Piano Society
Free Classical Keyboard Recordings
It is currently Thu Apr 17, 2014 4:43 pm

All times are UTC - 1 hour




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 32 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3  Next
Author Message
 Post subject: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2011 6:25 pm 
Offline

Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2011 7:06 am
Posts: 20
A couple of years ago, the subject of playing from memory came up during a Soiree for my amateur performance group which was peopled by all levels of pianists from adult beginners to mid level amateurs, to working or retired professionals. We were a group that ranged in age from 18 to 80. Someone new to performing asked me why I always played solo works from memory, even at our informal get togethers. Only those of us who are (or were) professionals did so regularly.

Aside from the fact that teachers drill it into you from that first terrifying moment you decide you might want to pursue a performing career, I had to admit that when my memory work is solid, I'm less nervous, play more confidently, listen more critically to myself when I'm not focusing on reading a score or fussing with page turns, and find I get more fully into the music. I often hear things I didn't realise were in there (I don't really need to listen to a recording of myself to hear what I'm are doing) and can therefore, be more insightful with my interpretation - which makes a piece more personal to me. Performance becomes more of a whole-body experience because I'm able to move around more freely, and stay looser and in more control of my nerves. I've been told I'm fun to watch - "an energetic natural performer, not overly dramatic" - though I personally hate watching myself on video.

One of the piano teachers in the group who specializes in "early" music for the piano adamantly refuses to memorize anything and is quite defensive about it, pointing out that virtuosos of the past were never known to perform from memory until the middle of the 19th century when Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt made this a common practice. We all know that, but things have changed a little in the last 150 years.

Reading through past threads, I don't see a lot of discussion about methods for memorization and am curious how other members here approach it. What works for you and how important do you think it is?

Below, I've categorized the principle forms of music memory into five types as I see them - all of which are distinct but are more or less important to solidifying a performance for me. Your concepts may be different, so feel free to add to the list.

1. Finger Memory!
Begin and end without any conscious recollection of what transpired in between.

2. Aural Memory
It's claimed that Mozart and Rachmaninoff (and others) could hear something once and then play it flawlessly the next day. Rubinstein learned the entire score to the Grieg Piano Concerto (including the orchestra parts) on the train by memorizing it, understanding what it sounded like even without the aid of a keyboard on which to practice, and performed it the next day in concert with an orchestra. Impressive, but I just wish I could forget the theme from the Brady Bunch. "Here's the story, 'bout a man named Brady." Help me.

3. Theoretical Memory
Knowing the basic form of a piece (A B A or whatever, repeats, variations etc.) gives me an outline so I can compartmentalize where I am in the piece, and how repeated themes may differ the second time around or during development. It's also helpful to break the piece down into short sections with starting points where I can pick it up quickly if I do get lost during a performance. We've all been there.

4. Visual Memory of the score
I had a professor in college that insisted one should be able to sit down and write out the score, note by note from memory. I never got much past writing down the title and the key signature. Having to remember what the notes look like on the page just added another level of complexity that may work well for some, but was anathema to me. Does one visualize the written words to "The Raven" in their mind when giving a memorized recitation? Or do they hear the words spoken (by themselves) in their memory first, then verbally repeat the music of those cadences? "Awwwkkk! Quote the Raven, nevermore." In fact, when going back to review a score I've left unplayed for years, it often looks like Swahili to me. I can still play it, just can't read it. Pavarotti couldn't read music at all, and he only had one voice to remember...

5. Visual Memory of your hands and keyboard
Here, I mean a visual of what my hands are doing at all times - though when memorizing, it's sometimes difficult to tear my eyes away from the score, like it's some kind of a crutch. But when performing from memory before an audience, where can one look that's free of distractions? The exit sign in the wings? I concentrate on looking at my hands as much as possible to stay oriented, be more accurate, and avoid the temptation to look away at anything that might break my concentration - like the guy with the phlemy cough down on the third row who manages to drown out the best of my triple pianissimos. At least I don't have to see him picking his nose.

When I was in high school about a thousand years ago, my local piano teacher said I should be able to play with or without the score in front of me, without ever looking at my hands. What a crock! I began studying piano at the University at the age of 16 when still in my Junior year of High School, but my first professor there never attempted to dissuade me from this notion. It took years playing professionally before I completely discarded it. Lesson: don't believe anything your piano teacher tells you.

