Memorizing - How do you memorize?

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Jun 04, 2004 2:33 pm

I would like to hear some ideas on memorizing.

How do you memorize your music?
Do you have a definite method, or just let it gradually "sink in"?
What do you do to make it stick?
Can memorizing be taught?

Dr. Bill.
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Postby Lyndall » Wed Jun 09, 2004 7:21 pm

Not very easily. In fact I was never encouraged to memorize as a child - can't recall one single piece that I ever played from memory! Isn't that terrible. I wish my teacher & parents had insisted on it.

Now I insist my students do, even the ones who find it hard like I do.

The few pieces I have memorized, I divided into sections - either using the form (Sonata Allegro for my Mozart Sonata 1st mvt) or by melodic themes in a Liszt Consolation.

Then I divided each section into separate melodies if there were more than one.

Then I learned the order of the sections, then joined them together.

If there was a section I always forgot, I looked at the first note/s (an F for example, & came up with a word to help me remember that note e.g. "F for First", meaning the first note in that section is an F. This is basically pneumonics.

Learning the music just in your fingers is unreliable I've found (i.e. letting it sink in). By this I mean by playing it over & over during the learning process, your fingers eventually know where to go next. BUT during times of stress i.e. a performance, this memory is the first to go. You forget one note & your fingers slip into the wrong position & they don't know where to go next because they've lost their reference point.

To overcome this, I've found you need to analyze the music (chord structure, keys etc). You should know that certain sections are in certain keys & know when you're modulating. If you know a phrase is made up of the Db major chord, it's easier to memorize (for me anyway).

Also, memorize certain points which can be used to start over should the need arise. E.g. learn to start from the beginning of each theme so if you mess up part way through a theme & can't carry on, you can always just begin the 'B' section again.


I thoroughly believe memory can be taught using some of the above ideas. There are probably tons more but I've never been taught them. Yet. I'm open to see what everyone else does though.
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Postby 81-1074658942 » Thu Jun 10, 2004 12:07 am

I was never made to memorise until about a year ago either! Now it's the first thing I do when I'm learning a piece.

I always break it up into sections, and then break those down into even smaller sections until it's manageable. Then I analyze the section. I look for all of the patterns that I can possibly find. Usually they aren't too hard to spot, and they make the whole process much easier.

Then I break down that little section even more and listen to the different voices. I usually end up siging a bit at this point. Once I have it in my brain, I work it into my hands by playing the section until I'm comfortable with it.

After I've gotten a few pages or the whole piece, I go back and try to start in random places. I have a hard time with nerves, so this is really helpful. If I find a place where I can't just start, I find some sort of memory device so that I can start there.

These are all things that my teacher has taught me, and that I've gottn really comfortable with over the past year.

I've known a lot of very good pianists and even some music majors that have told me that the best way to memorise was just to play the piece over and over. I guess that works for them, but I just can't learn things like that! And then I get too bored and tired to concentrate, and it just falls apart.

But at any rate, memorisation has gotten MUCH easier since I've learned how to go about it!
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Thu Jun 10, 2004 4:55 am

When I started piano lessons a few years back, my ability to read music was virtually nil. Therefore as I would learn to play a new piece of music, it would not take very long before I could play the piece faster than I could read. This meant that I had to memorize the piece in order to make any gains in tempo.

This went on for a couple of years before my teacher realized that my reading was absolutely terrible. I don’t think that she realized that I was memorizing as much as I was. She then had me work extra on the reading portion, and that has helped me a great deal. My reading is now much better.

The only problem with all of this, is I have had a complete turn around. I am not comfortable playing without the sheet music in front of me. Even though I have memorized the piece, the score acts as my security blanket.

You asked what methods are used to memorize, and I have to say that so far I have memorized strictly through osmosis. ( Play the piece enough times and it sticks with me)

I am glad you brought this subject up. After thinking about it, I realize I am going to have to wean myself sooner or later.

The Article by Amy Yamane is worth looking at.

