Once you have taken the decision to memorize a piece, there are several methods and strategies that can help you get there. As noted in the previous post, people are quite different in their ability to learn off by heart. For some it comes easily, for others it is an enormous effort. Here are a few practical methods for memorizing - you can choose the ones that suit you best.
Before continuing, I would like to share a thought: Music exists in a sphere that is beyond notation. The composer captures the music and puts it down in writing for the players to decode. Notes are a tool, a bridge, a means to get to the actual music. The player will read the notes, work on the piece, internalize it, and then if possible, lay the sheet music away and use it for references only.
So how can you learn a piece off by heart?
- Map out the piece: Get a general idea of how the piece is constructed. Are there certain sections that repeat? Is there a form or structure you can identify? "Mary Had a Little Lamb" for instance has two phrases with the same beginning. The first phrase continues as a musical question, the second has the finalizing answer. You can analyze longer pieces the same way, finding sections that come back again perhaps in a different key or with other changes. The more familiar you are with the tools used in the piece like form and harmony, the better. (Learning music theory actually does make sense!)
- Start by memorizing the first few bars: this is often a way of breaking the ice, and once you get started you'll find yourself in the flow. If necessary, memorize each hand separately for the first few bars, then put them together.
- Play the piece in your mind: go through the whole piece away from the piano: play it in your head, hum the tune, tap the rhythms. Try to hold the big picture in your mind.
- Play the whole piece memorized even if some chunks are still missing: At the piano, start with the few first bars you already memorized and continue to the end. Bridge over the sections you can't play yet by either just playing the few notes you do remember or by imagining the sound.
- Do a little bit at a time. If memorizing is new to you, start by learning shorter, repetitive pieces rather than complicated ones (I find Bach fugues very hard to remember!). Or break a long piece down to smaller chunks and do one bit at a time.
-Don't give up! Be patient with yourself: Learning off by heart can be an uphill struggle, especially at a later age, but you will make progress if you keep at it. Don't give up even if you have the feeling you've forgotten everything you've learned yesterday. Sometimes it can seem as though nothing sticks and then suddenly you'll have the breakthrough and realize you can do it.
-Playing by Memory
-The Secret of Slow Practice
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