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#2204422 - 12/29/13 10:36 AM muscle memory vs really learning a piece
Lorcar Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/05/12
Posts: 34
Dont know if I should post the question here or in the teacher (or in the Adult beginner, but I guess here it could be more beneficial) forum.

I had 4/6 days far from the piano and last night tried to restart my study again, from the usual easy stuff I had brought to last 2 lessons (Bach'anna magdalena, Heller's etudes).

"If I dont practice for 3 days, my dog will notice it"...

The result was a disaster: it was like trying to learn again, and all the advantage was related to muscle memory: the hand knows that after that bar there is a sudden jump so it goes immediately in position, and so on, but otherwise it seems like I had ALMOST never played that piece. I am still very attached to the score, and have to read it.
After few repetitions, the result was ok.

I found this very frustrating in my piano journey, and very "monkish": repeat it daily and it will become good. Stop for few days/weeks and it will be (almost) back to ground zero.

When I study, I make sure I can start a piece from every phrase or every bar, so I do read the notes. But I NEVER KNOW the single key I should press without the score, besides muscle memory. I mean, right now I'd be able to sing the motive of all those pieces I have studied, but I'd never be able to tell you which NOTE (C D E etc) is there next. I sing as an amateur in the shower, not as someone who as spent hours and hours on that piece. I am almost completely lost without the score.

Is this something normal just because I started to play again only a bit more than a year ago, and will go away after 5/10 years? or is it normal? or is it just my method completely wrong and I should change something in my approach?

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#2204426 - 12/29/13 11:03 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
Arghhh Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 1094
It's normal, don't worry too much. You may have restarted playing this piece at a lower level than you expected, but it won't take long to get it back to where it was. I've also found that pieces I've been playing longer tend to stick more through breaks than those I've just started.

I play a lot of music from memory, but I don't memorize what each note is, as in "I play C, then D, then F". I might know what notes start the phrases, and rely largely on muscle memory to go from there. I imagine I have acquired some skill in hearing in my mind where the melody goes and then being able to replicate in on the keyboard based on intervals between the pitches, but most of what I do is muscle memory.

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#2204429 - 12/29/13 11:13 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
Lorcar Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/05/12
Posts: 34
thanks

but I thought relying on muscle memory was not good...

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#2204435 - 12/29/13 11:22 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
musiccr8r Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/16/08
Posts: 268
Loc: Denver
I am looking forward to checking back on this thread. Just a few days ago I was lamenting to fellow players, "WHY do things deteriorate???" Also had the very curious experience of pulling out something I'd not played for 20 years and finding it coming back very quickly...but only because (I believe) it is written in such a way that muscle memory is especially useful.

I wish I had a ton of advice, but speaking as one who plays exclusively accompaniments, and memorizes 5% (?) of the material...if I want an effective memorization, that will withstand stage nerves, it has to have some mental posts to hang my hat on. There have been a few sections I memorize to the point of being able to write the entire score out, but more often it is adequate to learn a decent amount of "theory" to go with the section in question, as well as sometimes just going ahead and memorizing the random fact like "that huge jump is up to an A", or "the gliss. ends on a C". I would guess that time and experience will reveal what your personal signposts should be (i.e. if you get nervous performing, you may discover certain challenges that you realize are a pattern/holes in your knowledge, and you can perhaps make a good guess what those might be as you tackle new music). I like to let my mind drift over music to help me fall asleep sometimes, and you can quiz yourself then..."What note does such and such big run start on?" etc., and if you don't know the answer by heart, there's your next task for a practice session! smile

Going back to the theory part, it helps to go ahead and slap a name on things (like an arpeggiated figure that isn't clearly organized at first glance into a nameable chord). I write them in since there's always the slight possibility that I might have to jump to a given spot immediately, if a performer has a brain fade smile and I think it helps me to see that bit on info every time my eyes skim that passage, but I also sometimes say them out loud as I'm practicing. Of course there are all sorts of things you can write, just find whatever condenses the most information into a small, memorable package. 4 measures of arpeggios where the top note does a step higher each time? Circle the top note and draw a rising arrow across all those measures. For me, this reinforces the pattern in my mind, helping with memorization, but I do it very early in the learning process because it saves sooo much time in learning (esp. with stuff that is visually muddled in any way). It is so much more efficient to arrive at those measures and think "Oh, yeah! The F chord with a rising top note" and cruise through four measures without another thought, than to peer at them and think "OK, wait a sec, this arpeggio doesn't look exactly the same as that other one..what was different about it, again??" And of course that goes double if you're setting aside the music for any length of days/weeks.

