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#3070264 01/17/21 10:51 AM
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My teacher had his annual Christmas recital and I had two pieces; Bach Prelude in C major and a fairly short arrangement of Christmas Waltz by Phillip Keverin. So bach goes perfect. I start the waltz and it completely falls apart after half a page. I mean total panic and breakdown. Thing is I had this piece solid at home, played it hundreds of time at tempo and achingly slow to solidify the memory. There were about 80 people socially distanced in this big church so I was nervous to begin with being the only adult student and numerous teenagers that were crushing it up there with Chopin, etc. My question is, has anyone had this kind of mental breakdown and what have you done to stay in a steady state of mind so you can play relaxed and just "let it happen" without your mind telling your hands ....sorry no can do, recital over.

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Firstly - are you obliged to play from memory? If not, don't. (Obviously, if you play from the score, you must also rehearse playing from it so that you don't lose your place when you look down at your hands occasionally.)

If you do have to play from memory, make sure you have several 'jumping off' points in your pieces that you can re-start from, if you do lose your place. Practice starting off from each of them regularly when practicing at home. In fact, when practicing, never play any of your pieces from the beginning until you've already practiced all the tricky sections in your pieces starting from those 'jumping off' points. (If you only keep practicing all your pieces from the beginning, you'll be totally stuck if your mind suddenly goes blank in the middle because your memory is predicated on starting from only one spot - the beginning of the piece.) The more secure you are when starting from any of those points, the more secure you'll feel when performing; and confidence begets assurance that if the worse comes to the worse and your mind goes blank, you can immediately jump to another point with no obvious break in your rhythm. Confidence that you can always get yourself out of tight spots greatly reduces the risk you'll get into them in the first place. (I've had more memory lapses in my monthly recitals over the years than I care to remember, but each time, hardly anyone noticed anything amiss, simply because I never stopped playing and there were no 'stutters' or obvious gaps in timing or sound.)

BTW, my performance anxiety never left me even after nearly a decade of regular performing from memory, but I've gotten better over the years at covering up memory lapses (which can come even when I'm not feeling stressed), including improvising for a few seconds when required, to smooth over the cracks.....but previous to that (mainly in lecture-recitals), I performed from the score. The only reason I play from memory in my current recitals is because I have no page-turner, and most of my pieces do not allow for a free hand at the numerous page turns.


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Never had complete crash and burn, I think I'm lucky in that.

I have seen it happen with an adult. Adults seem too conscious about it and then screw up completely where they could have just jumped ahead to the next section or so. Children are much more relaxed in screwing parts and still going on.

I can imagine your nervousness. It does not help if there are several kids playing much better than you, nor that you are older than them (which raises the expectations...). Worst is when these better kids play before you. It's much more 'relaxing' if most kids are playing simple stuff so that the expectations are not too high.

For me, crash*burn happens at home, even when I think I have the piece down.

The major factor triggering this is a change of the context: different piano with different feel and sound, slightly heavier pedal, different height of the bench, other lighting, music at a different height, slightly different speed, different acoustics, the public looking at you, etc. But playing from memory at fast speed for prolonged times also can induce it.

It helps a lot if you can test-run your piece at a slow speed at the performance place, possibly with already some public in it. Often there is no such possibility

The way to fix crash&burn (for me) is to get the sheet music and play the broken part a few times slowly. Often it takes a minute just to find the spot where I crashed.... Not something you want to do while in a recital...

Regarding performing from memory, I agree with bennevis it's easier to pick up the next section if you have the sheet music in front of you. But you probably had played it so often from memory and without sheet music in front of you that you had no doubts about it. In that case sheet music just would have been another change of context factor that could trigger the crash and burn, rather than prevent it


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@bennevis

Usually there is some suited place to turn the page, somewhere halfway a page.

I then make a copy of that page and stick it to the next page.

That way I can already turn the page at the suited place

If you find it hard to remember to turn there: you can make 2 copies, then cut each of them so that each contains only the notes to be played on that page.


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Sorry to hear about your crash and burn, spartan928!

I had a huge crash and burn at a recital, about 15 years now. It was an all-adult recital, but I was scheduled to go very close to last because I was one of the more advanced ones, so that made it worse. I was so upset afterwards, I was upset for about two weeks actually. In the end, I changed a lot about my playing and practicing, and esp. changed the way I prepare for performances as well.

I should see if I can find my original posts about it here... if only the search function actually worked...

