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#930689 - 05/27/06 07:27 AM Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
How important is it to memorize a piece? I have never memorized anything and am amazed to see a pianist perform without sheet music.

I can see how the best way to ultimately master a piece would be to have it memorized, but I find memorizing impossibly slow and tedious.
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#930690 - 05/27/06 10:21 AM Re: Memorization
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
Well the better you get, as my teacher says, the more pieces you should no by memory (ex. Bach inventions, Chopin preludes, ect.) Its like an ability. My teacher was amazed at how well i could memorize music. On the other hand the kid that came after my lesson had the worst time memorizing and he was older than me too

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#930691 - 05/27/06 01:41 PM Re: Memorization
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I personally feel that a piano student should
not be required to memorize anything. The
reason is that when you're required to memorize,
it comes at the expense of everything else,
and what you end up with is a student who
can play from memory and little else; for
example, it is not uncommon for students
to enter a conservatory with little or
no knowledge of theory, and no skill at
sight-reading, improvisation, transposition,
or arranging.

Instead, if a student starts lessons at, say,
the age of 6 or 7, he should simply be trained
at the piano in the old-fashioned and
proper way, that is, without looking at the
hands and with the sht. music, and in the
style of the coin-on-the-back-of-the-hands,
that is, playing from the fingers and hands
primarily, rather than in the showboat style
using arm and body weight to facilitate
playing. If this is done, then fingering,
technique, ear training, reading, and
musicianship will come to him almost
without effort, and moreover, the ability
to memorize will also come to him naturally,
and by the time he's in high school he'll
be able to play from memory with the best
of them.

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#930692 - 05/27/06 04:56 PM Re: Memorization
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Gyro

I must admire you for your consistency with your arguments.

Though I personally agree with hardly any of them. Incuding these. :-)

Adrian
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#930693 - 05/27/06 11:12 PM Re: Memorization
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10354
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Adrian,

I couldn't have said it better myself! \:D

Almost everything Gyro says goes against everything that makes sense to me ....but what the heck, there are many paths to success.

Memorization is a natural skill that most of us possess. My son memorizes almost instantly. That's a great advantage in the long run, but it creates problems in the short run. He memorizes so quickly that he tends to discard the music before he has fully learned the structure of the piece. This means two things. First, he has finger memorized more than anything else. Second, he has to be reminded to go back to the music to learn all the subtleties (AKA dynamics) that make it music.

I keep him with the music long after he's memorized the piece so that he can learn the piece's real structure ....its chord structure, for instance, and key shifts. Ultimately, this helps turn finger memorization into genuine memorization.

For better or for worse, we live in a world of competitions. Memorization is a necessary component of contemporary musical education and if you want to play the game you have to acknowledge its rules.
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#930694 - 05/28/06 01:01 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
I teach by ear at the beginning. So yes, my students memorize their pieces, obviously because they do not read music, yet.
When they start to read musical notation they become skilled at this by playing what they see. Reading and playing by ear are two different, yet very important skills. My students develop both.
When you become an accomplished musician and are able to read music well, then memorization is not work, it just happens, by reading and practicing correctly. If you practice correctly by repeating sections over and over again, as well as analyzing the phrase and/or section of the piece you are working on, by having a good handle on music theory, memorizing will naturally happen.

So what you need to be good at memorizing in a secure way is:
1) A good ear
2) Being able to read music well
3) The understanding of music theory
4) Practicing the work correctly

I believe that memorizing your pieces that you perform are essential to really knowing what you play and allowing yourself the freedom to express yourself through the music without the distraction of reading the music.
It is also a distraction for the audience, seeing the performer reading the notes.
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#930695 - 05/28/06 07:48 AM Re: Memorization
CindyB - Musicmaker Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/23/06
Posts: 132
Loc: south central IL
Everything kind of depends on what the goal is, doesn't it? If my goal is for my child to perform at Carnegie Hall - he'd better be good at memorization, technique, and performance. If my goal is for my child to have music as his companion for the rest of his life, I might have different priorities, right?
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#930696 - 05/28/06 08:04 AM Re: Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
Pianobuff,

Could you please elaborate on point 4 (practicing the work correctly)? I do find that I automatically memorize some of the music via muscle memory.

