Pianist Magazine produces a newsletter which wings its way into a reader’s e mail box every other month. It’s brimming with piano news and information, as well as a few piano articles. I write a regular ‘Piano Tips’ feature, and today’s post presents the most recent, which focuses on memorisation. I’ve written about this topic endlessly, and I even give presentations on it, but hopefully, you may find the following suggestions of interest.
Memorisation is a hotly debated topic in piano playing. Irrespective of whether a piano piece is to played from memory or not, the act of memorising is incredibly useful. It can help with so many facets when learning repertoire; from understanding form and structure, to fully internalizing your chosen work (both physically and mentally), and therefore ultimately presenting a more unified, considered and engaging performance.
Here are a few ideas to aid memorisation:
- Take the score (and a pencil) away from the piano and thoroughly study its structure, marking up important ‘landmarks’ such as its form (fugue, sonata form, ternary form, etc.), key changes, texture, chord progressions, and the like.
- When you begin studying a work, memorise from the outset. Resist the temptation to ‘learn the notes’, returning to memorise later. If you can do this from the very beginning, bar by bar (or phrase by phrase), learning everything from the physical ‘feel’ of note patterns, fingerings and movement, to the required sound and musical details, you’ll find it easier to remember in the long run. This is because you’re already taking the music off the page and allowing it to permeate your mind.
- Work without the score as soon as possible, but that’s not to say you won’t return to examine it often. memorize each hand separately. This can be most beneficial, particularly regarding the left hand, which has a habit of ‘disappearing’ under the pressure of performance. Be aware of fingerings and note patterns especially, finding sign posts to jog your memory.
- Ensure you have sectionalised your new piece, so that you can practise from various ‘points’. You may want to divide the work into as many as ten sections (or more). Practise playing from the start of each section until it becomes second nature; totally engaging your mind and focus when doing this. If you have a slip when playing through or during performance, you can easily recover by moving quickly to the next ‘section’.
- Hear the piece in your head, away from the instrument, or visualise yourself sitting playing it at the keyboard. These are both useful techniques once the piece is under your fingers (and in your mind!). I find them extremely valuable tools. Sit quietly and mentally ‘play it through’; concentrate completely so as not to miss any detail. Once you can ‘hear’ a piece from beginning to end with ease, you’re on your way to mastering (or conquering!) your memory.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.