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I am 67. I got back to piano playing 4 years ago after many decades of non playing.

I used to have an excellent memory, both musically as well as professionally. As age progressed I realized my short term memory was deteriorating. No particular worries, it's physiological I am told. Still, not rationally, when I got back to playing I thought this would not apply to musical memory. Not the case.

Now I am studying a Mozart Sonata, KV280; it's 12 pages of music, not particularly difficult. After 2 month, 2hrs a day, I have it memorized almost fully, say 90% of it. Back in my younger age it would have taken me maybe 2 weeks.

I'd like to share this experience with others. Guys of my age or around it. Do you have difficulties memorizing music ? How difficult ? Would you share your experiences, I'd love to get a feeling of how this problem relates to my peers.

Thanks a lot,

Mark.

Last edited by marklings; 01/24/22 07:49 AM.
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Hi Mark,

I am little older than you - 80 next month - started at the age of 7, reached quite a high level by age of 11 and played a lot until around 20, but never memorised anything - lots of reasons, long story. After a gap of roughly 40 years came back and decided I must do something about this as it was always embarrassing not being able to play anything without the score. Wasn't able to actually do that much for the first 15 years for various reasons, getting back piano 'fitness' being one of them. But then finding out that the reason for not being able to play K545 evenly was down to the digital piano action, not old age, I got another piano and started to seriously work on pieces, particularly memorising them. Took a couple of years to really get anywhere but have now got about 22 pieces ranging from the simplest Fur Elise up to the Chopin Ballade No 1 - was just working on that this morning - most of which are pretty well memorised. How well I will find out later this summer at Finchcocks.

So getting old need not be the end of memorising if you have the right attitude and work at it, use your strengths and work on your weaknesses and practice - lots and lots and lots of careful practice. The one thing I would add which is of vital importance - a regular sleep routine. That is when you consolidate what you have learnt in the day. [b][/b]


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I was once a bit famous for my memory. I could recall whole conversations that I had had years ago. "You told me this, and then I said that, and then you said this, and I said that."
Now, at 61, sometimes I cannot even remember if I have told someone something, or not yet.

So yes, also my memory is not what it once has been.

Now I was well into my fifties before I started to learn to play the piano. In the beginning, encouraged by others, I memorised a couple of pieces. These were very simple Beginners' pieces, 16 measures per piece. A couple of months later, the memorised pieces were just as forgotten as the pieces that I had never tried to memorise. And that is when I realised that memorising the score was simply not worth the time and effort for me.


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Originally Posted by Colin Miles
So getting old need not be the end of memorising if you have the right attitude and work at it

I believe this really hits the nail on the head. Specifically I would say that having unwavering faith in your own ability is the most pivotal aspect of all.

I did not memorize much of anything until about five years ago (when I took up piano playing "for real"), so I don't have anything to compare it to. But memorizing 12 pages of Mozart in two months is far beyond what I (in my mid-fifties) achieve these days (albeit I only dedicate some 10-15 minutes a day to memorizing new material). I would be thrilled to add 12 pages per two months of work.


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I've never had a good memory for anything - not numbers, not words, not names or faces. And certainly not music. Often, people recognize me and call my name, yet I can't recall ever seeing them before, or if their faces look vaguely familiar, I can't remember their names. (I'm pretty good at holding 'conversations' with people who know everything about me but whom I can't remember anything thing about them, simply by keeping mostly quiet and prompting them every now and then, by repeating something they'd just said wink .) As for birthdays, I have a hard enough time remembering my own - most years, I only realize I'm a year older a few weeks or months after my birthday had gone, or when I have to fill in my details on a form. Just as well I never celebrate birthdays......

Luckily, with piano, I never had to play anything from memory (except for my performance diploma exam in my teens), so I didn't: when I saw a piano somewhere and wanted to play it, I just played bits of pieces that I could vaguely recall (from having played them so often), and joined them up with my own improv. So, something like a mash-up of music ranging from Bach's Goldberg and Scarlatti sonatas all the way to Bartók and beyond (the atonal stuff beyond are of course my improv - and they sound better than Cecil Taylor's wink ), but there would also be a complete first movement K545, simply because I used it as my warm-up piece for years and it just somehow got into my fingers permanently.

