Tips and Tricks: Memorizing Music Made Easy

As a music enthusiast, you’ve probably already heard all of the studies on music education.  It’s no secret that learning music as a child helps with confidence levels, math skills and goal-setting.  But this story sheds even more light on the benefits of music.  The Society for Neuroscience presented a case at their annual meeting of a 68-year old German cellist with a brain infection that wiped out his memory, leaving him in an amnesiac state, unable to remember much of his past.  Yet miraculously, doctors found he could still remember scales, rhythms and intervals of music he once played before the illness, and he scored normally on a standard test for musical memory.  The case furthers evidence that musical memories often endure long after other memories are inaccessible.  Now that is the power of music!

When you’re first starting out learning an instrument, memorizing music is an important, although sometimes difficult, task – even if your memory is intact.  This can be especially tricky for pianists, who have two hands to remember.  Practice may make perfect, but we also wanted to share some additional memorization tips to keep in mind:

1. From day 1, practice your music with the intent of internalizing and memorizing it. Don’t wait until you’ve learned the piece to begin memorizing it.

2. Use good fingering and use it consistently. It will take a lot longer to learn the piece if you are using different fingerings every time.  Writing your fingerings in the score will help (especially if you decide to use fingering other than what is indicated in the score).

3. Always memorize the dynamics, articulations and other markings on the page along with the notes. Don’t wait until you have the notes mastered!  It’s difficult to go back and fix things later.  It’s better — although perhaps more tedious initially — to learn it right the first time.

4. Watch your hands as you play. Closing your eyes all of the time isn’t a good idea: when performing, you might look at your hands and suddenly everything looks foreign.  Get used to watching your hands.  Look for patterns as you play.

5. Practice slowly. If you play with a fast tempo as you are trying to memorize, you are strengthening mostly your muscle memory (which is not enough, on its own).  Practicing slowly is harder, and forces you to strengthen other things, like your visual, tactile, and intellectual memories.

6. Memorize in small sections, usually just four measures at a time — but sometimes two measures at a time may be necessary.  Once you’ve gone through the entire piece in this manner, try doubling the number of measures and going through the whole process again.

7. Repetition, repetition, repetition! Don’t be discouraged if you return to the piece the next day and find that everything you worked on memorizing yesterday seems to be gone from your memory.  It’s part of the process.  Re-memorize those sections.  Each time you return to a section, it will become more solid in your memory.

Once the music is in your head and you’re not relying on your sheet music, you’ll have much more freedom to really feel the music and become a true performer. You can also work on your memorization with piano exercises outside of the studio.

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Improving Sight Reading as a Beginner Musician
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