Today I am sharing this article that I wrote for the blog at Tonara.com.
If you aren't familiar with Tonara, it is a unique app with a variety of features that enable teachers to manage their studio and motivate their students to practice. Visit Tonara's website HERE to learn more!
Will your students be participating in recitals, festivals, or competitions in the coming year? If so, chances are that they will be required to memorize some, if not all, of their music for these events.
When did memorization become such a big deal, and how can we help our students to develop this important skill? Read on for my tips for taking the mystery out of memorization!
performers rarely played from memory. In fact, it was seen as somewhat pretentious for a
performer to play without the music, as it put the focus of the audience on the prowess of the
performer and not on the music itself! However, that perception changed in the mid-1800s,
when performers such as Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Niccolo Paganini began dazzling
audiences by giving solo concerts completely from memory. Thanks to them, the notion of a
virtuosic soloist performing entirely from memory became common practice.
Despite the practice of memorization being a relatively new one, there are many benefits to
memorizing our music. The process of memorization encourages us to look for patterns in the
score that can lead to a greater understanding of how a piece of music is constructed.
Memorization can also make it easier to execute difficult technical passages since performers
don’t need to keep their eyes on the music as they play. Because of these two benefits, many
performers report feeling a greater emotional connection to the music and more artistic freedom
when performing from memory than when playing from a score.
However, performing from memory can be scary--like walking a tightrope without a safety net.
Most musicians have a horror story about a performance featuring the dreaded “memory slip.”
Because of this fear, the added pressure of memorization can make the idea of public
performance even more stressful for our students.
So, how can we take the stress out of memorizing? Here are my tips for making the process of
memorization easier for your students:
Tip #1: Have students practice memorizing and performing from memory throughout the
year--not just at recital or festival time.
Just like playing an instrument, memorizing is a skill that takes practice! By memorizing many
simple pieces throughout the year, students learn the skills they need to memorize more
complex works when recital or competition time rolls around.
Challenge your students to play short sections of their pieces each week from memory--even if
it is just the introduction or the coda of a piece in progress. Encourage students to have two or
three of their favorite repertoire pieces memorized at all times, so they will be ready to perform
from memory in casual settings, such as for friends and family.
Tip #2: Make sure students are using multiple types of memory when memorizing their
Often students rely on muscle memory when memorizing their pieces--playing a piece over and
over until their fingers remember the notes. While muscle memory is important, it can also be
unreliable. Other types of memory that students should be using include:
- Analytical memory: Help students analyze the form and harmony of their music, and help them look for patterns in the melody and harmony that make memorizing easier.
- Visual memory: Students should be able to visualize details in the score from memory. For example, what is the starting note? What is the starting dynamic level? It can also be helpful to visualize patterns such as chord shapes on the piano.
- Aural memory: Students should be able to think through a piece away from the piano, imagining how each note should sound. Students might find it helpful to practice singing the melody or tapping the rhythm to a piece from memory as well.
Tip #3: Give students tools to test their memory, so they feel confident a piece is
memorized securely before a performance.
Have your students try the following ideas to test their memorization of a piece:
- Ask students to mark several spots in the music where they can begin playing from memory. Quiz students by having them start a piece at one of these “memory spots” at random points throughout their lesson.
- Have students “perform” a piece silently from memory--for example, touching the correct piano keys without making a sound.
- Have students play a piece very slowly from memory.
- Ask students to play hands separately from memory.
- Ask students to explain a memorized section of their piece in words. For example, “This section starts quietly with a half note C, followed by staccato eighth notes that step up.”
- Ask more advanced students to write out a short section of their music on staff paper from memory.
By using these tips, you can help take the mystery out of memorization for your students--as
well as give them a confidence boost for their upcoming performances this year!
What do you think? What are your top tips for helping your students to memorize their music? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!