Memorizing: advantages when performing - Advantages of performing from memory

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Apr 21, 2006 12:06 pm

How about the students who memorize quickly- or almost - and then cannot find their place in the music when get stuck? Also memorize the notes, but not the dynamics and then don't want to look back at the music to find them? Of course, there is unmemorizing a mistake!

:p

Joan
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Apr 21, 2006 3:44 pm

Joan that's almost always 'muscle' or kinesthetic memory. The tipoff is always when a slip comes and they have to go all the way back to the beginning to get started again.

Tell them this true story: at the Moscow Conservatory (at least back when my teacher Mme. Conus was there) they would put the student in a room with NO piano, give him some staff paper, and have him write out the entire composition--notes, dynamics, tempos and all!

Dr. Glad-I-Wasn't-a-Russian.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:00 pm

I"m glad I wasn't either! I could not do that.

Some of the students do 'want' to go back to the beginning but I frown on that. I have them pick it up, if not on the exact spot of the problem, then at least at a theme change or other 'anchor points'.

Joan
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:02 pm

PS Is muscle memory bad?
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Postby Stretto » Fri Apr 21, 2006 7:42 pm

I have one student right now and others in the past who can pretty much have a piece of music memorized almost right away without having to work at memorizing much. Is this what you were talking about, loveapiano? These are the students who seem to have more of a natural ability to play by ear and the same one's who want to look down at their hands to learn a piece rather than play looking at the music.

So I'm not sure how well these students really have the written music memorized because they are more likely picking it up by ear as they go.




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Apr 22, 2006 8:07 am

Loveapiano:

Oh, no, I never meant to say muscle memory is bad--it's absolutely essential, and perhaps the strongest kind of memory we have. But it's risky to rely solely on that, because nerves, distractions, different pianos and so forth cause alterations in the familiar 'feel' of things.

Dr. Barth told me it was a good idea to memorize four ways: muscle memory, ear, visualizing the page, and visualizing the keyboard. And of course they all interpenetrate each other a lot in the total experience.

Stretto:

You can devise simple tests to check students' memories. Just a casual thing like asking, "What fingering are you using at that place?" I absolutely guarantee you won't get a straight verbal answer; the student will first have to fumble around, find the place, and play it before they can tell you.

Another thing I invariably catch students on when I've been asked to do a masterclass for other teachers: simply say, "What is the tempo mark at the beginning of this piece?" Or, "What's the time signature? What's the dynamic level marked here? Where does this crescendo begin and end?" Once I asked a hotshot kid with fast fingers, "The indication here is 'leggierissimo'--what does that mean?" He was banging away full forte, having never bothered to find out that the passage was supposed to be played very lightly.

Students often tend to memorize only the notes--never mind all the other stuff the composer has put there to tell you how he wants you to play it (sometimes I get sarcastic and ask, "Do you think all that is extra ink the printer happened to have left over?"). It's been my experience that this sloppy habit is so common that when you call them on it they (and even some teachers) look at you like you were an impossibly demanding Godfather--and these things are elementary!! You either know what's on the page or you don't, and the tempo, touch and dynamic markings are all part of what should be memorized--plus, they are NOT part of the muscle memory--they have to be in your head.

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Postby minorkey » Sat Apr 22, 2006 11:48 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:Dr. Barth told me it was a good idea to memorize four ways: muscle memory, ear, visualizing the page, and visualizing the keyboard. And of course they all interpenetrate each other a lot in the total experience.

That's exactly what I have been doing, without realizing it! When one type of memory momentarily fails me, another type often kicks in. And because I spend a lot of time looking at the printed page before attempting to play by memory, I believe I remember the dynamics better.
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:03 pm

DR. B.
Your reply to Stretto was just as informative to me.

I will try to question more - as to fingering and tempo. I do ask sometimes, on page 2 when the rhythm is off - what is the time signature or what key are you playing in, when the B flat seems forgotten. I do not think my students could recall the fingering- the tempo maybe (especially as many of my students are into "Fast".

The students who memorize fast, as Stretto mentioned, do not memorize the dymanics and then have a hard time going back to do it. They are using their ear, but not solely, as I have watched them work out the notes.