Do you memorize consciously as you would for a history test (e.g. "I play a cm chord followed by a major 5th; the war lasted from 1812-1840"), or do you look at the keyboard and visualize where your hands/fingers should be? It is so much easier to have the music sheet in front, at least as a reference point.
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#930697 - 05/29/06 01:45 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
rugrag,
When I practice, if a section of a piece is technically difficult, I repeat it slowly over and over... many, many times, everyday. Over time, the tempo gradually increases and before I know it, it is memorized. I then can really work on bringing it up to performance tempo.
With the easier parts of the piece, it is more concious work of memorizing because it is just easier to read.
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#930698 - 05/30/06 04:07 AM Re: Memorization
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2893
Loc: UK.
Everybody memorises to a certain extent even if they are not aware of it. When performing a piece with the score you are not reading every note, it is simply there to provide you with points of reference that some people feel they need more than others. The interesting thing I have found is that most pianists who say they can't play from memory have never really tried. Give it a go and you might be surprised. Don't be put of by the fact that you can't do it straight away. Whilst in the process of learning a piece I will often try bits of it from memory. Sometimes I will start and see how far I can get without the score. If I can't remember it I will sit and try to work it out. Eventually I need to check the score, oh well, I will get further next time.

Is it important to play from memory? I think it depends on your situation. If you play for your own enjoyment then no. If you intend to perform in public at an advanced level then yes. I onced performed Bach Partita no. 2 in a competition and used the score because I lacked confidence in my memory. I was slated for it by the adjudicator. I peformed it again a month later from memory and it was much better. You feel more in touch and able to play more musically without it (IMO).

Don't give up on memorising. It might take you a while but you can do it. A couple of useful techniques I have learned. Try to memorise each hand separately, especially the left as it usually has more of the harmony which your ear needs to latch on to. Sit with the score away from the piano and think your way through the music. Then try to think through it again without the score. Look for chords, cadences, phrases that can act as a guide throughout the piece. Try to memorise small sections at a time. Close the book and start playing, if you get stuck try to think it through before refering back to the score.
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#930699 - 05/30/06 06:51 AM Re: Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
 Quote:
Originally posted by Chris H.:
The interesting thing I have found is that most pianists who say they can't play from memory have never really tried.

Yes, that's me!

Give it a go and you might be surprised.

I will indeed! I will try to memorize something short and simple.

Is it important to play from memory? I think it depends on your situation. If you play for your own enjoyment then no.

I play for my enjoyment, but it would be nice to have a few pieces memorized to perfection so that I could play in front of someone, even if I don't have the sheet music with me. (Performance anxiety is another problem....)[/b]
Thanks for the advice, Chris. My teacher also said that in order to "own" the piece I should have it memorized.[/b]
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#930700 - 05/31/06 01:16 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Great advice Chris!

Don't give up. Try a phrase at a time, perhaps, and add on to it.

Have fun memorizing rugrag!
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#930701 - 05/31/06 12:21 PM Re: Memorization
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
i do think memorizing a piece is important. naturally, if one plays a section of a piece over and over again (up to 100 times perhaps), one would memorize that section very well for sure. so, starting from any small section, with enough repetitions, you will remember that section, and by doing all section of such in a piece, you will memorize the entire piece, which is how most of us (even beginners) memorize anyway and largely contributed by hand/muscle memory. but to make memory of a piece secure, you'd need more than that, some harmonic analysis, fingerings and keyboard geography, and even visualization of score, and etc.

when i first started learning to play, i totally rely on muscle memory, but i'd have memory slip and stop at a spot and cannot start from there again. after i got a teacher, he always insists me looking at the music whenever i lost track from memory. now, i could memorize and follow the notes on sheet at the same time, and if i got lost, i'd pick it up again from the spot just but checking on music notes.

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#930702 - 06/01/06 06:51 AM Re: Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
 Quote:
Originally posted by signa:

after i got a teacher, he always insists me looking at the music whenever i lost track from memory. now, i could memorize and follow the notes on sheet at the same time, and if i got lost, i'd pick it up again from the spot just but checking on music notes. [/b]
Yes, good advice. The score can be used as a weaning process. I am finding it helpful to play as much as possible without looking, yet having the music sheet available to glance at. I'm also trying to learn more about theory/harmony, which I think must facilitate remembering the piece. I'm seeing that when I play in a certain key, there are certain notes/chords/scales that are recurrent of that and the relative keys. My knowledge of theory/harmony is quite under-developed, though.
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#930703 - 06/01/06 12:46 PM Re: Memorization
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
As many are eager to continue the discussion and as I am much confused by some of the arguments - what has arm and body weight to do with memorizing?

