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#2305316 - 07/22/14 11:33 AM Remembering what to play
kipale Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/19/11
Posts: 6
Hey peeps,

I've played piano a bit for a couple of years now. I haven't improved much since my first year, but that's mostly just because I've been lazy. I thought I should now get back to active learning again, but then I quickly discovered all the things that drove me to stop before.

I think my main problem currently is that somehow I can't seem to remember the notes to the songs I'm playing. I mean like, I can play through the same short part 20 times, then I have a 2 minute coffee break and after that I can't play it anymore without looking up the notes from the sheets.

I can remember one-handed pieces, and I can play 2-handed pieces, but I can't remember the 2-handed pieces or at least it would take me a stupid amount of time to memorize the notes, only to forget them a few days later.

How do I improve from this? I understand that memorization gets easier when I can play more fluently and don't have to focus all my attention on the technique, but is there an easier way to improve than pure repetitious practice? Because I'm rather bored of that and I don't think I can keep doing it long enough to get the results I want. Any tips?

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#2305375 - 07/22/14 01:18 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
spanishbuddha Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/08/09
Posts: 2380
Loc: UK
Do you learn the harmonic structure of the pieces, or just the notes to press? I also used to, well still do, forget parts of pieces, but by drawing on my memory of the structure I can usually get it back.

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#2305586 - 07/22/14 07:39 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1441
Loc: Reseda, California
It's hard to learn and worry about learning at the same time. Just relax, and always play with the chart up. Playing the same song over and over, you'll learn it. The paper becomes a safety net that lets you relax.
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2305626 - 07/22/14 09:09 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1638
Loc: Australia
I have a reasonable memory but still takes me a long time to learn a piece without the score. Even once memorised it is common for me to have brain fades where I completely lose my place. While it may take a couple of weeks to learn the notes to a piece at my level it will take up to two months before I completely memorise it and am playing it comfortably.

There are no short cuts in piano so repetition is the only way. However this year I started doing something called the "40 Piece Challenge" which might be of use to you. As well as learning your normal pieces you try to learn as many small simple pieces as possible. I use a preliminary grade book (An Introduction to Classics to Moderns)and will learn a piece until I am satisfied, which has varied from 20mins to 6 weeks (technical challenge), but in general 7 days is about right. Using this very simple material I try not to memorise the piece instead I follow the music (something I don't normally do). Eventually muscle memory kicks in but I still need the music to play so this has taught me I don't need to memorize everything which was my initial thinking taking up piano. This system also will help sight reading and just a general exposure to a lot of different pieces.
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#2305676 - 07/22/14 11:16 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
Morodiene Offline
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Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 12044
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
There are many factors involved in memorization that one cannot simply produce a list of To Do's and call it good if you do them all.

Your issue could be in the preparation done prior to memorizing, the memorization process, or what's going on in your mind while playing from memory. Any of these 3 areas could be the source of your problem.

Are you studying with a teacher?
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#2305691 - 07/23/14 12:35 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: earlofmar]
outo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/12
Posts: 720
Loc: Finland
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
While it may take a couple of weeks to learn the notes to a piece at my level it will take up to two months before I completely memorise it and am playing it comfortably.


For me it also usually doesn't take that long to get the piece somehow memorized (to muscle memory), but then it can take even 3-4 months to consciously memorize it and I need to use several methods to do this. And I am talking about short pieces of 2-4 pages.

For me simple repetition just doesn't do it, because I can only stay conscious for a couple of repetitions, after that it becomes mindless.. The strategies I use include:
- Trying occasionally to play the piece without the score and only take it out when I am completely stuck
- returning to learning hands separate after already playing the piece with 2 hands (especially left hand and this might help the OP if the problem is remembering both hands)
- playing the piece in very small sections (measures or phrases) and just playing the next beat and stop, then repeat a couple of times and learning to start from as many different places in the piece as possible
- singing the piece while not at piano (which I tend to do anyway)
- Take a break from the piece and "relearn" it

But to be completely secure with it just doesn't seem to happen... I can spend 6 months on a 4 page piece and still get memory failures. Referring to Morodiene's post, my problem is more with what happens when I play from memory than the actual memorization... I have congenital neurological issues which affect my memory retrieval and concentration, so while I hope practice will make me better, I have accepted that I will forever be a very inconsistent player. I have good days and bad days. The irony here is that they affect my reading as well, so memorization is just the better of two bad options frown

I just need to get over my perfectionism so that I can shrug it off and keep going when the memory inevitably fails...not quite there yet...


