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#2402356 - 03/25/15 06:23 AM An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion
Molto lombardo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/11/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Finland
I teach kids here in Finland in a local music school and we expect every piece to be performed from memory (in piano recitals). We have a national examination curriculum and there it also says, that pieces should be performed from memory in exams. Only exceptions are contemporary pieces, or if pupil is somehow disabled. But now more and more kids and especially teens are refusing to memorize! They say it takes too much time! In piano recitals they take sheet music in front of them. Should I forbid them from performing? This is a very alarming situation. What the result will be after years? More and more people with memory problems?


Edited by Molto lombardo (03/25/15 06:57 AM)

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#2402387 - 03/25/15 08:16 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
MRC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/14
Posts: 170
Loc: Germany
What is more important, playing from memory or playing well? Here are a few things to ponder:

- In Beethoven's time, playing with the score was the norm.
- Chopin criticised a student who proposed to play a piece by memory, saying that he was arrogant and could not possibly remember all the fine details.
- At a certain point in his career, Richter started playing concerts from the score. Similar to Chopin, he said that nobody could remember every single nuance and articulation.
- I have personally witnessed great, famous musicians suffer from memory lapses on the podium. If they'd had the score they could have played better and not have been subjected to such a torment in front of an audience.

Steven Hough wrote a nice article on this subject, with nuanced arguments for and against. Personally, I play some pieces from memory and some with the score. I like the freedom of playing from memory (and not depending on a page turner!), but if a piece isn't really well fixed in my mind I know that I will in fact play it better with the score in front of me.

It's funny that your exam curriculum demands that pieces be played from memory but allows an exception for contemporary music. I know that there are lots of contemporary pieces that I find more easy to memorise than a Bach fugue, for instance.
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#2402400 - 03/25/15 08:53 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
hreichgott Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 1541
Loc: western MA, USA
I prefer to perform from memory, unless I'm accompanying or following a conductor, and most of my students feel the same way. But if someone is more comfortable performing with a score in front of them I don't really see the problem. I think whatever enables the student to play most beautifully and confidently from the heart is best.

The students who say it "takes too much time," I'd be more concerned about whether they are spending time studying the details and learning to play the piece beautifully, not just boringly reading through.

If they sign up for an exam or some other event where memorization is compulsory, they should know the rules going in. If they really don't want to memorize then there will be certain events they can't sign up for, that's all.
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#2402437 - 03/25/15 10:57 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
AZNpiano Online   happy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5749
Loc: Orange County, CA
Maybe the kids in California work harder?

There is a memorization requirement for our state test, CM. Two of the repertoire pieces must be memorized at every level. At the highest level, three out of five pieces must be memorized, or the student fails by not fulfilling the memorization requirement.

I've taught some of the busiest students you can imagine, and all of them managed to memorize at least three out of their five pieces for level 10. The trick is to assign them pieces that they can manage.
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#2402460 - 03/25/15 11:49 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: AZNpiano]
MRC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/14
Posts: 170
Loc: Germany
Originally Posted By AZNpiano
There is a memorization requirement for our state test, CM. Two of the repertoire pieces must be memorized at every level. At the highest level, three out of five pieces must be memorized, or the student fails by not fulfilling the memorization requirement.


That sounds much more sensible than requiring that all pieces must be memorised, excepting contemporary ones.
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#2402518 - 03/25/15 03:42 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
Molto lombardo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/11/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Finland
Nice to have some debate going around here. To be more accurate it says in the national curriculum that in exams "the program or parts of it may be played with sheet music if it is appropriate according to the nature of the instrument or the composition" (somehow loosely translated) It doesn't really say anything about contemporary pieces.

The Stephen Hough article was nice. Liszt started the tradition to play music without music in front of him. I'm not sure if the real reason why Richter began to play with sheet was his failing memory or his loyalty to the score.

It is also true, that those who work harder, get better results and can play also by heart. Maybe I should be a better motivator for students?


