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#1685418 - 05/27/11 09:04 AM allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize?
musiccr8r Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 268
Loc: Denver
I am curious if others experience an actual awareness of a point when speed on a given piece has increased to where you are really not "able" to visually process the music as fast as you are playing it. And if you are hitting that ceiling, so to speak, do you then have no option but to memorize? In the past year I've found myself at that point several times, and I can't figure out if it's "normal", as I don't specifically recall experiencing this back when I was in my lesson days. But I've had many many years since then of hardly playing, and over the last four years I've played wayyyy more, with this past year being the most intensive and also having music that stretched me (hard or harder than stuff I played those many years ago, not that I was ever playing truly advanced stuff at any time). I am just curious if others notice this phenomenon at all, or noticed it more as they aged.

Thanks, all, and sorry for my vision obsession...it has been a source of much angst and more than a few tears this year. I appreciated the gracious replies in the last thread I started many months ago. I was never able to get the contacts to work (astigmatism type, and they often seemed to make things worse, esp. after wearing a couple hours), but I do try to practice with glasses on, and perform without. I also write a LOT on my music in the hopes of avoiding an unfortunate visual anomaly throwing me off in the midst of performing...I only accompany, so I always have music in front of me. I also have memorized more this year than ever before, which makes me uncomfortable as a accompanist since I prefer to be tracking along at all times with the performer, just in case, but there have been numerous times I just needed the freedom to look at my hands for extended periods....and as described above, sometimes it seems like it wouldn't matter if I was looking up anyway, since it's all going by so fast.

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#1685470 - 05/27/11 10:41 AM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
bennevis Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4739
For me, because I don't have to play for a living, I only memorize pieces (or parts of pieces) where page-turning means having to break off. Looking at my hands isn't the issue - my accuracy isn't much better (or worse grin) either way, because I can still take a quick glance down before the big leaps even if I'm reading from the score; and at all other times, I wouldn't be looking at the placement of my hands anyway, even though my eyes might still be on the keyboard. But I do find that I enjoy playing pieces that I've fully memorized more. I suspect that if I was able to memorize music quickly, I'd prefer to memorize everything I play.

I believe that when you've got a piece of music fully under your fingers, even if not 'memorized', when you look at the score, you're just picking up on the odd visual cue to keep your brain on the right track rather than actually reading all the notes.

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#1685501 - 05/27/11 11:37 AM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
evory Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/05/10
Posts: 49
Personally the point where I'm unable to read as fast as I can play comes pretty quickly, not because I learn quickly, but I'm hopeless at sight reading. I've actually found it much much easier to memorise music than keep reading through it, and usually the only way I can get in proper practice is when I no longer have to rely on the score at all. I guess it also helps that I've done this since I started learning piano, so memorising music comes pretty naturally/quickly to me as compared to sight reading but well.
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#1685518 - 05/27/11 12:02 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
musiccr8r Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 268
Loc: Denver
evory, that's interesting; now that you mention it I do know of people I've talked to who start memorizing right away, then work on upping the tempo and polishing. It's interesting to me that you can do that, since memorizing is generally a big hassle for me! But hey, if it works for you, that's awesome!

bennevis, LOL and amen on the accuracy! ha And I agree, later on in the process, there are little cues and details I might focus on, as opposed to really seeing everything. I guess what I am noticing more recently is being in a limbo between those stages: I'm ready, muscularly speaking, to go faster, but the music (on the page) hasn't moved enough from the sightreading stage to the "I know I know it" stage, and I find myself in this odd position of feeling like I can't get the visual information fast enough to accommodate the speed that I could potentially achieve. So, I'm either playing "blind", or I'm playing slower than I really "have" to (in the sense that I AM capable of going faster, if I felt confident that I know exactly what's coming next) Maybe that's another topic, though: it seems to take so loooong to get to the "I know I know it" stage!!!!!!!!!!!!! ugh. I wonder if that is an age thing, too, since I don't recall it being such an arduous process when I was young.

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#1685612 - 05/27/11 03:23 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
PaulaPiano34 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/16/10
Posts: 1217
I like memorizing. It comes naturally to me and sometimes it can be a bother...

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#1685666 - 05/27/11 05:34 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7740
Yes, I get that speed/visual processing jam, too. The kind of spot where it happens the most is in small-note fioriture, where not only are the notes flying by, the print is harder to read. It also seems to happen in complex fast passages with lots of accidentals (especially if there are enharmonic notes, which just makes it harder).

I don't usually memorize things, and haven't really thought about what I do in spots like that, other than it seems that I sort of micro-memorize just little bits to get me through the passage.

And yes, with age, it does seem more difficult to get to really know music solidly. One thing that has helped me with that is to practice small chunks of it very slowly, even if I can physically play it much faster.

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#1696987 - 06/17/11 11:20 AM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
music32 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/07/07
Posts: 1174
Loc: Berkeley, California
about memorizing. I gave this a lot of thought, but I am sure I left things out that might be helpful

http://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/memorization-at-the-piano-how-to-improve-your-skills/

One has to encompass music of many levels and try to have an underlying approach.
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#1696990 - 06/17/11 11:27 AM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
Skorpius Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/17/08
Posts: 751
You should memorize whenever you can. Not only is it important in speeding up and overall knowledge of a piece, but many people don't know that it also reduces tension in playing which is especially helpful in very technically difficult pieces.


