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#493938 - 12/15/05 10:22 AM Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
Hello,
Well, this is a topic that has been bugging me for some time. Keep in mind that my goal is to get into a school such as MSM or Mannes.

First, memorizing a piece for me is effortless. Generally after playing something once it is in my permanent memory. I can still play every single piece that I have ever learned, all the Suzuki books that I was taught with 10 years ago, everything right up to Rhapsody in Blue which I recently performed. Currently I have the first few pages of the Brahms Paganini variations and a nocturne of Chopin memorized after working on them for 3 days. Mind you, I didn't say I could perorm them flawlesley (Chopin, I can do well, Paganini is ehh), but I said I know the notes, rythms, and dynamics perfectly.

First, I thought this was normal for a while and that it was what everyone does. But from reading I kind of get a sense of two thigns:

1. This is sort of rare
2. My memorization is MUCH different from other people. I read of people analyzing scores, copying them over, repeating passages 15 times just to get the notes...However, people that do that can also tell you what the third note in the 15th measure of the 3rd movement is, I cannot.

This leads me to several interesting observations and questions; namely, does it matter how you memorize (to a conservatory) if you can play a piece flawlessley and accuratly through finger memory (what I THINK is the method I employ). When I play a complicated passage, I just focus on the main melody, and my fingers seem to fill it out accordingly with the other notes; I do not think about it in the least.

Is this a bad thing? Will it impact my auditions for a major music school? Are there any benefits for me to totally revamp my learning style?

Thanks,

-Confused...

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#493939 - 12/15/05 10:48 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Brendan Offline



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5316
Loc: McAllen, TX
Relying on muscle memory means that you're not listening to the sound you are making. I believe that a pianist's ultimate goal is to not be aware of their technique and instead focus on sound and tone production. It's good that you can memorize quickly, but remember that memory is only one part of the equation.
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#493940 - 12/15/05 11:02 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2911
Loc: UK.
It sounds like something you needn't worry about unless you are prone to memory lapses. I think memory comes down to three areas, physical, aural and visual. It is safest to have all 3 at your disposal. However you do it the main thing is that it works for you. If it aint broke, don't fix it.
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Pianist and piano teacher.

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#493941 - 12/15/05 11:08 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21529
Loc: Oakland
Your message has a bunch of typographical errors. Are you using finger memory, and have you learned the spelling wrong? If that is the case, it could well be possible that you are not learning scores as well as you think you are. You may well have a great gift, but you need to temper your gifts with discipline. If you can do that, you will be better for it.
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Semipro Tech

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#493942 - 12/15/05 11:11 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Max W Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/02
Posts: 2846
Loc: RHUL
 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
Relying on muscle memory means that you're not listening to the sound you are making. I believe that a pianist's ultimate goal is to not be aware of their technique and instead focus on sound and tone production. It's good that you can memorize quickly, but remember that memory is only one part of the equation. [/b]
That's basically my view.

I used to rely on totally muscle memory - until it led to an embarrassing mistake in a recital, and I couldn't find my way back at all and had to start the next piece.

3 years on, I now rely on knowing the music - the prime aid in my memorisation is my knowledge of the instrument, and I know now what a note on score sounds like out of the piano - and for me, the biggest aid I have in memorisation is simply knowing the piece well, and this is where studying the score comes in handy. I've now learnt (the hard way) that muscle memory is better used to remember where the notes are on the keyboard then 'where your fingers need to go' in relationship to the piece you're playing.

And another thing I've picked up (from here really) is that playing scales a lot is the BEST way of familiarising yourself.

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#493943 - 12/15/05 11:23 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Hobie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/11/05
Posts: 475
Loc: Rocky Mountains
How bad?
Very bad. Why? Because your fingers are about as reliable as our social security benefits 40 years from now!

It is like playing with a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. You never know when it's gonna happen until...poof!...you're toast.
_________________________
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." Groucho Marx

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#493944 - 12/15/05 12:22 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
AnnaMatthew Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/13/04
Posts: 470
Reading this thread makes me feel as bad as Finger memory. :p

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#493945 - 12/15/05 12:30 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Copper Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/05
Posts: 1053
Loc: Virginia
 Quote:
Originally posted by Hobie:
...poof!...you're toast. [/b]
I can relate to the poof!

I've only been playing for about a year, but I have a couple pieces that I've played daily for about 6 months.

