Memorizing for the wrong reason ?

Posted by: dmd

Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 12/31/12 08:28 PM

I am beginning to work with Sonatina by Clementi.

I believe my skill level is sufficient to enable me to play it as I am reading the notation. Not sight reading, just looking at the notation as I practice it and play it ... with moments here and there where I glance down at the keys.

My question is this. Should I abandon that method and just go ahead and memorize it and play it while looking at the keyboard ? I believe I will be able to master it sooner that way but not sure if that is a good idea.
Posted by: musicpassion

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 12/31/12 09:22 PM

I think one direction will strengthen your reading skills as you learn the piece(the first learning process you mention).

I think the other direction will strengthen your memorization skills. Yes, you might learn it faster this way.

I've heard some very accomplished pianists that function one way, and some the other. I used to have opinions leaning toward the reading skills because my job demanded strong reading skills, but I take a much wider view now.

I'm not going to offer a suggestion about how you ought to learn the music. But here's some more information that might help you decide: a well rounded pianist should have both reading and memorization skills. Are your skills stronger/weaker in one particular area? You might consider your learning this piece in the broader context of your learning music. So in other words consider how learning this piece can develop your musical skills.

Out of curiousity: which Sonatina?
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 10:01 AM

Have you asked your teacher? What is their advice?
Posted by: TimR

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 11:27 AM

It's not a complicated piece to memorize.

For a beginner to learn it, the amount of work required should almost ensure accidental memorization.

So you have two choices immediately: memorize accidentally or deliberately. I would vote for deliberately unless there's some reason not to. I always memorized my beginner pieces as soon as possible. As slow as i mastered a piece, it was going to be memorized for most of the time I worked on it anyway. (and forgotten the next week - but that's a consequence of age)

Then you have another choice: looking at your hands or not. It is possible to memorize and NOT look at your hands, and probably preferable.
Posted by: dmd

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 09:35 PM

Thank you for your replies.

In consideration of your suggestions I will probably stick to a combination of both, which is basically looking at the music for a great portion of it but checking the keyboard here and there as needed. If this leads to complete memorization, so be it.

As to which Sonatina, all I can tell you is that the title is Sonatina by Muzio Clementi and it is in the key of C.
It begins with ... bomb bump-bump bomb bomb in 4/4 time and has 3 sections.

As for what my teacher says ... I am without one for the moment.

As for memorizing without looking at my hands ... Hopefully, that will happen on its own.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 09:48 PM

Originally Posted By: dmd
As for what my teacher says ... I am without one for the moment.

One thing a teacher could do for you is help you analyze the structures of the sonatina. Most likely, it's Op 36, n.1. Not a difficult piece to analyze, but still, if you understood what constituted the exposition, the development and the recapitulation, it would help you considerably. Also, Clementi modulates, and knowing what that is, and where the modulations are, would also be of assistance. Finally, Clementi does throw in some interesting opportunities for voicing the counter melodies. Again, a teacher could help you with this.

Perhaps you could enter into a short term relationship with a teacher to just work on this sonatina?
Posted by: keystring

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 10:24 PM

What John says.

Don, are you part of the sonata analysis thread over in the ABF? Clementi is in "sonata form" which is what is being discussed over there. It happens that the first music that I ever played as a teen was Clementi, and it made me pick up the structure of musical form without having words for it. I had to learn that 40 years later. Clementi's music is very predictable, and goes along that form. Once you understand the form, memorizing becomes easy. It's like when you know how "knock knock" jokes work, you can memorize a bunch of them because the pattern is always the same.
Posted by: Opus_Maximus

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/01/13 11:35 PM

I would strike a balance: Learn the Clementi by memorization as it would be quicker and more fulfilling for you, but compensate for that by developing your reading skills and sightread easier music every day for 15 minutes WITHOUT looking at your hands.


Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
[understood what constituted the exposition, the development and the recapitulation, it would help you considerably. Also, Clementi modulates, and knowing what that is, and where the modulations are, would also be of assistance.


Sound advice, but that would assume the the OP already has a relatively basic background in theory and musicianship, and able to understand the concept of modulations and keys. If he doesn't, it might add further confusion.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 08:48 AM

Originally Posted By: dmd
As for memorizing without looking at my hands ... Hopefully, that will happen on its own.



I do not think this will happen.

I think you need to force yourself not to look at your hands. Looking at your hands in the early stages will delay your keyboard geography feel.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 09:11 AM

Something that seems a bit off to me is that you talk about memorization for the purpose of looking at your hands. The reason we memorize is for more consistency in playing and surety of notes so that one can be more expressive. I always know a piece better if I memorize it. Yes, sometimes if you have a piece that jumps around a lot where it's necessary to look at your hands - the *only* time when you are supposed to look at your hands - then memorization for that purpose is needed. However, you shouldn't need to memorize in order to look at your hands.

