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Memorization: Thoughts on the Why and How

Discussion in 'Technique' started by SFDave, Apr 27, 2011.

  1. SFDave

    SFDave New Member

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    Hi again Monica!

    In answer to your questions, the black cover inside the piano is black dressfelt. I was advised to do that when I lived in Hawaii for three years. My house was on the windward side of Oahu, on the edge of the rainforest and we lived with the windows open. It rained every day and the humidity levels were nearly always near 100%. My electronics suffered a lot. The felt, along with damp chasers installed underneath, kept the moisture from condensing on the strings and sound board. I also realized it keeps the dust from settling in there when I have the top up. I now live in Denver which has the opposite humidity problem, i.e. there isn't any. I had to have the other half of the system installed which adds humidity to the air around the soundboard and keeps it around 40%. So I have to "water the piano" every few days to keep all the wood from drying out. I still leave the felt in there out of habit to keep out the dust.

    I'm very proud of the piano - it's my pride and joy. A friend in SF died and left me money to buy a Grand - his legacy to me for which I will be forever grateful. I was looking at Yahamas, but another friend who owns a piano store (Kassman Piano - then located in San Francisco) had a contract to lease 40 new pianos each winter to the San Francisco Opera. At the end of the year, there is an opera sale, and all the pianos were auctioned off as "slightly used". My piano was one of two that hadn't sold and was about to be shipped off to LA to be auctioned there. He sold it to me for around half price (about $10K) and threw in the concert bench for free. It's a Kuwai 6'1 GS-40.

    Some years later I had the SF Symphony piano technician in to do some maintenance on it and he asked me if I knew what I had. He was very excited with it, telling me it was one of the rare GS series only built for a few years in the 90s (the time period that I purchased it). Most were sold to institutions. The new CEO of Kawai at the time had decided to build grand pianos that could compete with the Germans (Steinway, Bechstein etc.,) so Kuwai pianos were completely redesigned with better actions, high tension construction and built with only the best selected woods. The result is a piano with much fuller tone - almost too big for a small room. Initially, the tone was too bright (some people prefer it that way) but I had it voiced down and the result was amazing - rich full sound across the spectrum. The action is also stiffer than their old design - a little heavier than a Steinway, but it's very responsive and I like it a lot.

    Unfortunately, after a few years, Kuwai decided to discontinue the GS series because it wasn't profitable and they couldn't get past the market perception that Japanese built pianos were of inferior quality. The current series of Kawai pianos are substantially different - they went back to cheaper designs and woods. Several of the people in my soiree group have newer Kawai Grands of the same size, and though they look the same, they play and sound very different. The actions are very light, and the tone quality, though nice enough, just isn't as impressive, at least in the studio size pianos. The GS 6'1 like mine sounds like a 7 footer and has so much resonance in the lower register, it makes the floor tremble. I will never sell it...

    Dave
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Hi again, Dave.
    That's a nice story about your piano - I like learning the connections between pianists and their pianos. But is your piano really a Kuwai with the 'u' in there, or is that just a typo and you meant Kawai? Whatever it is, if the lower register makes the floor tremble, then I wish I could play it :!:
     
  3. SFDave

    SFDave New Member

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    Oops! My bad. Yes it's a Kawai. Thanks for catching that. I was flipping back and forth with the spelling unawares...
    :roll: Dave
     
  4. hanysz

    hanysz Member

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    Sorry to come in so late on this interesting conversation! By way of answer to Dave's question: last year I wrote down most of my ideas regarding memorisation at http://hanysz.net/memory.html . The overall scheme is pretty similar to the first post in this thread: there are several different ways of memorising, and your memory will be more secure if you use more than one method. I also put in some suggestions of ways to practice.

    As for why to memorise: personally I do it just because it feels good (at least, it feels good when I get it right!) but I wouldn't criticise anyone who chose to perform with the score. What counts is the end result.
     
  5. SFDave

    SFDave New Member

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    Alexander,

    Thanks for the link to your article. It astonished me how similar it was to my thoughts on the subject. And you went a few steps further to include ideas I've thought about but hadn't really included in my post. Like having memory of what the music "feels like". Also, your idea of solidifying your memory by starting from a different place each time in practice is much like what I meant by breaking the piece down to have starting points in the event of momentary memory lapse. But you stated it better.

    About the only thing you didn't cover in your piece was my last memory type, that being a visual memory of your hands and what they are doing as you play. For me, not having that kind of visual memory was pretty much the same thing as looking at the "hole where the music used to be" that you quipped about. I learned from experience that suddenly seeing my hands doing all these strange things while 1000 eyes were trained on me was guaranteed to make me go blank.

    One point I might add to that is that when I'm memorizing the keyboard visual, if I get lost, rather than looking back at the score right away, I employ aural memory of what comes next and try to pick it out on the keys with trial and error. Once I get the basic chordal progression in the problem spot right, I can then go back and refer to the score to get the voicing right. I'll keep repeating that process until I get through to the next section I already have memorized. Because I worked it out with trial and error, it sticks more than if I had just cheated and looked at the music.

    Way back when I was a little kid, my teacher used to say I had a great ability to "play by ear." She really encouraged her students to learn how to improvise. I and my best friend at the time became the organist and pianist at a little local church (I was 12, he was 13 and we would switch back and forth between the two instruments every other week or so). We wowed them with highly improvised versions of simple hymns - lots of big arpeggios and other trashy embellishments a la Ferrante and Teicher. I'm not the churchy type, but spending every Sunday morning for a few years improvising on basic hymns before a live audience was some of the best education I had as a musician.Your comment about "improvising something that sort of fits" to get you to the next part made me think of that...

    Thanks again for your thoughts here!

    Dave
     
  6. hanysz

    hanysz Member

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    I guess this is a personal thing. I don't look at my own hands much when I play. If I'm doing something involving jumps then I'll certainly look at the keyboard, but I'm looking at the place I'm jumping to, not at where my hands are right now. But that's just me. There's no reason why you shouldn't look at your hands if it helps you.

    (The article was written for a Music Teachers' Association; I was trying to stick with ideas that would help all musicians, not only pianists.)
     
  7. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Oh, I have plenty of non-enviable pianistic attributes to make up for it. :wink:
     
  8. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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  9. SFDave

    SFDave New Member

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    I always wanted to learn classical guitar (and maybe someday the harp). I did play some folk guitar back in the 80s, but even though I could read music and had played the piano since I was a kid, the classical guitar proved too much of a challenge (piano was more important to me at the time, I guess). A few years ago, a friend in San Francisco who was Columbian but was seeking asylum in America (long story), had had to abruptly leave South America without his cello or his classical guitar. I loaned him my classical guitar and was astounded when I heard him play it. He had had a career with the Bogata symphony as a cellist, but had learned to play guitar as well, first to play traditional Columbian folk songs for fun, then classical idioms later on. He had a pretty large repertoire, all memorized. Hearing my instrument so beautifully played by him, and seeing the comfort it afforded him - his being virtually alone in a foreign country - I told him it was his to keep. As far as I know, he still goes to the park there on Sunday and plays for anyone who wishes to listen. He has quite a following, I think, among them many young people who probably never heard classical guitar before. Richard, thanks for the link to the guitar article...

    Dave
     
  10. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Me too, I love guitar! I can play some chords and about two songs, but that's it. I'd love to take guitar lessons some day....

    Dave, nice story about your Columbian friend.
     
  11. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Me three! If I had to pick other than the piano it would be guitar, then 'cello.
     
  12. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Oh yeah, I like the cello too. Another big instrument that can be straddled (like the harp).
     

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