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#930704 - 06/01/06 02:01 PM Re: Memorization
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
Previous to Liszt, pianists played with
sheet music. When you play with sht.
music, you don't look at your hands, since
that aids reading--that is why the black
keys stick up above the white ones on
the piano, so you can play the instrument
without looking at your hands, using
the black keys as tactile references
to find any key by touch. Also, when
you play with the score, unnecessary
body movements are detrimental, since
that disturbs the eyes' focus on the score,
and thus, pianists were taught to play
with a coin on the back of the hands,
since this prevents unnecessary movements.
This in fact was the way Liszt himself
was taught to play. But Liszt was
a freak, with phenomenal physical ability
and a photographic memory, which enabled
him to play easily from memory.

However, once Liszt started playing concerts
from memory, that gradually became the
standard. But note the problem here: everybody
is now required to play like this freak, but
without his freakish physical ability
and memory--could there be a better formula
for demolishing pianists than that? How
does one play like Liszt when he
doesn't have his unique gifts?
If you don't have a photographic memory,
then you'll have to scramble for every
possible aid to memorization, and one
of these is looking at your hands when
playing. Another is to lean into the
keys with your arm and body weight, since
this makes playing easier, because
you're using up so much mental energy
playing from memory that you're quickly
exhausting yourself and you now need all
the help you can get to just press the
keys--but note the problem here: by
bringing in additional body movements
besides the fingers, pressing a key
is no longer just a finger movement,
but also an arm, shoulder, back, etc.
movement, so you've actually made things
more difficult for yourself, because in
addition to the finger movement you now
have to memorize the arm, shoulder, back,
etc. movement that goes along with that
finger movement. All in all this
process dooms all but a handful
of players to eventual burnout as they
try to reach the highest levels of playing.
By looking at their hands they destroy
the sight-reading skills, and thus have
to put in more effort to work things up.
By using their arm and body weight to
play they are shooting themselves
in the foot because they are making
memorizing more difficult.

But if you play properly, the way Liszt
himself was taught: from the fingers
and hands mainly, and without looking
at the hands, then you'll actually make
memorizing easier in the long run, and you
can continue to improve long after those
who play improperly have burned out.

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#930705 - 06/01/06 05:17 PM Re: Memorization
Frank III Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/10/03
Posts: 310
Loc: Spring Lake, MI
 Quote:
you're using up so much mental energy
playing from memory that you're quickly
exhausting yourself and you now need all
the help you can get to just press the
keys
Is this what happens to you? If so, do you think it applies to everybody? What evidence do you have that mental exhaustion leads to a lack of ability to press keys down without additional aid?

Personally, playing from memory is less exhausting for me because I'm free from having to look at notes and turn pages, and can rather concentrate on the musicality of the music.
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#930706 - 06/02/06 04:09 AM Re: Memorization
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
I'm talking about mainly long pieces like
100 pages or more, where endurance becomes
a factor. Playing something like that
from memory without a photographic memory
would burn up tremendous amounts of
mental energy and the player would then
instinctively grasp for anything that
would make playing easier, like using
arm and body weight, but this is shooting
yourself in the foot, because it actually
makes memorizing more difficult because
there are more body movements to memorize.
This is why so few players make it to the
top, with the rest burning out as they
exhaust themselves trying to play in the
manner of Liszt without having Liszt's unique
talent for playing from memory.

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#930707 - 06/03/06 02:01 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Personally I feel pianists that have their pieces memorized when performing play so much more muscially than when playing from the music.

Music is an aural art. By having a piece memorized you can then truly pay attention to all the nuances of the piece, focusing on listening to ones self, instead of having some (or more) of your attention on reading the score.

It takes away from musical interpretation.

I also find that I conserve energy when a piece is memorized. Rather than expell my energy reading the music.

Becoming an accomplished reader of music is important. But also being able to memorize a piece is also important. It shows that you have a good ear, know theory/form/structure of the piece as well as your ability to be able to memorize and interpret the piece of music without any distraction. Consequently, increasing your ability to communicate to your audience through the pure performance of the work.