Bracketing things together, drawing a slash or lift mark in a scale or other traveling figure to remind yourself where your hand position will change/thumb will tuck/etc., all of those will help to reduce the amount of time wasted on reinventing the wheel when you pick up a score again. Some of my music looks like football plays! frown


Edited by musiccr8r (12/29/13 11:24 AM)

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#2204438 - 12/29/13 11:27 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
bennevis Offline
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5131
You need a combination of muscle memory, knowledge of what harmony you're playing with, and some good solid 'starting-off' points in the music - beginning of new 'sections', e.g. second subject, development, new change of figuration/harmony, recapitulation etc - from which you can always start from when you get stuck, without having to start from the beginning or from looking at the score.

I find that in fast music with complicated figuration (e.g. Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso), my memory is mostly muscle memory from a sound harmonic basis, whereas in slow sustained music (e.g. slow movements of many sonatas), it's more harmony-based.
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2204513 - 12/29/13 01:28 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
music32 Offline
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Registered: 01/07/07
Posts: 1197
Loc: Berkeley, California
I've found that the rate of my retrieval of a piece studied in the past, is related to the foundation laid in the original learning process. As already well stated, an understanding is needed of the form or structure, voicing as in Anna Magdalena--having parceled out each voice (I use solfege), harmonic dimension--even with two voice counterpoint there is an underlying harmonic component, well thought out fingering (and that is of course part of the muscle memory sphere), the sense of sequences (are there phrases in the composition that are related in this way by step, skip) Are there key relationships, modulations, etc. It's therefore less an in the dark coming back to a piece, but one with some previous mapping and muscle memory combined that solidified the original learning and allows it to flow back to the surface in a less arduous manner.
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#2204563 - 12/29/13 03:23 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
If you really know a piece, you can play it at 1/10th the speed and not forget any notes. Muscle memory pushes us along and when you play at a slow tempo, it disrupts that deceptive flow. You should also know what key you're in and what key comes next at all times. Basically just have the harmonic structure memorized cold. This will save your ass from a bad lapse.


Edited by JoelW (12/29/13 03:28 PM)

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#2204565 - 12/29/13 03:25 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Polyphonist Offline
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Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7605
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: JoelW
You also should know what key you're in at all times.

I hope that's a given.

Originally Posted By: JoelW
If you really know a piece, you can play it at 1/10th the speed and not forget any notes.

+1

And how many people can actually do it, I wonder? Not a very large percentage.
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Polyphonist

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#2204574 - 12/29/13 03:43 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Polyphonist]
ChopinAddict Offline
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Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6101
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
Originally Posted By: JoelW
You also should know what key you're in at all times.

I hope that's a given.


It should certainly be. But unfortunately it is not always the case, in particular with beginners.
_________________________



Music is my best friend.


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#2204585 - 12/29/13 04:09 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
wouter79 Offline
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Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3538
There is much more to it than being able to play it at 1/10th speed.

Often I CAN remember the notes at 1/10 speed. But that's rather useless when playing the piece at full speed.

Of course, if I have a whole bunch of notes, eg a downward run in D, it's good to just rember the startpoint, endpoint and D major tonality.

But when playing fast modulating chords or counterpoint, it seems much less useful. remembering all that takes a waaaayy too long to be useful and captures much more info than I really need at that point. And it does NOT capture much other info that I DO need: articulation, phrasing, dynamics.

Besides, I have heard many other indications what you should be able to do to 'really know the music'. Play it backwards? Skipping each other note? Start at any note in the piece? Play it in any transposition? Sure. There always is another level of "really knowing". So I wonder what this "really knowing" is heading for and if I need something like that.
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#2204587 - 12/29/13 04:14 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: wouter79]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: wouter79
But when playing fast modulating chords or counterpoint, it seems much less useful. remembering all that takes a waaaayy too long to be useful and captures much more info than I really need at that point. And it does NOT capture much other info that I DO need: articulation, phrasing, dynamics.