Thanks for the ideas. I will let you know how it goes.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:11 pm

PS

I do go over all the markings at the start of a new piece. I have small musical dictionaries next to the piano and ask the student to look them up. I think they remember it better. They can write it in the music if they want to remember it better. We look and play the piece and circle any spots like fingering that may need attention. The quick memorizers are busy working on the notes and rhythm and other things seem to get forgotten.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Apr 23, 2006 3:41 pm

Great! I used to make my university piano majors look up every marking and write the translations on their music before I would even hear it the first time.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Apr 24, 2006 9:02 am

Good to know I am doing something right. Actually, while they are looking up a word, I can write in their lesson books.

That brings up another question - how much should you write? I do not think my students read it most of the time, although I continually half-joke with them about it. "Oh, I didn't see that" "Did you read your lesson book?"

I notice that my granddaughter's teacher write VERY little in her book..as "polish this" or "right hand alone first".

I go into more detail and write in the music sometimes as well.

Joan

:p
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Apr 24, 2006 12:46 pm

I once had a student who invariably ignored what I wrote in her music. So at one lesson I wrote, "When you see this, call me", and put down my phone number. Of course she never did, and when I pointed it out at the next lesson she got mad.

Did it cure her? Oh, maybe partly. She was one of those people who was a law unto herself.

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Postby Stretto » Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:36 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:I once had a student who invariably ignored what I wrote in her music. So at one lesson I wrote, "When you see this, call me", and put down my phone number. Of course she never did, and when I pointed it out at the next lesson she got mad.

Did it cure her? Oh, maybe partly. She was one of those people who was a law unto herself.

Bill L.

Well, I've had a few "law-unto-themselves" students so I don't feel so bad now.

My students look at directions more if actually written on their music than if it's written on an assignment sheet somewhere which they tend not to look at from my experience. I haven't done it much but should, maybe having them write in a direction or make a note themselves would make them remember better. Only when allowed to do so, they have a knack for using writing something out as a good time waster at the lesson by almost purposely taking a while to do so. But they probably remember it better if they have written it themselves.

One thing I do instead of writing all over the music is I pick two things I would like them to work on the most for the week, for example, "expression" and "evenness in 16th note runs" and write those short and simple on a bright sticky note and plaster it in the middle of the page on their music.

I also started lately using those old-fashioned foil stars (they are new to kids now!). I put a red star at a goal I think they can reach, first r.h. and l.h. for a portion gets separate stars, then when that's mastered, the red star gets covered in a gold star showing it's been learned. Then I do the same thing again for both hands. I didn't think anyone cared about this system so I quit doing it and suddenly, they all started asking, "aren't I going to get a star for this part?" One girl had a lot of gold stars at different sections and said, "that looks so cool, all those stars!"

I had considered using highlighters before too but haven't much. With one student a couple weeks ago, we were trying to come up with an idea to mark something so she'd remember and I mentioned the highlighter idea. She got really carried away and after two weeks, practically the whole piece is wildly highlighted in pink without much rhyme or reason to me probably not to her either. But she had the parts so far learned pretty well so I guess that's what matters. We talked about next time maybe using different colors and highlighting in a seperate color each different part that repeats.

The thing I dislike myself about too much written is, especially on a difficult spot is that when I began coming up to that spot, I see all this writing, red is the worst, and a flag comes up in my mind, "oh, no here comes that spot!" and I start to "worry" before I get there because I see all this writing. So it's better for me and what I do with my students too is once the difficult spots are learned well, I erase what's written so it looks just like any ordinary part of the music. So too much written in can become a distraction. I try to write only fingering and that's about it.

The only time I like a lot written in is when I want to look back at a piece learned in the past and review what my old teacher's wrote about my playing. Then I get disgusted if there's not much written!
:p




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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Apr 24, 2006 4:25 pm

I have nice young students!

I love your idea about the stars. Not sure exactly what they are- I will check out the stores. I think that could help reach the goals.

I think I will try the sticky papers - that should get their attention! I have used some little 'arrows' to stick on spots and always move or remove when the spot is learned. I too, erase and I never use red. I have erasable colored pencils and use green and blue mostly.

I do find that when the students write in their music or their book, it means more. One 8 year old loves to write in her lesson and she can do most of it while her sister has her lesson.

Thanks, Joan :D
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Apr 24, 2006 4:28 pm

PS I may try the "call me" just for fun, with a couple of students. I will make a big point of reading the lesson book first. I don't think they will get mad - I might get moe frustrated, but such is the life of a teacher!
Thanks Dr. Bill

:p

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