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#949611 - 07/23/07 04:30 PM Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
laurencefurr Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/16/07
Posts: 13
Loc: Fort Worth, Texas
Elsewhere on this forum, I have stated my belief that anyone can accomplish anything they want if they REALLY want it and are willing to do the necessary work.

That being said, I have had trouble with memorizing music my entire ADULT life. As a child and adolescent, I memorized my music. My teacher was a member of the Piano Guild and I always memorized my ten pieces and got good marks. I have two performance degrees and a Ph.D. so I know how to work. But my performance degrees are in organ and we were not required to memorize anything.

I am going to start teaching privately again after many years. (I am 47 years old.) I find myself questioning my ethics of having my students memorize when I haven't done so in years.

I suppose I have the ability but I am terrified. Will any of you teachers give me hints and suggestions as to how I might start -- or even want to start memorizing again? I know all the reasons -- I don't need reasons -- I need ideas as to how you overcame your fears of memorizing and what propelled you into memorizing even when you didn't have to for years.

I have felt more lazy and afraid of this than anything -- more than my Ph.D orals and comps; more than finishing the dissertation; more than rafting on level 5 rapids!!

How did YOU overcome your fear of memorizing and what tips can you give me. Thanks in advance.

Laurence
_________________________
www.laurencefurrpianostudio.com

"When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish." Ralph Waldo Emerson

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#949612 - 07/23/07 04:53 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

You do it first of all on a very easy piece, and a short section. Analyze it for content and difficulty factor. Repetition. Listening. Whatever. They you wait until the first memory you are trying to do kicks in. Then you continue doing it daily, while adding more measure or lines of the same. Enough. Continue to bring those two long, while adding a 3rd new idea.

You need to be practicing, visually, aurally, and tactilely - one goal at a time. In addition to your preferred way of approaching music, you need to explore the others to find out what they can do for you.

Laurence, I am greatly impressed with your background and instruments. My comments are how I approach memory for the first time with my students, and that begins as soon as possible with the short, easy songs. Then the habits are there when needed for the important pieces later on.

Your "fear" is your obstacle, I think. Try saying affirmations to yourself. You are what you think! Attitudes and behaviors and intentions, when they are moving in the right direction create the path we will take - toward success, or into the "maze" of uncertainty.

You may not have a lot of responses because we are down in participating teachers in the forum the last few days, have you noticed?

You are a remarkable asset in your contributions!

Thank you!

Betty

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#949613 - 07/23/07 05:21 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7410
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
laurencefurr - life is full of just desserts. I haven't memorized anything in 40 yrs, but have been requiring my students to do so, routinely, for Guild, recitals, etc. Now I am taking a course, and have to memorize a part in a 5 part piano ensemble. I am definitely not looking forward to it. I have 18 weeks to get the darn thing done. I totally empathize with your problem. I'll let you know in Dec if I succeed. \:D
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#949614 - 07/23/07 06:36 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2919
Loc: UK.
I think I know what you are talking about. By the sound of it, you know exactly HOW to go about memorising music as you have done it in the past. The trouble is, you don't really have a reason to memorise at the moment.

During my final recital at university I had a tremendous memory lapse in one of my pieces. It didn't have a big effect on my grade but it did knock my confidence. It had never happened before. Now this would not have been too bad but............that was the last performance I gave for quite a few years. This was my mistake. I built up a fear of playing from memory. Years later I wanted to further my studies by taking a post grad performing diploma course. I found a fantastic advanced teacher. She told me that when you fall off the horse you just have to get back on. I had to do my audition from memory or else it was unlikely I would get a place. All the performances I gave on that course were expected to be from memory. Now it is not a problem.