Anyway, one thing I did after that was to do a lot of reading about practicing and performing. These are the three books that really made a huge difference for me:

https://www.amazon.com/Inner-Game-M...oding=UTF8&qid=1610900650&sr=8-1

https://www.amazon.com/Soprano-Her-Head-Right-Side-Up-Performances/dp/0911226214/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1R2ZJ5EQDMQN3&dchild=1&keywords=a+soprano+on+her+head+by+eloise+ristad&qid=1610900683&sprefix=a+soprano+%2Caps%2C175&sr=8-1

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Practicing-Guide-Making-Music/dp/0609801775/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1DP2B7V1XGCAG&dchild=1&keywords=madeline+bruser&qid=1610900633&sprefix=madeline+brus%2Caps%2C178&sr=8-1

The only other thing I will say is to be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up about this, it does indeed happen to the best of us, and now that you've experienced it, you can start making some adjustments.


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If it's any consolation, almost every major pianist has had some major memory lapses. A long time ago, I read an article by Misha Dichter who claimed to have found a way to completely avoid memory lapses. A while later, I heard him play at Carnegie Hall and he had a big memory lapse.

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>and what have you done to stay in a steady state of mind so you can play relaxed and just "let it happen" without your mind telling your hands


First of all, get used to the triggers that potentially CAUSE this
Before the recital I change the context deliberately.
First, change chair height, performance speed, lighting, etc.

If that all works fine, play the piece in a library, a friend's place, a bar. Preferably a place with low expectations, where you can just pick the sheet music and fix a problem on the spot.

Then, as bennevis said, be able to start at regular intervals in the piece, eg immediately after the hard parts.


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Originally Posted by wouter79
@bennevis

Usually there is some suited place to turn the page, somewhere halfway a page.

I then make a copy of that page and stick it to the next page.

That way I can already turn the page at the suited place

If you find it hard to remember to turn there: you can make 2 copies, then cut each of them so that each contains only the notes to be played on that page.
I used to do something similar with my exam pieces (which I never played from memory). Sometimes with spread sheets of up to five.

That's fine if you're playing fairly short pieces, but impractical for pieces that are over 10 pages long with constant - and rapid - movement in both hands, which are the kind of pieces I perform these days.

Of course, an iPad with foot pedal will solve the issue (and I've been struck by how many concert pianists are using them nowadays - especially in their lockdown concerts playing to empty halls) but when I once tried it, I found it too difficult to read from, especially if there's reflection from lights.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If it's any consolation, almost every major pianist has had some major memory lapses. A long time ago, I read an article by Misha Dichter who claimed to have found a way to completely avoid memory lapses. A while later, I heard him play at Carnegie Hall and he had a big memory lapse.
All the greatest pianists have had memory lapses, usually fairly small ones but sometimes quite major.

Once, Pollini didn't come in on his piano entry in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1 - there was a dead silence after the orchestral tutti that led up to the piano's powerful arpeggiated entry. He suddenly remembered about a second later, and a flurry of notes followed, somewhat faster than what had gone before, as if he felt he had to 'catch up' with the beat.

Zimerman once lost his place in Beethoven's Pathetique but he covered it so successfully that unless you knew the piece very well, you probably wouldn't have known what happened.


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Yes, it happens to me at my teacher's last recital before the lockdown. I had to play 4 pieces all from memory and I also had a few jumping points like Bennevis said. I was nervous and I played too fast, I made mistake after mistake and I became more nervous and at the 3rd piece I went blank for 3 seconds I could not remember anything, I was in a state of shock. I jumped at the end of the piece and for the last one I played from the sheet music.

At the end of the recital, friends ask me, "Did you make a mistake in the third piece ? " They never noticed all the mistakes I did. For me the solution is to do it again and again and become used to play in front of an audience.



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It's so easy to use the sheet music. Teachers should allow this and they'd probably keep more students. At a teacher's recital one can always find a page turner. Even if there's no one to turn pages, there's usually a place near the end of a page where one can turn the page by oneself. Sometimes this would involve memorizing a tiny portion, like a few measures. I mark and practice any difficult page turns and sometimes leave out a few notes or copy and paste a few measures in small print on the next page.

For most but not all people, I think anything is better than memorizing. For amateurs, studying the piano should be mostly pleasurable and as free from anxiety as possible. I cringe when I read posts where intermediate amateurs list the endless things they do to try and prevent memory problems. So much wasted time and so much less repertoire learned or technical practice omitted for lack of time.

I think the only pianists who should be forced to memorize are conservatory students since that is just the expectation for young professional pianists right now.

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I prefer to play from memory, all I have to do is practise over and over and over with sheet music and one day I remove it and I play from memory. For me what is worse than a memory lapse is someone asking me to play and I say: "No I don't have my sheet music."



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Originally Posted by Serge88
I prefer to play from memory, all I have to do is practise over and over and over with sheet music and one day I remove it and I play from memory. For me what is worse than a memory lapse is someone asking me to play and I say: "No I don't have my sheet music."
No problem - if you want to Be Prepared (Scout motto), just memorize a few pieces so you can always play something from memory.

