I was reminded of this special skill when one of my post-exam students was given the task of memorizing the first section of Beethoven’s Op13 last movement. We talked about the how and she then came back the next week with the section memorized. This was not too unusual, as she is one who fits into the category of a quick memoriser. What was pleasing was that she volunteered the information that she really felt she knew the section so well and was looking forward to applying the same method to the next section. Wow!
As all good teachers know the trick is to be able to visualise the music, as well as using the physical memory of the passage. Too often good memorisers rely too much on the physical memory but quickly forget a piece when it is not played for a while.
Here’s how I teach memorization. Although it sounds very long-winded, it shows results in a remarkably short time and with practice, pieces can be memorized effortlessly and in a very short time. This leads into “chunking”, short-term and long-term memory etc. which is very interesting but too large a topic for this article. Suffice to say that as experience and knowledge increase, the brain is able to take into short term memory more information at a time, thus speeding up the learning process. Once absorbed and processed, information is then sent to the more permanent long-term memory, so can be recalled easily and without thought. (I know that is very simplified so please forgive!) So, these are the steps I use. This is not the only way, but it works very well for me.
- Take a short part of the piece, it maybe a section, or one or two phrases and should not be more than a page.
- Learn RH slowly and thoroughly noting the correct notes, rhythm and fingering, dynamics and phrasing. Depending on the age of the child this may need to be broken down further. Once all is correct, play until secure and then memorise phrase at a time, noting placement on stave, intervals and notes etc.
- Learn LH in the same way.
- Once both hands are securely memorised, the same should be done hands together. This will involve different problems but, as both hands are thoroughly known, the look and feel of the complete piece is more easily learned.
- Put music away and play!
This whole process can be achieved remarkably quickly and with practice can be done very quickly. The advantages of learning this way are huge. The mind is freed to express the meaning of the piece, explore universal and individual feelings and meanings. The structure of pieces is also more easily seen, heard and felt and progression of key changes absorbed.