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Strategies for memorizing sheet music (Read 845 times)

Offline kindkaktus

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Strategies for memorizing sheet music
« on: June 14, 2021, 05:35:32 PM »
I've been learning piano for 2 years, so you can call me late beginner. I am trying to approach Mental Play as per Chuan Chang and suggestions in this forum. The first step before starting to practicing the piece in your head is memorizing the score.

For this purpose I took a relatively simple piece, A Little Flower by Gurlitt (Op.205, No.11; attached). I've been working on it for a few weeks but it doesn't stick as easy as I wish it to.

I know it's all about seeing patterns and anticipating how the music develops. I do see LH chords (Bm, F# and inversions thereof), however the progressions of these chords don't make much sense for me, hence I can't derive any patterns from what I see on the score. RH is simpler, that said the only method for me to memorize it is a brute force.

Any suggestions are welcome.

Piano Street's Digital Sheet Music Library

Gurlitt: A Little Flower, opus 205 no 11
piano sheet music of A Little Flower


Offline dogperson

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #1 on: June 14, 2021, 06:37:15 PM »
I don’t agree with this method of memorizing music— as memorizing with more than just muscle memory is needed in order to be retained and involves multiple senses:  how it sounds, where your hands are positioned/how they move from one position to the next, and then analysis.

I do not memorize everything I play but choose what I want to memorize while/after I learn to play it.  The analysis may not be one chord to the next but rather an analysis of the musical changes such as this section is a repeat of the first one or this is a repeat of the first section but now in the minor key. Etc.

For this piece:
LH measures 2-6 repeats in measures 9-14, then again at measure 25

Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #2 on: June 14, 2021, 06:54:49 PM »
How long would it normally take you to learn the piece? If you can memorize the notes at the keyboard in a day, then I think you might try to learn it completely using the score instead, as a challenge. But, I do not think that practicing only mentally works for most people. You need to have really good musical imagination. Do you listen to a recording? I think it becomes much easier that way, unless you have perfect pitch/an exceptionally good ear, and can just audiate all of the notes off the page, which is a rare ability.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #3 on: June 14, 2021, 06:56:09 PM »
You'll also need to know some more advanced harmony. The third chord is a secondary dominant, a V/ii, for example.

Offline kindkaktus

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #4 on: June 14, 2021, 07:10:33 PM »
You'll also need to know some more advanced harmony. The third chord is a secondary dominant, a V/ii, for example.

These are the keywords I was looking for. Do you think learning that sort of stuff is appropriate for my level? I am currently learning pieces from ABRSM level 3 difficulty and my knowledge of music theory is quite basic.

Offline dogperson

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #5 on: June 14, 2021, 07:11:36 PM »
You'll also need to know some more advanced harmony. The third chord is a secondary dominant, a V/ii, for example.


I do not agree you need to know advanced  harmony to memorize this.  You can learn and memorize the position of your hands on the keys instead—- and now it sounds. 

Offline kindkaktus

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #6 on: June 14, 2021, 07:17:16 PM »
I don’t agree with this method of memorizing music— as memorizing with more than just muscle memory is needed in order to be retained and involves multiple senses:  how it sounds, where your hands are positioned/how they move from one position to the next, and then analysis.

I do not memorize everything I play but choose what I want to memorize while/after I learn to play it.  The analysis may not be one chord to the next but rather an analysis of the musical changes such as this section is a repeat of the first one or this is a repeat of the first section but now in the minor key. Etc.

That's the way I did before and at the moment I am trying to experiment to find out what suits best for me. Approaching the piece away from piano was suggested by Chang in her "Fundamentals of Piano Practice" and explored by Bernhard in this thread https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=7399.msg74758#msg74758

Offline j_tour

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #7 on: June 15, 2021, 01:02:05 AM »
I do not agree you need to know advanced  harmony to memorize this.  You can learn and memorize the position of your hands on the keys instead—- and now it sounds.