I do agree once a piece is memorized know how to read it too!
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#930708 - 06/03/06 02:25 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Rugrag,
I wouldn't worry too much about theory/harmony right now.
I used to memorize like crazy because of my ear, because of my ear I was not the best sightreader. Memorizing a piece was easier for me than reading. This was when I was young. I also used patterns on the keyboard to help with my memorization. I had no clue of theory at all. Memorizing like this was not the most secure, but I didn't know that, and I managed to pull it off.
When I got older I wanted to major in piano performance and study music seriously. I had a good teacher and learned theory and practiced reading everyday.
Now I know what it is like to memorize and really know a piece, and be able to read music well. I am now a whole musician.
So what I am getting at is that you can memorize a piece without knowing any theory. Try listening often to a recording of the piece you are working on. Then start with the first phrase or even the first measure and read it and then try it without the music. After you learn how to memorize like this, you will start to see patterns on the keyboard, by looking at your hands!! Looking at your hands I think is good!!! It will help you to learn music theory. You will see the patterns and you will eventually be able to label what you're playing. That is if you find a good teacher that can help you with theory. But first develop your ear and just try memorizing.
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member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#930709 - 06/03/06 07:28 AM Re: Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianobuff:
Rugrag,
After you learn how to memorize like this, you will start to see patterns on the keyboard, by looking at your hands!! Looking at your hands I think is good!!![/b]
Oi! You should take a peek at the "Looking at Hands" topic!
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#930710 - 06/06/06 08:14 AM Re: Memorization
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
The opposite poles of sight-reading and memorisation are given.

At one end is Gyro, representing the vast majority's dependence on the chore of sight-reading against pianobuff's memorisation skills. Clearly rugrag has been impressed by the swift keyboard progress of those with meorisation skills ... and wants to close the gap.

It would be well to point out that, with a fresh piece of music, everybody is put to the initial chore of identifying the notes and working out the most appropriate fingering ... but here the two paths diverge.

Gyro relies on dedicated practice and attendant muscle memory to slowly advance sight-reding to the note pattern recognition stage rather than slugging it out with individual notes. Before rugrag presumes to follow the pianobuff aural memory "shortcut" ... there are setbacks to mention ... another case of "easy come ... easy go". Aural memory is NOT permanent ... and tends to fade fast ... thus requiring those with snappy memories to practice assiduously lest public performances be wracked by the nightmare of a memory block.

My own finding is that the vast majority of fun-loving people with bad memories often prove to be most artistic ... it's as though an aversion to the orderly mental pigeon-holing of information has been jettisoned in favour of random untidiness ... by comparison those with orderly photographic memory skills become lawyers, quantity surveyors, accountants and concert pianists.

Rugrag shouldn't be thrown by inflated stories of memorisation skills ... sight-reading remains the fountainhead. However, pianists are advised to take a video of themselves at the keyboard with eyes glued to the score ... the camera unfortunately registers the intensity of the sight-reading as ploddingly amateur ... there's a need to loosen up ... it's total rot to suggest that more energy is used in converting to a grand "theatrical" performance.

If Liszt ... "The greatest piano showman ever" modestly played with a "coin on the backs of his hands" ... I'll eat Gyro's hat!!!

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#930711 - 06/06/06 06:33 PM Re: Memorization
LeahG Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/05
Posts: 168
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
Clearly rugrag has been impressed by the swift keyboard progress of those with meorisation skills ... and wants to close the gap.
[/b]
Yes, I recently saw The Art of the Piano for the first time. I was blown away by how well, and FAST, the artists were playing!
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#930712 - 06/06/06 11:43 PM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Just to say, when I recommended rugrag to listen, using his ears, to employ this sense on his memorization of the piece he is working on, I meant it as a first step. I did not say he should rely on this soley for public performance.
After being able to rely on his ears and visual memory of what patterns he is playing on the keyboard, then he can start to learn what he is actually playing on the keyboard. This is where music theory comes to play.
If he wants to memorize a piece this is how I recommend he starts:
Ears first, patterns on the keyboard/music a close second, theory third.
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Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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#930713 - 06/07/06 12:48 AM Re: Memorization
LudwigLives072 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/30/06
Posts: 19
Loc: Minnesota
I don't know about everyone else, but when I'm practicing a long song, like Beethoven's Pathetique for example (1st movement) since I'm working on that now, I practice parts so much that it just turns into memorization for me. Granted that I listen to that song on CD quite a bit which might help a little, but I'm usually pretty good at just memorizing things on "accident".

Just to give a little background on myself, I'm 26 now, used to take piano lessons from when I was 5 until 11 or 12. I didn't play for 13 years and then I started playing a little bit again last summer....like Coldplay and Keane songs and now since Christmas, I've been going into Beethoven's Sonatas. I can play Moonlight movement 1 with the music but for some reason I have a heck of a time memorizing that song. I've been working on Pathetique movement 1 for about a month now and the first four pages I have memorized, then it gets sctetchy with the right hand crossover trills, but then I have other parts memorized.

