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#1982491 - 11/04/12 05:57 AM Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones?
Ganddalf Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 699
Loc: Norway
I'm currently struggling with Bach's third Partita and my goal is to memorise the whole suite. But I find this very difficult, particularly with the first movement. Generally I find it much easier to remember romantic music, but even the subsequent movements of the Partita are easier than the first one.

I find this a bit strange because this movement isn't very complex. It resembles a two-part invention, but is longer. This is not the first time I have this problem, but I don't understand why some pieces are so difficult to remember while others are learned quite quickly. Anyone having similar experience? Any good tricks to overcome the problem?

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#1982512 - 11/04/12 07:55 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
zillybug Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/11/11
Posts: 136
Loc: USA
HI Granddalf,
I have the same experience. I find romantic era music the easiest to memorize. Since coming back to the piano, I have only memorized the first invention and am presently working on the 8th which I am having a very hard time getting in my head. For the first one, I analyzed it first and my teacher wanted it memorized hands separately first and finally hands together. I know there is a lot if different opinions on this forum about hands separate but for Bach I feel it really does help. This is only a 2 part invention but it took me a month to get it memorized HS, doing a few lines a week. I was able to memorize it HT quicker once I put it together. Good luck. I can't imagine having to memorize pages of Bach.
Judy

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#1982518 - 11/04/12 08:17 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
Numerian Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 1075
I suspect memorization becomes harder when the music begins to feature certain characteristics:

1) Polyphony with two or more voices singing independently of each other; the more voices the more difficulty in memorization.

2) Unusual or unexpected harmonies, in general and in relation to the period in which the composer was living. Atonalism and a good bit of contemporary piano writing can be extremely difficult to memorize and there is no shame for the performer to play from the score for a lot of this music.

3) Lack of sectional repetition. In large scale works like Beethoven and Schubert sonatas, or Chopin Scherzi/Ballades, sections are repeated almost exactly, though usually transposed to another key. This can also be found in shorter works, like the Chopin etudes or Rachmaninoff preludes. It is a lot easier to memorize this music than, say, Brahms intermezzi or capriccios, because he deliberately avoided exact repetition, not just by section, but bar by bar in a musical line.

Maybe you could argue that Romantic works are more commonly heard on the concert stage, aside from their melodic accessibility and general familiarity, because they are easier to memorize, and no respectable artist would risk performing entirely from scores (except for Richter and he had old age as an excuse). I did attend a Barenboim recital several years ago of Bach's WTC and he (Barenboim, not Bach) performed from the score. The critics said nothing about it, and it seemed to indicate Barenboim had the same issue, on a larger scale, as our OP.

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#1982523 - 11/04/12 08:46 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
Beethoven747-400 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/24/11
Posts: 126
Loc: Perth, Australia
Simply, I find more difficult works easier to memorize, probably because I have to take sections slowly or play it over and over again to get it right. I find unexpected harmonies easier to remember as well, I think it's because I find it more interesting... like Prokofiev.

I find listening to recordings of pieces helps me memorize them better.
_________________________
YouTube Channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/brandonscherrer?feature=mhee

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#1982537 - 11/04/12 09:16 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
Numerian Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 1075
I don't know about whether listening to recordings can help, other than giving you a sense of the complete music, but what you say makes sense, especially slow practice. That probably helps considerably in muscle memorization. If unexpected harmonies help you, you might be among the select number of people who memorize by harmonic structure and development. My teacher memorizes that way (now we are going to modulate to this key, etc., is how he thinks about the music), but he teaches harmony for a living so maybe it comes easier to him. He also has a rather peculiar sense of hearing wrong notes in masses of chords, to the point that other professors call him to listen to their own students when they have pieces ready for a recital. It is interesting how often the students will have a wrong note in a chord, that neither they nor their professors noticed, even in the most overplayed and familiar of music.

I think for polyphonic music, and Bach in particular, there must be some special brain capacity that certain artists have to hear the voices operating independently in their head. This must aid memorization. Gould never seemed to have a problem with memory, and he certainly had a gift for picking out different polyphonic lines, indicating he was hearing the complexity in a different way from most people. He was hearing it as if it was chamber music, and his artistry consisted in performing these interweaving lines with such independence of line, and with such distinct coloration for each line, that you felt you were listening to instruments other than the piano. I should go back and listen to his humming, which I've always tried to ignore in his recordings. I wonder which line he is humming. Is it the more complex? Does that help with his memory?

(p.s. I just noticed the date of today's post and realized it is my 7th year anniversary on the Forum. Sheesh! What has happened to the time? And to think Frank's been building and supporting this website for much longer than that.)



Edited by Numerian (11/04/12 09:25 AM)

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#1982695 - 11/04/12 04:28 PM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Numerian]
DanS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/12
Posts: 568
I've always found the best way to memorize Bach is to memorize little sections at a time. I actually just posted this in another thread...Try working on 1 measure at a time...1&2&3&1. Play it until you know and understand it harmonically, then move on to the next measure. Think about the chords (or implied chords), and also about what chord tones your playing...root, upper and lower leading tones, root, 3rd etc.

I think Classical and later is easier to memorize. Repetitive accompaniment figures that slowly change with good voice-leading are much easier to memorize than counterpoint.

