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Topic: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?  (Read 413 times)

Offline valvin

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Hi all.
I have been lurking in these forums, but and finally decided to post something.
I am 14 months into my piano learning journey. I started at 37 yo. I had lessons for a year when I was 7, but don't remember anything whatsoever, except how to read treble clef, but even that was super slow.
I spent about 4 months learning through an online piano method, while my daughter was taking lessons with a teacher. Then after 4 months I asked to take lessons too and her teacher took me on, and I have been going for half-an-hour lessons weekly.
We went through the Faber Adult Pino adventures books 1 and 2 in 4 months and then she started me on intermediate level pieces from Catherine Rollin. She teaches through repertoire mostly but has recommended technique exercises when I needed it.
She says my note reading is pretty good.
It takes me 1-2 weeks to learn an average of 2 pieces of intermediate level (2-3 pages each).
However, the only way I can play these pieces well is to memorize them. I can't keep up with reading the music and also playing at speed.
I can read the pieces my daughter is learning (she is on level 2B of Faber's course), but I can't play them at correct speed unless they are Adante or moderato.
I have also been playing scales and arpeggios with my goal being to get to the ASRMB grade 5 speed requirement. And I can do most of the scales at the required speed, and some arpeggios.
So, I guess I am asking is it normal to not be able to play music at the level I am currently learning unless I memorize it?
You might say I am being impatient, but when can I expect to get better at it.
I do sight read almost daily. I use the Keith Snell sightreading book, going through level 3 currently. I can play them at slower than indicated tempo (unless it's Adante)
For reference here is one video from the last few weeks:

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #1 on: January 20, 2023, 06:16:58 PM
The gap between sight reading skills and actual ability to play pieces is always there no matter how good you get. No one really claims that their level of reading matches their maximum playing ability.

Some people may feel that sight reading and memory are two separate skills but certainly they should work in synergy with one another. The more you read a certain piece the less you have to read to be prompted what notes to play and how to coordinate yourself, your hearing and muscular memory takes over much of the reading details as you become familiar with the piece.

I would suggest keep reading without forcefully memorising and you will start to notice with more reading attempts things become easier. It may take you a little extra time to get to that point compared to focusing on memorising it but eventually the reading/memory synergy will become a better practice method to develop your pieces with. You can indeed start learning more pieces at once and allow the memory process to occur with the reading, then if certain parts are being troublesome you can apply focused memory work.

This method does change how people see music. I used to be a terrible reader and focused strongly on memory skills, but now that I can read better I took a different approach with reading/memory. It did make my memorisation skills with single pieces (playing pieces without the score at all) a little slower but in fact allowed me to work with many times more pieces at once and explore/learn larger pieces with much more ease which had much more practical use for me. It made me no longer really care about memorising works completely unless they were technically very challenging or fast.

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Offline valvin

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #2 on: January 20, 2023, 06:35:04 PM
The gap between sight reading skills and actual ability to play pieces is always there no matter how good you get. No one really claims that their level of reading matches their maximum playing ability.

Some people may feel that sight reading and memory are two separate skills but certainly they should work in synergy with one another. The more you read a certain piece the less you have to read to be prompted what notes to play and how to coordinate yourself, your hearing and muscular memory takes over much of the reading details as you become familiar with the piece.

I would suggest keep reading without forcefully memorising and you will start to notice with more reading attempts things become easier. It may take you a little extra time to get to that point compared to focusing on memorising it but eventually the reading/memory synergy will become a better practice method to develop your pieces with. You can indeed start learning more pieces at once and allow the memory process to occur with the reading, then if certain parts are being troublesome you can apply focused memory work.

This method does change how people see music. I used to be a terrible reader and focused strongly on memory skills, but now that I can read better I took a different approach with reading/memory. It did make my memorisation skills with single pieces (playing pieces without the score at all) a little slower but in fact allowed me to work with many times more pieces at once and explore/learn larger pieces with much more ease which had much more practical use for me. It made me no longer really care about memorizing works completely unless they were technically very challenging or fast.

thank you for your response.
I understand there will be a gap in regard to sight reading, but is it the same with reading in general?
I am worried that I can't follow the score well while playing, because I lose my place when I look down.
At the same time, there are certain pieces (also intermediate level) that I can follow well, and I can't figure out why I can follow/read some and not others. My teacher is pushing me to read and not memorize, and I would love to do just that.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #3 on: January 20, 2023, 06:50:27 PM
thank you for your response.
I understand there will be a gap in regard to sight reading, but is it the same with reading in general?
I define sight reading not necessarily only meaning the first time you read a piece. So I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "reading in general".


I am worried that I can't follow the score well while playing, because I lose my place when I look down.
You learn to glance with the eyes without tilting the head so you can flick your eyes back to the score. I'm not sure how much I could help you on this one through text though. Certainly study reading pieces where you can challenge yourself not to look at all. Practicing to play like this is tough, I was reminded about it when trying to play a pipe organ last year, my feet were like.... nope you gotta look lol, after many hours though I could play without looking as much. It takes time, sometimes you should just try to hit the note without looking just to see if you can do it, the more you try the better you will get the feeling. If you make an error just start at the beginning of a section once more. Sectioning up your music can be helpful, putting boxes around the parts so you don't lose your place as easy when looking away.

In the video you posted your LH moves quite a lot rather than holding positions, you also are not totally using the pedal to free your hand, certain crossing movements can be substituted with more staccato pushing off notes and just carrying the hand over, your teacher should know about how the sustain pedal frees the hand especially for your lh arpeggios patterns. You can experiement playing those lh patterns with two chords without the need for crossing motions, it will also help with not having to look as much as you can feel the positions easier.

