Piano Forum



Rhapsody in Blue – A Piece of American History at 100!
The centennial celebration of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has taken place with a bang and noise around the world. The renowned work of American classical music has become synonymous with the jazz age in America over the past century. Piano Street provides a quick overview of the acclaimed composition, including recommended performances and additional resources for reading and listening from global media outlets and radio. Read more >>

Topic: How do you memorize pieces?  (Read 2550 times)

Offline pianiste

  • PS Silver Member
  • Newbie
  • ***
  • Posts: 2
How do you memorize pieces?
on: February 19, 2005, 03:18:10 PM
I am wondering how others memorize pieces.

The way I had done for many years was that just playing a piece over & over... until my HANDS memorize it.  But I think this could be risky especially if you get nervous on stage.  Just playing one wrong note could throw you off, then you might totally get lost.

My former piano teacher always made me memorize each hand alone   (this is when I was little).  I had never had any memory troubles when I played pieces memorized in this way.  But what if a piece is very complicated... like Bach 5 voice fugue?  I doubt this way of memorizing would work well.

Now, I try to memorize pieces not only with my hands but also with my BRAIN; analyzing a structure, listening recordings, and things like that.

I would like to hear others' ideas on this issue.  Thank you!

Offline Ed Marlo

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 35
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #1 on: February 19, 2005, 03:43:53 PM
Well, in the short time I have been playing I have always done the following. 

Before starting a piece, listen to as many recordings of it as possible, as much as possible. Analyze the piece and look for patterns etc.  Follow the recordings on the sheet music.  I do this until I know the piece very well so I can go through it all in my head very well when reading the sheet music, and without the music. 

When I learn the piece I just tend to remember it, no real trick.  I do have lots of backup points though, places that I can pick up from and know exactly where I am.  If anything goes wrong, just go back to or forward to one of these points.

I do have a very good memory though, I can recite every note for both hands while away from the piano..

I appreciate that my post was probably no help whatsoever, it was good to type though.

Offline whynot

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 466
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #2 on: February 19, 2005, 07:55:08 PM
I look for the outline of sections first, to see what parts are like other parts.  Then I learn the chord progression for each section.  With sections that are alike but eventually differ, I work them back-to-back a LOT so it's very clear in my mind exactly where they're different.  For specific notes, I learn the left hand first-- always.  Right hand parts are so often melody-driven that once I know the left, much of the right tends to be there already.  Whatever's missing at that point (RH) is easy to fill in because I have the left hand leading my ear, narrowing down the possibilities and making the last details easier to remember.  For fugal pieces, or anything where voices are passed a lot between the hands, I still do left hand first, because it keeps my thoughts organized.  But then I pick one voice to follow and learn a whole section of that voice.  Then I pick another voice and do the same etc.  After all that, I might look at the right hand separately, but usually I just try to play everything together at this point and see what happens.  When doing one voice at a time, I can't work on fingering, but the music seems to finger itself later on once I know what's happening in the piece.  There are a few exceptions, but I just look at those when I put it all together.  I don't think I use physical memory much, it's more like I'm singing the piece in my head and playing along, and I can imagine the notes on the page if I think about it on purpose, but the visual doesn't really come up on its own.  Anyway, that's what I do.  My teacher is a phenomenal memorizer (and brilliant pianist) and I think he uses a similar system, which is encouraging!  Best of luck.


     



Offline anda

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 943
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #3 on: February 19, 2005, 08:54:24 PM
by not trying to memorize. the best way i know: simply practice as you usually do - by the time you have solved all your problems with that work, the work will already be memorized and all this without any special effort from you!

best luck

Offline pseudopianist

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 607
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #4 on: February 19, 2005, 09:18:24 PM
Something that helps me remember is writting down the chord progression which is used. I also try to check myself by naming all the notes in a random bar.
Whisky and Messiaen

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2488
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #5 on: April 02, 2005, 03:03:59 AM
by not trying to memorize. the best way i know: simply practice as you usually do - by the time you have solved all your problems with that work, the work will already be memorized and all this without any special effort from you!

best luck

This is actually very good advice.  For some pieces, the best way to memorize is simply not to think about it.
But if we do need some extra help in the area, it is good to remember that what we call "memory" is a combination of different things, of different sensations.  The physical sensation, not just in the finger tips but the rest of the body that is participating in making the sound; the visual memory, not only how the score looks for those with photographic memory, but how our hands look when playing; and the aural memory, which is most improtant for music study. 