Then how do you memorize such passages? You didn't give an alternative.


Quote:
Besides, I have heard many other indications what you should be able to do to 'really know the music'. Play it backwards? [...]

Learning the alphabet backwards doesn't help you recite it forwards. lol

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#2204597 - 12/29/13 04:32 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
wouter79 Offline
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Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3538
Sorry that I can't help on further suggestions. I'm only playing 4 years but I tried enough to say that memorization is much more involved.

And then, what really matters is recall. Memorization is just a tool but in the end I need to recall the right notes at the right time at the right speed. Memorization seems just a tool, if done right.

Quote:

Learning the alphabet backwards doesn't help you recite it forwards. lol


Maybe. Similarly, reciting slow does not help you to recite fast?
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#2204616 - 12/29/13 05:04 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19351
Loc: New York City
IMO the best alternative for most non professionals is not to memorize music and use the score. The main benefits are less performance anxiety and the ability to learn far more music.

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#2204634 - 12/29/13 05:45 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
We know that recall is as important as committing to memory, and actually more important for consolidating memories for long term potentiation. Forcing yourself to recall a piece will do far more for you than using the sheet. This is fact.

Learning a crystallized piece (built entirely on muscle memory, unable to recall the piece at slower tempo, etc) is a far worse way to acquire music than learning a fluid piece (understanding its architecture, harmonic structure, able to recall at slower tempo, being aware of patterns, etc)

A person is best able to commit a piece to memory by learning the piece slowly, hands separate. In other words, you commit the piece by hands separate practice, but you play the piece with hands together practice. Only highly trained pianists can commit music to memory with great efficiency with hands together practice alone.

If you cannot do a slow or at-tempo run through of the piece in your head, you do not have a comprehensive memory of the piece. The same goes for if you cannot play the piece hands separate, slowly.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
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#2204656 - 12/29/13 06:13 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: wouter79]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: wouter79
Sorry that I can't help on further suggestions. I'm only playing 4 years but I tried enough to say that memorization is much more involved.

And then, what really matters is recall. Memorization is just a tool but in the end I need to recall the right notes at the right time at the right speed. Memorization seems just a tool, if done right.

Huge difference. (not)

Originally Posted By: wouter79

Originally Posted By: JoelW
Learning the alphabet backwards doesn't help you recite it forwards. lol


Maybe.

It's not maybe. When you learn a passage backwards, you are literally learning a different passage. The harmonies change in difference orders, the notes in different order, etc. It's a absolutely useless tool in my opinion. Besides, if one can memorize to play something backwards, why not just save a step and only memorize the normal way?

Originally Posted By: wouter79
Similarly, reciting slow does not help you to recite fast?

I understand why you would think this. The reason why it's good to memorize at a slow speed is because, like I said earlier, muscle memory carries us along. It does a wonderful job until panic disrupts it. If you really know the passage, you can play it at 1/10th the tempo and not miss a note. Think it's that easy? Go try it. smile


Edited by JoelW (12/29/13 06:27 PM)

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#2204674 - 12/29/13 06:44 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Atrys Offline
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Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: JoelW

Huge difference. (not)

Actually, there is a huge difference. Anyone with a high school level education in psychology knows this. Recall is different than committing.

Originally Posted By: JoelW

It's not maybe. When you learn a passage backwards, you are literally learning a different passage. The harmonies change in difference orders, the notes in different order, etc. It's a absolutely useless tool in my opinion.

This is false as well. Anything that is learned more thoroughly (backwards included) and comprehensively builds new connections in the brain that were not there before. It's actually a very valuable tool. This is more university-level science so many people don't know about this (yourself, it looks, included).
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2204677 - 12/29/13 06:54 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Atrys]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Atrys
Originally Posted By: JoelW

Huge difference. (not)

Actually, there is a huge difference. Anyone with a high school level education in psychology knows this. Recall is different than committing.

In this context, they mean the same thing. You might as well be saying "I don't need to memorize but I need to remember."

Good luck doing the latter without the former.

Originally Posted By: Atrys

Originally Posted By: JoelW

It's not maybe. When you learn a passage backwards, you are literally learning a different passage. The harmonies change in difference orders, the notes in different order, etc. It's a absolutely useless tool in my opinion.

