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I love seeing those Quad electronics - and the music ain't bad, either!

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Fascinating discussion. Some quick global comments.

1. How people acquire and improve their piano skills is highly idiosyncratic, akin to other artistic media like watercolor. Yes there is a shared pool of appreciated technique but how you get there and what you emphasize is not universal. Some self declared “informative” or “objective” claims in the thread on the value or role of memorization strike me as incorrect. The cited and quoted studies are all very interesting, so thank you for sharing.

2. Moving to just my own personal experience. I find deliberate memorization counter to my appreciation of a piece. I spend lots of time playing from the sheet because it is hard to get right. By the time I’m really familiar with a piece, I find out that I have already memorized it—not by design but by sheer familiarity. At an experiential level it feels as as if it’s body memory not my mind. In fact, if I try to actively remember where a piece is going next—while playing it—I lose my way.

3. Generally I have found that memorizing things works best when you already have acquired technical competence with a piece. It’s important in my experience to not learn a whole piece in its entirety, but master a single or even half page first before moving on. Shorter segments are also easier to memorize (deliberately or incidentally). In my experience, ambitious learners often go for counterproductive approaches instead where they chew off large pieces and then ruminate in imperfection. This also makes it harder for your body to acquire a memory and mastery over a piece.

These are just my personal beliefs and experiences, they could be mistaken like anyone else’s and they can easily not match the experience of other and far superior players. It’s important to realize how unique each of us is in our relationship to our pianos. I believe there are many piano teachers out in the world who operate a bed of Procrustes.

Last edited by Windjammer; 03/17/21 09:52 PM.

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I really suck at memorizing music. Really, really. I have tried a few times but I always fail. Once I'm out in the woods, I am lost ... And interestingly enough, I am considered to have an excellent memory otherwise. I usually win memory games and so on. But when I learn a piano piece, I sort of integrate the glance at the music sheet in my muscular memory so when you remove the music sheet I get lost.

Actually, it gets far easier if I close my eyes.

But lately I have worked more with memorization, as I have noticed that I actually don't quite learn my pieces fully otherwise. So when I get a little bit nervous I start making the most dreadful mistakes, I ALWAYS make lots of mistakes at performances and even lessons, and it is because I start to hesitate about what to play next, which of course makes me more nervous. And I have also noticed that I always have memorized the most complicated parts of a piece without giving it a second thought, because it is simply impossible to read from the score in those moments ... so when I have no choice, obviously I can do it! Which proves that nothing is wrong with my memory, it is simply a matter of learning technique and bad habits.

So, memorizing "afterwards" is hopeless. The best chance, for me, is to do it AT ONCE, when I make my first slow attempts to identify the notes and get the fingering right in short sections. So I work with this section, or bar or whatever, and I try to look down at the keys as soon as possible - hey, even I can learn ONE bar quickly. It is especially beneficial when the bar is difficult, then I am really forcing myself to learn exactly how to play.

The best way to eliminate the dependence of muscle memory is to play the piece very, very slowly. Then your muscle memory gets disconnected, so to speak, and you have to rely on real memory: "next note will be a C". Once I have literally told myself such things, I do not forget. And if I can connect with my logical memory instead, knowing that here is a C Major chord and then I go to F Major, I get fully confident. (Too bad that I am not very good at music analysis either.)

So I hope to be better at memorized playing from now on. (I am 55 ...) But I don't think I would dare to perform without the score anyway. I mean, why? I just long for the ability to spontaneously sit down at a piano I happen to stroll by and play something without having music sheets with me. I feel like an idiot when I see a nice piano in a music store, for example, which I want to try out ... and the only pieces I can produce without a major collapse are Twinkle twinkle little star and the theme of Für Elise ... Well, the other year I also memorized Rondo Alla Turca, actually. Now I have to do it again, but I believe I can do it ... but it is annoying to know that I have learned the complete A Major sonata and cannot play it to anyone without having the book with me.

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Part of memory is muscle memory, the other is recalling sound pitches. Able to play a piece from memory you can focus on other aspects of playing include dynamics, articulations, phrasing & making a piece flow.

Most can read slow pieces and some feel less nervous playing the right notes with the score around. I’m used to memorizing pieces that a 2-page piece at an intermediate level would be in my head after a 2-week practice. I can easily play easy pieces on a public piano without having to carry papers around. And there are the PDFs on a phone or tablet just in case.

Some people are able to recall a piece sufficiently to write down the notes on paper. The pieces I learned usually stay in my head for a month before I need to relearn it. Some pieces like Happy Birthday comes in handy at a party when you can play an easy arrangement off your head.

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Initial memorizing:
- Use as many senses as possible: analysis, hearing, hand position, movement of hands from one place to another. Do not rely on just muscle memory, as it is the least reliable.

Once memorized, use spaced retrieval to increase retention. Below is a link to a general article, but I know there are references in music articles/blogs as well

https://biznessprofessionals.com/how-to-use-spaced-repetition-to-remember/


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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Space repetition for learning foreign languages is definitely a plus.

There are some types of pieces like a Bach fugue would be difficult to learn whether you read the score or play from memory. The many overlapping parts are not easy just working out the fingerings & playing the piece with flowing lines. Some pieces like the French Suite #3 Sarabande it's the same 16th notes all the thru so all you need to learn are the notes. The counting is straightforward.

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Thanks for the link! I need some time to present in detail the process from personal experience, and how it does not work because of the information overload that puts the focus on it recollection - at the expense of performance in real time.
There is also an internal link to the description of the Zeigarnik Effect; and I suddenly discovered that it didn't work for me most of the time. Didn't find any mention of this on the net ...