Edited by Molto lombardo (03/25/15 03:54 PM)

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#2402520 - 03/25/15 03:47 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
pianoman9 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/15
Posts: 199
I find by the time I get decent at a piece,
I've already memorized it anyways. In fact,
I can't really help memorizing music.

But that probably says more about the speed
of my sight-reading than anything else!

smirk

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#2402526 - 03/25/15 04:21 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4845
Loc: South Florida
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.

I don't know why this is never addressed...
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#2402530 - 03/25/15 04:42 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: pianoman9]
AZNpiano Online   happy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5749
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By pianoman9
I find by the time I get decent at a piece,
I've already memorized it anyways. In fact,
I can't really help memorizing music.

But that probably says more about the speed
of my sight-reading than anything else!

smirk

Yikes! How long does it take you to learn a new piece, like a Mozart Sonata movement?
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#2402531 - 03/25/15 04:45 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Gary D.]
AZNpiano Online   happy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5749
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By Gary D.
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.

I don't know why this is never addressed...

I think that's a separate issue. You know how I've been moaning and groaning about kids' sight reading ability. Most teachers spend 95% of the lesson time teaching repertoire. Then we have these kids who can't sight read music that's 5 levels below them.

But there's the opposite problem: Kids who are super-duper at sight reading usually end up sight reading everything and refuse to practice a piece until it's well memorized. I think there should be a balance between the two.
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#2402575 - 03/25/15 07:11 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: AZNpiano]
pianoman9 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/15
Posts: 199
Originally Posted By AZNpiano
Originally Posted By pianoman9
I find by the time I get decent at a piece,
I've already memorized it anyways. In fact,
I can't really help memorizing music.

But that probably says more about the speed
of my sight-reading than anything else!

smirk

Yikes! How long does it take you to learn a new piece, like a Mozart Sonata movement?


Yikes, you like Mozart? I stay away from
****** music!

Bach, Bach, and more Bach!

grin

The point is, I memorize music pretty quickly,
to the point where having to read it actually
slows me down.

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#2402624 - 03/25/15 10:38 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
currawong Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 6025
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By Molto lombardo
I'm not sure if the real reason why Richter began to play with sheet was his failing memory or his loyalty to the score.
I have an idea it was neither specifically, though he certainly was an advocate of fidelity to the score. I don't have time to look it up now, but if I recall correctly, his absolute pitch sense began to move slightly so that the sound of the note he played was different to what he was hearing in his head before he played. He found this a bit confusing, so used the score.
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#2402627 - 03/25/15 10:48 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Gary D.]
currawong Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 6025
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By Gary D.
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.
I don't know why this is never addressed...
I don't either. It's probably 95% in my case.
And when you think about the musical outlets for most of the kids who learn piano for long enough to be reasonably competent, they're things like accompanying their friends who play another instrument, playing for a school musical, accompanying a choir, playing at church or similar - all of which need reading skills more than memorising.

Re the thread's title: the trend I would find alarming is if reading were to go out of fashion.
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#2402637 - 03/25/15 11:24 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
David Farley Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/13
Posts: 579
Loc: Illinois
I read a biography of Richter not too long ago, so the memorizing issue was kind of on my mind. There may have been multiple reasons for his decision, but the one he gave publicly was that he wanted to expand his choice of repertoire when planning recitals. There was a quote along the lines of "Instead of a choice of three Haydn sonatas, I can pick from twenty."

But since people have been talking about Liszt and Richter, I have an excuse to post this.


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#2402638 - 03/25/15 11:26 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
David Farley Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/13
Posts: 579
Loc: Illinois
Oops, sorry - guess Mosfilm doesn't like embedding, so just click the link.