Edited by Skorpius (06/17/11 11:27 AM)
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#1697020 - 06/17/11 12:35 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
25th hour Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/19/10
Posts: 24
Memorizing is also very important to help listening to ourselves and correct all the little inequalities in our playing. Liszt used to say that nobody in the audience listened better to his playing than himself,and always performed by memory.
www.musicmemorization.com

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#1697039 - 06/17/11 01:08 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
NeilOS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/06
Posts: 616
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: musiccr8r
I am curious if others experience an actual awareness of a point when speed on a given piece has increased to where you are really not "able" to visually process the music as fast as you are playing it. And if you are hitting that ceiling, so to speak, do you then have no option but to memorize?


The simple answer to your question is that, yes, it's normal to memorize quick passages or passages where you need visual cues at the keyboard. What we're talking about, really, is muscle memory, which is what we rely on in quick playing. Unless you are playing great leaps, it's rarely necessary to look at the keys. (As evidence I offer the amazing blind pianist who won the Van Cliburn.) If you feel uneasy in your playing, I suspect there may be still more technical working-in needed during your practice.

When you say you are not "able" to visually process these passages as easily as you once did, it makes me think that there is some visual impairment. It's also normal (I've investigated) for aging eyes not to be as flexible as younger eyes. The muscles have become a bit sluggish (sigh). This gives us all the more reason to study the technique carefully. (Why do you perform without glasses if you need them to see the music?)
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#1697081 - 06/17/11 02:24 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4745
Loc: Seattle area, WA
I've changed my point of view. When I was in my teens, I memorized effortlessly but it was all muscle memory. I never had to play in a recital.

Until recently, I would have said, no it is not necessary to memorize. It's all Clara Schumann's fault.

Recently, I've been attempting to memorize my music while I'm learning it. I am writing down chord names and looking for patterns. I've been memorizing the left hand alone. The result is that I am much more secure. If I experience a note flub, I know what to do to recover. When performing in front of friends, I'm much more relaxed because I am so much more secure.

(Still can't quite memorize that Bach fugue.)

Edit. I should mention that my motivation for memorizing was the fact that I reached "awareness of a point when speed on a given piece has increased to where you are really not "able" to visually process the music as fast as you are playing it." particularly with dense chords. Memorization was the only way to bring the piece up to tempo.
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#1697125 - 06/17/11 04:00 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13757
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I've tried to respond to this topic a half dozen times over the past week, but I keep getting stuck on this:

"What does 'visual processing' mean?"

If it means seeing a note on the bottom line, thinking "ah...that's an E," then playing an E, then that's completely unhelpful. It's akin to trying to read this sentence by sounding out each letter phonetically.

If it means just grabbing a visual clue as to where you are in the music - then yes, I do that all the time. Especially in accompanying work, I basically have everything memorized, but keep an eye on the music to keep my place and remind me what's coming up. It's akin to driving home from work - you scan and, when you notice a red light, your foot finds the brake and you come to a stop. There's not a lot of conscious detailed thought involved, but there's a certain level of awareness that needs to be there.

And then there are all shades of grey in between. If you're driving in a new neighborhood or unfamiliar interstate, you may need to pay extra attention to details (road signs, traffic patterns). If you're driving an unfamiliar car, or driving a manual transmission after having driven an automatic for 10 years, you may have to give some extra thought to operating the vehicle itself.

I also think there's some right/left brain stuff going on. Music notation and technique lends itself best to right brain processing. You can't really approach music in a Franklin Planner kind of way, following an algorithmic procedure each step of the way. (That kind of work can be helpful in practicing, though!)
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#1697189 - 06/17/11 06:03 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
Andromaque Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/08
Posts: 3886
Loc: New York
I discuss this subject with my teacher on and off. I find him a bit too rigid about the subject. He thinks that it should be all or none. You should decide very early on, whether you are bringing a piece to a very good level with the score, in which case you should be reading the score-meticulously- while performing. Alternatively, you should memorize it completely from the very start of your study, with careful attention to all the score details and perform without the score "clutch". The rationale is that these are 2 legitimate but different processes and one should take full advantage of their pros while reducing the cons.
The truth is I do find it hard to switch to the score once I have memorized a piece. I just do not find my clues fast enough if I had studied it as a memorized piece.. But when I revisit a piece that I studied with the score, it is much easier to re-orient to the road map and find my way very quickly, level of difficulty non-withstanding.
Obviously the perspective from a performing artist or amateur may be different.