I guess I don't think the best way to master a piece is to memorize it, but usually when you play a song so much, don't you ultimately memorize the song anyway?
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#930714 - 06/07/06 04:43 AM Re: Memorization
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Pianobuff little realizes that he is in a highly select group with rare aural skills ... like Piano*Dad's son, he memorizes music fast and thereby duck the drag of sight-reading.

But 99.9% of us like rugrag, are not blessed with instant aural recall ... only by sight-reading and patient practice do we come close to a good performance. There's no magic formula to upgrade memory ... either you've got a good aural memory or you haven't. But memory is limited ... as with Ludwig who has managed over the past month to memorize the opening 4 pages of the Pathetique ...
however, in getting to the trickier cross-hands bit, has philosophically concluded "I guess I don't think the best way to master a piece is to memorize it". Some can cut Ludwig's month over 4 pages ... to 2 hours.

However, those rare few like Pianobuff and Piano*Dad's son are in a different ball game ... and with careful supervision and dedicated practice can expand their memories to concert pianist standards.

But it's not all beer and skittles for Piano*Dad's son ... the very speed of easy absorption often results in the careless inclusion of "bad notes" ... trying to correct these errors is almost impossible ... the mind is strangely reluctant to permit information to be "rubbed out". Always a good idea to make sure that the initial image is absolutely accurate in terms of pitch and note duration, pattern structures, tempo and dynamics.

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#930715 - 06/07/06 10:53 PM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
I have to disagree.
I think if rugrag listened to (for example, since this is what I teach), Suzuki Bk 1 CD everyday (Kataoka edition), found a good Suzuki teacher, and the teacher taught rugrag how to play these pieces by demonstrating on a second piano, Rugrag would learn these pieces, by ear and memory. No reading of music should be involved at all, not even at the lesson or at home!!
This, if he truly wants to learn how to memorize is a great way to do it.
I believe the ear can be developed at any age, if you really want it and have a good teacher to help.
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#930716 - 06/08/06 01:56 AM Re: Memorization
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
The Susuki method only works for strings ... reading one note at a time.

It doesn't work for the piano ... too many fingers.
There is no substitute for sight-reading.

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#930717 - 06/08/06 02:32 AM Re: Memorization
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
btb,
Tell me, what have I been doing for the past 10 years??
Please, you need to learn more about the Suzuki philosophy. It works very well for piano as well as any other instrument.
I have to say that I don't necessarily go through all the books (like the stringed instruments.) Most often I go through Book 1 and 2 of the Suzuki repertoire, reviewing all pieces and knowing them by memory. By Book 3, my students then start a more varied "traditional" approach to learning one piece from each period in piano, always reviewing at least 4 pieces from each period while learning new pieces by sight.
Reading of music starts in Book 2. Book One is played completely by ear/memory.
It is an excellent method. My student's become very fine pianists with a developed ear and memory as well as being very good at reading music.
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#930718 - 06/08/06 08:03 AM Re: Memorization
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2893
Loc: UK.
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
But it's not all beer and skittles for Piano*Dad's son ... the very speed of easy absorption often results in the careless inclusion of "bad notes" ... trying to correct these errors is almost impossible ... the mind is strangely reluctant to permit information to be "rubbed out". Always a good idea to make sure that the initial image is absolutely accurate in terms of pitch and note duration, pattern structures, tempo and dynamics. [/b]
There is no doubt that this does happen. It is quite a good description of my own playing when I was young and I have one or two similar students now. However I don't believe it is the result of a natural gift for memorisation. Some learners are impatient. Instead of reading things carefully they will often try to guess what comes next. They memorise mistakes not because they can't read the music but because they don't go through it with enough care in the first place. I remember doing this a lot. Most of the time when I practiced I just couldn't be bothered to get the book out. I would sit and play and if I couldn't remember I would make it up, as long as it sounded ok. The memory skills developed as a result of this way of practicing. If you practice from memory then you will get better at it. As BTB said it is not always a good thing. You have to take the time to read accurately in the first place.

Pianobuff, I am interested in how the Suzuki method works. I have very limited knowledge of it. I can appreciate how playing without notation can give you a chance to develop your ear and really listen to what you play. How long is it before you introduce notation? Those kids who play without notation to begin with, how do they practice at home as I can't see how they can work things out for themselves? Do you feel that notation is too complicated for younger children to understand? I am not knocking it as I have seen many wonderful Suzuki trained students play in recitals. I am just curious.
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