Edited by outo (07/23/14 12:39 AM)

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#2305716 - 07/23/14 01:36 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
sinophilia Offline

Gold Supporter until Sept. 05 2014


Registered: 06/26/12
Posts: 988
Loc: Italy
The memory of a piece can be made of many layers: the image of the score in your head, the way the piece sounds, the way it feels under the fingers, the structure, the harmonic progression, etc.

A very useful thing to do after you've basically learned the piece is to play it one day at tempo, and one day slowly (1/2 or even 1/4 of the tempo), which gives you the time to think of each note and hand movement. You may find that playing slow is harder!

I only do this with pieces I want to "perform" (record) and keep fresh at least for a while, because as earlofmar said, you don't need to memorize everything. If you also practice your reading (not necessarily sight-reading) you will find that you can learn pieces below your level very quickly, or even just play them, which is quite gratifying.
_________________________
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#2305843 - 07/23/14 10:05 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 225
Loc: UK
I have played several instruments, some learnt classically and some learnt jazz wise. I can read superquick on some instruments and not so on others. I have learnt something special about memorisation,

Here is the 'classical process'

1] Select a new score
2] Read first phrase - okish
3] Read second phrase - ok ish
4] Join first and second phrase wrm them up a bit
5] Take third phrase and treat as above
6] Do this to you get to end of song
b] Usually end her and get out the next sheet.
7] Optionally, try and memorise it.

Ok so its a sweeping generalisation.... but

Jazz method:

1 Open a new score
Take first phrase, analyse it's contents in terms of chord fragments and melody - identify chords
2] Only then play the first phrase of the score
3] Memorise it RIGHT THEN..... THE FIRST TIME YOU MEET IT - IMPORTANT! Tip: Make sure the printed page is not in view, perhaps put the sheet in forced head turning position.

4] Move to next phrase treat as above
Join two phrases
5]get to bar eight in this way, memorise this as the A section

and so forth...


There are two essential differences

Jazz method only learns a couple of bars at a time - far easier

IF and ONLY IF, the musician analyses the phrase harmonically AND stores it away as say 'an e minor ascending run to the ninth' or 'diminished six chord fragment', ONLY then can the musician then draw on one phrase from song A nd play it in song X. If it is simnply stored as the tune from "Somewhere" then this does not impart the ability to know and understand the riff(s) in other settings.

By simply tweaking the 'classical' (don't take that too literally) learning method and incorporating the memorisation of each phrase before you go to the next, you will find yourself learning everything. There will be an initial slowdown, whislt the concept beds in, but after a short while, the concept comes much easier.

The second method builds a memory muscle at every opportunity, the first method occasionally works on memory, but discards most learning opportunities.

BTW: Curiously although I have learnt many pieces (and all my scales and chords), If you asked me what are the first few notes of a song, I could not tell you. The only thing my 'conscious' mind knows is the starting chord, its hand position and a couple of the first notes - the rest comes as it is needed, on the 'spot' so to speak. Counter to my initial belief this actually works well, because at any chord up pops several options for playing, including the melody, without the clutter of other non appropriate chords and scales.

Z


[/b]


Edited by ZeroZero (07/23/14 10:18 AM)

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#2305858 - 07/23/14 10:28 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: earlofmar]
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 225
Loc: UK
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
However this year I started doing something called the "40 Piece Challenge" which might be of use to you. As well as learning your normal pieces you try to learn as many small simple pieces as possible. I use a preliminary grade book (An Introduction to Classics to Moderns)and will learn a piece until I am satisfied, which has varied from 20mins to 6 weeks (technical challenge), but in general 7 days is about right. Using this very simple material I try not to memorise the piece instead I follow the music (something I don't normally do). Eventually muscle memory kicks in but I still need the music to play so this has taught me I don't need to memorize everything which was my initial thinking taking up piano. This system also will help sight reading and just a general exposure to a lot of different pieces.