Then, a decade ago in my old age, I started a monthly recital series for non-musical audiences (I'm now a decade older than when I was old), and realized I had to play everything from memory, because I couldn't hope to inspire punters to get interested in classical music if they saw me, the only classical musician they've ever seen in the flesh, stutter/stop every time I have to take a hand away from the keyboard to turn the page - and I was playing mostly pieces that kept both hands busy with no respite (which is the stuff I enjoyed playing). Starting to memorize music from scratch, starting with very familiar pieces that I'd played since I was a kid, took a lot of dedicated effort and time. Memorize a 12-page Classical sonata? Think 6 months before it's secure enough in my memory to be performable in public. It's fast pieces that keep both hands busy which are easiest to memorize (because it's mostly 'muscle memory'), so it's a good thing they are the pieces I enjoy playing. Most slow dirge-like pieces bore me and I can never keep them memorized for long, and I often end up playing them mostly by ear, not always all the right notes in the right order as in the score, usually because my fingerings never got securely established - when you have several choices, all of which are equally comfortable because the piece is slow & easy (not to mention easily sight-readable), you have a hard time sticking to one and remembering it, which you have to if you want to play securely from memory. Though the melody and harmony would be as advertised, the actual notes might not always be wink ......so I usually refrain from ever performing them in recital (though I might play them for fun or on request on public pianos etc). Luckily, no-one comes to my recitals expecting to hear Chopin nocturnes (they get etudes, waltzes, maybe a scherzo etc instead). They hear lots of thrills and nice melodies & harmonies, but at most, a couple of short slowish pieces that they can relax to.....

Ten years on, I have about 150 minutes of classical pieces memorized, of which 2/3 are recital-ready. But it's hard work keeping them in my memory, and I have to keep working at it. I suspect I might have reached my memory bank limit of about 1 KB....... cry


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I'm in my upper seventies and have the same difficulties remembering passages. My teacher keeps telling me brilliant strategies to memorize passages - but ...

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I went back to school at 62 to get a piano performance degree - most of you know all about that, so I won't cover the details. But I had to memorize almost everything and perform from memory. It was tough, but I learned how to do it. Or I should say that I learned what works for me. Now I am 68, and it's been a couple of years since I graduated. I still memorize some things, but not everything. More often, I will memorize passages and use the music for everything else. I use an ipad and a bluetooth pedal, so no problem turning pages in public. I belong to a couple of piano groups, so I play for them at least once a month, and participate in at least one formal recital every year.

I have short term memory problems too - go out to the garage to get something, and by the time I get there I have forgotten what I wanted. Repetition and reinforcement work well for me to memorize music now.

It's a constant process of adapting as I get older. Some things take twice as long as before, but that's OK - at least I am still trying!

Sam


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Originally Posted by Animisha
Now I was well into my fifties before I started to learn to play the piano. In the beginning, encouraged by others, I memorised a couple of pieces. These were very simple Beginners' pieces, 16 measures per piece. A couple of months later, the memorised pieces were just as forgotten as the pieces that I had never tried to memorise. And that is when I realised that memorising the score was simply not worth the time and effort for me.
That sucks, and is something I'm afraid of happening in the future. I think that understanding the theory behind the music can get you quite fast in terms of solidifying memory. I think it can be improved with practice, and maintained into relatively old age if you don't lose touch over the years.

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I played violin in high school and would memorize just about every piece the students had to perform at the year end recital for the parents. When I got into piano, I was a poor sight-reader. I'd learn pieces in small chunks and memorize them before playing in front of people. It's a slow process. In the beginning I can learn up to 3 short pieces at a time. Once I learned the 1st movement of the Bach Italian Concerto in F and played it at a Christmas gathering. It's barely 4 min. long with scale runs in the middle. A few years ago I played a piano arrangement of the Shostakovich Waltz #2 in Cm from memory in front of a friend.

There are 2 kinds of memory: learning the notes & muscle memory where you repeat something over until your fingers are on autopilot. I'd be tracking my hand positions without thinking about the notes & chords I'm playing. Most pieces (Classical, Jazz or Pop) have repetitions such as repeating the theme in different ways, similar passages in different keys, the same beat patterns, etc. For a 5 min. piece I'm not actually learning 5 min. of materials with a lot of repeated phrases in between.

In the first few years I didn't have a teacher and relied on memory to learn pieces on my own. Once I got a teacher, new pieces started piling up. I had to practice improving my reading. My reading is better than in the beginning but still not where I want to be. My focus is on reading so that I can learn new pieces faster. I still memorize the longer and more challenging ones but I'm getting better at reading pieces at an intermediate level. I'm not at 60 yet and not at the point of losing my memory (dementia).

