piece via muscle memory (how I tend to learn but isn't very good) and actually having the piece memorized.

It's why it's easy to memorize a song and play correctly from front to back but not when you jump somewhere random in the score.

I memorize by chunking about a half page and playing it repeatedly until my fingers have it memorized. The other day I did this with about a full page an hour or so before a lesson. I had it down pretty quick but when I showed up at my instructors studio... I completely blacked out and wasted the whole lesson trying to re-learn the passage. Aside from being embarrassing, I found it a bit bizarre.

My sight reading isn't good enough to memorize pieces from the notes themselves so passive learning is what I'm left with but it most certainly isn't as reliable. I only perform from memory as well. I think what happens is you're thinking a few notes ahead while playing and since it's all in the muscles you just kind of draw a blank on what's coming next, then you mess up, then you get inside your head.

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Originally Posted by Living_tribunal
Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop


Originally Posted by ShyPianist
Now I find memory acquired through those passive methods is not so reliable, perhaps because I’m even more self aware, and so I’m paying much more attention to the analytical side of things.

Interesting. Not sure why that would have an effect unless it is something akin to "analysis paralysis" - over analyzing? Thinking some pattern of notes can't possibly be correct because of some analytical knowledge you have about the music?
.



This happens to me sometimes and something I really relate to with my style. I feel as though there is a substantial difference between learning a piece via muscle memory (how I tend to learn but isn't very good) and actually having the piece memorized.

It's why it's easy to memorize a song and play correctly from front to back but not when you jump somewhere random in the score.

I memorize by chunking about a half page and playing it repeatedly until my fingers have it memorized. The other day I did this with about a full page an hour or so before a lesson. I had it down pretty quick but when I showed up at my instructors studio... I completely blacked out and wasted the whole lesson trying to re-learn the passage. Aside from being embarrassing, I found it a bit bizarre.

My sight reading isn't good enough to memorize pieces from the notes themselves so passive learning is what I'm left with but it most certainly isn't as reliable. I only perform from memory as well. I think what happens is you're thinking a few notes ahead while playing and since it's all in the muscles you just kind of draw a blank on what's coming next, then you mess up, then you get inside your head.


It is common and normal to black out or forget when playing. And it can be a total crash if you rely purely on muscle memory, no matter how much you have repeated in practice. Memory failures happen to pros as well, they just know how to get on without losing the pulse, sometimes by improvising. So you may not even notice if you don't know the piece really well.

Usually you should have more places in the piece where you can start from memory. It helps to recover. In the early stages I think it is most important to learn to live with these failures so that one does not start to fear and anticipate them. Then they sort of become inevitable due to worrying about them. I never really got over this which makes performing difficult.

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It is common and normal to black out or forget when playing. And it can be a total crash if you rely purely on muscle memory, no matter how much you have repeated in practice. Memory failures happen to pros as well, they just know how to get on without losing the pulse, sometimes by improvising. So you may not even notice if you don't know the piece really well.

Usually you should have more places in the piece where you can start from memory. It helps to recover. In the early stages I think it is most important to learn to live with these failures so that one does not start to fear and anticipate them. Then they sort of become inevitable due to worrying about them. I never really got over this which makes performing difficult.


Yep. And boy do I wish I’d known all of this all those years ago when I was regularly filled with dread before and during every performance. There are so many stories of pros having really bad memory lapses, not always covered up well either. In the article shared above by Susan Tomes, someone in the comments relates the story of a famous pianist playing a Brahms concerto, getting lost and having to get up from the piano and check the conductor’s score!

All of which makes me wonder why on Earth any of us, amateur or professional, put ourselves through this nightmare! The point, I suppose, is that you simply can’t play literally from the score once you reach a certain level, you have to have the piece memorised. Perhaps the only real answer is to lose the perfectionism and learn how to improvise well...


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I seems to come naturally to me. Not straight away, but in order to properly learn (and practice) a piece I have to learn it inside out, of necessity each small phrase is picked apart and in that process I just learn it.

I just submitted a piece for the ABF recital that I have been learning. I have, so far always played it by looking at the music, so as an experiment just prior to this post I tried to play it entirely by memory. There were one or two bars where coming up to it I had no idea what coming next, but as soon as I got there my fingers knew what to do and I played it, OR sometimes I would stop and then have to just replay that bit again, but I immediately knew what to do.

The downside is that sometimes after a month of not playing a piece it starts to fade away. I can generally recover it without the music just by a bit of careful attention (ie practice). Occasionally I can't quite find it and have to resort back to the sheet music.

I did leave a piece for about 9 or 10 months and it took a couple of weeks with the music to bring it back. That now seems much more permanently ingrained now I have done that (ie there is less tendency for it to fade away if I don't give it attention)

Of course the other downside is that my sight reading is not that good.


