Memorization - Study in F by Loeschhorn
Welcome to this special edition of 'Memorization' that takes your students, step by step, through the process of memorization, the professional way !
We have referred to some examples from the Loeschhorn's 'Study in F' (ABRSM grade 3), but the purpose of this particular set of articles here is about the principles of memorization.
Memorizing is not difficult to do if you go about it in the correct way.
Essentially, in order to have memorized a piece of music successfully you need to know that piece well.
Knowing a piece well means setting about studying it in breadth and in depth rather than relying wholly upon one particular means of recall.
Remember that practice makes things easier. So too with memorization, you need to practice memorizing pieces from an early stage.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Since memory is fundamental to our everyday existence, there should be every reason to think through the best process for encouraging clear memory and effective use of memory from the very first piano lesson - whether or not the score will be used and regardless of age.
Style & Tempo
Style is about mood and character within certain musical parameters.
An ugly over-projected forte tone does not fit the Classical mould, but might be suitable in a Bartok context.
By explaining this, but without reference to or prior experience of sounds from these two contrasting periods, ths student has no point of reference.
Teaching the difference between different kinds of forte tone would therefore be more ideally integrated if it springs from knowledge of the actual sounds produced in those periods.
Learning - and this involves memory - would be more efficient and interesting as a consequence.
Phrasing & Articulation
Try this exercise:
Locate bars 14 & 15 RH. Play the RH only with a nice sweeping phrase. The quavers should not sound lumpy or accentuated. There should be a crescendo to the midpoint of the phrase - the C on beat 1 of bar 15 - but without an accent on the C.
There should not be any noticeable gap between the two Cs in bar 15. The acciaccatura in bar 14 should be quick but not obtrusive or accentuated.
The entire effect should be elegant and have a singing tone.
Try this out. Then go the 'Copy this' tab below.
Tone & Texture
Early stage memorization may well be taken up with concentration on notes and that of building up a consistent and secure memory.
As soon as possible it is important to practise conveying the quality of tone you are aiming for.
Capturing detail at a musical level should not become predictable in the sense of lack of spontaneity, but should become a fixture in the muscular and aural memory.
Memorizing fingering can be really helpful if done in a logical way.
The 'feel' of specific patterns is important to note.
'Comfortable' chunks of five finger positions often help to make the playing of a particular section seem more secure.
Again, this is general advice:
Always plan out the ornamentation. Do not expect to achieve a fluent integration if you have not unpicked the context and worked out the detail very carefully.
Considerations might be how many notes will be involved, which note you may start on, whether a trill will feature a turn at the end, and so on.
Slow practice first always helps to commit to conscious memory.
At earlier achievement levels, pedalling should be carefully and predictably memorized.
Creating an organized approach to pedalling at the earliest opportunity will be very valuable.
Never rely upon chance for memorization.
The fact that a student who has been working upon a particular piece for a long time may well have absorbed a form of instant muscular memory should never be viewed as task completed.
Methodical memorization must be undertaken to give real security.
Performers who have experienced sudden and devastating memory lapses can be badly affected, and it can take considerable work to restore confidence.
Have organized, realistic goals.
Use a conscious strategy based on an effective method for memorisation.
Simply playing the piece lots of times may have worked in the past for easy, short pieces but it will not give you a secure memorisation of a complex, lengthy piece.
This is because it encourages only kinaesthetic, or 'finger' memory whereas secure memorisation is also based on aural memory, visual memory and analysis of structure.
Anxiety over memory, being concerned about its reliability, can be overcome in a number of ways.
State of mind is often the determining factor in many things, not least in your capacity for recall.
The degree of detail and the thoroughness with which memorization work has taken place is critical in determining reliability.
Never place undue pressure on a student who feels in any way under-confident about memory.
Let's address this from the perspective of what takes place on stage as a performance and also from what goes on in the performer's head.
An excellent performance will leave the performer feeling satisfied that they really have done their best. The outward result will have been as musically satisfying as anticipated. The performer will have been able to immerse themselves in the music and play with the sensitivity and freedom experienced in less stressful situations.
A good performance will exude confidence and be outwardly fairly solid. The slips which do occur may be down to a less confident and settled memory. This may not come from any lack of preparation as such, but possibly from being in a more anxious frame of mind.
A sound performance will be one in which the memory holds together, but one in which the performer may not only lose it at some points, but which may often feel uncomfortable for the performer due to constant worry about whether they will forget or not.