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#1699953 - 06/22/11 01:41 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: 25th hour]
NeilOS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/06
Posts: 616
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: 25th hour
Memorizing is also very important to help listening to ourselves and correct all the little inequalities in our playing. Liszt used to say that nobody in the audience listened better to his playing than himself,and always performed by memory.
www.musicmemorization.com


Memorizing is useful in many ways. Liszt, however, did not always play from memory. In the early to mid-19th century it was considered impertinent to play someone else's music without the score and it was the norm to have the score. Clara Schumann, who is credited (or blamed) by some for starting the trend of playing from memory, wrote of having heard "Mr. Liszt play very well last night, though he relied too heavily on the score." When she reached the age of 40, Clara began to feel less secure playing in public from memory. Liszt even used the score often for his own compositions, in the hope that they would be taken more seriously, not thought of as mere improvisations.
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#1699956 - 06/22/11 01:46 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: Andromaque]
NeilOS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/06
Posts: 616
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: Andromaque
I discuss this subject with my teacher on and off. I find him a bit too rigid about the subject. He thinks that it should be all or none. You should decide very early on, whether you are bringing a piece to a very good level with the score, in which case you should be reading the score-meticulously- while performing. Alternatively, you should memorize it completely from the very start of your study, with careful attention to all the score details and perform without the score "clutch". The rationale is that these are 2 legitimate but different processes and one should take full advantage of their pros while reducing the cons.
The truth is I do find it hard to switch to the score once I have memorized a piece. I just do not find my clues fast enough if I had studied it as a memorized piece.. But when I revisit a piece that I studied with the score, it is much easier to re-orient to the road map and find my way very quickly, level of difficulty non-withstanding.
Obviously the perspective from a performing artist or amateur may be different.


This is a very good observation. It's uncomfortable to be caught somewhere between. I find, though, that when I've memorized a piece thoroughly I know where on the page particular passages are, even where the page turns are. That's maybe my own quirk.

I memorize all solo pieces, whether I plan to perform them from memory or not. Memorizing is part of figuring out the music.
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#1699975 - 06/22/11 02:21 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: gooddog]
NeilOS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/06
Posts: 616
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: gooddog
I've changed my point of view. When I was in my teens, I memorized effortlessly but it was all muscle memory. I never had to play in a recital.

Until recently, I would have said, no it is not necessary to memorize. It's all Clara Schumann's fault.

Recently, I've been attempting to memorize my music while I'm learning it. I am writing down chord names and looking for patterns. I've been memorizing the left hand alone. The result is that I am much more secure. If I experience a note flub, I know what to do to recover. When performing in front of friends, I'm much more relaxed because I am so much more secure.

(Still can't quite memorize that Bach fugue.)

Edit. I should mention that my motivation for memorizing was the fact that I reached "awareness of a point when speed on a given piece has increased to where you are really not "able" to visually process the music as fast as you are playing it." particularly with dense chords. Memorization was the only way to bring the piece up to tempo.


You make some excellent observations. You should of course do what works for you. I would add that it's not necessary to perform from memory if you aren't comfortable doing so. (Unless you are a student or in a competition. Then you have to learn to do it.)

If you feel learning hands separately helps you, then do it. (I think it's extra, unnecessary work.) But here is another thought: What we really need to learn, especially in contrapuntal music, is the hand coordination, where do the 2 hands come together vertically? We lose this "verticalness" because the music moves horizontally, that's what we hear, but physically something else is going on. I recently heard a student play in a competition where she had memory trouble and all she could remember was one hand (It was a Bach fugue).

Try closing your eyes and seeing your hands on the keys playing very slowly through your fugue (or any piece). This effectively takes away most of the tactile memory. If you come to a place where you can't continue, it means it isn't quite learned. Stop, look up the passage, then go again. This is a very powerful test of memory. Similarly, you can play your piece painfully slowly, deliberately placing each succeeding note/chord. This also is an excellent test.

I think by "visually process" the music you refer to reading quickly moving passages? If so, that's normal. We rely on muscle memory for fast technical playing. The mental and aural cues become more general, but they are still governing the overall process.

The main thing is to enjoy the study and sharing of music, which I think you are doing.
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Blog: http://www.pianoteacherlosangeles.com/

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#1700043 - 06/22/11 04:51 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: NeilOS]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7740
Originally Posted By: NeilOS
I find, though, that when I've memorized a piece thoroughly I know where on the page particular passages are, even where the page turns are.


That's not memorizing the music; it's memorizing the edition. smile

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#1700046 - 06/22/11 04:56 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: musiccr8r]
BadOrange Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/12/11
Posts: 368
Loc: Banned
if you can't keep up, you need to work on your sight reading.

Memorization just tends to happen coincidently for most I would think. As long as you aren't using it as crutch for example may students memorize hand positions rather than understanding the music they are playing. This is where memorization can be a bad habit because you are just memorizing things that you won't be able to apply anywhere else.

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#1700118 - 06/22/11 07:30 PM Re: allow me 1 more vision topic: do you "have" to memorize? [Re: wr]
NeilOS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/13/06
Posts: 616
Loc: Los Angeles
Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: NeilOS
I find, though, that when I've memorized a piece thoroughly I know where on the page particular passages are, even where the page turns are.


That's not memorizing the music; it's memorizing the edition. smile


LOL: Yes, that too.

I had a colleague who specialized in playing the cycle of Beethoven sonatas. Her audience was very serious, many of whom would bring along scores to follow. She said she could hear the pages turning and was able to tell what editions they were using.
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