In the case of physical memory, it often works best in childhood, when we don't interfere with the physical process.  We can improve it later in life, by searching always for the most pure sensations in our techniques, by reducing things to fundamental ideas and purposes.  That way physical memory will be activated.

We all, probably, have the capacity to memorize many visual things about the score.  Without thinking of it, we can say which page, and where on the page, a certain phrase of a piece appears.  That is helpful and should be developed.  It is a marker, a security system, a trail of bread crumbs, if we get lost in between, we can follow.
Many of us have difficulty playing and watching our hands at the same time.  Truly I say, if you have difficulty in playing and watching your hands, you need to play and watch your hands.  Please do not be disconnected from your hands.  Rather participate with your hands, join your eyes and your hands together, and your ears and your hands together, most importantly.  The original poster is right in saying that it is not wise to learn a Bach fugue hands alone.  It is very mechanical, and the music does not respect the artificial division of the hands into Left Hand plays this voice, Right hand this voice.  The music is free to go wherever.

Finally aural element.  We must always hear the music away from the piano.  And please at the piano.  We must hear before we play.  That is the way to develop the aural memory.  To play so slowly, that we can hear everything before it comes.  It is interesting to dwell on this familiar situation: you know a piece by memory, but you think you know it poorly.  You can get through a few bars, then you hit a wrong note and are lost.  Have you ever thought, that if you can identify a wrong note, you can identify a right one?  Often the works are already in our memories, but need to be accessed.  We cannot push our brains in this way, force them to remember.  We have to allow ourselves to remember, and the only way to do that is play slow, and hear, feel, and watch all the while.  In this way anything will be easy to memorize, for long periods of time.

Walter Ramsey

Offline keys

  • PS Silver Member
  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 221
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #6 on: April 02, 2005, 04:02:01 AM
I memorize immediately as I play. If you continue to play through the song hoping that it will seep into your memory, you will no doubt miss-read a note or two and have a terrible time correcting it because it will be in your hand memory. Better to read carefully through the first bar, then commit it to memory so the next time you sit down to play you will play it correctly. Once you become accustomed to memorizing instantly you can easily pace your learning, so you rarely have to scramble to memorize a song that took a little longer to become familiar. 

I also find it easier to stay motivated if I can clearly see I’ve learned thirty bars a particular day, as opposed to weeks of incremental development.

Offline steinwayguy

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 991
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #7 on: April 02, 2005, 05:11:25 AM
Find something that you like in every phrase, and you're bound to remember it.

Offline Waldszenen

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1001
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #8 on: April 02, 2005, 06:47:05 AM
by not trying to memorize. the best way i know: simply practice as you usually do - by the time you have solved all your problems with that work, the work will already be memorized and all this without any special effort from you!

best luck

Likewise
Fortune favours the musical.

Offline lostinidlewonder

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 7507
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #9 on: April 02, 2005, 09:10:28 AM
There is one simple answer to it and that is to maintain contact with your music. If you skip one day or so you are just walking backwards. It is consitiency which will make you memorise, everything else you do just supports and enhances that process.

Also what is important is that you have an awareness of particular notes that highlight a relationship between both hands. Perhaps the RH plays a G then the LH also plays a G, an octave lower, whatever you can imagine really that makes logical sense. Sometimes Rh follows LH or chords change and plays notes which the other hand does.
    Chopin Prelude the Funeral March is a good example of that, the Lh plays octaves and the Rh changes its chord structure usually based on what notes are played in the LH. So you must first see these note connections with your logical mind, I guess those with a high visual IQ can observe patterns much more readily and have this process much easier, but it is nothing that can't be done without a little effort.

Thirdly I think what is really important is that you develop a "Routine Touch" I like to say. That is, what you play is played without you thinking about the notes but rather the shape and form of the hand at the keys. A well developed routine touch is so strong that you can play the same peice in any key. I don't develop my touch to that extent, but i do develop it enough that I can correct myself in any position i find myself without disrupting the flow. To try that out you have to forcefully make error and recover from them.

I do remember Nasa or some space program doing some research on human motor skill acquisition and performance. Astronauts in space, they train so many hours to get the feeling of working in a weird environment (putting up with 0 grtavity, the Gs experienced when taking off etc) that when they go to space it isn't that strange at all for them. With Piano, if you play an unusual pattern it may take a few times before you can properly do it, but after a while it becomes absorbed and the unusual shape your hand may have to undergo becomes routine. Research said that something has to be done about 20 times correctly before the brain memorises it and it becomes routine. I think this makes perfect sense for memory at the piano too, you cannot hope to memorise any passage of music if you are doing it only 80% right, or even 95% right. All the notes have to be right and rhythmically correct and you have to repeat playing it 100% right at least 20 times before the brain totally absorbs it. If you dont then yes you get these one note errors which can totally make you forget what to do next, to me its as comical as a coin on a track flipping a train, you must learn to counter it by mastering your routine touch with your peices.