Well, we might disagree on what is and isn't "advanced" harmony.  I certainly find it useful to identify temporary modulations, as kinds of sign-posts, so, whatever such-and-such a composer uses to get there, there's likely a dominant7 or a plagal cadence, however it may be disguised.

Whether it's through an abstraction like RomanNumeralAnalysis, or just knowing the sound, is probably about the same, I guess.

I think I get the same results doing the "Richter Method" (very slow practice) combined with running through the music in my mind's hear, versus an analytic approach.

TBH, even looking at the score away from the keyboard, I'm not necessarily analyzing.  There are so many little augmented sixths and all that, I just take note of those subconsciously.

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Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #8 on: June 15, 2021, 01:28:44 AM »
These are the keywords I was looking for. Do you think learning that sort of stuff is appropriate for my level? I am currently learning pieces from ABRSM level 3 difficulty and my knowledge of music theory is quite basic.
I mean, it really depends on you. I taught myself this stuff in my first year and understood it. I don't see how giving it a try could hurt, it's not like technique where you might be afraid of something screwing up.

Offline getsiegs

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #9 on: June 15, 2021, 02:09:34 AM »
I find it more helpful usually to memorize the chords themselves when I can rather than their function within the key or the theory behind each chord progression. It’s a bit more of a brute force method which might not help you, but it’s always worked for me. Although i do have a good ear which is why i take notes and chords at face value (if that makes any sense) instead of trying to fit them into a bigger harmonic puzzle.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #10 on: June 15, 2021, 02:55:29 AM »
I do see LH chords (Bm, F# and inversions thereof), however the progressions of these chords don't make much sense for me, hence I can't derive any patterns from what I see on the score. RH is simpler, that said the only method for me to memorize it is a brute force.
Why don't you play the LH as held chords, just play the solid chord at the beginning of each bar. This will help you understand the chords you are playing and how they move into one another much easier. When you move from one bar the the next you can question what fingers you replace, what are stuck and how your hand moves.

This peice is quite simple so if you have problems memorizing the LH you really need to understand why and not brute force it since your problems will only get greater as you progress.
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Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #11 on: June 15, 2021, 03:37:28 AM »
For one that has been playing for two years - and having trouble memorizing - by memorizing the score in your head first - I don't think is the right approach. By playing it, one also reinforces musical memory.  So, it would be easiest to memorize this piece in sections - by playing it.
Do you have the first line one memorized yet?
If not, play the first line over and over until you have memorized it. If there are certain spots   in the first line where the memory is failing, practice just those bits, maybe a measure long.
After the first line is memorized , go on to the next line, which is mostly the same, except for the last 2 bars.
Then, after you have the first 2 lines, memorize the 3rd line - following the same steps for memorizing as mentioned for line one. (Play several times, notice certain bits which are not catching, and practice just those bars.)
After memorizing line 3, try playing the first 3 lines - from memory.  If certain bits aren't catching, practice just those bits.
Apply the same logic for lines 4 and 5. (of course, the last 2 bars of line 4 and line 5 is the same passage as on line 2.
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Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #12 on: June 15, 2021, 03:38:49 AM »
OP - Are you asking for tips on how to memorize fast, or how to specifically memorize in the absence of a piano?

Offline kindkaktus

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #13 on: June 15, 2021, 04:09:45 AM »
OP - Are you asking for tips on how to memorize fast, or how to specifically memorize in the absence of a piano?
My point is to learn MP (Mental Play) before even approaching piano. A pre-requisite for an MP is memorizing the piece. Which also happens away from the keyboard.

Listening to this piece before memorizing does help to learn RH, which is a melodic line and is generally simpler. My challenge is the accompanying LH, which looks like an arbitrary sequence of chords to me.