No-one will ever ask you to play an impromptu recital lasting half an hour (though Schubert's D899 does last about 30 minutes) - they just want to hear you play something. Even Minuet in G flat will do wink .

These days, I have some thirty pieces in my memory, ranging from Baroque to Contemporary, from sad to happy, from very slow to very fast, from very soft to very loud, from very short to very long. Something for every eventuality.
And I've never been a Scout.......


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Originally Posted by Serge88
I prefer to play from memory, all I have to do is practise over and over and over with sheet music and one day I remove it and I play from memory. For me what is worse than a memory lapse is someone asking me to play and I say: "No I don't have my sheet music."
You can solve that by just memorizing a couple of pieces. If you have played quite a bit and are never nervous about memory lapses and have never had one you are lucky and the exception. And you may not have played very complex pieces. I think professionals who are forced/required to play from memory generally do a lot more than you do to make sure as best is possible that their pieces are securely memorized.

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Oh yes. I'm sure you'll hear lots of horror stories on this one. I have at least a few of my own. Usually it's just me playing poorly due to nerves or lots of mistakes. On rare occasion I'm no stranger to total memory lapse. When this happens I have to go back to the start of that phrase if I'm really lost. That seems the kindest option. I think maybe one time I got stuck in the same spot again and had to go forward to the next phrase.

Many years ago I heard a professional in an all Beethoven recital play such a fabulous program. She had a memory lapse in the last movement on the Appassionata, the last movement of the recital. It took her at most 2 seconds to decide to backtrack a bit and go at it again. I felt bad for her but it really didn't detract from the overall experience. GREAT recital!

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I had a complete crash and burn. I started over, and crashed again. I was unable to finish. It was a horrible experience and I completely sympathize with you. I was well prepared but as an adult playing in public, the stage fright was absolutely traumatic. I could stand up and give a speech without notes, practically on demand. Public speaking is no problem at all, but piano playing in public is terrifying for me.

I don’t know if I’ll play in a recital again, covid saved me from the question, for this year, anyway.

For what it’s worth, I think I have since identified the problem that caused this.

I don’t have any advice for you, but you are not alone, and we’re all too tough on ourselves. Don’t give up.


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I also much prefer to play from memory.
As much as muscle memory, I try to understand the structure of the piece. The key, the chord progressions, where the melody is going.
When I try to play with music to perform, there is just too much going on for my brain to handle it. I need simplicity.

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I don't have enough +1s to give.

I had the same crash and burn experience for Xmas 2019, which was also the year I first started taking lessons. It was absolutely devastating and demoralizing.

My teacher had encouraged me to play from sheet music for the performance, and this had never been an issue during practice. However, as stemPianist also discovered, I completely lost any ability to read from sheet music during the performance, with all my focus being on the music.

And since I hadn't worked on memorizing the music sufficiently, at some point everything broke down. I repeated bars and then I just gave up.

My teacher called out for me to take it from a certain bar since the audience had been singing along, but I was unable to comply -- not being able to read music in the moment and not being able to recover psychologically from the failure. I froze and it wasn't pretty.

Oh, the embarrassment and disappointment.

My way of recovering from this was to go back home and create my own do-over:



COVID-19 has saved me from any further live performances since that failure, but I've kept recording. Even so, recording has been extremely difficult.

I've come to realize that if I ever had to perform live again, I would fail in exactly the same way unless:

  • I'm already able to record the piece easily.
  • I can play in some public setting already.
  • I've completely and thoroughly memorized the piece.


These requirements are quite the burden and none of them are particularly easy for me, on top of all the demands of learning a new piece.

Despite this, I will still welcome the challenge of performing live if that ever becomes a thing again.

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A couple years ago I had a memory lapse in my teacher's spring recital.

While I was sitting there with a blank mind, I heard two things from the audience. The first was a kid saying to his mom, "See, that's what I'm afraid of." The second was my teacher saying, "Start over" which I did and everything was fine after that.


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Originally Posted by malkin
The first was a kid saying to his mom, "See, that's what I'm afraid of."

I love this quote. If you can't be a good example, be a bad one smile


I never had it happen to me with piano as a kid, but it happened to me on stage as an adult bassist a couple of times. The one that still haunts me was an outdoor show in April (usually safe in Austin) that was way colder than expected. First, my fingers stopped moving with any speed as they began to freeze. Then, as I frantically tried to simplify my parts on the fly, it all came apart and flew out of my memory. I ended up spending the rest of the gig watching the keyboardist's left hand and playing whole notes on the root.

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