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#2402655 - 03/26/15 12:42 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: David Farley]
currawong Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 6025
Loc: Down Under
Originally Posted By David Farley
There may have been multiple reasons for his decision, but the one he gave publicly was that he wanted to expand his choice of repertoire when planning recitals. There was a quote along the lines of "Instead of a choice of three Haydn sonatas, I can pick from twenty."
That makes total sense to me. And I'm so glad he did. thumb
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Du holde Kunst...

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#2402669 - 03/26/15 01:35 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: currawong]
ChopinAddict Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6222
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
Originally Posted By currawong
Originally Posted By David Farley
There may have been multiple reasons for his decision, but the one he gave publicly was that he wanted to expand his choice of repertoire when planning recitals. There was a quote along the lines of "Instead of a choice of three Haydn sonatas, I can pick from twenty."
That makes total sense to me. And I'm so glad he did. thumb


I must give that quote the thumb too!
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#2402680 - 03/26/15 02:35 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Gary D.]
Molto lombardo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/11/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Finland
Originally Posted By Gary D.
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.

I don't know why this is never addressed...


That's really another serious issue. We call sight reading here "prima vista". Maybe you work also as an accompanist as I do? But the thing is, we have here a lot of Russian piano teachers and their influence, and their system really stresses learning by heart, besides thorough training in sight reading techical exercises. I have had Ukrainian and Russian teachers all my life. One was half German, half Ukrainian, like Richter, and I think she knew Richter personally. She said once Richter plays octaves as easy as we others play fifths (She meant Richter had so big hands) In Russia each hand must be learned separately by heart. Bach fugues must be learned each voice separately by heart. Believe me, I spent some time there.

It's all about piano competitions. Wouldn't be someone looked curiously at if he played Haydn sonata in a competition with sheet in front of him?

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#2402705 - 03/26/15 04:47 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
Nahum Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/27/14
Posts: 521
Loc: Israel
Of course! This is a price of spending the hundreds hours at the computer.

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#2402762 - 03/26/15 09:27 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
MRC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/05/14
Posts: 170
Loc: Germany
Originally Posted By Molto lombardo
It's all about piano competitions. Wouldn't be someone looked curiously at if he played Haydn sonata in a competition with sheet in front of him?

Yes, he might get some curious looks. But I'd say those who judge him negatively because he plays with the score are letting an irrelevant factor cloud their musical judgement. If somebody plays a Haydn sonata fabulously with the music, should they be penalised and not be marked as high as somebody who plays the same sonata not so well, but from memory?

By all means encourage students to try memorising pieces: many may find that they prefer playing this way, and that it was worth the effort. But why should they be forced to play from memory in a competition situation? Where is the necessity? Why cannot the choice of playing from memory or not be left to the pianist?

Finally, it's an arbitrary condition that will favour the performers who prefer playing from memory, but will disadvantage others, making them less sure, more likely to make mistakes. What's the justification: that it's supposedly harder to play from memory? We might just as well impose the condition that all candidates should play blindfold.
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#2402864 - 03/26/15 03:49 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: currawong]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4845
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By currawong
Originally Posted By Gary D.
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.
I don't know why this is never addressed...
I don't either. It's probably 95% in my case.
And when you think about the musical outlets for most of the kids who learn piano for long enough to be reasonably competent, they're things like accompanying their friends who play another instrument, playing for a school musical, accompanying a choir, playing at church or similar - all of which need reading skills more than memorising.

Re the thread's title: the trend I would find alarming is if reading were to go out of fashion.

Absolutely right. My 90% figure was conservative because I also worked in dance groups where some of the things we played were standards, so no music. But mostly even there I had "charts".

Even in the so called "classical world" no pianist plays in an ensemble without music. It puts the rest of the group in jeopardy. From everything I've read the same idea use to be true of soloists. Obviously if a pianist plays badly in a concerto he (or she) makes the whole orchestra look bad.

People are sheep. Liszt liked to show off, so now everyone has to show off, because a tradition was started. It does not have to be logical. It is what the sheep in the audience expects, so pianists blindly follow, also sheep-like. wink
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#2402867 - 03/26/15 03:57 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4845
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By Molto lombardo
Originally Posted By Gary D.
90% of the money I have made playing demanded that I read the music.