Reading the answers to my question, it sounds that I simply lack necessary theoretical base to be able to memorize pieces this way. This particular piece might not be that hard to brute force, however I can't imagine I can brute-force memorize the Bach's Prelude in C minor (BWV 999) I've been learning at the moment. Does it mean this way of learning a piece is not for me just yet, at least before I learn the harmony and other supporting theory?

Offline kindkaktus

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #14 on: June 15, 2021, 04:40:10 AM »
To make things clear. I noticed that I mostly, if not entirely, rely on my muscle memory when learning pieces. The whole idea for me to learn an MP is to add another type of memory ("keyboard memory") which should let the piece stick better in my head and should let me start anywhere inside the piece, which is a great help for performing.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #15 on: June 15, 2021, 05:17:05 AM »
My point is to learn MP (Mental Play) before even approaching piano. A pre-requisite for an MP is memorizing the piece. Which also happens away from the keyboard.
MP can also use your familiarity with the keyboard, and that is how I do it, personally.

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #16 on: June 15, 2021, 09:47:09 AM »
OP  "My point is to learn MP (Mental Play) before even approaching piano. A pre-requisite for an MP is memorizing the piece. Which also happens away from the keyboard."

Im not sure why you are fixated on this idea - at this point in your development.
But if you are hellbent, it seems the most helpful way to make this 'MP' work for you at this time, would be to memorize a line a time - by first -  writing the line out in your own hand. The act of writing it can really assist the memory. See if that helps you.
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Offline kindkaktus

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #17 on: June 15, 2021, 11:27:29 AM »
OP  "My point is to learn MP (Mental Play) before even approaching piano. A pre-requisite for an MP is memorizing the piece. Which also happens away from the keyboard."

Im not sure why you are fixated on this idea - at this point in your development.
But if you are hellbent, it seems the most helpful way to make this 'MP' work for you at this time, would be to memorize a line a time - by first -  writing the line out in your own hand.

The gotchas like "learn it line-by-line", "spot repititions" are totally valid and I've been using them from the beginning. However you can't get away memorizing more complicated pieces using these generic hooks only. Hence the whole reason for me of posting this to a piano forum is to get a piano-tailored advice.

I see that I lack some qualities which prevents me memorizing this piece in an adequate amount of time. Since I am not aiming at becoming a professtional pianist, I am ultimately looking for someone to point me which 20% skills I need to gain which would give me 80% effect on the matter.

Offline timothy42b

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #18 on: June 15, 2021, 02:17:44 PM »
Unless I missed it, nobody has mentioned listening to it, as many times as necessary until what it sounds like is memorized. 

Then if your goal is improving mental play, you work backwards, transcribing it. 

If your goal is just memorizing from the score, you look at the score, turn away so you can't see it, and play four bars.  Or two, or one note, whatever your capability is at that moment.  Turn back and catch the next section, turn away and play it. 
Tim

Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #19 on: June 15, 2021, 09:22:02 PM »
Actually, I would suggest playing a lot of music while looking at your hands, if you want to develop this skill. You can also try playing blind and attempting blind jumps to improve your sense of keyboard topography. You need to be able to see music, visualize the notes on the keyboard, and come up with an effective fingering solution, all in your head.

Offline bernard974

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #20 on: June 25, 2021, 10:16:18 AM »
Hi! I read all the posts and would ask to you this question: isn't the best way and necessary approach to first love the whole music (melody, harmonic mood and changes, rythms and pulse, nuances...) printed on the sheet? Loving means incrust vibrations deep in ourselves, becoming one with it, by earing all, breathing with it, singing even silently...
Thanks for all of your preceeding comments,
 Bernard (Reunion Island, South West Indian Ocean)

Offline ranjit

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Re: Strategies for memorizing sheet music
«Reply #21 on: June 25, 2021, 10:39:01 AM »
That is a very romantic way to put it, indeed. ;D I would simply call it "internalizing" the music. I don't think you antiskid have to love the music, and I have done this for music I don't necessarily love as well.