A last thought; recent scientific studies indicate that the brain builds new synapses while you sleep - it engages in problem solving while in an unconscious state and you actually learn while you're somewhere in La-La land (I doubt this works if you've had half a bottle of Champagne before passing out). Oftentimes, when I concentrate on the details of a piece while falling to sleep staring at the ceiling, the next day, sections that were feeble or muddy the day before are suddenly stronger and clear as a bell. A little follow up repetitive practice and they get cemented in. Try it. Along with a little patience, it works!

Comments?


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 1:01 am 
Offline
Site Admin

Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
Posts: 8405
Hi SFDave and welcome to Piano Society. Except thanks to you, I am now singing the Brady Bunch song.... :x :) (btw - I used to love that show.... :lol: )

Anyway, I thoroughly believe in the brain 'learning' while we sleep. Happens all the time with me - I practice for an hour on something, not really hearing or feeling like I've accomplished that much, but then the next day I can play it better. So something was going on while I was sleeping!

My way of memorizing is just pretty basic, I guess. I have to play the piece many many times before I can start 'remembering' anything. Then once I have a pretty good idea of how to play it, then I go to the beginning and take it line by line. I don't go to the next line until I can play the current line totally from memory. Not sure how efficient this method is, but it works for me.

_________________
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." ~ Frederic Chopin

my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 4:26 am 
Offline

Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:28 am
Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Hi SFDave,
I wrote a thread a bit back on this subject, but more from a process perspective than category one. See at http://pianosociety.com/new/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=4654&p=45151#p45151. I will here add two further details. My first step of playing with score, entails all the working out of the details: fingering, pedaling details, distribution of resources (which hand plays what parts), etc. Affecting my interpretive judgements are the technical analysis of formal features, both the large scale and small.

Perhaps the most unique feature in the process of moving towards memorization of the work, is that I start at the end and work forward by sections. For example depending on the complexity of the music I may learn it a beat or two, a measure (bar) or 4 measures at a time. When I can play the selected portion correctly from memory six (6) times successively, then I back up another unit/chunk and memorize it. Once I can play it from memory six times in a row, then I play the two sections in the same way. When I can play those two sections correctly from memory as before, then I back up to add an antepenultimate section, and on and on. The great benefit of this method is that the deeper you play into a work, the better you know it, rather than the usual opposite.

This is what you do if, like me, you don't have a fantastic or prodigious ability to assimilate music. Others, like some of the greats, learn it as soon as they look at it. I remember reading how Rosina Lhevinne learned some piano score by reading it while she walked once around a New York city block. Oh well.


Edited: for clarity

_________________
Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Last edited by musical-md on Sun May 01, 2011 8:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 5:45 am 
Offline

Joined: Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:35 am
Posts: 1418
Location: Gulfport, MS, USA
I memorize things more easily than most people, and I don't really have a method. Once I have played something for a week or two, it's memorized. I don't have to try.

That being said, I sympathize with some who have difficulty with memorization. Recently a prominent piano professor from another university played a recital at my school, and he used all of his music, which caused some titters among the piano community here because it's not considered socially acceptable for pianists to play with music, but you'll notice it is not the same for other instruments, who have less complicated parts to memorize. Yes, it's mostly tradition dating back to Clara Schumann and Liszt. Personally, I much prefer to play from memory so I can concentrate on my hands, but I try not to hold others to that since it is so much easier for me to memorize than it is for other people, if that makes any sense.

_________________
"Z Czernym poznałem się na panie brat—na dwa fortepiana często z nim u niego grywałem. Dobry człowiek, ale nic więcej..." - Fryderyk Chopin


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 3:53 pm 
Offline

Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:18 pm
Posts: 1035
I find that I memorise music, but I also have a tendency to forget a difficult part through anxiety, I suppose. Keeping the score open does help me now and then, though I often ger lost, because I no longer remember exacly where a certain passage is on the score.

If I try to play on another piano I find out I can do very little, though I know the score backwards.

But then I am not a concert pianist and neither have I ever tried to be one.

_________________
Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 1:44 am 
Offline

Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:59 pm
Posts: 322
Location: toronto
Yeah I am a big believer in this. It took me a surprsingly long time to learn. For me its almost a leap of faith to stop practising something and move on, but it works every time. A bit hard to describe really.

pianolady wrote:
Anyway, I thoroughly believe in the brain 'learning' while we sleep. Happens all the time with me - I practice for an hour on something, not really hearing or feeling like I've accomplished that much, but then the next day I can play it better. So something was going on while I was sleeping!



b.t.w. I don't always memorize, but when I do, I am a big beliver in memorizing with only the score first :) Its hard to describe, not really a visual memory of the score although that is part of it. Its more of a memory of the musical shapes, phrases, patterns, ideas etc. I guess everyone learns music slightly differently.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 2:14 am 
Offline

Joined: Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:14 pm
Posts: 477
Location: Illinois
pianolady wrote:
Anyway, I thoroughly believe in the brain 'learning' while we sleep. Happens all the time with me - I practice for an hour on something, not really hearing or feeling like I've accomplished that much, but then the next day I can play it better. So something was going on while I was sleeping!