I don't know why this is never addressed...


That's really another serious issue. We call sight reading here "prima vista". Maybe you work also as an accompanist as I do?

I started earning money accompanying when I was 15. I've also played for Broadway shows and many things like that. All of us who accompany a lot have to be excellent sight readers. The term "prima vista" is nonsense only because people wrongfully think that you build the ability to sightread by only playing things for the first time. In most cases it's more about how much you get right the 2nd, 3rd and 4th time. But if you do that well, you will also play things the first time better than most.
Quote:

But the thing is, we have here a lot of Russian piano teachers and their influence, and their system really stresses learning by heart, besides thorough training in sight reading techical exercises. I have had Ukrainian and Russian teachers all my life. One was half German, half Ukrainian, like Richter, and I think she knew Richter personally. She said once Richter plays octaves as easy as we others play fifths (She meant Richter had so big hands) In Russia each hand must be learned separately by heart. Bach fugues must be learned each voice separately by heart. Believe me, I spent some time there.

There is only one Richter. The rest of us do not get paid to play a piano concerto. We do not get paid for playing a recital of Bach.

Most successful pianists - pianists who live on performing - are incredibly flexible, learning how to move from one "gig" to the next. The more flexible we are, the more chance we have to make enough money to support ourselves and our families.

People who simply move from competitions to faculties don't really make money playing, in most cases. Their income may be supplemented here and there with formal concerts, but they live mostly on the pay as teachers.

Then you have self-proclaimed "concert pianist teachers" who insist on the kind of things you are talking about. But they don't make money playin either, mostly, and they don't teach their students how to survive as musicians.


Edited by Gary D. (03/26/15 04:17 PM)
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#2402933 - 03/26/15 07:38 PM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
pavanne1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/21/14
Posts: 46
Loc: FLORIDA
Harpsichordists traditionally use the score. So do accompanists, and most other instrumentalists.
I usually don't have a problem getting my students to memorize. The biggest problem is reading.
I do require my students to memorize for recitals. It is just better in my opinion.

Doreen Hall
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www.palomapiano.com

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#2402995 - 03/27/15 12:16 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: pavanne1]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4845
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By pavanne1
Harpsichordists traditionally use the score. So do accompanists, and most other instrumentalists.
I usually don't have a problem getting my students to memorize. The biggest problem is reading.
I do require my students to memorize for recitals. It is just better in my opinion.

Doreen Hall

But you just said that the biggest problem is reading. If you put a big emphasis on performing, from memory, do you not see that that might be part of what stops them from building really fluent reading skills?
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#2403001 - 03/27/15 01:08 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
Molto lombardo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/11/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Finland
We are talking about mostly small kids and preteens, who play in student recitals and exams. Most of them quit playing before they hit 15. Only very few, or if none of them will eventually become as a professional musician.

Nyt Gary D., I got your point. Virtually no pianist earns his living by performing classical music in our country. They all make their living as teachers or as accompanists.

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#2403002 - 03/27/15 01:09 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Gary D.]
AZNpiano Online   happy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5749
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By Gary D.
But you just said that the biggest problem is reading. If you put a big emphasis on performing, from memory, do you not see that that might be part of what stops them from building really fluent reading skills?

Why not both? Have a nice list of ready-to-go pieces in one's repertoire AND be able to sight read super fast.

