Music Mapping with Piano Students

With nearly every piece I teach, the student and I analyze and label the form: Q&A phrases, AB form, ABA form, sonata form, etc.. Understanding the structure of a piece helps the student learn the piece more thoroughly and make well-based decisions relating to the interpretation of a piece.

Back in early March, a student of mine demonstrated he had his piece memorized all the way through but found he was “fuzzy” on the details in certain places and could not always remember what came next between phrases without taking time for thought. In a moment of inspiration (or perhaps desperation!), we decided to construct a visual map of the piece — an activity I have found to be beneficial in the past with certain students. I took a blank sheet of paper from my printer and handed my student a few colored pencils. Taking a few minutes to turn our analysis into a simple, visual graphic proved to strengthen and clarify his memory of the piece.

During my college years, I was exposed to this kind of music mapping thanks to a book I found in the university library: Mapping Music: For Faster Learning and Secure Memory, by Rebecca Payne Shockley. She shares many examples in her book to learn from, but emphasizes that music mapping is a very personal thing: the map must primarily make sense to the person who makes it.

Music Mapping with Piano Students graphic

As you can see from the image above, we used boxes to represent the 4-bar phrases as well as the larger A and B sections. Within each box, my student drew lines or shapes to represent the melodic contour of the phrases. We also added a few chord symbols to help mentally clarify the B section and the ending.

As a final step, we added dynamic markings in pink and green shading to represent pedaling.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.51.20 PMAfter completing the music map, I asked my student to play the piece by memory again. It was not a perfect performance, but it was definitely better because his memory of the piece’s structure was stronger and more clear.

After creating a map, it should not be necessary to have the student read from the music map while playing, although that is an option. The point of the exercise is to be able to rely on a strong, mental picture of the piece during performance. In my student’s own words: “It’s the process of creating the map that is beneficial; not the finished map itself.”

Have you ever created a music map with a student?

[Note: In case you are interested, the piece my student was learning is called “A Quiet Lagoon” by Dennis Alexander and Martha Mier. We were using a sampler piece of sheet music I received during a conference, but the piece is readily available in the Technique Book Level 2B of the Alfred Premier Piano Course.]

Memorization, Practicing, Teaching Piano

Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?

Last week was Spring Break from college for me!  My husband and I had a wonderful time visiting our families and spending time with them.  Our days were full doing all kinds of family activities — however, I did manage to keep an eye on my blog, especially the Forum Q&A about memorization that was posted last Tuesday.  Many of you left comments regarding whether or not you require memorized performances within your studio — but not many of you addressed my initial question about whether you consider the skill of memorization is essential to piano playing.  At first look, it appears to be essentially the same question…perhaps I could have phrased this a bit better?  In any case, today I’d like to delve in a little bit deeper into this question about the necessary or not so necessary skill of memorization.

To further clarify exactly what I’ve getting after here, a distinction must be made: There is a difference between memorizing and playing/performing by memory.  I will use these two terms distinctly in this blog post: memorizing refers to the process of memorizing a piece of music during practice with the intent of later playing by memory, while playing/performing by memory refers to actually playing the piece of music from beginning to end without consultation of the score.  This distinction is important because a teacher might, for example, consider memorization to be a necessary skill to develop in his/her students, but might be flexible in actually requiring students to play by memory during performances.

Let’s begin by listing some reasons why pianist might choose to perform by memory or choose not to perform by memory. Continue reading “Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?”

improving as a teacher, Memorization, Performances, Questions

Forum Q&A | Memorization for Performances: Required or Optional?

Last week we discussed how to teach legato pedaling to students, and we got a few great responses – click here to check them out!  As always, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion!

This week, we are considering the topic of memorization.  I’ve seen great discussions about this topic on many websites and forums, and thought we’d explore it here too (hopefully with a different twist)!  Here goes:

First, do you consider memorization to be an integral part of piano playing?  Meaning, would you say that a concert pianist should or must perform by memory?  And do you therefore also require your students to perform by memory, or are you more flexible with your students depending on their goals?  What kind of memorization policy have you found works best for your studio?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: hsingy | CC 2.0