I learned a long time ago that I should quit working on something once I reach the point of no (or negative) returns. At a certain point I believe that our mind and body get over-taxed trying to digest a partticular musical concept, technique, interpretation... and it needs "quiet" time to put it all together. Sometimes this is just a nights sleep. I've also had whole pieces where mental or physical road blocks would not allow them to progress past a certain point. I have often let those rest for days, weeks, even months and found that when I returned to them, many of the problems no longer existed and I was able to progress in ways that possibly would not have happened if I had not put the piece aside.

Scott


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 4:49 am 
Offline
Site Admin

Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
Posts: 8405
So where did SFDave go? :?
Oh well, another thing I wonder about is how long would it take me to re-memorize a piece of music. For instance, say I had a 14-pager memorized about a year ago, but haven't played it since and therefore it is practically gone from my memory now. Ok...I know I won't know the answer to that until I actually do it...
(I got a haircut today - took six inches off. Maybe that will help because I am lighter now... :lol: )

_________________
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." ~ Frederic Chopin

my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:42 am 
Offline

Joined: Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:18 pm
Posts: 1035
You believe you have forgotten it, but you have not. It will come back double quick, never you mind.

I was taught that, by all means memorise, but that I should never rely entirely on memory, but that the score ought to be checked now and then. How true! The mind, away from the source, plays endless tricks, trying to simplify, to render easier or just to correct perceived mistakes. It took you, Monica, to spot a "corrected" note in my playing of Gershwin's Prelude No 2, as well as some "creative" rubati.

_________________
Richard Willmer
"Please do not shoot the pianist
He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde: Impressions of America: Leadville


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 4:02 pm 
Offline

Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2011 7:06 am
Posts: 20
Not to worry PianoLady. I'm still here. I've been reading the replies and I really appreciate other's take on the subject. I've also been listening to respondent's recordings. Hope to make some of my own in time. I think this site is the best thing since they invented ice cream! A real pianist's dream. I've recently moved away from California and no longer live close to any of my musician friends - or the amateur performance group I mentioned in my first post. I haven't been here long enough to make many new musician friends and have been missing that sense of community. But here on PianoSociety is a pianist's community that spans the globe. Amazing!

Scott's point (and yours) that letting a piece rest for a while is something I fully agree with. Dr del Rio's very detailed method for memorizing is something I'll have to try - his Ginastera is amazing, by the way. And I've always envied people like Terez who can just play something for a week and have it memorized without any particular effort. Depending on the piece and how difficult it is, It can take me months just to learn something new, much less have it memorized. Of course, my question would be how solid is that memory? Can you come back to it a year later and still remember it well enough to perform without aid of the score?

I've recently been asked by a local cellist friend to do a benefit recital which would include the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata. Since Rachmaninoff is a passion of mine, I quickly agreed without taking the time to look at the score or listening to a recording (I was unfamiliar with it previously). I enjoy ensemble work having performed with many vocalists and instrumentalists over the years, but wasn't prepared for what I'd gotten myself in to. After printing out a copy of the score from IMSLP.org, I sat down to read through it and was amazed at it's level of difficulty. A professional accompanist friend of mine from my college days told me he had only been asked to perform it once over the course of his 35 year career - oops! I'm dating myself. My cellist friend here admitted that he'd attempted to find an accompanist to play it with him for a couple of decades, but never found anyone willing to take it on. Yikes!

I've played a lot of the Rach's music, so should have known better, but as a chamber ensemble work, just didn't expect it to be up there with his concertos and solo sonatas for difficulty. Anyway, I realized after a couple of months of hard work on it, neglecting to practice any of my solo stuff, that there was no way I was going to be able to play it well without doing all the detail practice from memory - especially to get the gargantuan intervals into my hands (which are only of average size - I can play tenths but anything larger is a real stretch). Ultimately, I will use the score for the performance in September (with a page turner of course) but can only say that without the security of also knowing it from memory, I wouldn't set foot on that stage. My friend and I have yet to sit down and put it together, so am anxious to see how it goes...

Thanks everyone for your posts here!