Earl why not modify this exercise.

Think of a very simple tune, say three blind mice. Without using notation play the tune in the RH. Add simple chords from the left hand. You will find that almost all simple diatonic tunes can be harmonised using the I chord the IV chord and the V chord. Work ONLY with memory. Pretty soon you will hear the changes and be able to recognise them in other pieces.

This exercise also helps memory and in the mid term builds repertoire, as one can select more substantial pieces for this treatment, but begin with Christmas Carols, traditionals, nursery rhymes and so forth.

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#2305862 - 07/23/14 10:32 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11730
Loc: Canada
ZeroZero, what you describe as "classical" is the way I was taught not to do it (for classical), but also that many students do work that way. Starting at the beginning, working on the first phrase, then the second, then the third, and eventually going to the next page, in order, front to back - no. Additionally, for "classical" music, analyzing and understanding the music is part of the process when working effectively. The main difference is that you don't necessarily have to memorize since can read the score. But even there, there is no reason that this has to be done in order, phrase by phrase, etc. Maybe the two approaches can be closer than you'd think. Maybe we can learn some things by looking at both worlds. smile

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#2305910 - 07/23/14 12:01 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: ZeroZero]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3219
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: ZeroZero
Earl why not modify this exercise.

Think of a very simple tune, say three blind mice. Without using notation play the tune in the RH. Add simple chords from the left hand. You will find that almost all simple diatonic tunes can be harmonised using the I chord the IV chord and the V chord. Work ONLY with memory.


The bold is my edit.

Why do you call this memory, rather than playing by ear?

(yes, it's a trick question)
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#2305932 - 07/23/14 12:40 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: TimR]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: TimR
Why do you call this memory, rather than playing by ear?

(yes, it's a trick question)


Interesting trick question. And although it was not addressed to me, I feel compelled to take a stab at answering it.

I would say that "playing by ear" in the strictest sense involves immediate imitation: you listen to someone else play (live or recorded), and then you immediately attempt to copy. When there is a delay between the model and the copy, then "playing by ear" becomes "playing from memory".

I'd say this applies also to music learned from a score. The greater the distance between "model" (score) and "copy" (your playing of what's in the score), the better you're remembering.

When you're playing with your eyes on the score, actually having to "translate" the lines and dots into audible music beat by beat (otherwise known as sight-reading), there is zero memory involvement. Going from that to playing entirely from memory requires a representation of those dots and lines in your own mind. It might be an audible representation, in which case playing from memory essentially becomes a variation on playing by ear, in that you're copying the music in your head. But there are other possibilities: your representation might be visual (you're "reading the score" without actually having it in front of you), physical (you can play without a score because you know what your fingers, hands and arms are supposed to do to make the music come out), or some combination of all of the above. I think that for obvious reasons, the latter is most resistant to memory lapses.

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#2305972 - 07/23/14 01:46 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: Saranoya]
JohnSprung Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/11
Posts: 1441
Loc: Reseda, California
Originally Posted By: Saranoya
I would say that "playing by ear" in the strictest sense involves immediate imitation: you listen to someone else play (live or recorded), and then you immediately attempt to copy. When there is a delay between the model and the copy, then "playing by ear" becomes "playing from memory".


I don't agree with the long vs. short delay distinction.

There are two very different kinds of information being remembered here. I'm sure most of us have hundreds or thousands of songs and classical themes that we've heard over the years, and recognize and remember. That's one kind of memory. The other is knowing how to play something on the piano, and remembering how to get the right fingers to the right keys at the right times. That's a very different kind of memory.

The process of converting from knowing what it's supposed to sound like to physically touching the keys to achieve that result -- without any chart or other input -- is what I'd call "playing by ear".
_________________________
-- J.S.