I personally find if i play a passage i never seen before about 10 times without error i will never ever forget it. Sometimes i can do that in a few minutes, sometimes harder stuff it might take half and hour or so to really master but eventually it becomes absorbed by the routine touch and becomes easy. I find if you develop routine touch then it is like communist take over your piano playing. Nothing is hard, or easy, no class, no power, just obey what the music gives you.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
www.pianovision.com

Offline Dazzer

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1021
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #10 on: April 02, 2005, 12:20:38 PM
Came across this forum and decided to register :)

Quote
by not trying to memorize. the best way i know: simply practice as you usually do - by the time you have solved all your problems with that work, the work will already be memorized and all this without any special effort from you!

best luck

for me i don't work like that. When i first touch a piece, i listen to it (either by playing through it, and of course if there's a recording available that's good too. The only problem with this is that you might get directly influenced by the recording which might so work against you eventually). Once i'm quite familiar with how the piece sounds, I start to WORK on the memory (i prefer playing everything from memory).

My memory is roughly 50% aural memory, 40% physical memory, 10% visual memory.

How this works:
- Look at a section of the piece. Play that section a few times to get an aural memory.
- Once you know how it sounds, close the book (if you're not determined enough) and then play it. If you hit a wrong note, stop, restart from the beginning. Repeat till you have a near firm grasp of the section (depending on difficulty: one bar, or one phrase... rarely more) this way you get your physical memory.
- Look at the next section. Repeat previous steps. (at this point if there're any sequences or patterns its good to put them to good use. also MAKE SURE that your physical memory doesn't get in your way if you have to play something like a min2nd transposition - an exception where this method tends to cause problems -.Look at where to place your fingers and hands - visual memory - )
- Try to join both sections.
- Keep going till you've finished a large enough section.
- Start a new section.

At the start of each practice session, play through what you know (or whenever you have time to sit at a piano, just leisurely). Use your aural to tell you when you make a mistake. You don't have to repeat the whole thing, unless you're a masochist, but make a mental note not to make the same mistake again. If that fails, isolate that passage and work on it, then paste it back into the section you're working on. Note that this whole time, you do not need to even open the book, unless you're not confident with your aural memory, then have a peek.

The next level of this method is to minimise visual memory (if you're daring - and certainly a must for those people who like to "play for the sky" or "sleep", as i like to put it). Just close your eyes, off the lights, close the curtains, and just let your muscle(i prefer this term) memory loose. An advantage of this is you train your hearing more, say listening to the different voices of a fugue for example.

I've worked with this method for a few years, and so far not that many qualms about it. Of course it has its cons as well as its pros, but i've decided that this is how i've been working, so why change now. As long as i stay away from serial music (i'm quite certain there's no way to memorise something like schoenberg) should be fine. Once when i was in "hardcore practice" mode I've memorised a couple of liszt etudes in 3 days each. Complete Ravel concerto in a month. Not saying that it'll work for all people, since it'll definately get some getting used to.

My recommendation is only try a different method if the current one you're using doesn't seem to work. And don't sue me if this doesn't work for you either :D hehe just kiddin...