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
I'm not at 60 yet and not at the point of losing my memory (dementia).

Luckily losing memory and dementia is not the same thing. Everyone loses short term memory, just natural although unfortunate, but not everyone gets dementia !

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When my father retired, he tried to get back to playing an accordion that has been in storage for years. He hasn't gone far enough to play interesting pieces and wasn't keen to take lessons.

Fast forward 2 decades he is diagnosed with dementia. Fortunately mom still have a sharp mind. She was not brought up in a musical family and not into music. She is very much a person who is good with numbers and keep track of her finances into her 90s. I got into playing music for an hour a day to keep my mind sharp. I don't want to be like my father who watches the news 5x/day and can't recall any of the details. Over a decade into retirement I'm pushing myself to learn new pieces. Hopefully when I get to his age I won't be suffering memory loss as severely.

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Oddly, this topic came up just last weekend while I was out birding with a friend, a good pianist, who sadly noted that she can no longer memorize music: “I just can’t do it anymore”.

On Sunday, thinking about her comment, I looked online to see what research there was about this ‘musical memory decline’ and along with various interesting sites, I stumbled on a brief book about *research-validated strategies* for memorizing music, written by a learning/developmental PhD who has transitioned her career to work exclusively with musicians.

I finished the Kindle book in one day (short, as I noted)— I enjoyed it, although her particular community is “pipers” (bagpipes, drummers). She plays guitar and drums herself and has a degree in music, along with her doctorate as a learning specialist. Interesting gal!

Her main thesis is that almost no one has been properly TRAINED in the most effective strategies for memorization, although these techniques and strategies are exceedingly well-known in the research and ‘memory championship’ communities. So she’s made it her latest life mission to get the word out to musicians… of all ages!

Like so many of you, I have no particular reason or interest in memorizing music but read the book so I could (perhaps) help out a friend— and also because I’m just curious about our minds, brain function, learning.

But if any of you are interested in this work, here’s the link— I went for the $10 option, which seemed like the right price for this quick but helpful overview:

https://www.amazon.com/Strategies-Learning-Memorising-Jumping-Musical-ebook/dp/B07SRG22NF/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1642362396&refinements=p_27%3AStephanie+Burns&s=digital-text&sr=1-1&text=Stephanie+Burns

Again, it’s written for PIPERS not pianists, so if that’s going to bother you a bit, just ignore the book. I certainly learned some new musical vocabulary! (“… wait, a what??”), in between griping under my breath a little about “well, SURE, if you have only ONE line to learn— wouldn’t that be lovely, how nice for you’all” (wink!)

Actually, pipers have all kinds of other musical challenges to contend with, of course, like marching, breath work, and other skills I’m grateful to skip.

Overall, super-interesting book about memory, music, and how to tackle the chore in systematic research-tested way.


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@Sam S: re: “wait, what I was headed here for?”
…. sorry if off-topic for the rest of you. Nerd-alert.

Sam, you might be interested in this article about “The Doorway Effect”, re: forgetting what you were getting from the garage once you get there.

I first read about fascinating ‘doorway effect’ on memory in the recently published book “The Extended Mind: the Power of Thinking Outside the Brain” by Anne Murphy Paul (2021). It’s such an interesting and amazing book that I’ve already bought it for three friends— and am slowly pivoting my work habits/environment as a result of reading it. For example: “prioritize practicing piano AFTER a workout”, as there’s a pronounced 1-2 hour positive effect re: learning new material. But: I digress.

The Scientific American (2011) article is a short, interesting introduction on the doorway effect. Here you go:

“Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget: Scientists measure the "doorway effect," and it supports a novel model of human memory”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-walking-through-doorway-makes-you-forget/


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Originally Posted by ranjit
Originally Posted by Animisha
Now I was well into my fifties before I started to learn to play the piano. In the beginning, encouraged by others, I memorised a couple of pieces. These were very simple Beginners' pieces, 16 measures per piece. A couple of months later, the memorised pieces were just as forgotten as the pieces that I had never tried to memorise. And that is when I realised that memorising the score was simply not worth the time and effort for me.
That sucks, and is something I'm afraid of happening in the future. I think that understanding the theory behind the music can get you quite fast in terms of solidifying memory. I think it can be improved with practice, and maintained into relatively old age if you don't lose touch over the years.