Knabe Grand # 10927
Yamaha CP33
Kawai FS690

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#2305999 - 07/23/14 02:34 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: JohnSprung]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung
There are two very different kinds of information being remembered here. I'm sure most of us have hundreds or thousands of songs and classical themes that we've heard over the years, and recognize and remember. That's one kind of memory. The other is knowing how to play something on the piano, and remembering how to get the right fingers to the right keys at the right times. That's a very different kind of memory.


True. However, what you are talking about is the distinction between just plain memory (a "mental record" of the thousands of melodies we all know), and playing by ear. What I am talking about is the distinction between *playing* from memory, and playing by ear. Both of those require both kinds of information. The only difference is that in one (playing from memory), there is no external reference nearby (whether that be an audio recording or a score).

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#2306013 - 07/23/14 03:10 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
kipale Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/19/11
Posts: 6
Excellent replies guys smile

Quote:
Are you studying with a teacher?

No I'm more of a hobbyist who plays more of old video game tunes and 1950s ragtime music than Mozart's greatest pieces. I do realize that not having a teacher means my practice methods aren't probably very optimal, which is why it's nice to hear everyone's thoughts on this.

Quote:
For me simple repetition just doesn't do it, because I can only stay conscious for a couple of repetitions, after that it becomes mindless.. The strategies I use include:
- Trying occasionally to play the piece without the score and only take it out when I am completely stuck
- returning to learning hands separate after already playing the piece with 2 hands (especially left hand and this might help the OP if the problem is remembering both hands)
- playing the piece in very small sections (measures or phrases) and just playing the next beat and stop, then repeat a couple of times and learning to start from as many different places in the piece as possible
- singing the piece while not at piano (which I tend to do anyway)
- Take a break from the piece and "relearn" it

This seems like practical advice, thanks!

Also some good thought from Zero. I too have noticed that for the pieces that I do remember, I couldn't tell you what the notes are without actually playing the piece. So it's more about muscle memory than visual memory, at least for me (and Zero). I suppose the optimal situation would be to have the mind associate audio-memory with how to play the piece, but that would indeed take quite a bit of practice.


Edited by kipale (07/23/14 03:15 PM)

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#2306015 - 07/23/14 03:13 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: keystring]
8 Octaves Offline

Gold Supporter until July 22 2015


Registered: 04/20/14
Posts: 431
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: keystring
ZeroZero, what you describe as "classical" is the way I was taught not to do it (for classical), but also that many students do work that way.


Yeah, agreed. It's the wrong approach. Playing a piece of music to the end does not help with memorization. You have to memorize in chunks, and maybe only a few chunks a day, certainly not to the end of the piece unless we're talking about a very short piece of music.

I distinctly remember a time before I had children that my memory was quite good. I think that's the trick. Learn all your music before you turn 30. OK, joking aside, I think some things that do help are learn in chunks, don't force more than your brain could handle in one sitting. Sleep in between the learning, and eat well, and sleep a lot like 8 hours a night. As a society, we are becoming more sleep deprived, and that robs memory severely.
_________________________
La musica non mai finita, solo abbandonata.
RCM Level 6 | Concone: Etude in C major | Filtz: An Ancient Tale | Schumann: Waltz in A Minor |

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#2306029 - 07/23/14 03:43 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: 8 Octaves]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: 8 Octaves
You have to memorize in chunks, and maybe only a few chunks a day, certainly not to the end of the piece unless we're talking about a very short piece of music.


Good advice. Do this not only because it will strengthen your memory, but also because it will make recovering easier when you stumble. You'll have multiple points from which you can "start cold".