My point is that you will do it when you have a need to do it. Could you organise a recital for yourself where you will play from memory? Maybe this would kick start things a bit.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#949615 - 07/24/07 08:37 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5964
Loc: Down Under
It sounds like you're not afraid of memorising, you're afraid of having your memorising put to the test - in other words, you're afraid of forgetting!
I used to memorise with no effort when I was younger. As I performed less and at the same time increased my repertoire, I became a bit insecure about having memory lapses in performance. And I've done quite a few solo performances with music when I really could have done so from memory if I could have overcome the fear of forgetting.
Some years ago (my son is now 17) I had been booked for a concert well in advance and when the time came I was 8 months pregnant. Well, when deciding whether to perform from memory or not I decided to use my state as an excuse. If I stuffed up, I'd just grin and blame my huge stomach and my hormones. And guess what? I didn't stuff up at all. Because (in the language of The Inner Game of Music, if anyone has ever read that book) I'd given myself permission to fail, the fear went and I DIDN'T fail.
(sorry guys, you'll have to think of a different excuse)
I've always remembered that experience. Say to yourself "I'm going to have a memory lapse!" and guess what? You will. Say to yourself "well I might have a memory lapse, but who cares? I'll make it up and no-one will ever know" and ... well, try it out!
If you do the preparation as Betty outlines, and as you obviously know how to do, then just give it a go! Take every chance to play from memory, and your good experiences will add up.
Having said all that, now I spend most of my time accompanying and get to use the music all the time \:\)
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#949616 - 07/24/07 10:27 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
rustyfingers Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/17/05
Posts: 788
Loc: Massachusetts
I'm not a teacher, just a lousy amateur, but I share your fear. I'm the same age, and my memory is not what it was. Plus, I'm a decent reader, so I can get by (in the privacy of my own home) reading through stuff.

Lately I have really been trying to memorize. It isn't easy. But, it's coming. I procrastinate. I memorize a page, and then I'm afraid to try the next page. So I try a few measures of the next page. And a few more. Then I have to go back because the first page fell apart in the meantime.

Then I start with the last page and work my way backwards. It's slow. It's infuriating. But I'm maybe beginning to discover that there is nothing to be afraid of.

After all, it's just hard (really hard for me) work. No monsters. No spiders. I can do it. You can too. It may just take us a little while.

(Sort of like my "get your behind on the bench" advice in another forum.)

Like any fear, you gotta ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?"
_________________________
If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.

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#949617 - 07/24/07 10:43 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
JerryS88 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/15/06
Posts: 638
Loc: Ringwood, NJ
Laurence - if you are a product of a typical classical piano education then the only device you've ever been taught to use to memorize is to memorize by rote - keep repeating until memorization just "happens," perhaps only a measure or short phrase at a time. All the piano teachers I had were dismal at teaching memorization - in fact I never had one who taught it at all. If this is true for you, then it is no wonder you are fearful of memorizing.

Rote memorization relies on tactile, aural, and mnemonic devices (first I play 2 black notes, then 3 white ones, etc., etc.). All of these are useful but limited in reliability. If you take a slightly wrong turn somewhere you can easily derail your tactile memory with disastrous results. Classical music is complex - aural and mnemonic devices can go just so far.

The one type of memory that is typically the least developed, if at all, but in my opinion and experience the most crucial, is analytical. I am talking about understanding as fully as possible how all the notes of the piece "work." As a starting point, I would recommend roman numeral analysis of each piece you learn and intend to memorize. This forces you to "deconsctruct" the composition, so to speak, and uncover what I would call the "relatedness" of all the notes to each other and to the scale the piece is written in, or more acurately, the key areas the piece moves in and out of, as most pieces do not stay in one key area throughout. Understanding relatedness causes you to see notes and chords in groups rather than as single things - an important and powerful tool in memorizing anything. Take note of non-chord tones. Study the form and label its parts. Take note of melodic development, harmonic modulation, reoccuring harmonic sequences, etc., etc.

I recommend doing this analysis as a first step in learning a piece, and memorizing it as the second step - memorizing each section by making yourself think consciously of the analysis you did as you learn to play it. This forces you to rely on your analytic understanding of the piece before the tactile, aural, and mnemonic memories kick in. In the end, you will most certainly be using a combination of all these types of memory (and even perhaps photographic memory, if that comes naturally to you), but having the analytic understanding as a basis can be very powerful.

I say all these things as a pianist who has struggled all my life with a terrible natural memory (I could play a piece thousands of times without it becoming memorized, and I will never forget the terror I felt when I had memory slips), so much so that I avoided playing from memory most of my adult life. It wasn't until I discovered (on my own) the power of making the connection between understanding music "theory" and actually applying it to the pieces I learn to play (never suggested by any of my piano teachers or music theory teachers!) that I have been able to play from memory (and perform in public) with confidence.

As a bonus (a GREAT bonus), there is nothing like REALLY understanding how music is put together - what each piece we play is really "about," i.e. the story it tells through harmony and melodic invention and development - it is FASCINATING and REWARDING in and of itself.

