Memorization Misery

Category: Practice and Performance

Day 36: Memorizing LyricsI’m out of the memorization game. WAY out. When I was taking my RCM examinations (15 years ago), I counted the pages of music that I needed to memorize for my Grade 10 exam… 119 pages.  This was when I was 18… now that I’m in my 30’s it doesn’t seem to be coming to me so easily – or did it ever?

A few months ago I realized that I have very few pieces committed to memory. This can be a problem when you are visiting a faraway palace and the queen wants entertainment. You sit down at the piano and.. draw a blank. Or in my case, you play the opening section of Für Elise over and over again until someone starts clapping so boisterously that you become convinced that you are finished. But seriously – when you play the piano, sometimes people expect you to be able to play from memory.

So starts my latest journey in memorization. So far I’ve experienced a lot of frustration, I’ve banged my head on the piano a few times, and I’ve stared dejectedly at sheet music for minutes at a time without blinking.

Before I descend into utter despair, I’m going to brush up on some tips and tricks I can use to help me memorize:

1) Use your brain! Don’t rely on the memory of your fingers. Your fingers will fail you at the most inopportune moment, and you need a back-up plan. Deliberately memorize chord progressions, fancy melodic passages, and accidentals. Remember them in your brain – “Oh yes, after this chord there is the F chord in the left hand but there is an A flat accidental in it..”

2) Start at the outset with the intention of memorizing the piece. Too late for me, as I have already learned a few pieces that now I would like to commit to memory. The next new piece I learn I will start memorizing it the first time I play it through.

3) Know the form. I haven’t covered the concept of musical form yet, but suffice it to say that form is the basic overall structure that a piece takes. Do passages repeat themselves? Is there a section with a different key signature? Commit these structural sign posts to memory.

4) Know the melody. Often memorizing the right hand is easier than the left. Why? Because the right hand usually carries the melody. Even if I don’t know where the next note is, I can guess based on the melody in my mind. If only that worked for the left-hand too.

5) To start, play with the music in front of you – but don’t peek! First see how far you can get without looking at the music. If you get stuck, look at the music for a second for a hint and then keep going from memory.

6) Memorize phrase by phrase. Then put the phrases together. When you make a mistake or can’t remember, start again.

7) Identify multiple starting points in your music. That way when a mental slip occurs (and it will), you have somewhere where you can pick up again without reiterating the same section. (Reiterating the same section over and over again can become very frustrating  – especially when you have a consistent memory block.)

8) Study the music without playing. Read it like you would read a book, playing the notes with your mental fingers and listening to them in your mind. Read it and read it again.

Time for me to start practicing!

Posted on December 24th, 2013 by sharlene


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