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#2306060 - 07/23/14 04:47 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
fizikisto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/13/12
Posts: 551
Loc: Hernando, MS
If you memorize something in small chunks, there's a danger of distorting the rhythm of the piece if you've created natural stopping points that may not really exist in the music. That is, some people want to memorize/practice measures 1-8 then 9-16 then 17-24 (or whatever). When they play after that, there can be a tendency to pause at those different break spots. One way that I've found to be better is to do overlapping chunks 1-8, then 5-14 then 11-19, etc... And I like working with different groupings on subsequent practice sessions. Maybe the next day do 1-6, then 4-12, then 10-15, etc... Maybe that's obvious to most people, but it wasn't obvious to me until it was suggested, so I thought I'd mention it. smile

Another drill that I was taught that is really useful for memorizing short chunks like that is to drill it by alternating eyes open/closed. That is play the chunk while reading the score, then play it with your eyes closed, then play it reading the score, then with your eyes closed, etc...

The key to that drill is to keep the flow/rhythm going. Don't worry if you completely mangle the piece in the eyes closed portion (at first you probably will), but don't stop the flow, just play ANYTHING that keeps the rhythm going and then try to get more of it on the next pass...eventually you'll be able to play the whole chunk, correctly, with your eyes closed. Just keep the flow going and try to improve each time you get to the eyes closed bit. A chunk to work on might be one measure, or a couple measures, or a whole phrase depending on the complexity of the piece and your skill level. But once you have it, move on to the next chunk and repeat the drill. There may be some spots in this drill where you have to cheat a little (large leaps or whatever), but for a lot of music you'll find that it works quite well for most if not all of the piece. But you have to make it flow. Eyes open reading the score, eyes closed, eyes open on the score, eyes closed.

This drill has the side benefit of helping train you to read without needing to look down at your hands. If you can play a piece with your eyes closed, you can play it without looking down. So on the reading part keep your eyes on the score and not on your hands as much as you can. Anyway, I've found it useful and thought I'd mention it in case anyone else did. smile
_________________________
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Roland RD800

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#2306068 - 07/23/14 04:58 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: fizikisto]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: fizikisto
If you memorize something in small chunks, there's a danger of distorting the rhythm of the piece if you've created natural stopping points that may not really exist in the music. That is, some people want to memorize/practice measures 1-8 then 9-16 then 17-24 (or whatever). When they play after that, there can be a tendency to pause at those different break spots.


Yep, this is something I've ran into, as well. Instead of practicing random chunks of measures, different each day (for me this would take away the multiple "cold start" points that I wrote about earlier, since there wouldn't be any one of them I'd practiced often enough to reliably do this when under performance stress), I just make sure that I practice in chunks of x measures + 1 beat on either side. That way, the transition between measures is already "there" when I put the chunks back together.

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#2306094 - 07/23/14 05:58 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: fizikisto]
8 Octaves Offline

Gold Supporter until July 22 2015


Registered: 04/20/14
Posts: 431
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: fizikisto
If you memorize something in small chunks, there's a danger of distorting the rhythm of the piece if you've created natural stopping points that may not really exist in the music. That is, some people want to memorize/practice measures 1-8 then 9-16 then 17-24 (or whatever). When they play after that, there can be a tendency to pause at those different break spots. One way that I've found to be better is to do overlapping chunks 1-8, then 5-14 then 11-19, etc... And I like working with different groupings on subsequent practice sessions. Maybe the next day do 1-6, then 4-12, then 10-15, etc... Maybe that's obvious to most people, but it wasn't obvious to me until it was suggested, so I thought I'd mention it. smile


Yes, after learning measures 1-8, you really need to learn measures 6-14, not 9-16. I have not found it possible to memorize 1-8, 9-16, 17-25. The brain isn't a computer. We can't learn like that. It has to be overlapping chunks, and newer chunks are going to be smaller as well for one sitting.
_________________________
La musica non mai finita, solo abbandonata.
RCM Level 6 | Concone: Etude in C major | Filtz: An Ancient Tale | Schumann: Waltz in A Minor |

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#2306295 - 07/24/14 05:08 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: fizikisto]
kipale Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/19/11
Posts: 6
Quote:
One way that I've found to be better is to do overlapping chunks 1-8, then 5-14 then 11-19, etc..


That sounds like something I should definitely try. It's true that parsing together the chunks after learning them can be much harder than doing some overlapped learning.