I don't think one necessarily precludes the other.
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#2403011 - 03/27/15 02:04 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
TheHappyPianoMuse Offline
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Registered: 12/06/14
Posts: 212
Loc: Hawaii
I had no idea that the option of performing with the score even existed when I wa a student. It was expected. I remember being told that Myra Hess was the only performer who used a score, supposedly after a memory lapse. I can remember memory being a spectre looming over every competition or performance and being so terrified of a lapse that I memorized music in small segments and played the segments BACKWARDS to assure I had a "safety spot" if I forgot. laugh

In one early competition the dreaded "memory " lapse jettisoned an entire group of twenty competitors. We were playing a Chopin Etude and perhaps the third or fourth contestant got lost. Immediately there was a flurry of pages as we all frantically consulted our scores to make sure what those missing notes were so we'd not stumble over them ourselves. And then ALL of us floundered. One by one. I was near the end of this tortuous event and was shaking by the time I got on stage ... and predictably made the SAME memory error. Memory lapses can even be contagious

The requirement for a flawless memorized performance eventually pushed me away from performing ... and into graphic arts. I relegated my music to the background ( after three degrees) and I never played piano in public again.

Now thinking back I can see two sides to this debate. For most people, not having to glance at the score does allow for more fluent playing ... particularly with technically demanding works .... Liszt, Brahms, Chopin. But for Baroque music, I find playing from the score much easier since I can follow all the voices simultaneously and "see" the patterns.

But for young students, I never encourage memorizing. It simply takes too much time away from my main goal, which is to get them to read the notes. Note reading is too often sacrificed to two things young students are often compelled to do. Play in recitals and take elementary exams. And both recitals and exams most often expect memorization as well as rote accuracy. I will gladly sacrifice both for fluent note reading. Because only ONE thing will keep that student's interest longer than the usual three or four years .... and that is being able to read the notes fluently.

When the student reaches advanced levels ... and is conversant with theory and chord progressions ... then they can be encouraged to memorize and perform favorite pieces. But until then, it's simply one more burden laid on them ... and an unnecessary one at that.

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#2403013 - 03/27/15 02:23 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: Molto lombardo]
upbeat Offline
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Registered: 08/01/13
Posts: 31
Loc: Melmac
I guess I just don't get the whole competition thing, where you need to play from memory. On second thought, I don't get competitions at all. Since when is making music a sport, where there are winners and losers? I always thought that whatever serves the music best is what's right.

And I also agree that there's much more value in learning to be a good sight reader than in memorizing pieces. Your chances of finding solid work out in the real world will vastly improve as your reading skills do.

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#2403017 - 03/27/15 02:38 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: upbeat]
pianoman9 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/15
Posts: 199
Originally Posted By upbeat
I guess I just don't get the whole competition thing, where you need to play from memory. On second thought, I don't get competitions at all. Since when is making music a sport, where there are winners and losers? I always thought that whatever serves the music best is what's right.

And I also agree that there's much more value in learning to be a good sight reader than in memorizing pieces. Your chances of finding solid work out in the real world will vastly improve as your reading skills do.


+1

Sight reading is far more important, especially for
people like me who memorize music quickly. I can't help
but memorize music automatically.

I kinda agree with the art as competition thing being
a bit weird, like the oscars. Very difficult to be
objective with the quality of art, and there is such
a huge variety of "taste", that it makes it hard to
pick a definite "winner", unlike in chess, where there
is no question. However, you can still make objective
observations about how evenly someone plays their scales
and passages, or how much dynamic range they have, or how
few mistakes they make in a performance.

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#2403039 - 03/27/15 05:31 AM Re: An alarming trend: Memorizing is out of fashion [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4845
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By AZNpiano
Originally Posted By Gary D.
But you just said that the biggest problem is reading. If you put a big emphasis on performing, from memory, do you not see that that might be part of what stops them from building really fluent reading skills?

Why not both? Have a nice list of ready-to-go pieces in one's repertoire AND be able to sight read super fast.

I don't think one necessarily precludes the other.

I agree. But I think reading should come first for music that will be performed as written because most students use memorization as a way to painfully learn music, one measure at a time, and then they can only play from memory because they could not read the music to save their souls.

The other side of music is being able to play what we hear, and that aspect music is horribly neglected in so called "classical" music.

But that is another subject.
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