This is false as well. Anything that is learned more thoroughly (backwards included) and comprehensively builds new connections in the brain that were not there before. It's actually a very valuable tool. This is more university-level science so many people don't know about this (yourself, it looks, included).

Are you personally educated on the matter?

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#2204682 - 12/29/13 07:06 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: JoelW

In this context, they mean the same thing. You might as well be saying "I don't need to memorize but I need to remember."

Okay, let's be a tiny bit more formal. First we have to acknowledge that memorization is an entirely different process than recall. We also need to acknowledge that recall actually aids in the process of memorization by strengthening the neural connections that create the memory (in other words, the more you recall something, the stronger your memory of it becomes). In order to recall, you must have some level of memorization first (I think this is what you were saying).

Originally Posted By: JoelW

Are you personally educated on the matter?

Yup. Same goes for the other ~200 students in that class, and any other student that has taken it or will take it.

A lot of these things, people sort of implicitly know, they just aren't fully aware of what's actually taking place. For example, students use flash cards to help them crystallize information for exams, etc.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2204685 - 12/29/13 07:15 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Atrys]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Atrys
Originally Posted By: JoelW

Are you personally educated on the matter?

Yup. Same goes for the other ~200 students in that class, and any other student that has taken it or will take it.

A lot of these things, people sort of implicitly know, they just aren't fully aware of what's actually taking place. For example, students use flash cards to help them crystallize information for exams, etc.

I wouldn't compare playing a piece to taking an exam.

When you talk about strengthening neural connections, I believe learning pieces backwards would be very useful. But as far as memorizing the piece, I think it's totally unrelated the way harmonic memorization is for example. In other words it's not direct. It helps the direct processes, but isn't a direct process itself. No? Couldn't one just use other methods of memorization strengthening?

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#2204690 - 12/29/13 07:28 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Atrys Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/13
Posts: 990
Originally Posted By: JoelW

I wouldn't compare playing a piece to taking an exam.

...that was just an example of how students use fl- nevermind.

Originally Posted By: JoelW

It helps the direct processes, but isn't a direct process itself. No?

Both of these statements are true. You would be practicing something that actually aids something else. Let's draw a parallel just to be a bit more clear: say we have a pianist who practices the C major scale all day, for years. He cannot, and does not, practice anything but this scale. After 5 years he has reached an "efficiency" score (arbitrary, made up, used just for this example) of 88. Then he starts practicing some other scales. By practicing other scales, his C scale can and will improve (lets say, to an efficiency score of 95). Like we've said, practicing one thing will improve other things.

Originally Posted By: JoelW

Couldn't one just use other methods of memorization strengthening?

Of course! This is just one thing that can help.
_________________________
"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson

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#2204698 - 12/29/13 07:46 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
Pathbreaker Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/04
Posts: 1082
Loc: Massachusetts
Originally Posted By: Lorcar

I had 4/6 days far from the piano and last night tried to restart my study again, from the usual easy stuff I had brought to last 2 lessons (Bach'anna magdalena, Heller's etudes).

"If I dont practice for 3 days, my dog will notice it"...

The result was a disaster: it was like trying to learn again, and all the advantage was related to muscle memory: the hand knows that after that bar there is a sudden jump so it goes immediately in position, and so on, but otherwise it seems like I had ALMOST never played that piece. I am still very attached to the score, and have to read it.
After few repetitions, the result was ok.

Over time you will find that it's no problem and even beneficial to have breaks from practicing.

Quote:
I found this very frustrating in my piano journey, and very "monkish": repeat it daily and it will become good. Stop for few days/weeks and it will be (almost) back to ground zero.

When I study, I make sure I can start a piece from every phrase or every bar, so I do read the notes. But I NEVER KNOW the single key I should press without the score, besides muscle memory. I mean, right now I'd be able to sing the motive of all those pieces I have studied, but I'd never be able to tell you which NOTE (C D E etc) is there next. I sing as an amateur in the shower, not as someone who as spent hours and hours on that piece. I am almost completely lost without the score.