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#2306310 - 07/24/14 06:20 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
outo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/12
Posts: 720
Loc: Finland
I only work on memorizing chunks after I have worked through the whole piece. I don't seem to be able to memorize anything before I have an idea of the finished product in my mind. This also helps in preventing learning the chuncks in a way that will not fit well technically with what comes next. Also it's easier to keep it musical and rhytmically correct in those small sections.

I think this is partly because I am not what is called a "sequental learner". For some people it is much easier to work gradually from the beginning to the end. I tried that too but it never seemed to produce any results. I learn best by getting an overview first and then start filling the details and refining.

It's good to try several methods and then see what works for you.


Edited by outo (07/24/14 06:21 AM)

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#2306357 - 07/24/14 08:58 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
CarlosCC Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/06/09
Posts: 1376
Loc: Lisbon, Portugal
Back in 2009, when I joined PW, I realized that memorization wasn't a "natural process" for everybody. I saw several threads and discussions about it and this seemed a bit strange to me.

In fact, I don't need any special effort to memorize a piece. I can play the firsts completed pieces I learned in 2009 and, 5 years latter, I can play +20 pieces by memory. I would say: once played, once memorized.

I can't help in this matter, sorry. I don't know how it happens. smile
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#2306417 - 07/24/14 11:09 AM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: kipale]
fizikisto Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/13/12
Posts: 551
Loc: Hernando, MS
CarlosCC
Genetics? Luck? some combination thereof? smile Consider yourself quite fortunate. I find that if I play a piece enough from reading, often I'll memorize it without even really trying (especially if it's not too complicated). But I have to play through a piece quite a few times before I get there, and do so over some days or weeks. If I specifically want to memorize a piece, I can get there a lot faster by approaching it systematically and working in chunks.

Warm Regards
_________________________
Nord Stage 2 HA88
Roland RD800

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#2306449 - 07/24/14 12:41 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: JohnSprung]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3219
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: JohnSprung

The process of converting from knowing what it's supposed to sound like to physically touching the keys to achieve that result -- without any chart or other input -- is what I'd call "playing by ear".



This is how I see it too.

It feels different to me to have something carefully memorized (and maybe have brain cramp in the middle of playing it) versus knowing something well and playing it by ear, with maybe a glitch or two when the fingers don't land right, but little chance of a meltdown. These seem like different mental processes.

Clearly there is memory involved in both. I can't play anything by ear unless I know it very very well, and that's memory. But it's memory that doesn't include the muscle movements - they are produced on the fly, almost like sight reading.
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#2306451 - 07/24/14 12:48 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: Saranoya]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3219
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Saranoya
When you're playing with your eyes on the score, actually having to "translate" the lines and dots into audible music beat by beat (otherwise known as sight-reading), there is zero memory involvement.


I'm going to disagree with you slightly on this. What you describe is what I call prima facie sight reading, and there is a component of that happening. But the good sightreaders do as little of that as possible. Most of what they play is by retrieving thoroughly learned (and memorized) patterns.

I'm trying to think of a very simple example. If I'm playing a simple hymn in D major, I know there will always be a pattern in the left hand with a D and A together followed by octave As followed by G over A resolving to D/F#/A. The very first time I see that, it's pure sightreading with no memory. After a hundred times (with an experienced church musician surely it is more than 100,000 times) there is no sightreading and all memory - recognize the pattern and the fingers will retrieve it.
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#2306473 - 07/24/14 01:51 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: TimR]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: TimR
It feels different to me to have something carefully memorized (and maybe have brain cramp in the middle of playing it) versus knowing something well and playing it by ear, with maybe a glitch or two when the fingers don't land right, but little chance of a meltdown. These seem like different mental processes.


Interesting distinction. I think that by your and JohnSprung's definition, then, I am probably *always* playing mostly by ear, and never (or at least never purely) from memory. Playing from memory, seen in this light, would be what Gary D. calls "go magic fingers". That, in my experience, doesn't work. Muscle memory can be one part of having a piece memorised, and it helps, but on its own it's not enough.

