In my studio there are three types of students, the students who memorize easily, the ones who are frightened to do it, and the new ones who have never memorized music. My students are visual learners, aural learners and tactile learners. I have found that the earlier we begin to work on memorization, the more comfortable the student will be. When I ask the transfer or new student how they memorize, they invariably say, “I’ll play it a lot of times!” And that will work if the student has time to “play it a lot of times.” This might be more effective on an eight measure piece but it gets trickier when the pieces get longer.
The sooner I have them analyze (in their own words) the patterns of the phrases, their memory confidence improves. Many students memorize by ear and often try not to use their musical knowledge to aid their memory. My task is to help them see the patterns and ask them about the harmonies. I have them identify the harmonies the easiest way for them to remember the triads, either the official name or whatever triggers their memory. Obviously consistent fingering is vital also.
At times I have a student who is supposed to memorize a new section of a piece, but they want to get the other section more comfortable. Unfortunately, they just play the first memorized section, hoping it will improve.
When you’ve memorized a phrase or a piece, then practice it these ways:
- At tempo with your eyes closed. This is good for all ages, but young children especially enjoy this.
- Extremely slowly by memory, eyes open! I always say slow enough that you want to scream.
- Spots. (Bach = spot every 4 measures. Memory mistake = new spot). Practice these spots with the music and eventually they will be able to begin at any of these spots without the music.
- With the music and eyes watching the music to review articulations, dynamics, etc.
- By memory counting out loud
- Say it and play it! This is especially helpful with Chopin Waltzes, Nocturnes, etc. with a jumpy accompaniment.
- Using the metronome with the music.
- If pedal is prominent, play by memory with no pedal.
- Sing especially the inner voices.
- Fingerings not just for ease in performing, but using similar fingerings for sequences.
- Practice opposite articulations meaning if something is primarily staccato, make all the notes legato.
The student’s confidence and security are increased dramatically by practicing these ways. If a small slip occurs the performer knows exactly where he or she is in the piece and the performance will still be successful.