At the same time, there are certain pieces (also intermediate level) that I can follow well, and I can't figure out why I can follow/read some and not others.
Certain positional changes occur because a finger replaces the other or the movement is not too large, so these are more readily readable without the need to look. Eventually you learn to notice other patterns which you can move to with feeling. Interval leaps all have a particular feel to them, the scale you play in too and etc. Ask your teacher to help you make positional movements with these kind of ideas and feelings in the hand rather than requiring the eyes to guide you.


My teacher is pushing me to read and not memorize, and I would love to do just that.
Reading training camln get quite comprehensive especially if a teacher knows in detail all the tools that can be used, it literwlly can take over entire lessons just learning about it and I have students who just have lessons to study reading with me. The bread and butter approach is appropriate repertoire that only slightly challenges you and which you can practice your skills accurately with then and slowly building up from there.
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Offline valvin

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #4 on: January 20, 2023, 08:12:10 PM


In the video you posted your LH moves quite a lot rather than holding positions, you also are not totally using the pedal to free your hand, certain crossing movements can be substituted with more staccato pushing off notes and just carrying the hand over, your teacher should know about how the sustain pedal frees the hand especially for your lh arpeggios patterns. You can experiement playing those lh patterns with two chords without the need for crossing motions, it will also help with not having to look as much as you can feel the positions easier.
Certain positional changes occur because a finger replaces the other or the movement is not too large, so these are more readily readable without the need to look. Eventually you learn to notice other patterns which you can move to with feeling. Interval leaps all have a particular feel to them, the scale you play in too and etc. Ask your teacher to help you make positional movements with these kind of ideas and feelings in the hand rather than requiring the eyes to guide you.
[/quote]

Interesting, I was using the pedal this entire piece, as marked in my score. But maybe I am still holding on where I don't need to be.

thank you for the advice!  :)

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #5 on: January 21, 2023, 03:39:51 PM
Interesting, I was using the pedal this entire piece, as marked in my score. But maybe I am still holding on where I don't need to be.

thank you for the advice!  :)
It is not the holding of the pedal that I am pointing out but rather how you play differently when the pedal is held, you do not need to hold onto the notes so much and can "free" your hand with the pedal.
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Offline ego0720

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #6 on: March 02, 2023, 07:03:13 PM
Iím not a great sight reader. Just beginner. But sight reading implies you can read notes like you read alphabets. I find that impossible much as photographic memory is impossible. Itís the linguistic appeal of saying one can do it.

I know that I only read the first note and everything after that is relative to that position so it becomes a visual spatial cue. When Iím lost I focus on that measure, sight read first note then spatial arrange after that. If anybody claims sight reading itís likely bc they have played and memorized so much that their brain already buffered that information like how movie streaming buffers information in advance. Sight reading and memorization goes hand in hand and not mutually exclusive. I would say 90% is memorization even if ppl wonít admit it. Sight reading in the truest sense of the word is fictional and largely based on a persons vast experience in which they memorized so much they donít realize their brain is pointing to chunks of information they had tucked somewhere. Eventually you will just learn new songs by referencing other songs. Also keep in mind that music sheets is arranged like a piano keyboard but rotated 90 degrees. No matter how I try I canít orient my brain 90 degrees naturally and always wished my head was cranked 90 degrees to make it easier. The problem of course is then it reads right to left and for Americans thatís backwards.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #7 on: March 02, 2023, 07:46:15 PM
Iím not a great sight reader. Just beginner. But sight reading implies you can read notes like you read alphabets. I find that impossible much as photographic memory is impossible. Itís the linguistic appeal of saying one can do it.

I know that I only read the first note and everything after that is relative to that position so it becomes a visual spatial cue. When Iím lost I focus on that measure, sight read first note then spatial arrange after that. If anybody claims sight reading itís likely bc they have played and memorized so much that their brain already buffered that information like how movie streaming buffers information in advance.
Actually, even when you're reading you don't go letter by letter. You see the whole contour of a word as one entity. Later on, you predict common turns of phrase and your mind fills in the blanks etc. quite a bit like reading music.

Offline ego0720

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #8 on: March 03, 2023, 06:37:01 PM
Actually, even when you're reading you don't go letter by letter. You see the whole contour of a word as one entity. Later on, you predict common turns of phrase and your mind fills in the blanks etc. quite a bit like reading music.

Agreed. My understanding of music came after I understood technology (streaming movies, computer language).  It's like a pointer for memory address where your brain points to pre-established information in the memory bank (like the chords, triads, scales).  The more chunks and blocks you have in your memory bank the faster you can "read".  To be even faster you have to build larger blocks of information (ie: 8-bit, 16-bit, 128-bit etc). Unfortunately it's also unmusical and tedious a process.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Is it normal to only be able to play memorized pieces?
Reply #9 on: March 04, 2023, 12:15:00 AM
The more chunks and blocks you have in your memory bank the faster you can "read".  To be even faster you have to build larger blocks of information (ie: 8-bit, 16-bit, 128-bit etc). Unfortunately it's also unmusical and tedious a process.
Yes I pretty much agree. However, I don't think it's necessarily an unmusical process. There is some repetition involved but I don't think it needs to feel like an unmusical repetitive chore. I don't recall reading text to ever feel like a chore, and it naturally just developed with time in a specific manner, and I think this can happen with music as well to an extent, although it is presumably harder.
 

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