To OP: I think what I'm trying to say here is that memorising in a way that's resistant to time and stress and playing in unfamiliar circumstances, etc. always requires "transfer" of the piece from the score or a recording into your own mind. For me, that representation will be an "internal recording": it is primarily auditory. For you, it might be primarily visual, or primarily kinaesthetic, or primarily logical (musical structure, chord progressions, etc.), with some elements of all the others thrown in to make it stronger in the long run. I think it's a question of figuring out whether you are generally inclined towards a visual, auditory or some other learning style, and then deliberately using your strengths to help you memorise music in the way that's easiest for you.

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#2306483 - 07/24/14 02:03 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: TimR]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: TimR
I'm going to disagree with you slightly on this. What you describe is what I call prima facie sight reading, and there is a component of that happening. But the good sightreaders do as little of that as possible. Most of what they play is by retrieving thoroughly learned (and memorized) patterns.


I see what you mean. It's like playing the easier Clementi sonatinas, which consist mostly of scale- and arpeggio-like patterns. I suppose that is part of why most serious musicians spend lots of time practicing those things.

There's a parallel here, too, with the way young children learn to read the written word: they go from decoding words letter by letter, to recognising familiar patterns, to anticipating those patterns (the ltater elpxians why msot popele suohld hvae no prolebm raednig tihs).

I would say that recognising patterns in this way is somewhere on the continuum between "no memory involvement at all" (prima vista sight-reading by someone with little or no experience playing the piano) and "playing from memory" (no score to refer to).

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#2306499 - 07/24/14 02:32 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: Saranoya]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3219
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Saranoya
For me, that representation will be an "internal recording": it is primarily auditory. For you, it might be primarily visual, or primarily kinaesthetic, or primarily logical (musical structure, chord progressions, etc.), with some elements of all the others thrown in to make it stronger in the long run.


I agree with that. I also think the more elements are included the more stable, and that muscle memory/kinaesthetic elements are the least reliable under pressure and most likely to fade more quickly.

In fact they quite often fade between the last practice and the lesson, resulting in the common "but I played it fine at home!" phenomenon.


Edited by TimR (07/24/14 02:34 PM)
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#2306508 - 07/24/14 02:46 PM Re: Remembering what to play [Re: Saranoya]
Sweet06 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/22/13
Posts: 408
Originally Posted By: Saranoya
Originally Posted By: TimR
Why do you call this memory, rather than playing by ear?

(yes, it's a trick question)


Interesting trick question. And although it was not addressed to me, I feel compelled to take a stab at answering it.

I would say that "playing by ear" in the strictest sense involves immediate imitation: you listen to someone else play (live or recorded), and then you immediately attempt to copy. When there is a delay between the model and the copy, then "playing by ear" becomes "playing from memory".

I'd say this applies also to music learned from a score. The greater the distance between "model" (score) and "copy" (your playing of what's in the score), the better you're remembering.

When you're playing with your eyes on the score, actually having to "translate" the lines and dots into audible music beat by beat (otherwise known as sight-reading), there is zero memory involvement. Going from that to playing entirely from memory requires a representation of those dots and lines in your own mind. It might be an audible representation, in which case playing from memory essentially becomes a variation on playing by ear, in that you're copying the music in your head. But there are other possibilities: your representation might be visual (you're "reading the score" without actually having it in front of you), physical (you can play without a score because you know what your fingers, hands and arms are supposed to do to make the music come out), or some combination of all of the above. I think that for obvious reasons, the latter is most resistant to memory lapses.


I'd argue that all those methods require different versions of memorization. Sightreading DOES require you to work on a skill where you read something, digest it memorize it momentarily and then play it while basically "queueing" these actions over and over. You are constantly memorizing the previous measure because you ideally should have read it, digested it and be playing it WHILE you are doing the same to the next measure and being one step ahead. You can't read one step ahead without some deal of memorization, regardless of how small it may be. Same to be said with hearing something and then playing it back. You are listening to it to store it in your short term memory then using that to recite what you just heard. While it may not be tapping into your long term memory like playing a song you heard earlier that day, its the same basic principle IMO.
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