Taming the Piece Beast: An Easy Tip to Memorize Piano Music

piano sheet music

No matter how many times you practice a piano piece, committing it to memory is a totally different beast! Luckily, there is actually an easy trick for how to memorize piano music. Read on as Hampton, VA teacher Rachel G. explains her method… 

 

All pianists have heard it at one point or another — the dreaded onus for every student:

“This piece needs to be memorized.”

You know what that means –playing it over and over and over until every drop of joy has been squeezed from the music… and then playing it some more! And sometimes even when you do that, when you go to play it, the beginning is fine but it falls apart by the end.

Ugh. I shudder just thinking about it.

What if there were a way to memorize piano music that was more reliable than that, and took only a fraction of the time? What if there were a fail-safe method for memorizing that didn’t involve plodding through it ad nauseam (and still not having it down!)?

Good news, my friends! There is a two-fold method proven for me and my students. It works for long pieces, short pieces, and even that nasty long poem you have to memorize for your English teacher by tomorrow!

The method is simple: Memorize it forwards, then backwards.

Wait. Don’t freak out — it’s easier than it sounds. Forwards, you memorize in small, bite-size pieces, then you put the pieces together BACKWARDS.

For example, with a short piece, start with measures and lines. You can memorize one measure, right? Memorize each individual measure of a line, then add them together starting with the last one — like making building blocks one at a time, then putting them together. To the last measure, you add the measure before (memorize the last two measures together). When you have that down (and accurate!), you add the one before that (last three), then the one before that (last four), until you are back to the beginning.

You now have the entire line memorized, and it only took you FIVE MINUTES. The best part for people like me who compulsively have to play to the end, you get to play to the end every time! Cool, right?

You can build the entire song by building small to big, like this:

  • Measures into lines
  • Lines into pages
  • Pages into the whole piece

You can memorize an entire page of music in 30-60 minutes using this method, and an entire five-page piece within a week.

The best part is, IT’S NOT BORING. You are always working on a different part of the piece, and the results show up quickly enough that it is actually EXCITING.

Also, recalling your piece when you have performance jitters isn’t as much of a problem — you have literally memorized it from every single measure, so picking the music back up after a brain blank will be much easier.

So, the next time your piano teacher says those two horrible words — “Memorize this!” — you can work with confidence knowing you will be the master of the piece, and not the other way around. Go get ’em, Tiger!

RachelG

Rachel G. teaches piano, violin, singing, and more in Hampton, VA. She earned her violin performance degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she also studied piano and vocal pedagogy. Learn more about Rachel here!

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3 replies
  1. Daniel Carlile
    Daniel Carlile says:

    Please pardon, I sent you a message through your profile, but I don’t think you received it because I received lots of information from Takelessons about taking lessons, but no mention of a record for my question. Pretty please, I was just wondering if you could briefly explain how to memorize the smallest building block–the measure. I’ve tried by repetition, attempting to see the instrument and sheet music in my mind, by ear, and by analytics, but nothing seems to work and stay put–after I memorize the next little bit I forget the last part, so I can only keep in memory the measure or two I’m currently working on. Your piece does a marvelous job of how to construct the structure, but could you please append a technique for forming a solid brick–so the edifice doesn’t come crashing down?

    Reply
    • Brittany Myers
      Brittany Myers says:

      Hello Daniel, Unfortunately, I am not a teacher who would be able to make suggestions about memorizing the measure. My apologies.

      Reply
  2. chopiano
    chopiano says:

    I would like to see you try and memorize Chopin prelude #8, first page in only a half hour lolol. It took me 30 mins for only one measure on the page and around 4 hrs for the whole page.

    It will still take time to memorize forward first, but I imagine the backwards would be relatively simple since you already have it memorized forward. So when you say 30 mins, you might have meant on the backside LOL

    I think the idea of memorizing forwards, then backwards is an interesting approach, I may try that with this prelude. It’s a beast.

    Reply

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