Actually, I am not bothered. As a late starter, I have only so much time to learn to play the piano well enough, and I rather spend it on learning how to play as beautifully and expressively as I can, than on memorising.


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Originally Posted by marklings
I am 67. I got back to piano playing 4 years ago after many decades of non playing.

I used to have an excellent memory, both musically as well as professionally. As age progressed I realized my short term memory was deteriorating. No particular worries, it's physiological I am told. Still, not rationally, when I got back to playing I thought this would not apply to musical memory. Not the case.

Now I am studying a Mozart Sonata, KV280; it's 12 pages of music, not particularly difficult. After 2 month, 2hrs a day, I have it memorized almost fully, say 90% of it. Back in my younger age it would have taken me maybe 2 weeks.
...

The problem is not that you are 67 yrs. old now and losing your short term memory. The problem is that you were off for 40 years and haven't further developed this skill at this level of intensity and so now need to relearn it, plus you're older smile.

If you'd of kept it up you would be close to memorizing just as well now, or maybe even better than you did in your younger years. It is just a guess, but just as likely.

Everything will eventually deteriorate, but less so if we keep up the exercise.

Piano I hear, is great mental exercise for us as we age, and so would be memorizing as it relates to piano.

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Originally Posted by mtb
Her main thesis is that almost no one has been properly TRAINED in the most effective strategies for memorization, although these techniques and strategies are exceedingly well-known in the research and ‘memory championship’ communities. So she’s made it her latest life mission to get the word out to musicians… of all ages!

Mary, that is interesting! Could you share one of those techniques with us? Because, even if I don't memorise whole scores, there are still parts in which I need to look at my hands, and need to memorise part of the score.


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I'll share a different take on this. I've played the flute for decades, since my teens, and never memorized anything because memorization wasn't presented to me as an important skill. Also it's pretty easy to read a single line of music fast enough to play well, and I'm a bit lazy. So I thought I had no ability to memorize instrumental music, though I could remember vocal music.

When I started really studying piano a few years ago, I learned to memorize for the first time, at 60+. I'm not fast at it, but I was surprised that I'm able to do it at all. I used to be amazed that pianists could memorize multiple notes in both hands--but actually I find it easier than memorizing a flute line, because the kinesthetics help you.

I do notice effects of age, in that I don't learn a new vocal line as fast as I did decades back. My favorite explanation for loss of speed with age is that our brains have a lot more stuff to store and sort through (not claiming this is scientific, though!) smile


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Hi all, this is for @Animisha— the rest of you can skip this far-too-long post.

the TL;DR
Your *visual memory* is about one-zillion times stronger and better than your Procedural Memory (“muscle memory”), so focus on Visual Memory techniques first when you need to memorize music.

Use skills/practice in Procedural Memory, Auditory, and Theory (understand the music) to back up your primary work of constructing a Visual Memory of the score.

it sounds pretty dang hard to me, but lots of great testimonials in the book along the lines of “oh.my.god, this is so fast! why did no one ever teach me this technique during my many years of musical training???”. Go figure.

m.


=======

I won’t be able to do a very good job, I’m afraid, Animisha, as the book is a little more “cookbook” than ideas, but the strategies all rotate around the four completely distinct kinds of memory:

Procedural, Visual, Auditory, Cognitive/Theory (understanding, construct framework)

Each has a different series of strategies, for example

1/ procedural - ride a bike, walking, the infamous “muscle memory” of piano practice fame, etc.

….issues:
a. forming PM takes a very high number of repetitions
b. a very slow way of memorizing
c. *extremely* fragile during formation period
d. PM can fail without any notice if even slightly distracted by external event during performance (example). Have to start over from the beginning, or a very clear restart point, as the series of PM steps is ‘shattered’ temporarily

… PM strategies:
our familiar friends: break into small pieces, go very slowly, strive to make no mistakes as you learn (slow down until no mistakes are made), play many many repetitions

2/ visual memory:
the fastest and most reliable memory you can create. Example: remembering your front door, remembering the walk to work, etc.

Most people insist that they can’t create a visual memory of a written musical score (“… just not good at it!”) but only because they have never been taught how to do it systematically and then practiced this memory skill.