Offline ramseytheii

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2488
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #11 on: April 02, 2005, 04:18:09 PM
There is one simple answer to it and that is to maintain contact with your music. If you skip one day or so you are just walking backwards. It is consitiency which will make you memorise, everything else you do just supports and enhances that process.
----------------------------------------
That is the one answer, to maintain contact.  But how ? The answer is, aural contact, visual contact, and physical contact.  Those sensations have to be employed, I mean they have to be engaged, towards a goal, the goal of engaging in the music.
-----------------------------------------
Thirdly I think what is really important is that you develop a "Routine Touch" I like to say. That is, what you play is played without you thinking about the notes but rather the shape and form of the hand at the keys. A well developed routine touch is so strong that you can play the same peice in any key. I don't develop my touch to that extent, but i do develop it enough that I can correct myself in any position i find myself without disrupting the flow. To try that out you have to forcefully make error and recover from them.
------------------------------------------
I don't understand totally what you mean by Routine Touch.  The touch should always be natural for how to approach the keyboard, that is, as Godowsky described it, a "pulling" sort of feeling, like stroking a cat.  It is not advisable, also, to force errors to happen, but rather, to not disrupt the entire flow when an error does happen.  To find some way to keep going.
-------------------------------------------
I personally find if i play a passage i never seen before about 10 times without error i will never ever forget it. Sometimes i can do that in a few minutes, sometimes harder stuff it might take half and hour or so to really master but eventually it becomes absorbed by the routine touch and becomes easy. I find if you develop routine touch then it is like communist take over your piano playing. Nothing is hard, or easy, no class, no power, just obey what the music gives you.
-------------------------------------------
But it should be emphasised, what it means, "without error."  After all, we can play a certain progression of notes and chords twenty times in a row, exactly as written, and think so hard about it each time, what note exactly, you know, what chord, what this, what that, that after twenty times we are no better off than where we started.  No, the process is not about correct or incorrect, it is about naturalness, and participation.  It does no good to play notes simply as they appear in order on the page, without the kind of participation that leads to identification, to empathize with the music in some way.  We can remember music by personalizing its message, by listening before it happens, by searching for the natural physique, and by always watching.

Walter Ramsey

Offline BoliverAllmon

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 4155
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #12 on: April 02, 2005, 05:07:29 PM
 i tend to memorize away from the piano. I use the brain I guess.

Offline Jacey1973

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 598
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #13 on: April 02, 2005, 07:43:51 PM
by not trying to memorize. the best way i know: simply practice as you usually do - by the time you have solved all your problems with that work, the work will already be memorized and all this without any special effort from you!

best luck

Yeah that's my approach, my teacher always advises me to "think through the harmonies", in a logical way. This is especially relevant to say Mozart, as there are harmonic rules that he always followed. I often sing the piece in my head as i'm playing.
"Mozart makes you believe in God - it cannot be by chance that such a phenomenon arrives into this world and then passes after 36 yrs, leaving behind such an unbounded no. of unparalled masterpieces"

Offline robo1001

  • PS Silver Member
  • Jr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 61
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #14 on: April 02, 2005, 09:30:49 PM
All you gotta do is play it over, and over, and over, and over again, until it simply gets stuck in your head and you can simply play it without the need for concentration.

Offline Dazzer

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1021
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #15 on: April 03, 2005, 01:38:37 AM
All you gotta do is play it over, and over, and over, and over again, until it simply gets stuck in your head and you can simply play it without the need for concentration.

unless you keep playing the wrong thing again and again and again.

that's really an oversimplification of the entire process.

Offline lostinidlewonder

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 7507
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #16 on: April 03, 2005, 02:48:28 AM
I don't understand totally what you mean by Routine Touch.  The touch should always be natural for how to approach the keyboard, that is, as Godowsky described it, a "pulling" sort of feeling, like stroking a cat.  It is not advisable, also, to force errors to happen, but rather, to not disrupt the entire flow when an error does happen.  To find some way to keep going.

Routine touch is like, if you play B major Scale, does that feel very routine for you? The shape of the scale is obvious and easy. You dont have to think of the notes you just go ahead and play it. If you can develop this touch with pieces you play this is developing a Routine Touch for you pieces. I mean you can call it anything you want, i just say that. There is no word I know for describing; being able to play music without conscious thought on single notes, rather thinking about the movement that encompasses big groups of them. Looking and controlling the forest instead of getting overly upset about the trees (controlling lots of notes within a particular movement or hand form rather than thinking of individual notes).

If you are an advanced pianist then this touch is very naturally achieved, but for most people this touch has to undergo a lot of struggle before it is attained. Some people dont ever achieve it and believe that how they are playing, with all that thinking and care about the notes, that is how you play the piano. It isnt. Once you develop a routine touch for your pieces then everything collaspes into simplicity. I guess what i am saying is that nothing you play on the piano should feel difficult, it all should be easy, all routine. That is achieved with constant contact with your music. (I won't go into detail as how you keep constant contact with your music because I will write 100 pages and everyone has their own ideas on that)

It is a good idea to force errors once you are much more confident with your peice, it would be detrimental yes, if you do that while you where still trying to memorise/learn the peice. What i meant by making errors is that once you have really mastered a piece, go further solidifying your mastery by playing errors and then recovering. This is very helpful for your confidence if you play infront of a lot of people because you know that you can recover no matter what happens. How you go about doing errors is not playing all wrong notes, but instead change a few notes to the wrong and keep most the same. Perhaps make the melodic voice of the piece distrort and try to recover, something like that, not playing everything completely wrong, at least play the majority of what is written. Make mistakes you would find yourself doing, now that is personal for everyone.

