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#581010 - 03/09/08 12:24 PM Concert pianist memory
Tony.S Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/15/06
Posts: 211
Loc: Alberta
I had my first lesson with a local concert pianist and while I was amazed by his playing ability it was his memory that was most profound.

Now, I’m really good at memorizing, but my pieces fade if I don’t keep them up weekly. This guy had literally hundreds of pieces in memory that he could play at will. I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn a particular Chopin piece, he didn’t know it by name, but after I hummed a bar he sat down and played it … wow. He says he doesn’t know how he does it … I think he said that he kind of lets his mind go, concentrates on the music in his head, and his hands simply find the keys … he thinks if other people let their minds “go” they could likely do the same.

Does any one know if this is a common ability at the concert pianist level or is this guy really unique?
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Estonia 168 - slow down, relax, & listen

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#581011 - 03/09/08 12:48 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
Backle Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/25/07
Posts: 13
Loc: Florida, U.S.A.
I think this is quite common among concert pianists and those who are skilled pianists. I've heard Stephen Hough say a similar thing in an interview.

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#581012 - 03/09/08 01:42 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
Fraggle Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 384
Loc: Nottingham, U.K.
I`m sure he maintains his repertoire just like everyone else - what is anyone doing when playing from memory but concentrating on the music and letting the fingers find the keys?
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#581013 - 03/09/08 02:24 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17828
Loc: Victoria, BC
Without knowing the particular pianist in question and his methods of memorization, it seems to me that there are at least two contributing factors at play here.

First: since this gentleman is a concert pianist, he is probably re-visiting his repertoire regularly in preparation for performances.

Second : since these pieces have been prepared to concert-level performance standards - which presupposes more intensive work than many of us give some of our repertoire - they may be more likely - in spite of his casual manner about memorizing - to stay in the memory.

There might also be a third contributing factor and that is that for many - if not most - people, the more one memorizes the more easy it is to do so. It might be logical to assume that if memorization becomes easy then perhaps the material memorized is either less quickly forgotten or very quickly re-acquired.

Regards,
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#581014 - 03/09/08 02:31 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
vippo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/07
Posts: 292
Loc: Sterzing (Italy)
 Quote:
Originally posted by Tony.S:
[...]He says he doesn’t know how he does it … I think he said that he kind of lets his mind go, concentrates on the music in his head, and his hands simply find the keys … he thinks if other people let their minds “go” they could likely do the same. [...][/b]
That's one thing I have always wondered about... do they memorize every single note and then play them like they had the score in front of them, or is it some kind of mechanical memorization, which one of my teachers has repeatedly warned me about?
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#581015 - 03/09/08 02:38 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17828
Loc: Victoria, BC
 Quote:
Originally posted by vippo:
 Quote:
Originally posted by Tony.S:
[...]He says he doesn’t know how he does it … I think he said that he kind of lets his mind go, concentrates on the music in his head, and his hands simply find the keys … he thinks if other people let their minds “go” they could likely do the same. [...][/b]
That's one thing I have always wondered about... do they memorize every single note and then play them like they had the score in front of them, or is it some kind of mechanical memorization, which one of my teachers has repeatedly warned me about? [/b]
I would doubt very much that many concert pianists rely on only mechanical - or what is called "finger memory" - when mastering their repertoire. There may be a certain amount of finger memory involved in the learning process, but I would think that a thorough analysis and, consequently, an absolute mental mastery of the score is the most secure way of commiting a work to memory.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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Estonia 190

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#581016 - 03/09/08 06:19 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
Tony.S Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/15/06
Posts: 211
Loc: Alberta
In my lesson I did Croatian Rhapsody for him - he hadn't heard it before, but was able to take a stab at the two hand 1/16th note arpeggios that I was having trouble with - without looking at the music - to demonstrate a technique (this is Maksims version - left hand covers 2 octaves). He didn't do it quite right, but it was pretty close - and was in the right key. This makes me think he is likely chunking large pieces of information when he memorizes - and that he draws on an inventory of sounds in memory. I know he also has perfect pitch ... not sure if this helps him to memorize however - probably doesn't hurt.

Maybe when you get better at memorizing it is because the chunks of information in memory become larger. In effect there are simply less things to remember when you re-assemble the bits to play the song?
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#581017 - 03/09/08 07:30 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
 Quote:
Originally posted by Tony.S:
In my lesson I did Croatian Rhapsody for him - he hadn't heard it before, but was able to take a stab at the two hand 1/16th note arpeggios that I was having trouble with - without looking at the music - to demonstrate a technique (this is Maksims version - left hand covers 2 octaves). He didn't do it quite right, but it was pretty close - and was in the right key. This makes me think he is likely chunking large pieces of information when he memorizes - and that he draws on an inventory of sounds in memory. I know he also has perfect pitch ... not sure if this helps him to memorize however - probably doesn't hurt.

Maybe when you get better at memorizing it is because the chunks of information in memory become larger. In effect there are simply less things to remember when you re-assemble the bits to play the song? [/b]
I think a lot of it is a particular way of using pattern recognition. The more familiar one is with musical patterns, the easier it is to take what is known and apply it to something new, without thinking about it. And also to assemble patterns made of smaller ones. You just know how the music is going to go. (BTW, I think that's one reason why some serial music is so much more difficult for some musicians to memorize - it avoids many of the most familiar patterns.)

But it seems to me that any body of knowledge/experience is like that, pretty much, and the folks who have achieved real mastery seem almost to be doing uncanny, magical things, because they have accumulated a vast repertory of patterns related to their field and can use them without much conscious thought. You can find people like that in the food business, in medicine, in crafts like carpentry, etc. etc.

