It is 5 minutes till showtime, and you are quickly going over the last few phrases of the program in your mind. The clock ticks and it’s time to hit the stage. The concert starts and you launch into an hour and a half long performance. Suddenly you swim in a sea of notes, navigating your way till the end of the program in hope of not blanking on what comes next. Why is memorizing music so hard? And why is it scary to sit on stage without sheet music? It shouldn’t be, so let’s look at a couple of techniques to successfully memorize your music.
1. One Phrase at a Time
Think of a piece of music like a palace, built out of small pebbles. You need to look at each pebble first, observe it, memorize it, and then put the pebbles together. Memorizing one phrase at a time is good for understanding the structure of the piece really well, and repeating each phrase numerous times makes us fully aware of what goes on in the piece at every moment.
What better way to know something through and through then to be able to connect what we hear to what we play. Ever tried singing what you play? When memorizing a piece, phrase by phrase, try playing first and then singing. Having the piece memorized through singing, connects our physical to the emotional, yet another good resource for stage confidence.
A piece of music is like a palace, built out of small pebbles.
3. Visually Remembering
One of the popular memorization techniques also includes memorizing in a non-musical way. Reading the score as if reading a novel oftentimes helps with the visual perception of things. Look, and imprint. You are left without a score, but are wondering what measure 4 on page 2 looks like? No problem–you have this! 😉
4. Working Backwards
A piece of music has a start, middle and the end. According to Heinrich Shenker it is important to understand the large arch guiding us from the initial I to the middle V and back to I. Sometimes, it’s good also to do it the other way around. Learn the last page first, then work your way backwards. Getting a perception of music from all angles, helps with always being aware of where we are.
5. Muscle Memory
The good old muscle memory! When we play a composition over and over again, after a thousandth time it feels like you can lose the score and just play. That is a pretty common occurrence, when muscles memorize motion and automatically take over. This is one of the most common ways of memorizing, but also one of the most slippery slopes, because if the muscle memory at any point goes astray, the fingers get confused making it hard to find our way back.
There are many other memorization techniques, and these may just scratch the surface. Do you know of any other ways to successfully memorize music? Share your thoughts with us and become a contributor!