I've kind of let them get completely out of my head and into my fingers. That is, I play them with almost no thought at all.

This is OK as long as there are no flubs, but if I miss a couple notes and disconnect, it is almost impossible to keep it going or get restarted.
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#493946 - 12/15/05 01:06 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
i agree, finger memory could lead to getting lost in the middle without even knowing how to get back on track, which has happened to me all the time. now, i try not to just rely on that, but memorize by sections (where there's always a starting point to get back to), by sequences, groups of notes and even hand locations with some passages (jumps especially). although such memorizing process is slower, it provides me much securer memory than before.

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#493947 - 12/15/05 01:18 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Piano*Dad Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10363
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Computerpro3,

If I were you I would not rely on muscle memory .....but I'm not you!

For me, as well as for a number of other posters here, muscle memory is a useful part of memorization. But it's very dangerous to rely on it to the exclusion of other study techniques.

On the other hand, your memory skills may be of a different order from ours. If you have a true idetic memory for music, i.e. if your fingers truly remember everything that easily, then you may very well be able to rely on finger memory without the same fear of total collapse that drives the rest of us to study our music more closely. BDB's post is a serious question. Are you absolutely sure that your finger memory is accurate?

By the way, do you have perfect pitch and are you playing as much by ear as by music. This is also information to be added to the stew.
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#493948 - 12/15/05 01:35 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Muscle memory is not something you can rely on. You need to get the music to soak into your head so you can play it inside and out. By learning the music inside and out, you will be able to recover from a memory lapse.

Muscle-memory is nothing more than the fingers remembering what happened in a sequence. The problem with this is that you'll end up messing up somewhere. This is usually something really stupid, by the way, like the wrong fingering, or a wrong note. The next thing you know, the whole piece will unravel like a big ball of string.

By committing the other aspects of the music to memory, through analysis, writing, and away from the piano reading, your mind is absorbing the music. In this process, your fingers are following along with what they are being told instead of the fingers telling your brain what to do next.

Not to scare you, but the latter process takes a lot longer initially than the muscle memory because there is more to it. Once you do it enough times though, you'll become faster at it.

John
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#493949 - 12/15/05 02:31 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Very interesting reading.

Playing with muscle memory must be supervised by your "hearing" the music inside you and rembembering sequenses analytically and or visually, depending on your mentality.

The muscle memory will hardly carry you through a long piece, but merely help you to execute certain figures, especially in a fast tempo.

The process of learning a complete recital has been subject to at least one dissertation, but I am not familiar with the results and conclusions, so the opinions above are based on my own experience only.

Interesting that pianists are supposed to perform without scores when they are playing solo.

But when accompaning a singer the use the score, and frequently the singer also have a sheet of paper in his hands.

Solo violinists play by heart, also together with an orchestra.

How about organists?

How have these habits developed?

And considering the above, the skill of playing perfect at first sight - also much discussed in this forum - is not frequently needed, and hence it seems to be of less importance.

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#493950 - 12/15/05 02:44 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
BBBworship Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/07/05
Posts: 225
Loc: collierville, tennessee
finger memory alone is indeed bad. even a slight detraction from the motion path your fingers are familiar with could spell disaster.

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#493951 - 12/15/05 02:46 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
yellowville Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/17/05
Posts: 246
Loc: Ithaca, NY
I've found that muscle memory is easily undermined by anxiety. But intellectual memory -- having the ability to recall all the notes in my head -- is much more reliable.

But heck, whatever works for you. We're all different. I can memorize pretty well, but I'd rather be an excellent sight-reader.
_________________________
That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. - H. D. Thoreau

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#493952 - 12/15/05 04:17 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
To answer some questions:

1. Yes, I do have perfect pitch
2. I play much better by ear; to the point that I played the first 2ish pages of Rhapsody in Blue note for note accurate except for 3 chord inversions before I ever saw the sheet music. Of course I listened to it tons of times though.

Now I agree with some of what was being said, but I take issue with some other comments. Perhaps I have not accuratly described how I play; I think finger memory is an unnacurate term, but I cannot really describe how I do it...

Basically I sing along in my head as I play, I don't see the music in my head or think okay, lets play a, g, d, f# etc. I just hear the music and play. As for not being able to listen while you play, I disagree wholeheartedly. When I play Chopin, I can most certainly hear legato, rubato, dynamics. They come at natural spots, you can feel where they are supposed to go. So then you play them.

What the heck is the proper term for that?

