94/100 Memorization

A blog I follow is www.bulletproofmusician.com, written by Noa Kageyama.

I used to be a great natural memoriser. My first piano teacher used to insist on learning all piece hands separately, in minute detail, before putting the hands together, and somehow I just knew everything by heart without trying. Then, disaster; we moved to another part of the country and I changed teachers. I turned up to my second lesson with the set piece, Schubert Moment Musicaux no 1, and started playing the right hand. She stopped me – “hands together, please” – and I never memorised a piece again.

Except – ┬ámy aunt had an ancient copy of the Gliere Prelude in D flat, which I loved, but could not take away with me. This was in the days before scanners and photocopiers, so my only way of “having” this piece was to learn as much as I could in every visit, and somehow hang on to the memory until next time, maybe a month later. The trouble as, I didn’t know how to memorise. I would just go over and over a couple of bars until the notes seemed to “stick”.


Years later, in my twenties, I started piano lessons again with a teacher who insisted everything had to be memorised. This was a real challenge – Bach fugues, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin Etudes. At first I could only manage one or two bars in a week. Eventually I would painfully, step by step, manage maybe a couple of lines – but I still had no technique for memorisation apart from endless, relentless, repetition. I even tried learning a fugue starting at the last bar, adding preceding bars until I reached the beginning – it worked for me, but infuriated my teacher!

In the post “Why some musicians seem to be memorisation ‘naturals’ (and how to become more of one yourself)” he discusses memorisation.

I particularly like the idea of “performance cues” – Structural, Expressive (mood), Interpretative (elements such as dynamics, tempo, phrasing), and Basic (technical, like bowing, fingering, and I would add posture, using your eyes to prepare keyboard leaps). Deliberately learning and practising these cues is an effective way of improving learning and memorisation.

I wish I had known about this much earlier in. I now use many of these ideas in my own teaching and learning, and it makes a huge difference in getting to grips with a new piece.


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