What I'm hearing is that you have a very broad concept of your progression. You want everything to get better so you are trying to do everything as much as possible. It might be helpful for you to prioritize your learning in a very specific way. For example, it is not necessary to know everything as well as you have explained above. Are you specifically working on your memorization skills? That might be a reason to seek the most comprehensive methods to get better at memorization. If you are working on etudes for your technical development, do you really need to worry so much about all those details? You can compartmentalize your practice sessions so that it is more focused and more productive. You will find that everything will get better at the same time along a nice smooth curve. You will be more secure in what you do know and have less knowledge gaps.

If you are working on a piece that you expect to perform in the near future you will of course want to know it as best you can. But even this will depend on if you intend to use the score when performing or not. You want to know something well, but you also want to be efficient in how much time you allocate to any one thing.

Quote:
Is this something normal just because I started to play again only a bit more than a year ago, and will go away after 5/10 years? or is it normal? or is it just my method completely wrong and I should change something in my approach?


For the most part, yes. Don't worry so much about muscle memory. Muscle memory is part of the brain taking shortcuts to connect the dots for you. It is enough that you are aware not to over rely on it but don't over worry either. In order to keep moving forward you must be careful not to get buried in the details and miss the bigger picture or just plain not have fun! smile

This is just my opinion but I think you will progress faster if you know more pieces. If you spend too much time on any one piece you will not make as much progress.

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#2204747 - 12/29/13 10:06 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Kuanpiano Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2146
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Originally Posted By: Atrys
Originally Posted By: JoelW

Huge difference. (not)

Actually, there is a huge difference. Anyone with a high school level education in psychology knows this. Recall is different than committing.

In this context, they mean the same thing. You might as well be saying "I don't need to memorize but I need to remember."

Good luck doing the latter without the former.


I suggest you do some research on Savants, whose mental conditions enable them to recall incredible detail far beyond what normal people can do. They are benefitted with greater ability to recall, because putting the information into the brain isn't the issue. A similar analogy is about why you probably don't remember whay you did every day in grade school anymore, even though at some point you did know these details - you just forgot, or had issues with your ability to recall these memories.
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#2204750 - 12/29/13 10:23 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Kuanpiano]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Memorization doesn't need to be complex or difficult. It can be as much as saying a word three times in your head, or it can be as complex as thorough piano memorization. As long as whatever you're trying to remember gets ingrained (even for so long) in your mind. Some savants have the power to memorize a complex piece of music after one play through or even one listen. Even though they're not trying to, it still is memorization.

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#2204754 - 12/29/13 10:38 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
Kuanpiano Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2146
Loc: Canada
Right, now you totally missed the point of my argument because I was saying that there's a distinction between memorization and recall.
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Working on:
Chopin - Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante
Rachmaninoff - Preludes op. 23 nos. 3,4,6, op. 32 no.12
Franck - Violin Sonata

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#2204762 - 12/29/13 10:58 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
pianorigami Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/25/13
Posts: 290
Loc: United States
I didn't thoroughly read every post, so hopefully this hasn't been said, but:
I try hard not to memorize notes (a, then f#, then c#...) because in a performance situation, forgetting what comes "after c" leads to panic, which leads to a lapse, which leads to the walk of shame off of the stage.
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5) Grieg Concerto, Op. 16
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7) Debussy Images, Book I

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#2204763 - 12/29/13 11:02 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Kuanpiano]
JoelW Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4783
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Right, now you totally missed the point of my argument because I was saying that there's a distinction between memorization and recall.

The distinction being that memorization is a process and recall is the product of that process. I think you are the one who missed my point. Anything you do that allows you to recall something is the memorization process, no matter how simple.

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#2204880 - 12/30/13 07:54 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Lorcar]
jdw Offline
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Registered: 03/04/11
Posts: 974
Loc: Philadelphia, PA
The retrieval is a separate process from the laying down of memory. That's why a lot of stuff we know can take time to recall.

Getting back to muscle memory and other components of memorization--I agree with what's been said about the need for harmonic understanding, etc. In the end, though, I think the elements become blended in a way that's hard to pick apart. For instance, I think my understanding of the key I'm in is partly physical--knowing how the different chords feel under the hands, more than consciously thinking "A-flat" all the time.