Memorizing Music for Performance

:D




Edited By AFlat on 1086864991
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Postby Lyndall » Sun Jun 13, 2004 5:02 pm

Quidam, for one long (9 page) Sonata I'm going to basically do the same as you - memorize as I learn it. I know that by the time I'm done learning it, I won't feel the slightest bit like attempting to turn around memorize it from the start page-by-page. It's working so far, I've got the first page down.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jun 14, 2004 2:13 pm

Really good comments here--let's keep it up!

It IS very important not to rely just on learning by "feel" (Kinesthetic Memory is the fancy name for it). It's a major part of the memory process, certainly, but often we don't realize that when you memorize the notes, you're also memorizing the feel and sound of a certain piano, the acoustics of the room where you practice, the atmosphere, even the smell and the temperature. Then you get onstage or in a lesson and the piano feels and sounds different and so does everything else--add a few nerves and the memory goes blooey, because the original "feel" is not there. You have to have conscious mental cues on hand as well.

Dr. Bill
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Postby Ursie » Mon Jun 14, 2004 2:59 pm

Since starting to prepare pieces for the performing diploma I'm sort of planning to do my teacher has encouraged me to memorise pieces as I learn them (e.g. phrase by phrase or bar by bar whatever works for you) rather than memorising by simply playing them over and over and over. So far I've memorised Debussy's first Arabesque and Brahms Intermezzo (Op118 No.2). By analysing the music for chords, scale patterns, arpeggios, where the tune is etc. this method is proving very successful for me (and I was quite speedy once I set my mind to it), so for me I would be inclined to agree with Lyndall - and by doing it this way you do give yourself reference points throughout the music that you can swiftly go to if you forget. Of course, the real work begins once you have the piece memorised but having done so makes the music easier to work with.

But (isn't there always one :;): ) my problem is that I still have other pieces to learn to play from memory, my list is:-
Haydn - Andante Con Variazioni
Albeniz - El Puerto from Iberia
Ravel - Sonatine

Now, should I approach all of these in the same way as Debussy and Brahms. It is without a doubt very hard work, sometimes very slow and can be quite exhausting.

I would be interested to hear how many pieces others memorise at one time. For instance do you pick one piece and work on that one until its done or do you work on a little bit of this one, and a little bit of that one - and so after a period of time you have suddenly have quite a few memorised.

Apologies for the length of this post :D
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Jun 15, 2004 2:31 pm

Ursie:

Dr. Hans Barth told me many years ago that there are four ways to memorize: visualizing the printed page, visualizing the keyboard, muscle memory or 'feel', and remembering the sound. He said if you can use them all you'll always have three to fall back on if one fails.

Mme. Conus, who studied at the Moscow Conservatory, said that there they put a student in a room with pen and staff paper but no piano, and have him write his piece down from memory (!!!!).

My own situation has been that as you go on and gain more experience these different elements tend to get blended together. I know that the kinesthetic thing is a very important part of my memory, but before a public performance I always sit down AWAY from the piano and go through the music slowly in my head, visualizing the fingers on the keys (since that's what I'll be seeing on stage). Sectionalizing and having "anchor points" along the way is helpful, too, but each piece tends to divide itself up in its own way, so there's no rigid arrangement.

I also believe very strongly in what Rachmaninoff said once: "We must peer into every corner." With each practice session I find places I haven't yet looked at closely enough--we have to root these out so there are fewer surprises.

Mme. Conus would stop me somewhere in the middle of a piece, talk about something else, and then say, "Start exactly where we stopped." She also sometimes asked me to play just the left hand. There are dozens of tricks we can play on ourselves to test the memory. The best one I know to be sure you're not relying on muscle memory is to go through the piece at a VERY slow tempo.

And if you really want to drive yourself crazy, try playing Bach Two-Part Inventions cross-handed!

Dr. B.
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Postby Lyndall » Wed Jun 16, 2004 9:04 am

I can only focus on one piece at a time to memorize. I will also go several months without attempting to memorize the next piece because I'm so exhausted mentally & often discouraged because I usually discover that I never did learn it as well as I'd hoped!

