I’ll be the first one to admit: memorizing music does not come easily to me. I really have to work at it, and it takes a lot of time. Over the past couple of years, I have been reading and trying out everything I could find about memorizing music, and I’ve come up with a number of tips that have been helpful for me.
Some people memorize effortlessly, without even trying. These are practical tips for the rest of us. :)
12 Tips for Memorizing Piano Music:
- From Day 1, practice your music with the intent of internalizing and memorizing it. Don’t wait until you’d got the piece learned to begin memorizing it.
- Use good fingering and use it consistently. It will take a lot longer to learn the piece if you are using different fingerings every time. Writing your fingerings in the score will help (especially if you decide to use fingering other than what is indicate in the score).
- Always memorize the dynamics, articulations, and other markings on the page along with the notes. Don’t wait until you have the notes mastered! It’s difficult to go back and fix things later. It’s better — although perhaps more tedious initially — to learn it right the first time.
- Try to play without the music in front of you – see how far you get. Rather than leaving the music on the music stand, put the sheet music on the floor so you’re not easily tempted to look. Sometimes I even put my music book on the floor on the other side of the room! Only peek if you have to.
- Watch your hands as you play. Closing your eyes all of the time isn’t a good idea: when performing, you might look at your hands and suddenly everything looks foreign. Get used to watching your hands. Look for patterns on the keyboard as you play.
- Practice slowly. If you play with a fast tempo as you are trying to memorize, you are strengthening mostly your muscle memory (which is not enough, on its own). Practicing slowly is harder, and forces you to strengthen other memories, like your visual, tactile, and intellectual memories.
- Memorize in small sections, usually just four measures at a time — but sometimes two measures at a time may be necessary (as is often the case with Bach). Once you’ve gone through the entire piece in this manner, try doubling the number of measures and going through the whole process again.
- Memorize hands separately, especially the left hand. The left hand is often negelected and left to chance that it will follow the right hand. But then if a memory slip occurs, it’s often difficult to get the LH back on track. I also believe that understanding the LH bass line is crucial to internalizing the music in a secure way, both aurally and analytically.
- Analyze the music. This should be done in a number of ways. First, analyze the form (e.g., AB, ABA, rondo, or sonata form). Label the sections in your score and try to form a mental road map of the piece in your head. Also analyze the piece harmonically: using Roman Numeral analysis (e.g., I, V7) or lead sheet symbols (e.g., CM, G7, Em). Both systems have their advantages, so I usually do both.
- Designate a number of starting places throughout the piece where you can start the piece at any time, should a memory slip occur. These starting places should be marked in your score. You can mark them using A, B, C, etc., or 1, 2, 3, etc. Try numbering the piece backwards, from the end to the beginning, so you are counting down the end rather than up. Another system I learned from an excellent pianist is to mark the starting places using circled S’s (to stand for “starting place”). In his method, you are creating a hierarchy of starting places. Use “sss” (super, super starting place) to designate a very strong starting place; for example, the beginning of the piece, or the beginning of the Recapitulation. Use “ss” (super starting place) to designate a fairly strong starting place; for example, at the beginning of a set of four phrases. Use “s” (starting place) to designate other starting places; for example, the beginnings of most phrases throughout the piece where you can easily start from.
- Practice mentally, away from the piano. Sit on the couch with a chocolate bar or some popcorn and see if you can mentally play through the entire piece. Try to visualize the score and/or the keyboard. Being able to successfully play through the entire piece mentally is a strong indication that you have the piece solidly memorized!
- Repetition, repetition, repetition! Don’t be discouraged if you return to the piece the next day and find that everything you worked on memorizing yesterday seems to be gone from your memory. It’s part of the process. Re-memorize those sections. Each time you return to a section, it will become more solid in your memory.
Do you have your own memorization tips to share? Please comment below!
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifrigginan/5278076/