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#949618 - 07/25/07 01:53 AM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5964
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
The one type of memory that is typically the least developed, if at all, but in my opinion and experience the most crucial, is analytical. I am talking about understanding as fully as possible how all the notes of the piece "work."
I couldn't agree more! This was partly what I meant by "doing the preparation". I was more fortunate than you in having a teacher who did emphasise analysis as a an important step to memorising. And yes, we do end up using a combination of tactile memory (seems to be what most kids rely on), visual memory, aural memory, and the understanding of what's actually going on in the music. If you know the harmonic structure of the piece and tactile memory fails you, you can at least end the section in the right key \:\)
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#949619 - 07/25/07 03:26 AM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Good posting, Jerry! I enjoyed reading it!

Analysis is knowing the difficulty factor and all the component parts of the piece before you.
To expect memory too soon would be a mistake. I feel memory comes as a gift because you have prepared so well. When the brain has gone through it's paces "enough" (favorite word of mine) you will receive the reward.

You can not chance muddling it up by saying unnecessary things in your inner voice. Keep a quiet mind and let the brain respond. Of course, this is after the analysis and all the practice to put it into place in your subconscious.

It is fascinating and rewarding, I agree with you! The more you do, the better it gets, and the easier the next time. A lot of what we fear is fear itself. So empower yourself with kind and helpful words and patience. Remember to say gratitude for having accomplished it! And, keep your intentions simple and small each time you practice. It's kind of like a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

Betty

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#949620 - 07/25/07 03:51 AM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
sarabande Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/18/05
Posts: 1597
Loc: Mo.
Your not alone - I haven't memorized anything for years either. I used to be proud about how well I did at memorization for school or in memorizing music for example. As an adult, I find it harder and more taxing to memorize but I blame it on that I just have more on my mind that it makes it harder to memorize. I think my memorizing skill went out the window when I had kids too - they took my memorization skills with them!

Many of my students on the other hand have memorized their music even when I don't ask them to - now go figure! They already have pieces memorized before I even get a chance to talk about how to memorize. I ask them how they went about memorizing it and then we talk about different ways to memorize. Sometimes with a piece they really liked, all I say is, "this might be a good one to memorize for a recital", and the next thing I know it's memorized. - And they never cease to amaze me at recitals usually playing better even than at lessons. For upcoming recitals, I give talks about keeping from having too many performance nerves. I'm not sure if it's my talks, it seems most of them like to perform. It's a switch from how I was.

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#949621 - 07/26/07 04:40 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
lalakeys Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/05/06
Posts: 286
Loc: Chicago 'burbs
Like you, I'm an organist. I also do quite a bit of accompanying and chamber music, so I hardly ever perform entire pieces from memory. I do memorize some solo pieces for my own mental discipline, though, and often find that certain passages from the chamber music I play need to be memorized so that I can look away from the score.

I've found that there are three factors that need to be considered when memorizing piano music: visual, aural, and kinesthetic. Some people memorize best by imagining the notes as they appear on the printed page ("photographic memory"). People with perfect pitch can memorize by ear--melodic passages, especially, are easy when one can recognize specific pitches instead of just the outline of a tune. And some people have excellent "muscle memory", being able to remember the shape of chords or intervals in succession.

Ideally, we should be able to use all three methods to memorize music, but most of us have one preferred style (mine is visual). I have never required my students to perform from memory, but I do require them to memorize short passages from their pieces, and encourage them to perform without the score if they're sure they feel comfortable doing so. My main concern is that a student's performance SOUND good--whether or not there is a piece of paper on the music rack is of little concern to me.
_________________________
Private piano & voice teacher for over 20 years; currently also working as a pipe organist for 3 area churches; sing in a Chicago-area acappella chamber choir

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#949622 - 07/26/07 09:04 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5964
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
I've found that there are three factors that need to be considered when memorizing piano music: visual, aural, and kinesthetic. Some people memorize best by imagining the notes as they appear on the printed page ("photographic memory"). People with perfect pitch can memorize by ear--melodic passages, especially, are easy when one can recognize specific pitches instead of just the outline of a tune. And some people have excellent "muscle memory", being able to remember the shape of chords or intervals in succession.
I'd just add a fourth factor, the analytical which we've been mentioning.
Also, you don't need to have perfect pitch to memorize by ear - (though I'm sure it's extra helpful) - that is, if you remember the tune, you can play it by ear if you have developed the skill of finding the right note, the aural skill of knowing what the note will sound like before you play it.
 Quote:
I have never required my students to perform from memory, but I do require them to memorize short passages from their pieces, and encourage them to perform without the score if they're sure they feel comfortable doing so. My main concern is that a student's performance SOUND good--whether or not there is a piece of paper on the music rack is of little concern to me.
_________________________
Du holde Kunst...