Dave


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 4:44 pm 
Offline
Site Admin

Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
Posts: 8405
richard66 wrote:
You believe you have forgotten it, but you have not. It will come back double quick, never you mind.


I hope you're right about that. I don't really have a desire to re-learn/re-memorize some of my larger pieces, but I would like to have back in my memory a few of my favorites that are shorter pieces so that I could actually play something when someone asks me to play something. I definitely need to work on that because as of right now I could not sit down and play anything besides "Misty" and some old pop tunes.

SFDave wrote:
Not to worry PianoLady. I'm still here. I've been reading the replies and I really appreciate other's take on the subject. I've also been listening to respondent's recordings. Hope to make some of my own in time. I think this site is the best thing since they invented ice cream! A real pianist's dream. I've recently moved away from California and no longer live close to any of my musician friends - or the amateur performance group I mentioned in my first post. I haven't been here long enough to make many new musician friends and have been missing that sense of community. But here on PianoSociety is a pianist's community that spans the globe. Amazing!


Hi again, Dave. (you don't seem like a weirdo so please call me Monica. :))
We're glad you like our site and hope you continue to visit and post in the forum. And hopefully you will be able to submit your own recordings soon!

_________________
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." ~ Frederic Chopin

my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 5:22 pm 
Offline

Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2011 7:06 am
Posts: 20
OK. Monica it is! I can certainly relate to your desire to be able to sit down and play upon request. For exactly that reason, I always keep a couple of pieces ready. I've had long periods in my life when I wasn't able to practice on anything like a regular basis, but during those times when I was playing every day, I would always be focusing on learning new stuff and never on anything I'd already performed. You know, that "been there, done that" attitude.

Until after being embarrassed a few times by attempting to answer a request to play an old standby at a party, like "Claire de Lune" and completely messing it up! So now, as a warm-up a couple of days a week, I'll play through some old things just to keep them in my fingers - Claire de Lune among them since it seems to be to classical idioms what "As Time Goes By" is to the cocktail style - another piece I keep at the ready. "Misty" is a good choice too. But my signature is my own rendition of "I left my heart in San Francisco" which sadly is the home I left after 28 years. If I have company in my own home, I always end with "How much is that Doggy in the Window" which my yellow lab sings along with - on cue. Don't know why or when he started doing that, but when he hears the opening salvo, he just knows its his turn to perform. Always gets a good laugh.

For something a little more bravura, I'll play Liszt's transcription of "Widmung", a Schumann song, which was one of Van Cliburn's favorite encores. Starts simply to give time to warm up before launching into the more bombastic and brilliant recap, then ends quietly. I also make a point of avoiding any alcohol if I arrive at a party and notice there is a piano present. If anyone there knows I play, a request is almost always forthcoming, even when I'm not particularly in the mood...

Dave


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 5:39 pm 
Offline

Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2011 7:06 am
Posts: 20
Monica, here is a link to my little video of "How much is that Doggy in the Window". Good for a chuckle...

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php ... 683&type=1

Dave


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:01 pm 
Offline

Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2010 7:28 am
Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Dave, thanks for the compliment on my performance of the Ginastera Sonata No.1. I've been working 3 Rach preludes (along with other literature) for some time and feel like I'm just now about ready to record them. It's amazing to me how I continue to discover means of execution and interpretation in these works. I promise that there'll be stuff to talk about when I post ... and that will be fun to discuss.

Regards,
Eddy

_________________
Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How
PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:11 pm 
Offline
Site Admin

Joined: Wed Jun 14, 2006 12:38 pm
Posts: 8405
@Dave - I mean no disrespect at all, Claire de lune is a nice piece and all that, but IMHO it is not the kind of piece to play in an informal gathering like a dinner party at a friend's home. It's too long. People want to hear you play, but something that is relatively short and if it's not a familiar tune then it should be a little snappy or at least not so heavy. Pieces I want to get back into my memory for impromptu playing requests are ones like a couple of the Godowsky Triakontameron, a couple Chopin mazurkas, some short Gershwin, maybe a Mompou Cancion y Danza, a Granados Spanish Dance, that Mozart movement of a sonata I memorized last summer, pieces like that. I'll be on a huge yacht for a party later this summer and I've already been warned that there is a grand piano on board and many of the people attending the party know I play piano so.... :wink:

Your Liszt/Schumann piece is a good choice and so is "Doggie in the Window". I'd love to watch your video, but it won't open - it says the 'video is unavailable due to privacy settings'.

_________________
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties." ~ Frederic Chopin

my videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/monicapiano


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 32 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3  Next

All times are UTC - 1 hour


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group