Memorization

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg!
I always enjoy your website and appreciate the support you give to young musicians. I have one question--how do you memorize music on a deadline? I'm looking for a fast but reliable method of memorization.
 - Katie

Dear Katie,

Oh, memory! I hate memorizing music! You'll hear a lot of pianists speak about how they play better without music; and then you'll hear them say that all pianists play better from memory -- that a pianist only really knows a piece once it's memorized. I think this is a load of baloney. It is incredibly close-minded too.

Everybody learns differently. Some people have to write things down, others need to see it, and others need to hear it. Some people rely on rote memory, photographic memory, analytical memory, or aural memory. I remember dutifully taking notes during school classes for years; I thought that was the best way to learn. The trouble was: I couldn't concentrate both on spelling words and listening to the teacher. It wasn't until my third year of college that I realized I learned better -- and retained information better -- if I simply listened to the teacher. No notes at all!

With that distinction in mind, I believe many pianists could perform better with the music in front of them, but they have been lead to believe that they are inferior unless they memorize the score. As a visual person, when I can see the curves and shapes of the counterpoint in a Bach fugue, I play very differently. Unfortunately, I usually just bend to conventions and play from memory anyway.

The memory techniques that I use may not work for you; nevertheless, here goes:

  • I memorize just a section of music at a time.
  • I learn and memorize everything hands separately.
  • I have many, many, many "memory points" -- points in the score that I can jump to at any moment. I rarely find myself actually jumping to a memory point; instead, I use them as stability pillars -- they are like buoys keeping me afloat.

Good luck finding what works for you!

- Greg (Oct. 25, 2009)