But it should be emphasised, what it means, "without error."  After all, we can play a certain progression of notes and chords twenty times in a row, exactly as written, and think so hard about it each time, what note exactly, you know, what chord, what this, what that, that after twenty times we are no better off than where we started.  No, the process is not about correct or incorrect, it is about naturalness, and participation.  It does no good to play notes simply as they appear in order on the page, without the kind of participation that leads to identification, to empathize with the music in some way.  We can remember music by personalizing its message, by listening before it happens, by searching for the natural physique, and by always watching.

Without error sounds like it has one meaning to me. If you play a chord progression 20 times in a row exactly as written and do it playing at tempo, with the right fingers and notes, you will unavoidably memorise it. There has not been one person I have ever sat down at the piano with who needs to do it more than that. Of course that doesn't mean do it 20 times then forget about it, you have to maintain that constant connection with your pieces, but once they are memorised they just need to be upkept (once a week or so), no so much a daily effort.

The proces is definatly about being correct hitting everything correct so that the ROUTINE TOUCH is devloped. If you have small errors you are disrupting the hand form that the peice is trying to reveal to you and thus the memorisation is hurt. To rely on what you hear and what you observe with your eyes are of course very important as you say, but you must in the end practice the part without any error (note wise or rhythmically). If a section says ppp you can practice it fff although that would be stupid. Once you master a routine touch for it at fff then you can convert it to the ppp touch immediantly, i see it all the time in soft pieces i learn, i can easily make it many times louder, or the loud pieces i can easily make it a lot softer without effort even though i never tried it before. So volume control has no real solid place in memorisation initially but a lot more later on with the refinement of the peice (refinement of your touch), thus listening to the sound is again not so important at first, rather understanding the logic of the the progression undergos, and playing that progression 20 times with 0 errors note/rhythmically wise. Then everything else comes. A builder doesnt start getting the walls painted before bricks up the house, so too in music you shoudn't care about expression until you develop the Routine Touch of your peice which is the basis for controlling your expression.

If you are so caught up on thinking about what you are doing then you have to question how you are visualising the keyboard. I think there is no progression which would need fulll concerntration unless it where 5 notes chords in one hand shifitnig all 5 to a different note every new chord. That yes is hard, but eventually you absorb it. 20 times in a row must be done without an error, that is you can do it right 2 times, the wrong 30 times then right another 1 time and say yay 3 times 17 to go. Hell no, you must play it right much more times that wrong, the 20 times should ideally be IN A ROW.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
www.pianovision.com

Offline anda

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 943
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #17 on: April 03, 2005, 06:16:54 PM
i guess it depends on what kind of memory you have and on how much time you have to learn that particular work. analyzing the work is a very good method, esp if you don't have much time - the downside is that you get stuck for quite a while on your analysis (and you mind goes "now section A transposed in... now section B... 2nd bridge..." and so on). i prefer memorizing-by-practice (if i can afford it in terms of time), but i will give the credit to the analysis method as well.

pocorina

  • Guest
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #18 on: April 03, 2005, 07:38:47 PM
Well, I have a photographic memory, *apparently* so it's not a problem for me. I always play and mostly practise from memory. I only need to play things a few times through to memorize it. I have got it by memory before i have got it perfect.

Other ways to remember it is to memorize it page by page; keep the music open and play as much as you can without looking. Glance up if you have to, but the number of glances will get less and less as you get better.

IMPORTANT!!: if you are playing something without the music in a concert, always practise it without the music. NEVER do a run through with the music just beforehand. It does, however, sometimes help to just glance at the music, so it's fresh in your mind (before the concert) but don't play with it.

Offline musicsdarkangel

  • PS Silver Member
  • Sr. Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 975
Re: How do you memorize pieces?
Reply #19 on: April 03, 2005, 10:05:57 PM
I do small sections, depending on the piece.

For a Bach fugue, I might play the first measure by memory, then the first 2 by memory twice, the first three by memory three times, and the first four by memory four times, so that it's stuck in my head.

I will do that for every four measures.

THEN later I will analyze the separate voices, so that I become a better musician.


I believe that memorizing first is the strongest way to learn a piece.
For more information about this topic, click search below!
 

Logo light pianostreet.com - the website for classical pianists, piano teachers, students and piano music enthusiasts.

Subscribe for unlimited access

Sign up

Follow us

Piano Street Digicert