And as for my memory being accurate; extremley, I am learning correctly, and I'm not self taught. My teacher graduated with the highest honors from Kiev State University in Russia and has degrees in both performance and pedagology.

Perhaps there is a better term for how I play than "finger memory"?


I do think that it would be interesting to try another learning style on, say, a Chopin Nocturne, something where you really have to focus on detail and dynamics, but the problem is, how do I NOT learn this way? How do I stop myself from memorizing this way? My teacher forbid me from listening to any recordings of the rachmaninoff I'm working on right now as well as the chopin; she says that should help...

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#493953 - 12/15/05 04:27 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
 Quote:
Originally posted by BDB:
Your message has a bunch of typographical errors. Are you using finger memory, and have you learned the spelling wrong? If that is the case, it could well be possible that you are not learning scores as well as you think you are. You may well have a great gift, but you need to temper your gifts with discipline. If you can do that, you will be better for it. [/b]
ACtually I just dont particularly care about how accuratly I type at 6:30 AM when Im typing a post in 5min before I run out the door to school...

But youre point about tempering my gift (or hinderance ) with discipline is well taken.

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#493954 - 12/15/05 04:38 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
yellowville Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/17/05
Posts: 246
Loc: Ithaca, NY
Well it sounds like you have a real gift for music. If I were you, I'd listen to my teacher, but otherwise just take my talent where it wants to go...
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That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. - H. D. Thoreau

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#493955 - 12/15/05 05:26 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Ted Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 1508
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
My memory is better than average but not remarkably so. I think I use a mixture of three types, aural, analytical and haptic, but certainly not visual. That is to say I do not see scores in my mind as some people do. The analytical one is very useful because, unlike the other two, it is not serial but spatial and used properly enables stopping and starting anywhere. It also lets me make up something similar if I have a complete lapse. As I spend most of my time improvising my memory is probably grossly under-exercised.
_________________________
"It is inadvisable to decline a dinner invitation from a plump woman." - Fred Hollows

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#493956 - 12/15/05 06:34 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
teachum Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/19/04
Posts: 2913
Loc: idaho
I used to memorize with muscle memory to a great extent. It seemed great at the time, but the truth was it was because my reading stunk! It hindered me for many years in getting better. For me, it was a crutch. Now I consciously work in all areas, physical/music, visual (score vision), aural and what I like to think of as the geography (knowing what difficult sections look like on the keyboard). I don't even try to memorize a piece until the reading of it comes very easily. I feel much more secure now when playing a difficult piece. Muscle memory alone will always fail you sooner or later and then you are screwed if it's all you have. That's my story anyway.
_________________________
You will be 10 years older, ten years from now, no matter what you do - so go for it!

Estonia #6141 in Satin Mahogany

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#493957 - 12/16/05 02:39 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 97
Loc: Italy, Torino
I suspected that, initially you said "Generally after playing something once it is in my permanent memory", and I started thinking that it wasn't muscular memory but aural memory. Then you confimed that in one of your recent messages.
You are definetely gifted and you don't need to change anything in your learning style. It is something that everybody would like to have and it comes directly from your perfect pitch. I'm not saying that we all need perfect pitch in order to memorize perfectly a page of music but if you have it this is one of the benefits.
Rely on it, but just don't stop there; knowing the score and music theory is such a help that you'll find even additional benefits.

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#493958 - 12/16/05 07:45 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
anacrusis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/04
Posts: 64
Loc: Connecticut
If your goal is to be accepted by a music conservatory at all, much less a "major" one, I think you have your work cut out for you. As a conservatory graduate myself, I think you should know first off the bat that under no circumstances will an institution, even a "minor" one, accept a student who cannot read music. That is a basic requirement, as all courses that you need to obtain a degree in music, such as music theory, piano performance, music history, ear training, etc. require the ability to read music every minute of every day you are there. You could be Horowitz himself, but if you can't read music you will never gain admission. So you need to get that addressed quickly.

Secondly, you need to obtain a list of the audition requirements for the schools you are interested in and be ready to do everything they ask at the audition. The requirements are quite rigorous and include the ability to sight read at the piano and by singing, as well as playing certain required pieces and all scales, arpeggios, etc. on the spot. These requirements are the same for all entering students.