Then much of the last part of her book is the step-by-step guidelines on HOW to construct a visual memory, starting with the advice “use this strategy every single day” until you have the method down cold. MUCH of the memory practice can be done away from the piano, says the author.

Constructing a Visual Memory
… the first steps are familiar:

PRELIM
1/ analyze the score.
- Find the tricky bits.
- Find the repeating patterns
…. convince your brain that ‘this is no big deal’ by only highlighting the first time a pattern occurs. “See, this is not so bad!”
- Mark up the patterns & tricky parts with highlighters, circle with colors
2/ note your emotional reaction to the score
3/ learn to play it first - never try to memorize a score you can’t yet play

START TO MEMORIZE
1/ a bit about “anchor” notes for tricky bits
2/ cut up the score into phrase-pieces, paste into your exercise book (or rewrite)
… a bit about sizing the ‘chunks’, skill re: ‘right size’ will build over time
3/ the brain learns DIFFERENCES quickly - figure out a way to make key phrases “stand out”, the weirder the better
4/ rule of thumb: “Spot the Similarities, Remember the Differences”

LOCK IT IN
5/ lots of detail about how to take each little phrase and use the shape of the phrase, the little marks (dynamics, etc.), color notes with pens, memory of the sound (if that’s possible for you), staring at it intently, make it weird somehow, ‘name it’, and, little by little, construct a visual memory, one that you can call up as easily what your front door looks like.

I’m doing a bad job with this, but the idea is that each little study sessions starts by sketching the pattern/phrase with a light pencil line (figuratively) in your brain, but each time you re-focus on it, it’s like copying over the phrase with ever darker pencil and it gets darker and more durable with each attempt.

AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, call up the Visual Memory and play from it (even if only 2-3 bars), exactly as you would play from the paper score

Lots of cautions about how your brain really really doesn’t want to do this work, so it will keep telling you ‘better check the score’. Students share strategies like: put the score in another room, etc.

She says: it’s a 10-min/day practice, and goes on to note that there is 1/learning, 2/memorizing, and 3/maintaining your built-memories of musical scores (much of that time, away from the piano).

She also talks about how to integrate Auditory and Theoretical (an ‘understanding framework’, like: this musical piece is in this key, has these broken chords, four repeats of the main theme, a silly part in the middle, etc.) memory skills into the Visual Memory learning process.

I’ve made this sound like a highly technical book, but it’s more like a chatty, practical, self-published, and very interesting long-form pamphlet.

The 4-5 brief sections of the book hit on key points like: but what about age, this will never work for ME, why bother, how will this make me a better musician, a bit about types of memory and the ‘forgetting curve’, how we learn at the edge of discomfort *only* because our brain is designed to be always on the lookout for shortcuts, you have to Make the Memory, and then you have to practice Retrieving the Memory; and then the Study Guide.


Mary

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Originally Posted by Greener
The problem is not that you are 67 yrs. old now and losing your short term memory. The problem is that you were off for 40 years and haven't further developed this skill at this level of intensity and so now need to relearn it, plus you're older smile.

If you'd of kept it up you would be close to memorizing just as well now, or maybe even better than you did in your younger years. It is just a guess, but just as likely.

Everything will eventually deteriorate, but less so if we keep up the exercise.

Piano I hear, is great mental exercise for us as we age, and so would be memorizing as it relates to piano.
It's the 'use it or lose effect' and I think that once we finish our education we don't practice memorisation of any kind as much as we used. Plus the fact that as we get older our memory hard drive becomes fuller and it takes a bit longer to retrieve information. Put the two together and if you think you aren't as good as you used to be, then you won't be.


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Re: visual memory - I think I'd want to expand to other senses. I'm not visual - I'm auditory-kinesthetic. For a while, when I returned to piano I followed various instructions, and they seem to focus a lot on the visual. Yes, I got a better picture of the piano keys, their patterns, and such. But one day I thought, "Hang on. Piano is a musical instrument. Music is sound. I've always related to the piano as sound and touch. Why now am I going visual with it?" And with that switch, there was a jump.

I can't speak to the memory issue. I related to music so differently years ago, and have such different strategies, that if there is a loss in the ability to memory, I've not noticed it. Turning 68 soon.

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by skern49 - 08/09/22 11:13 PM
Help choosing piano for advanced student
by mazeroth - 08/09/22 11:02 PM
Help choosing piano for advanced student
by mazeroth - 08/09/22 10:56 PM
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