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#949623 - 07/26/07 09:21 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
193866 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 777
Loc: Manassas,Va
Dear Teacher Members... Returning to classical piano after 40 years I cannot tell you how much your teacher's forum is helping me... memorization, especially I need help. This is very excellent information and I have printed every word... Thank you so much, Sandy B
_________________________
Sandra M. Boletchek 08/02/06

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#949624 - 07/28/07 08:51 AM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
Steve Bondy Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/24/07
Posts: 9
Loc: Denver, CO
On a related note... When I first began my university studies, I was truly a HORRIBLE sight reader, and an amazing memorizer. As I worked quite diligently on my sight reading, memorizing became less easy. I think there's a correlation of sorts there, but that probably applies more to students than to seasoned pros.

Now I remain not such a great memorizer. When I need to memorize, I do lots of what's already mentioned (Julie Lyon Liebermann (sp?) in "You Are Your Instrument" discusses 6 fold memory) and it helps of course. The thing that reall gets it done for me is near obsessiveness. MANY 5-10 minute practice sessions through the day to confirm what I know and peek ahead at what is next...

My 2 cents.
Steve Bondy

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#949625 - 07/28/07 10:48 AM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
laurencefurr Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/16/07
Posts: 13
Loc: Fort Worth, Texas
I want to thank everyone who has given me feedback. I even got private messages with even more info. than shown here.

I will report back to you when I'm in the process of memorizing my next piece!

Steve Bondy -- I checked out your website. GREAT clips of your students. (and you too!) I've read about the Colorado Suzuki Institute. Haven't made the "step" to teach Suzuki. I studied for a month with a certified piano basics Suzuki teacher in Dallas. I think I'd rather do a summer institute. But I'm still hesitant to switch over to Suzuki. I've read several of his books. Hmmm.

Laurence
_________________________
www.laurencefurrpianostudio.com

"When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish." Ralph Waldo Emerson

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#949626 - 07/29/07 10:20 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
Piano*Dad Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10406
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
 Quote:
I have felt more lazy and afraid of this than anything -- more than my Ph.D orals and comps; more than finishing the dissertation; more than rafting on level 5 rapids!!
Whoa! Level 5 rapids. Geez, that's serious stuff. I've done level 4's on the Chatooga River and if you fear this more than level 5's ...oh my! ;\) \:D

Jerry's quite right about the tactile, finger memory crutch. My son memorizes at the drop of a hat. I have no idea how. Hmmmm, in a total of about eleven hours he and his younger brother both finished off a once-through of our copy of HP #7. Maybe that has something to do with it .... naaah.

I suspect there is a range of abilities within the population to memorize easily. The problem that "easy" memorizers face is full replicability in the face of minor derailments. I'm trying to work with my son to analyze pieces as part of the learning process. Figuring out the chord structure and understanding the shifts probably aids in the memory process and makes memory more secure. And it's just part of musicianship to understand the theory behind what you're playing.

I'm not a teacher, so this is just my commoner's $.02.
_________________________
Grotrian 192 #156455

https://www.youtube.com/user/dhfeld/videos

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#949627 - 07/29/07 10:42 PM Re: Memorization - Ability vs. laziness
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1547
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
Lawrencefurr, I'm a "commoner" like P*D (more of one, since I have a Yamaha and he possesses my dream piano, but I digress), but I wanted to say something about memory work.

Memory comes pretty easily to me, and I don't think it's a blessing. Because I don't have to spend much time analyzing a piece in order to memorize it, I have no idea what to do if I have a memory slip. I'm totally lost. What's more, I have no idea where those slips are going to be because it all got memorized at about the same pace. Consequently, I am never comfortable playing under stress (translation: in front of others) from memory because I can't be confident some new memory problem is not going to surface at a bad time.

I use every trick in the book to try to nail down the memory--analysis, theory, patterns--and I also go through and play the piece excruciatingly slowly to try to see where I am still memorizing by feel and sound. Those are the spots that break under stress.

I think you have a good start toward being an excellent memory player. All the suggestions you've gotten are really good, and I'm going to steal a few for myself.

By the way, we just got back from a trip where we rafted two different rivers (Youghigheny and New), and there's no way in the world I'd even go on Class IV, much less V. Yikes. I'd be totally gray by the end of the trip.

Nancy
_________________________

Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3

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