Memorizing: advantages when performing - Advantages of performing from memory

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby Stretto » Sun Mar 26, 2006 11:24 pm

What are the advantages of playing a piece from memory when performing?
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Postby 108-1121887355 » Mon Mar 27, 2006 9:50 am

I think it helps so you can concentrate fully on sound and not worry about looking up at the notes on the printed page. You can put all your emotions into it.

My students begin with rote, so they are looking at the piano and listening; then I have them looking at the music; next if they have memorized pieces, as most do, they are back to the piano again. They can listen to the sounds they are producing and find a way to express themselves through their music.

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Mar 27, 2006 10:50 am

It's a great advantage if you're going to perform in public. I find that it helps to sit away from the piano and go slowly through the piece in my head; some people visualize the page, I visualize the keyboard and fingers because that's what I'll be looking at while I play. If I come to a blank spot I check it out so I can get through every note that way, and that assures me I'm not just relying on muscle memory.

But not memorizing doesn't seem to make much difference when accompanying or playing in a chamber ensemble. The helpful factor there is having the notes to the other parts on your score so you can relate to the whole thing. It would be impossible to accompany a singer, for instance, without having the vocal line and words in front of you; the same is true in a piano/string trio or quartet.

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Postby Beckywy » Mon Mar 27, 2006 12:56 pm

It would be impossible to accompany a singer, for instance, without having the vocal line and words in front of you; the same is true in a piano/string trio or quartet.

That's why I love ensemble work.l
"The real purpose of studying music-to unite ourselves with our special gifts in such a way that one would add strength to the other" Seymour Bernstein
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Postby presto » Wed Apr 05, 2006 2:12 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote: If I come to a blank spot I check it out so I can get through every note that way, and that assures me I'm not just relying on muscle memory.

Bill L.

That's a very important thing to look out for in memorization--muscle memory. You may think you have learned a piece by heart, and you do play it well when you're by yourself and relaxed, but during a performance, all kinds of nervousness can make you do, well...all kinds of second-guessing of yourself or make you feel unsure of what you thought you had down pat. So any "maybe-ish" parts should be thoroughly learned and checked. There's nothing like performing with that kind of calm assurance!
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Apr 05, 2006 4:08 pm

Muscle memory is a very important part of any complex physical activity like we do when we perform, but you can't rely solely on it. For one thing, the feel of the keyboard is going to be different (unless you can drag your own piano around like Horowitz). Then there are a lot of what psychologists call "subliminal cues", meaning that not only the familiar feel of your own piano has been memorized, but so have the sound of the room, the visual background, even familiar smells--they all get tunneled into the memory without our realizing it, and in a strange setting they are disrupted.

That's why I always get students to play their memory work on different pianos in different settings, even if nobody's available to listen. We have to think of everything!

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Postby Christine » Wed Apr 05, 2006 4:51 pm

I really like my students to practice starting and stopping in different spots, from memory, without the score...being able to "pick up" at various places, rather than always from the beginning. I will mark different areas on the score A, B, C, etc. and have them play, from the beginning- then I interrupt them, and ask them to "stop, and now start at C", or other place, and they have to do this without peaking at the music. This way, if they are in a performance, and get completely flustered, they are able to have a spot to "pick-up and go on", rather than having to go back to the beginning.



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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Apr 06, 2006 10:24 am

Christine:

That's a great idea; we calkled them "anchor points".

Mme. Conus used to stop me in the middle of a piece, ask me something completely off the subject, and then say, "Now start right where we stopped."

With advanced students getting ready for a Junior, Senior or Graduate Recital I would sometimes play part of a piece, stop anywhere, and have the student pick it up right at that place.

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Postby Stretto » Thu Apr 06, 2006 12:00 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:With advanced students getting ready for a Junior, Senior or Graduate Recital I would sometimes play part of a piece, stop anywhere, and have the student pick it up right at that place.

B.L.

