Ah, the memory slips. We don’t want them, we don’t like them, but somehow they creep up every now and then and make our presence on stage that much more awkward. Or even worse, they grow from simple bumps on the road to hills that we cannot conquer and we simply must skip the section and reset elsewhere in a piece. The good thing is that these are all perfectly normal occurrences, but they are far from pleasant. Let’s take a look at a couple of ways to navigate memory slips and minimize the awkwardness on stage.


The problem with memory slips is that often times we don’t anticipate them, and thus we don’t know where to jump to next. Treating harder sections as pitstops, whereby we know exactly what the beginning of the next big section is, can help us reset quickly. Swift reacting is the key to a successful navigation of a memory slip. If we are mentally prepared to always jump a couple of measure ahead, then we can avoid the unpleasant wait while searching for the next note.


Memory slips are often accompanied by unwanted notes. Those unwanted notes are typically there because we are unaware of what key we are currently playing in. This is why even a general harmonic analysis of a piece is a most welcome way of solidifying our awareness of where we are at all times. If we know that we are in the key of A major when we get lost, we will certainly know not to play any E flats!

Muscle memory is an interesting thing–it is like a programmed protocol where muscles remember what to do even if our brain doesn’t follow.


Piggybacking on the suggestion above, when we know which key we are in, it is easier to cadenze out of a sticky situation than dwell on the fact that we don’t know where we currently are. A simple II-V-I can easily wrap up a problematic spot and at least finish up the musical thought, making it easier to continue forward. For this to work though, not only knowledge of the key area is needed, but also know-how of chord progression. Consider adding simple chord progression exercises into your daily practice routine, so that you feel at home with this concept!


If all of the above fails don’t sweat it. Simply prepare to reset from a couple of measures before in hopes that muscle memory will take over. Muscle memory is an interesting thing–it is like a programmed protocol where muscles remember what to do even if our brain doesn’t follow. Make sure to put your mind at ease, and let the fingers lead the way when something like this happens, as it is very well likely that your brain is actually creating your sense of uncertainty.


In the end, playing music is performing. While not always pleasant, memory slips do happen, and it’s best not to create an awkward situation out of it. If you are able to brush off a situation like this and offer a sense of ease with the audience, a good laugh with make all of it disappear. While not the ideal solution, the audience is there to have a good time, so even if we are unable to remember a phrase, we can still create a good performance, and sometimes that means cracking a joke on your own account.

We hope this has been helpful. If you have any topics that you want us to cover, don’t hesitate to write to us at [email protected]. Happy practicing.