I should admit that I'm not particularly good at memorizing and don't perform without the score (except once in a while by accident, when I come across a piano and someone overhears me).
_________________________
1989 Baldwin R
Currently working on:
Grieg, Papillon
Mozart, K 330
Brahms, Op. 118 no. 2

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#2204913 - 12/30/13 09:45 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
Arghhh Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/31/08
Posts: 1094
Originally Posted By: Atrys

A person is best able to commit a piece to memory by learning the piece slowly, hands separate. In other words, you commit the piece by hands separate practice, but you play the piece with hands together practice. Only highly trained pianists can commit music to memory with great efficiency with hands together practice alone.

But memorizing something hands separately doesn't help with playing something by memory hands together because playing hands together requires different coordination than hands separately. We all know that even if you learn LH and RH separately perfectly it takes work to learn to play them together. It is still a good idea to be able to hear what the LH and RH do separately, so to do this, play one hand while the other hand plays its part silently. It will be difficult to do this at first, but this technique doesn't take long to learn.

Originally Posted By: JoelW
If you really know a piece, you can play it at 1/10th the speed and not forget any notes. Muscle memory pushes us along and when you play at a slow tempo, it disrupts that deceptive flow. You should also know what key you're in and what key comes next at all times. Basically just have the harmonic structure memorized cold. This will save your ass from a bad lapse.


Can you give an example of how you would use harmonic structure to help you in a memory lapse? I'm not sure how this works in real time.

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#2204944 - 12/30/13 10:58 AM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: Arghhh]
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 18031
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: Arghhh
Originally Posted By: Atrys

A person is best able to commit a piece to memory by learning the piece slowly, hands separate. In other words, you commit the piece by hands separate practice, but you play the piece with hands together practice. Only highly trained pianists can commit music to memory with great efficiency with hands together practice alone.

But memorizing something hands separately doesn't help with playing something by memory hands together because playing hands together requires different coordination than hands separately. We all know that even if you learn LH and RH separately perfectly it takes work to learn to play them together. It is still a good idea to be able to hear what the LH and RH do separately, so to do this, play one hand while the other hand plays its part silently. It will be difficult to do this at first, but this technique doesn't take long to learn.

Originally Posted By: JoelW
If you really know a piece, you can play it at 1/10th the speed and not forget any notes. Muscle memory pushes us along and when you play at a slow tempo, it disrupts that deceptive flow. You should also know what key you're in and what key comes next at all times. Basically just have the harmonic structure memorized cold. This will save your ass from a bad lapse.


Can you give an example of how you would use harmonic structure to help you in a memory lapse? I'm not sure how this works in real time.


As a corollary to this discussion, my teacher and a number of her colleagues have done research over a number of years that bears out the fact that those who learn pieces hands together from the start are, eventually, better readers and learn pieces more quickly than those who learn pieces hands separately.

I would think that this would have some bearing as well upon those who memorize hands separately vs. those who memorize hands together.

Unless a work is extremely complex, I don't see the benefit of memorizing entire pieces hands separately. I know that some teachers advocate - and a few even insist upon - this, but I've never heard the rationale for doing so. Eventually, it's the playing of hands together that is the real test, isn't it?

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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Estonia 190

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#2204979 - 12/30/13 12:28 PM Re: muscle memory vs really learning a piece [Re: BruceD]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5131
Originally Posted By: BruceD

My teacher and a number of her colleagues have done research over a number of years that bears out the fact that those who learn pieces hands together from the start are, eventually, better readers and learn pieces more quickly than those who learn pieces hands separately.

I would think that this would have some bearing as well upon those who memorize hands separately vs. those who memorize hands together.


Regards,

As one who's a runner (and who dabble in many different activities), I find that there's a common saying that applies to all of them - you get good at what you practise (train) at.

If you want to run fast, you have to train by running fast. There are many marathon runners who only ever run LSD (long, slow distances), who apparently think that magically, on the day, cheered on by the crowds, pumped up by adrenaline, they're going to run a time that's faster than they've been training at for months. And then, they're surprised when they actually run a LSM (long, slow marathon)..... grin

Similarly, if you practise at memorizing one hand at a time, you get good at......memorizing one hand at a time. Piano playing is a two-handed activity. You don't play each hand separately, so why practise them separately, or memorize them separately? (Of course, for specific difficulties - including for multiple polyphonic strands - you should isolate and practise them in isolation, but put them together as soon as feasible).

_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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