(Dr. Leland:
Oh my! I'm glad I wasn't one of your students! - just kidding! :) )



I had 4 different teachers before the 5th teacher who was my first piano instructor in college gave me the "anchor point" tip. Otherwise if not for that one teacher advising this, I'd still be starting from the beginning everytime I had a memory slip! Believe me, I have had to go back to those "anchor points" and I'm so glad I learned that as it saves the embarrassment of starting over.

Speaking of memory, I used to be really good at memorizing in school whether it be music or material for tests in school, etc. Now it seems I really struggle to memorize. I guess my mind's turning to mush! Or else it could be it's too "full" of too many other things to keep track of or think about it. When I try to memorize a piece of music, it seems like a daunting and difficult task and doesn't stick with me. Is there something to the "use it or lose it" theory in the area of memorizing? Or are we doomed to have a harder time with memorizing as we get older?




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Apr 07, 2006 7:52 pm

I don't believe in declining abilities like that with age unless there is some organic reason for it. More and more medical evidence is accumulating that older people (like me!) can still do a lot of mental activities that were formerly thought to be susceptible of automatic fading away because of age. My own experience doesn't seem to be any different, at least as far as memorizing music is concerned.

Another thing Mme. Conus used to do once in a while was ask if I'd memorized something, and on my saying "Yes" would then say. "Play the left hand."

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Fri Apr 07, 2006 8:05 pm

Stretto,
I am afraid that age and memory may have a correlation!

I would not want to be Dr. Leland's student either, although in my younger days, my memory was excellent and I could pick up a piece easily.

I have to use this technique more as almost all the students want to go back to the beginning! I often go back to anchor points. Next week, I will try to stop and start at random. I"ll let you know how it goes.

:p


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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Apr 08, 2006 7:12 am

I think as we get older we have to ask ourselves honestly whether diminishing abilities in memory or other mental capabilities is due to age-related decline or just lack of use. After all, we may not be prodded any longer to memorize music or read a textbook or bone up on a subject in order to take a piano lesson, pass a course, get a job, raise a child, or whatever. Maybe we've settled into a repetitive job or family situation or other routine that just doesn't call for that kind of mental effort, but maybe it's all still available if we just had occasion to use it. I think it's the same as with physical activity (including piano technique): have we quit practicing with any regularity, gotten lazy and out of shape, gone to pot? "Use it or lose it" could very well apply to everything, including mental activity, and it seems the medical community is coming around more and more to this view.

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sat Apr 08, 2006 5:33 pm

So, you are saying, I can't use the excuse that I am getting old! Just lazy?

: :p
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Postby Christine » Wed Apr 12, 2006 8:44 am

Hi everyone,

I have a question regarding memorization. I have heard two schools of thought:

(1) Start memorizing a new piece right from the beginning, as you are learning the piece. Rather than spend so much time learning the piece, then going back and "re-learning" it from memory, using a whole new thought process, it is better and faster to combine the steps.

(2) Do not even consider memorization until the piece is completely learned, and at a "performance" level.


For years, I had always done #2, but then it always took forever to "re-learn" a piece from memory, as it seemed to use a whole different "brain" function. I have recently moved to #1, which has been more efficient, and for me, I find is way easier to memorize. I just read a book the other night that advocated "never even attempt memorization until it is learned perfectly". Does anyone have any opinions on this? ???
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Apr 12, 2006 3:29 pm

Whenever and however we work on learning a new piece, we are doing some memorizing as we go along. If this were not so, you would be having the experience of a brand new, unfamiliar sight reading every time you sat down to play it. You are automatically memorizing some elements of the sound, the feel of the notes on the keyboard, and the look of the notes on both the keyboard and the page.

So all we need here is a more inclusive definition of memorizing. We usually confine the term to the achievement of being able to play independently of the printed page, but memorizing really takes place both consciously and unconciously at various levels. By the time we've even gotten to the point where we feel ready to 'memorize' we've already done a lot of it.

So my suggestion is to take advantage of all that and adjust your memorizing to the style and degree of complexity, reading the notes analytically as you work on them, finding the most efficient fingerings, planning your climaxes and dynamic changes--in short, making music! You will then find the final stage of memorizing easier than if you try it right from the beginning.

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