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#581018 - 03/09/08 07:31 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
Euphonatrix Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/14/06
Posts: 518
Loc: Hessen, Germany
 Quote:

I know he also has perfect pitch ... not sure if this helps him to memorize however - probably doesn't hurt.
[/b]
I'd think so - a lot of people "hear" music in their heads, are able to hum it even when they lose track playing it. Shouldn't perfect pitch help you to transform your "inner sounds" into music? Since you are able to identify a certain note/phrase/progression/key you hear in your head and play the correct key?

You are probably right about the "chunking". My teacher does it, too, and asks me to do the same. Helps a lot, imho, since it reduces the amount of information which has to be stored. This of course goes along with the thorough and professional preparation of a piece already mentioned. (i. e. analysis of the piece etc.)
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#581019 - 03/09/08 08:49 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
pianist.ame Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/18/07
Posts: 1166
Loc: Singapore
it all depends how you learn a piece, if you take time to really master it , you should be able to play it well, even if you seldom or hardly every practise it. Pretty much, this is how it works for me.

concert pianists need to memorize and know many pieces because that is what people will usually expect of them anyway
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Currently working on:J.S Bach Prelude&Fugue in C major from bk 1,Chopin Etude op.10 no.12,Impromptus nos.1&4 and Mendelssohn Song without words op.67

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#581020 - 03/09/08 09:06 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
7yritch Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/18/08
Posts: 89
Loc: Huntsville, Alabama, USA
I have read that playing a piece in your mind (with intended fingering and expected sound) is a solid memorization technique. Do many pianists do that?
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Charles R. Walter, Model 1500 (Renner action), Satin Ebony

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#581021 - 03/09/08 09:59 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
pianist.ame Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/18/07
Posts: 1166
Loc: Singapore
some do. it works for some people but might not work for others
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Currently working on:J.S Bach Prelude&Fugue in C major from bk 1,Chopin Etude op.10 no.12,Impromptus nos.1&4 and Mendelssohn Song without words op.67

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#581022 - 03/09/08 11:07 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
Memorization has never been a problem for me. I can play something, and pretty much remember it entirly. I still remember most of my Alfred Piano Adventure level 2a pieces ,

My teacher really wanted to figure out how i memorize, and she suspects it's a combition of a good ear (don't know where in the family I got it...) and an almost photographic memory.

Memorization means nothing if you can't pick up on the road signs that occur (dynamics, tempo, rests).

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#581023 - 03/10/08 02:55 AM Re: Concert pianist memory
TerryL Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/19/08
Posts: 27
Loc: Australia
musical Aural ability would be the goal of memorizing if you don't have that 'mystic' photographic memory..

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#581024 - 03/10/08 02:58 AM Re: Concert pianist memory
TerryL Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/19/08
Posts: 27
Loc: Australia
Obviously finger memory is not sth to rely on.

Authentic memorization is that one can write out the music on a blank sheet without playing it on the piano. And that is exactly how Beethoven had composed his Symphonies and late sonatas.

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#581025 - 03/10/08 03:37 AM Re: Concert pianist memory
nutchai Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/24/07
Posts: 227
Loc: Australia, Western Australia
From my own experience:

I'm usually able to play my pieces from memory as long as it hasn't been too long since I've last played it. I think it has something to do with the way I practice (not sure if this applies to everyone). From my own opinion, I'm below average in sight reading so the way I practice is via repitition with the sheet music in front of me. Once I 'learn' the piece so to speak, it's really easy to recall it from memory.

Another interesting thing I discovered at the beginning of the year was that I can't play from memory with an out-of-tune piano. I've been thinking about it for awhile and I came to the conclusion that playing from memory is kind of like a feedback mechanism.

I think (for me), I play the music in my head, and when my fingers play the notes and it's correct my memory responds to this musical stimuli and this repeats so and so.

Anybody get this? Does this happen to you?

My friend called me abnormal yesterday because he told me it's not normal and that most people find sight reading easier than memory. I'm the opposite
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nUtChAi

Kawai K-5

"You are the music while the music lasts" - T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

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#581026 - 03/10/08 01:29 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
Lee_Gato Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/18/06
Posts: 60
I am sure many of you of heard of this book by Charles Rosen, called "Piano Notes." If not, in my opinion, it's a fantastic read.

As I recall (no pun intended), he spent some time discussing the memory issue. He remarked how as a teenager it was not uncommon for him to read thru a Chopin nocturne for the first time, and then be able to immediately play it back from memory. Later on, he discovered many of his peers also had similar experiences.

He also stated the older one gets, the more difficult it gets to retain new material. However, virtually all the repertoire he learned as a teenager thru young adulthood is still in his memory.

When he briefly taught at the undergrad level (I forgot where) he urged everyone in his studio to read thru all the Beethoven sonatas, the Schubert sonatas, and Bach WTC. His reasoning was that it was important to lay the ground-work for future study of these works.

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#581027 - 03/10/08 07:30 PM Re: Concert pianist memory
hopinmad Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/07
Posts: 1001
Loc: Eryri/Manchester
Every piece I play I believe I could write out on paper, and I can play them correctly in my mind (or I won't believe I've learnt them properly).

Concerning what your own experience with the concert pianist, remember, he has previously learnt that piece, and learnt it very well if he's a concert pianist, so after you hum a bar, he is going to recognise it obviously anyone can recognise a tune, he will remember the piece quite comfortably, and I believe the same could be said of any concert pianist, or indeed any decent pianist. They'll all know Chopin pieces!
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Patience's the best teacher, and time the best critic. - F.F.Chopin

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