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Explore Chapter 25 of Practicing With Creative Discipline.



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25. Five Methods for Memory


Most musicians can relate to performing a piece of music and then experiencing a memory lapse, creating an awkward moment for both performer and listener. These episodes are usually a result of relying too much on one aspect of memory instead of a well-balanced and thorough approach.

Here are five steps to strong music memorization.

1) Touch. This is a very common technique in that the pianist has played the piece of music so often that the fingers know instinctively where to go. This is a natural method but also dangerous if it is not combined with other methods. If your fingers "react" rather than "think," a small slip or a different piano can change the touch and lead to errors.

2) Visual. This is a detailed and often time-consuming technique for memorization. This method is where you can visualize the music and picture it in your mind. A good test of this visualization is to write out a difficult passage from memory after studying the score away from the piano. This exercise is challenging to employ for an entire piece, but a very reliable method.

3) Analysis. This is a great partner technique to the visual method. For analysis, you can use your technique and theory knowledge to help put patterns and structure to the visual memory. Look to identify patterns of notes, key changes, harmonies and intervals to make memory more efficient.


4) Aural. This method involves using your ear to help the memorization. Can you "hear" your piece in your mind from beginning to end? Try singing the melody in real time. Also, try playing one hand separately and "hear" the other hand. This method can help memory along in a performance if another method falters.

5) Kinesthetic. This method is similar to touch but more focused on the whole body experience as it is in motion. Try playing your piece in the dark or with your eyes closed. This will encourage you to trust your instincts and develop confidence and artistry in memory.

For most pianists, a few of these steps come naturally and the others have to be cultivated. As you learn to do this, your musical memory should become more detailed, secure and confident.

Assignment: Seek to deliberately employ all five methods as you memorize a piece. Take notes on your strengths and weaknesses as you move through these methods.

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