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Having just turned 64, my sympathies, Colonel Bogey. I started as a beginner only 1.5 years ago, so I'm playing very simple pieces, but I'm dismayed by how little short term memory I have! I've managed to memorize 5-6 that I can now play "by heart," which I collectively refer to as "my repertoire," but I was only able to memorize them after playing them a zillion times and playing them every single day, even if only only once per day. Most of the songs I've learned in my 1.5 years I simply can't play because I couldn't keep practicing so many songs. But I do find there is a "click" point after hours of practice when the piece starts to gel and I can repeatedly play it with only minor mistakes. But there 's a lot of frustration before that click point! I'm trying to take a more Zen approach which means: 1) not complaining to my teacher about how little progress I'm making, 2) trying to accept that the initial stages of trying to learn a piece are both required and should be interesting.

Piano World folks: How do you deal with frustration?

Last edited by Emily R; 03/21/21 06:42 PM.

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Originally Posted by Emily R
Piano World folks: How do you deal with frustration?

Develop patience. Know that it is going to take time, and just settle in for the long haul. Find something every day that gives you pleasure in making music, however small. Set realistic goals that you can reach.

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Originally Posted by Emily R
Piano World folks: How do you deal with frustration?
I tell myself I'm going to finish learning a piece before I sleep, and then keep trying until I drop. Surprisingly effective grin

Sometimes, I sit in a room, frustrated, with a sheet of music, and tell myself I'm going to memorize it right there from the score. I never manage to get the whole thing down, but I can memorize 4-8 bars, and that somehow spurs me on to work again at the piano.

That said, I'm okay when it comes to memorization -- people have told me I'm not bad at it. I think part of what developed my ability to memorize was playing a lot of tunes by ear, and working on reproducing music from memory.

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Do people feel they learn a new piece better in the morning? Evening? Or during the day? Would you rather do all the learning in the morning and during the day and leave the evening for refreshing the materials you already learned when you're tired?

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Do people feel they learn a new piece better in the morning? Evening? Or during the day? Would you rather do all the learning in the morning and during the day and leave the evening for refreshing the materials you already learned when you're tired?

I'm an early riser, a morning person, and retired. I'm also a big fan of the two-a-day. I learn best in the morning, so I practice an hour very early. Then another hour after the evening meal.

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I typically have two practice sessions per day, one very early morning and then another late afternoon, early evening. I can't say that I learn better in the morning vs evening though.


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I learn best in the mid- to late afternoon, the most awkward time of day to practice if you work to full-time.


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I'm away from home visiting relatives. I'm connecting with the piano teacher back home once a week through Zoom the usual time in the evening. And I'd practice an hour each day before the time of my meeting with the teacher.

My regular practice was in the evening to accommodate my work hours. I'm in a different time zone but still practice the same time each day. My biological clock still goes by the North American Eastern Standard Time (-5 GMT).

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Originally Posted by Emily R
I'm dismayed by how little short term memory I have! I've managed to memorize 5-6 that I can now play "by heart," [...] Piano World folks: How do you deal with frustration?
Hi Emily! I sympathise. I am only a few years younger than you are, and I was also shocked to find how little memory I have. I have dealt with this frustration by no longer trying to keep pieces as a repertoire - I prefer to spend my time practising new pieces instead. I have made a book of my favourite pieces, so it'll be easy to find them back again. I reckon that in maybe five more years my piano playing will have progressed enough so it won't be a lot of work to learn those pieces again. By that time, they are easy pieces! smile So once I have made a recording of a piece that I am happy with, I let it go.


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I can absolutely relate to this. I used to play when I was 15 to 20; after playing say a 2 part invention for 10 days it came absolutely memorized to me with no effort at all. Just couldn't avoid memorizing it.

Now back to the piano having retired at 65 I find that the same 2 pages take me some 2 months to memorize. And to add insult to the injury I find that those pieces I learned when I was 20 come to my mind more readily that those I just learned now.

Contrary to some post before most of classical performers do NOT read the score, they play by memory.

Having to read the score is a major limitation; difficult passages need you to look at your hands, so there you are. Either you look at your hands at the very risk of mistaking notes or look at the score at the very risk of mistaking notes for another reason.

It's a major pain and unfortunately you have to accept it.

The only thing I do to mitigate: I memorize the difficult passages right from the start. At first reading I realize there's some 2/3 bars that will get me in trouble later on. So i make a conscious, deliberate effort to memorize those. The rest i sight read it. There's no special technique that I found here. Just play over and over until it sticks. My daughter has studied neuro sciences and explained this to me: as you get older your brain / memory loses plasticity. so to make an impression you need to press more and more for the impression to stick.

This helps mitigate like I said the problem, not a solution though and I don't think there will be one.

All this applies to classical music; as I also play jazz tunes from time to time this is much easier. You need to memorize the harmony in essence which for me is so much simpler.

Enjoy !

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Whether a piece is easy to memorize depends on low long it is and how much of the material gets repeated.

A few months ago I played an easy arrangement of the "Moonlight Serenade" on a public piano. The piece is around 2 1/2 min. It has a few LH jumps but not a lot to learn. Once a friend of the family brought 2 kids who were in Suzuki piano & violin to our place. They played "Minuet in G" from the Anna M Notebook from memory with portable instruments in our living room. It's a piece that is barely 2 min. If they played the top & bottom repeats it's just the 2 sections played 2x. A common church hymn you'd play the same 4 lines 4x. You're just learning 4 lines.

Further back I joined a group of amateur musicians in the violin section playing the Ravel Bolero with a local orchestra. It's a piece you don't really need to put a lot of effort to memorize. Whether you read the score or not, by the time you play the same lines 5x, the tune just stays in your head.

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