Keep in mind that there are hundreds, thousands of great young pianists in this country. Conservatories are quite competitive and do not accept students who lack basic musicianship skills. They are serious schools for people with extraordinary talent on their main instrument as well as at least minimal (but usually extraordinary) general musicianship, who wish to take it to the next level and beyond. They are not schools of basic study. They do not assign teachers or tutors to teach notes to people who can't read music. No decent school will accept a music student, no matter how talented, who lacks basic musicianship skills as the entire degree curriculum is accessible only by people who can read music, and that is the truth.

I hope this is helpful to you. If you plan to apply to a conservatory you will need to get very serious about your basic musicianship now so you can be ready for the rigorous audition process. Good luck!

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#493959 - 12/16/05 04:54 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21529
Loc: Oakland
If you are contemplating going further in music, you will find that it will always be 6:30 in the morning with 5 minutes before you need to be someplace else whenever you are supposed to play!
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#493960 - 12/16/05 05:26 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
teachum Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/19/04
Posts: 2913
Loc: idaho
Sheesh - if I had your problems Computerpro, I wouldn't be complaining at all.
_________________________
You will be 10 years older, ten years from now, no matter what you do - so go for it!

Estonia #6141 in Satin Mahogany

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#493961 - 12/16/05 06:23 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1489
I'm not sure if I understand the situation correctly - are you saying that you can ONLY learn music by listening to the recording?? How is your sight reading? Can you read music?

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#493962 - 12/16/05 10:05 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
Yes, I can sight read, but somewhat below par than students of my level (completed rhapsody in blue, working on the chopin nocturnes, working on a rachmanioff prelude). My sightreading level is that I can sightread most of the WTC, though probably only at quarter speed. To help remedy this, I am praticing sight reading an hour a day, and I also decided today that I am going to start bringing music to school just to look at and try to get quicker at it. From what I gather in this thread, I think I need to kick it up another notch, because while I've never met another person with so good an aural memory, this has unfortunatly hindered my sightreading because I don't ever need to read the music beyond the initial few hours with the piece, other than maybe for dynamics...

It's not like I don't know what the notes are, but its not like I can sightread a chopin ballade at speed either.

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#493963 - 12/16/05 10:25 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1489
What counts is the ultimate performance when you are up onstage.
How you learn it, how long it takes you compared to others, could not make less of a difference.

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#493964 - 12/16/05 10:55 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
Yeah, I agree that's how it should be, I'm just worried about how good music schools will view it...

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#493965 - 12/16/05 11:27 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
Bootsy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/05/04
Posts: 113
Loc: Yonkers, NY
Dear Computerpro3,

I think that you should take this advice to heart: if you feel that you can't sightread as well as some of your peers, and that you are limited by your musicianship skills in applying to conservatories, then of course you need to work on those skills.

I'd recommend emphasizing sightreading, based on what you wrote above. Sightreading with a partner would be best.

If you have all of the talent, why not develop the skills and the intellect to go with it?

Best,

Bootsy

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#493966 - 12/16/05 11:44 PM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
computerpro3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/04
Posts: 367
Loc: Connecticut/Cincinnati
Yes, I understand this and wish to do exactly as you said, but the problem that both me and my teacher have run into is HOW to do this. I have to basically turn off my memory so I can concentrate on READING the notes, and I'm not sure how to do this. Like sometimes, I'll unconciously have memorized them, and be following along in the score but I have already absorbed the notes, so its not even doing any good. It's so damn frustrating....my teacher calls it pretend sightreading...

I did a search on here and one suggestion that came up for someone in a similar situation was to buy a massive book of etudes or preludes or something and just never actually work on a piece; like sightread until the end of the piece slowly, than go on to the next one without stopping for mistakes or re-playing any measures or notes at all...this way I never play the same thing twice when working on reading. Don't know why I dnd't think of this before, I mean, it won't help for pieces that I want to make part of repretoire, but it should improve my speed...

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#493967 - 12/17/05 12:03 AM Re: Okay, really, how bad is using "finger memory"
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Computerpro 3

Surely one answer to your issue of hampering sight reading because you have automatically switched to aural memory is as follows.

If you can remember the score aurally (aided by CD or whatever) then clearly you do not need to sight read to play the piece bar by bar in teh correct order.

However, if you practice the piece in a different bar order (say 32 to 38, then 18-24 or whatever random segments you choose) then you will be forced to sight-read these segments as you will have no aural reference point.

It will also rapidly make you much more secure about picking up a score from any point - which as a working musician will one day be necessary.

Kind regards

Adrian
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