I wish I'd learned the skill from early on. (Actually it's the same for any kind of education - theory whatever, I have always had a hard time committing info to memory so I've avoided it at all costs). Not what you wanted to hear I know...
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Postby Lyndall » Wed Jun 16, 2004 9:08 am

Dr Bill, the 4 ways to memorize you suggested sound useful. But isn't it an incredible amount of work to have worked on each of these for an entire piece?

I really wish it came eaiser. Don't you feel that actually learning a piece is hard enough - it takes me 4-5 months to get fingerings, familiarity with the notes, up to tempo, dynamics etc. worked out. Then to begin the memory. Or, if I memorize as I go, it takes more like 6 mths+ to learn piece.

I guess it comes down to how much work you want to put into it. I put more time into preparing my students, than into actually preparing myself. I don't practice anywhere near enough each day. This is another topic of course so I'll quit now...
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jun 16, 2004 10:41 am

Yes, you're right--it IS an incredible amount of work. Learning to play the piano well is an incredible amount of work. And every time we get to the top of one peak and peer over it, we're faced with yet another one. But we're hooked on it, aren't we?

You know, when you come right down to it, memorizing is primarily a matter of learning to see patterns and groups of things. In a class, I often write "XZPQT" on the board (or some other meaningless five letters) and say, "Read that." Everybody says, "X, Z, P, Q, T." Then I write "PIANO" and say , "Read THAT." Everybody says "piano", of course. So I say, "Why did you say five things the first time and only one the second?" Obviously it's because the second example is recognized as a group that has a meaning of its own, and you skip the five individual components.

So if you memorize the first example, you have to memorize five things; if you memorize the second, you only have to remember ONE thing. That's exactly what happens in sight reading and memorizing: the more knowledge, experience and understanding of music you have, the more you see groups and patterns, and you take in whole globs of notes at once because they have meaning as larger entities. Then you're actually memorizing fewer and fewer units, and it gets easier over time.

Do you think a good sight reader is mentally spelling out every note of every chord? He's seeing maybe a whole phrase or line at a time. If you read, say, "To be or not to be", or "Mary had a little lamb", you'd see the whole thing at once because it's so familiar. Wouldn't work if you were reading "Finnigan's Wake".

I think the main benefit in studying scales and arpeggios is getting to know the basic melodic and harmonic structures of all the keys. Other than the special thumb motion, they're not the most efficient exercises--heck, they hardly ever use the fifth finger. But memorizing a Clementi or Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven sonata that has a lot of Alberti bass is easier because we can see each left hand group as a block chord--that's one simple example of a pattern: you really only need to know one thing per beat instead of three or four.

Dr. Bill.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
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Postby Ursie » Wed Jun 16, 2004 4:52 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Really good comments here--let's keep it up!

It IS very important not to rely just on learning by "feel" (Kinesthetic Memory is the fancy name for it). It's a major part of the memory process, certainly, but often we don't realize that when you memorize the notes, you're also memorizing the feel and sound of a certain piano, the acoustics of the room where you practice, the atmosphere, even the smell and the temperature. Then you get onstage or in a lesson and the piano feels and sounds different and so does everything else--add a few nerves and the memory goes blooey, because the original "feel" is not there. You have to have conscious mental cues on hand as well.

Dr. Bill

This is exactly what happened to me with my first attempt playing from memory Debussy's Arabesque. Having memorised it (I thought!) we started to look at the 'polishing' of this piece, which led to us deciding that I would play a good deal of it una corde. My piano is very new and playing with the una corde doesn't make a huge difference, more a subtle difference. The day of the workshop arrived and so did my turn to play - but when I started to play with the una corde it sounded very different. I was so taken with the different sound that all I really did was play the notes. It wasn't until about the second page I started to accept the sound - I wasn't happy with it though and this put me off. This was a very good experience for me though and I learned at lot from it. I memorised the piece fairly well, as I was able to continue without stopping, but I hadn't enough experience to adjust really quickly to the change in sound and still deliver a musical performance.
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Postby 80-1091265929 » Mon Aug 02, 2004 2:39 am

hmmm, memorizing, usually the harder pieces i learn take so much practice by the time i can play its memorized, so it's not really a problem, simpler pieces... i tend to remember things i play more than 5 times easily so its not that hard
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