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I butchered a piece in recital recently. 3rd movement of Clementi op.90 #1. This was in the studio with mostly 8-12 year olds, me being the only adult. I should have a hat that says "I played it better at at home" because I think it all the time and bite my tongue from saying it to my teacher any longer because it sounds so pathetic. That said, I had a public recital last Sunday scheduled to do the whole Sonatina. Now, I was really petrified seeing how I massacred the third movement in front of kids 1/5 my age and much better than I. But, I wanted to do well so I spent the week thinking things through from a different angle. I've played repetitions of these pieces ad nauseum so something was amiss.

Now, at this point I'll reflect on Tyrone's original question. That is, having "automatic" memory for 80-90 percent of a piece and how to fill the gaps. In my case, I felt that way about my pieces but they fell apart in performance. So I was weighing heavily on context and what exactly the 10% meant. Because under pressure, my 80 percent wasn't terribly meaningful as the pressure of not feeling 100% weighed on my mind and just knowing there were weak links sabotaged my performance greatly, made me nervous, caused my hands to tremble etc etc. It didn't matter that I was confident in 90 percent. The 10 percent made me crash and burn and have a miserable experience.

What I did was spend the week doing some detective work finding those gaps. I played the pieces extremely slowly hands separate. I started in random places throughout the piece. When i spotted hesitations or was positively lost in either hand I stopped and played through those measures slowly and perfectly as I could. Several days before the performance I alternated slow practice with performance practice. I found places where my memory gaps were pretty significant and I didn't realize it because I was relying heavily on muscle memory. In performance, I focused tightly on visualizing ahead at least 2 measures or a specific phrase or group of notes. The results surprised me. I played in front of about 100 people all three pieces and had some halts, wrong notes, but I cruised past them. So, to Tyrone I guess i'd say try different practice methods to unearth the true memory gaps. They may exist where you don't even realize it because of weak memory in one hand or the other. In my case, it was relying on muscle memory too much in the left and when the left blanked out, the right hand just crashed and burned along with it.

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These last days, when practising a piece, I thought about this question. I don't remember automatically, and consciously memorising takes way too much time, and the memory is soon gone anyway. So I don't even try to memorise.

I played a portamento piece with a lot of jumps, and this went fine as long as I could play slowly, but at a fast tempo there was no time to both look at the score and look at the piano. The way I solved is was to look at the score most of the time, and then noticing (and remembering) at exactly what points I needed to take a quick peek at the keys. After that, my eyes immediately turned back to the score. This turned out very well!

So if you have a score that is too complicated or too irregular to memorise it, I would advice you to test this! smile


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I didn’t reread this whole thread, so I’m not sure if it has been mentioned, but a helpful tip from Mortensen - always know what chord you’re in and how the song is progressing. For instance, if one measure plays notes that make up a Dmin, the next a G7, and the next measure is a C, you’ll have gone from ii to V7 to I. Whenever you hit these measures, you’ll remember that and the notes will come easily. This is essential to really understanding the piece, and it solidifies your learning, understanding and memorization.


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Without having read any of the other replies yet— I am very similar to you. For those tricky parts that don’t go automatically into memory, I try to play as much as I can into that section looking only at my hands. I check the score then add that part looking at my hands again. I find looking at my hands to give me a different type of memory cue than looking at the score, which is maybe why it works?

At other times, when the memory fails because of the structure of the music, I have a different method. Say two sections are similar, but have a slightly different ending. I will look at them both and make notes on the score. Things like “goes UP this time” or “only f one time”. It’s written in lay terms and it seems to help.

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Originally Posted by sara elizabeth
Without having read any of the other replies yet— I am very similar to you. For those tricky parts that don’t go automatically into memory, I try to play as much as I can into that section looking only at my hands. I check the score then add that part looking at my hands again. I find looking at my hands to give me a different type of memory cue than looking at the score, which is maybe why it works?

At other times, when the memory fails because of the structure of the music, I have a different method. Say two sections are similar, but have a slightly different ending. I will look at them both and make notes on the score. Things like “goes UP this time” or “only f one time”. It’s written in lay terms and it seems to help.

Nice to meet another automatic memoriser, Sara Elizabeth!

I actually encountered a new issue on a contemporary piece I was practicing for the quarterly recital. I don't understand the patterns so while I'm still memorising automatically, I find that sometimes my recall lags more than the time I have to play the next notes. This appears to be mostly related to the fact that there is no melody in this piece, only patterns and themes, and the notes seem a bit random at times.

So I don't get cues from a pattern but have to just recall that "here is that one odd note that goes up" (like memorising the defects in a pattern) and this sometimes takes longer to recall then I have time to play. So if I use my memory, then I will have pauses.

My response has been to try to use this as an opportunity to improve my reading and that's what I've worked on in my last two piano lessons. Reading for this piece is not easy because there are jumps in every measure and I have to glance at my hands and then back at the music. I'm doing better today at this than I was a week ago.


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