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Memorization is often considered one of the most challenging aspects of music performance. However, the rewards of having music securely memorized make the process worthwhile. I asked five accomplished teachers to share their strategies for teaching memorization in their studios.

--Tracy Cowden, NCTM, is a member of the AMT

Editorial Committee and associate professor of piano at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

For me, memorization comes to rely on three main components. The aural memory remembers the music melodically and harmonically. This type of memory helps me sing the melodies of my pieces, reduce them to their harmonic skeleton and transpose. The second component is the structural, or the "intellectual" memory, which retains the structure of a phrase and the architecture of an entire work. It thrives on patterns--and singles out exceptions; it may also have a visual dimension to it, a graph or a matrix, which helps "explain" the piece to me. The third component is the muscle memory, which remembers the simple "building blocks" of the piece--scales, arpeggios, leaps and chords. It is the most tenacious kind of memory in practice and the least reliable one on stage--hands can't think ...

There is, for some, a fourth component, the visual, which remembers the look of the notes on the page and on the instrument. I think it is a helpful addition to the perfectly working other three.

With the three main types of memory solid, I am confident on stage; being down to two makes the performance nerve wracking and physically tense; controlling only one means something will go wrong in performance.

Whereas all three depend on the performer's knowledge of theory, solfege and analysis, and instrumental ability, each requires a different amount of time to master for every new piece; that amount of time will become progressively shorter if the performer always engages all three types of memory.

--Dmitri Shteinberg is on the piano faculty of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and is an active soloist, chamber musician and recording artist in the United States and abroad.

The majority of students have a natural way they memorize music, usually by relying on muscle and aural techniques. It's good to identify and build on these strengths, while reinforcing their less intuitive skills. To strengthen the other often-neglected visual and analytical skills, I recommend the student try the following study techniques at and away from the piano:

* Sing prominent melodies

* Envision the look of the page--take a snapshot

* Thoroughly analyze the sections of the piece for similarities and differences.

* Be able to start anywhere

* Memorize hands separately

Throughout preparing a memorized piece, I tell students to practice 50 percent of the time with the score. This helps commit the many layers of the printed page to memory, make corrections and deepen interpretation. Of course, having several practice runs of the piece helps too, with constant trips back to the score in between to study any problem spots. It's important to think of each mistake as feedback, not failure. The goal is for the student to attain total confidence a few weeks prior to an important performance.

This type of thorough memorization gives the performer the added benefit of a fully engaged mind, which heightens concentration and even leaves room for some creative spontaneity!

--Suzanne Newcomb, NCTM, has maintained a private piano studio for more than 28 years. She is an active performer and also serves on the piano faculty at Otterbein University in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

I ask my students to approach the repertoire with several memorization techniques. Here are five:

Analyze your music--This broad approach spans anywhere from doing a complete theoretical analysis to something basic, such as "This chord has a B-flat." Having a cognitive approach is imperative to successful memorizing, especially for those who are used to simply "muscle memorizing."

Watch your hands--More often than not, those who have trouble memorizing are surprisingly good sight-readers. Once the score is removed, we sometimes feel lost without the notes in front of us. Learning how the notes look from your hands will help you memorize.

Be consistent with your fingerings--Muscle memory is certainly a part of memorizing. However, the various patterns we play need to be consistent. Knowing just the notes is not enough, especially with technical passages.

Practice away from the piano--Being able to follow your own music cognitively is very important. A pianist must be able to go through repertoire in his head, away from the piano.

Memorize to perfect/memorize to perform--When memorizing to perfect, the pianist should first test how much of the repertoire is memorized. Every time one comes across a section that is not memorized, stop and memorize that particular section before moving on. When memorizing to perform, the pianist should attempt a piece from memory and not stop until the end. The purpose of this technique is to provide the pianist confidence. It is important for the pianist to know he can at least finish the piece.

--Jason Kwak is associate professor of piano at Texas State University and associate director of the Texas State International Piano Festival. He has performed in several international venues and more than 40 college campuses worldwide.

Memorization is a topic frequently discussed in my pre-college and collegiate studio, and I remember being guilty regarding reliance on muscle memory--our most faulty memory system. Before a discussion regarding memory techniques may commence, I feel it is critical for students, even at the earliest levels, to develop an instinct for analyzing and building an awareness of harmonic structure and musical form through labeling their scores. Additionally, I like to confuse the senses early on by asking students to play with their eyes closed. Once the visual sense is removed, the coordination of eye and hand is challenged, and younger students quickly realize where holes need to be filled. As students progress, they must build a heightened awareness in the practice room such that they notice and plan each shift of the hand and pre-listen to each sound they will produce, and I encourage score study away from the piano from the earliest lessons on a work. To further secure memory, I suggest a series of tests. First, I ask that they play every other bar while mentally playing the alternate measures, which eliminates the tactile sensation. Second, I ask them to play every other phrase while mentally playing the alternate phrases. From there, we randomly stop and start, and they continue performing mentally during the extended sections of silence. This leads to the two biggest tests--performing the work by playing on the closed fall board and then thinking through the entire work away the piano.

--Kevin Chance, NCTM, is assistant coordinator of keyboard studies at the University of Alabama, and he maintains a thriving pre-college studio. He holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, Louisiana State University and Birmingham-Southern College.

Memorization is a topic that often, unfortunately, inspires fear and dread in the piano studio. It is associated with, in the case of some students, an uncertainty in performance preparation that can keep them from expressing themselves fully at the piano. I think it can be helpful to establish that "playing by heart" (a much more descriptive term to describe memorization, in my opinion) is much more than a trick to show off in performance. It is a way to deepen our relationship with and knowledge of the music that we are playing. I tend to talk about two types of memorization with my students: unconscious and conscious. From the beginning stages of practicing a piece, we are memorizing certain physical gestures through repetition. This "muscle memory" is truly essential to mastering difficult passages and creating instincts that will, hopefully, create confidence in performance. However, we need to constantly augment our physical instincts with more conscious and methodical memory techniques. Creating roadmaps with various starting points, practicing away from the piano with and without the score, incorporating melodic/harmonic analysis, and visualizing the geography of a certain passage or chord on the keyboard can all be effective techniques. It's important a student work on memorizing small sections at all stages of practice with a piece to emphasize, again, that this is not just a performance goal. In the end, whether or not we choose to perform from memory, the act of memorization brings us into a closer and more expressive relationship with some wonderful music!

--Lisa Withers holds a DMA degree in piano performance from West Virginia University and is an associate professor of piano at Emory & Henry College in Southwest Virginia.
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources; memorization in music
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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