Some adult students especially will want to look at their hands to make sure they're playing with the right finger on the correct note. The problem with this is that as the music gets more complicated, there's no way you can look at both hands and all 10 fingers to make sure they're doing what you need them to do. Also, fingers can do what they're supposed to do without the visual reinforcement. The need to look at one's hands becomes a crutch and can hinder progress as a student is learning a piece and keeps going back and forth between the music and their hands, losing their place in the music, etc. Learning to trust your fingers and go base don the feeling of the right notes and fingers is a huge part of the memorization process, actually.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 11:48 AM

There is that one tricky rhythm in this one that nobody plays correctly. My teacher didn't even insist on that one.
Posted by: PianoStudent88

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 12:18 PM

Which movement and measures? I don't remember any tricky rhythms.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 12:24 PM

Originally Posted By: Morodiene
Something that seems a bit off to me is that you talk about memorization for the purpose of looking at your hands. The reason we memorize is for more consistency in playing and surety of notes so that one can be more expressive. I always know a piece better if I memorize it.

Just a side note here. Morodiene is correct about the reason for memorization, but I strongly urge my students to watch their hands when playing from memory, rather than closing their eyes or staring out into space. The reason? Having a visual image of where your hands are throughout a piece actually adds an extra element of security to the memorization process. Many pianists don't need it, many are the show-off types a la Liberace, who like to facially interact with the audience, and there are other reasons, but my experience teaches me that the majority of students benefit from focusing on their hands, once a piece is memorized.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 12:28 PM

Originally Posted By: TimR
There is that one tricky rhythm in this one that nobody plays correctly. My teacher didn't even insist on that one.

Now I have to confess curiosity. Assuming Clementi Op 36, n.1, Spiritoso, what measure are you referring to?
Posted by: TimR

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 10:58 PM

Yes, that's the one.

Andante movement, measure 8, beat one.

Left hand has a triplet, right hand has dotted eighth, sixteenth. Many people will play the last eighth of the triplet at the same time as the sixteenth. My teacher at the time was fine with that but I was stubborn. I wrote it out in a notation program both ways and let the computer play it back perfectly. It isn't that much harder to do it right, but at tempo you probably can't hear the difference. I couldn't count it but could feel it after some work.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 11:13 PM

Originally Posted By: TimR
Yes, that's the one.

Andante movement

Every single student who played that movement for me struggled. Monumentally struggled. That movement is (arguably) the most difficult of the three movements, but the reason students hate that movement is they are too young to appreciate beauty. Students find that movement boring and, thus, they don't practice it!

I was assigned that movement when I was 8, and I remember hating it (and all the slow sonatina movements). I didn't appreciate slow music until much, much later.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/02/13 11:45 PM

Originally Posted By: TimR
Yes, that's the one.

Andante movement, measure 8, beat one.

Left hand has a triplet, right hand has dotted eighth, sixteenth. Many people will play the last eighth of the triplet at the same time as the sixteenth. My teacher at the time was fine with that but I was stubborn. I wrote it out in a notation program both ways and let the computer play it back perfectly. It isn't that much harder to do it right, but at tempo you probably can't hear the difference. I couldn't count it but could feel it after some work.

The pity is that Clementi wrote this for beginners, and we really don't know if he used that notation to make the RH a triplet, or to teach the rather difficult division of triplets against sixteenths. I point it out to my students, but like your teacher, I don't fixate on having students perform it mathematically correct.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/03/13 01:36 AM

Memory has returned grudgingly, it has been some time since i played this.

The error I made was not to play the right hand as a triplet - even as a raw beginner I would not have accepted that.

Instead, I played the right hand sixteenth exactly in the middle of the left hand triplet eighth. There's an almost irresistable pull.

Mathematically, you sub divide Beat One into 12ths.

Then left hand plays on 1, 5, and 9.

Right hand plays on 1 and 9, if mistakenly doing a triplet.

Or, right hand plays on 1 and 11, the error I made.

But right hand is notated at 1 and 10, which is exceedingly difficult to do. My teacher conferred with another experienced teacher, who felt Clemanti probably never intended it to be mathematically correct anyway.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Memorizing for the wrong reason ? - 01/03/13 08:53 AM

Originally Posted By: TimR
Memory has returned grudgingly, it has been some time since i played this.

The error I made was not to play the right hand as a triplet - even as a raw beginner I would not have accepted that.

Instead, I played the right hand sixteenth exactly in the middle of the left hand triplet eighth. There's an almost irresistable pull.

Mathematically, you sub divide Beat One into 12ths.

Then left hand plays on 1, 5, and 9.

Right hand plays on 1 and 9, if mistakenly doing a triplet.

Or, right hand plays on 1 and 11, the error I made.

But right hand is notated at 1 and 10, which is exceedingly difficult to do. My teacher conferred with another experienced teacher, who felt Clemanti probably never intended it to be mathematically correct anyway.


Although I remember my teacher harping over this one until I could do it properly (and I actually liked this movement as a child for some reason), I think that it's not a hill I wish to die on as a teacher. I also understand that this happens all the time in operatic and vocal literature and those are often performed to varying levels of sticking to the written page (mathematically correct) and seeing it as a short hand for matching with the triplets. In such cases, there's no way to know what the composer intended and so it's up to the individual. If the student is ready to tackle the 4 vs. 3 idea then they certainly can, but there are far better pieces out there to teach this idea than this one, and as previous posters have pointed out, at the level this piece is usually taught, it's not really a good time to introduce that concept fully.