Originally Posted By: Numerian

3) Lack of sectional repetition. In large scale works like Beethoven and Schubert sonatas, or Chopin Scherzi/Ballades, sections are repeated almost exactly, though usually transposed to another key. This can also be found in shorter works, like the Chopin etudes or Rachmaninoff preludes. It is a lot easier to memorize this music than, say, Brahms intermezzi or capriccios, because he deliberately avoided exact repetition, not just by section, but bar by bar in a musical line.


Very true, although sometimes sectional repetition can make it harder, especially if it's ALMOST the same, but just tiny bit different. That can lead to endless headaches!

Dan


Edited by DanS (11/04/12 04:29 PM)
_________________________
"Most pianists are poor musicians, they dissect music into bits-and-pieces, like a roast chicken" -Debussy

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#1982698 - 11/04/12 04:31 PM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
ando Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 3693
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
Maybe because you don't like them as much!

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#1982720 - 11/04/12 05:25 PM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Beethoven747-400]
DameMyra Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 1986
Loc: South Jersey
Originally Posted By: Beethoven747-400
Simply, I find more difficult works easier to memorize, probably because I have to take sections slowly or play it over and over again to get it right. I find unexpected harmonies easier to remember as well, I think it's because I find it more interesting... like Prokofiev.

I find listening to recordings of pieces helps me memorize them better.


I agree. It takes me longer to memorize the slow movements of sonatas because I just don't practice or drill them as much as movements that have greater technical difficulties.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher
MTNA/NJMTA/SJMTA

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#1982846 - 11/05/12 02:32 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4263
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
JS Bach is always considered difficult to read ... mainly because of a genius who could compose with each of his hands following a totally different motif. (like a switchback)
Most later composers settle for a repetitive rhythm in one hand against which to mount a melody outline in the other.

The idea of memorising “small bites” is the only way to progress.


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#1982847 - 11/05/12 02:59 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5429
Loc: Europe
There's muscular/finger memory which works for fast passages and the ones that you actually STUDY quite hard and slow/fast/etc. Slow passages don't require that kind of study so it takes a different kind of approach.

In all, I find that being:
a. Analytical
b. Able to listen and play

help me enormously. A lot of the times, I just 'bet' (more or less) on what's coming next. I don't have to use my uber/high/amazing memory to remember each chord. I also use my logic and other things to help me out when playing from memory...
_________________________
http://www.musica-ferrum.com

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#1982854 - 11/05/12 03:39 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
dsch Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/17/08
Posts: 325
Loc: florida
I think for polyphonic music, and Bach in particular, there must be some special brain capacity that certain artists have to hear the voices operating independently in their head. This must aid memorization. Gould never seemed to have a problem with memory, and he certainly had a gift for picking out different polyphonic lines, indicating he was hearing the complexity in a different way from most people.

So much depends on the young developing brain. It has plasticity that the adult brain lacks.

Gould worked through WTCI and WTCII in their entirety prior to the age of 10, IIRC.

I certainly wish that I had done that!

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#1983136 - 11/05/12 05:20 PM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
dolce sfogato Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 2667
Loc: Netherlands
the question in the post is 1)interesting, 2)hard to answer. Just my personal thoughts(on memorizability, excusez le mot)
Bach's Goldbergvariations are easy to memorize, his WTK is really hard
Rachmaninoff's concerto's are easy, his 1st sonata/Chopin-variations are not
Beethoven's hammerklaviersonata: slow movement is harder to memorize than the fugue
Bartok's sonata is easier than his suite op.14
Prokofieff's 3rd concerto is easier to memorize than his 8th sonata
Reger's Bach-variations are more diificult to memorize than his Telemann-variations
Busoni's Fantasie nach J.S.Bach is impossible
Schubert in general is easy
Chopin in general is easy
Scarlatti is quite hard
Alkan's concerto is relatively easy
Scriabin is hard

just some personal expiriences and observations, it must mean that it is all on how the music works on your personality/memory/fingers/brains/heart, one couldn't choose, one is victim of predestination/individual capacity.
_________________________
Longtemps, je me suis couch de bonne heure, but not anymore!

Mussorgski tableaux d'une exposition/Ravel miroirs

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#1983143 - 11/05/12 05:31 PM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2392
Loc: San Jose, CA
I've actually had fairly good luck memorizing Bach. DanS's advice is right on - you have to work on Bach in sections, and understand the structure and direction before you go on. It's also important just to get your fingers used to the figurations; Bach seemingly never repeats himself, and every new movement will stretch your fingers in a new way that you need to get used to.

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#1983718 - 11/07/12 10:26 AM Re: Why are some pieces much harder to memorise than other ones? [Re: Ganddalf]
Ganddalf Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/09
Posts: 699
Loc: Norway
Many good points here. After reading the responses to my post I tend to believe that the main problem with the forst movement of the third partita is the lack of repetition. There are several motives in the partita, but they seem to be developed in a different way every time.
The Courante movement of the same partita is similar to the first movement (Fantasia), but much easier to memorise. For some reason......
I'll try to break down the Fantasia in small fractions and see if this make memorisation easier.

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