Best way to memorize a piece

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Best way to memorize a piece

Post by montana » Sat Sep 15, 2018 6:24 am

I am working on a piece right now and it has taken me 3 weeks to memorize the first 3 lines. I have the CD to the the Marines book by Yvon Demillac. I memorize one chord after another then play from the beginning, adding the next memorized chord. It seems to take forever. Is there a better way?

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Scott Phillips » Sat Sep 15, 2018 7:32 am

I just bought that book, but I can’t remember a CD. I will have to look again. Spoon feeding it, bit by bit, is sure to do one good thing for you, and that is that you will never forget it. I tend to take things phrase by phrase, as my sight reading ability isn’t exactly what it should be, so I end up memorizing it. If there is a better way, I don’t know. Don’t give up though. Which piece in the book are you currently working on?

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Mike Atkinson
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Mike Atkinson » Sat Sep 15, 2018 11:28 am

Find the melody ...

Usually the melodic phrase will be four or more measures long. Sing the melody, play the melody, find the changes that support the melody.

Sometimes, you need to find the other melody ... often it is hiding in the bass line, or in the middle of the chords.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by a human » Sat Sep 15, 2018 1:27 pm

Sometimes I notice chord shapes that repeat in a classical piece. If I note a chord above a phrase, it can help me with finger placement and knowing what the phrase is. That is easier for me than memorizing from note to note. I also change my start points so that I don't always start at the beginning.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Rick Beauregard » Sat Sep 15, 2018 2:44 pm

If you always start from the beginning and play it through you might learn the beginning real well and never become secure with the end becsuse you don’t have as many reps. Try beginning with the last measure and play through, then the measure before that. And so on to the beginning.

Sometimes playing from memory I do fine at the beginning of the piece. Once I reach the middle I get sort of excited that the end is coming. If I don’t know the end as well I begin to struggle, then I completely botch the end. If you use the back to front method, you gain confidence as you get closer to the end knowing you know it best.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Christopher Langley » Sat Sep 15, 2018 2:48 pm

I play it. Over and over. From the beginning. I'm obsessive compulsive. I don't mind doing it this way.

I try to play the piece as many times as I can a day. I only add new notes when i truly have memorized the preceding notes. If it is a longer piece i might start breaking it up into sections.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Sat Sep 15, 2018 3:04 pm

Here's a Blog Article I wrote (published on different sites...finally on my teaching website from 2014). Enjoy: ... memorizing
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Kevin Cowen » Sat Sep 15, 2018 7:44 pm

Hi Montana
I'll try to help but I need to know what you mean by "the first three lines".

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by spanishguitarmusic » Sun Sep 16, 2018 1:23 am

If I want to memorize a piece, I first make sure I can play through the whole piece perfectly, as best as you possibly can. Make sure though, that you play the piece extremely slow, measure by measure, even note by note. Continuously play each note and measure very slowly. Keep doing this slow purposeful playing over and over and over. You should not be attempting to play the piece at tempo. Once you feel that you can comfortably play through the whole piece as best as you can without doing any mistakes, then you can start again from the beginning and see if you can look away from the sheet music and see how much you can remember without looking. It you can't, no problem, just look back at the sheet music. Just attempt a few notes or a measure at a time and see how far along you can get. Continue this way and before you know it, you will have played through the whole piece by memory. Of course, all of this playing doesn't happen over night. It may take weeks or even months, depending on the difficulty of the piece you're trying to memorize. I hope this helps! Just keep at it and you will get better at memorizing pieces and you'll be able to memorize pieces much faster as you continue practicing!

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Evan » Sun Sep 16, 2018 2:03 pm

My suggestion is that if you are having trouble memorising a piece, don't worry about it. Just use the sheet music and read it as you go. I have seen plenty of top level classical players who read from beginning to end of their recitals. Let the memorisation of the piece happen organically, and if it doesn't happen, don't let that bother you. It's been memorised on the page for you.

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by montana » Sun Sep 16, 2018 7:09 pm

Thanks for your help to all..Kevin, by lines i meant, 4 bars per line..3 lines. Sorry I was not very clear.

Evan...I've heard David Russel and others have a difficult time memorizing if they have played a piece too many times sight read. They feel a commitment must be made to memorizing right away. However, if my ability to memorize is failing, I may have to rely on sight reading the whole piece and hoping I can retain it in memory.

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by David Norton » Mon Sep 17, 2018 12:08 am

For the last 10 years at least, I have largely declined to try to perform music from memory. The whole "will I forget something?" anxiety thing leaps to the forefront and pretty much ensures disaster for me. So I use a low-height music stand, positioned such that the view of the guitar is not blocked from the audience (and thereby the sound isn't going straight into the stand, either) and that seems to work OK. If I had the time or inclination to really work on memory things, likely it would come out OK. But for one-off community concert events, the benefit of memorizing has to outweigh the risk, and for me, that's far from the case.

I've seen other players use the tablet-based music stand, but on two separate occasions clearly something went sideways electronically and marred the performance. So I avoid the modern technical solutions as well.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by bzel » Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:02 am

I'd like to enlarge the scope of the question.
First of all some pieces are easier to memorize than others and that may also have to do with one's personal predilection, and the music one likes.
Practice and repetition is key of course but what also helps to internalise the music is both understanding and also being able to play with 'feeling'.

Singing the melody as you play, in your head or aloud, is vital, because that way the 'thread' of the music will make your performance coherent. I don't agree with players who chop up the music into small bits based on some sort of muscular choreography and finger patterns. They remember the music as if saying: "first you do this, then you put your fingers there, then there, then this shape then that shape... etc".
The melody is like a river flowing, you can't chop it up like that depending on what your fingers can do. Legato musical playing is a priority.

It's very important to learn the piece very s l o w l y at the beginning. That is because at that stage you are feeding your mind with all of the correct data. In the beginning you should be actively listening and making decisions regarding the dynamics, the rhythm, the position where the melody sounds at its best, the best fingering to ensure legato, the position of the right hand to find the appropriate colour, and making musical decisions on phrasing. First the music has to make sense to you before it makes sense to an audience. So you should not hurry the beginning of the learning process, (the most enjoyable part probably), because this is where 'bonding' takes place between you and the music. If there is no" bonding" the playing will not carry any emotion. People will wonder why you are playing the piece at all.
I'm aware that some of what I write here goes against what many 'professionals' say...
The problem they have is that they want to learn and memorise as much repertoire as possible in the shortest period of time, so they try and hurry learning in order to keep up with the demands of their job. The result is that today there are many professionals with amazing facility, but .... that's about it. Many -not all of course- of them play guitar with facility but their interpretations are mechanical and soul-less. It's even become fashionable to play in this way...
But if you listen to how great players (from any instrument) play, you will see that they never sound boring. Every note carries meaning and so the music is meaningful.
I believe that if you take your time learning a piece, it becomes part of you and through it you can express your unique viewpoint of the world through sound. That is what 'art' means to me.
Of course once you have learnt the piece you must play it regularely and over time, as you mature, you may even change the phrasing or the dynamics, the fingering etc. A piece of music becomes your friend, it's a 'living' musical relationship and so it will become 'unforgetable'. If you work in this way, speed of learning will come. You'll look at a new piece of music and perceive the finger patterns that relate to the voicing, you'll be aware of the harmony, the style, you'll "see" the 'potential' of the notes, and you'll be able not only to remember the piece but to also play it in different ways according to how you perceive the music in the moment.
So, to sum up, take it s l o w, enjoy the process, be thorough, and keep it real.

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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Jorge Oliveira » Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:06 am

I came relatively late to classical guitar and score reading, therefore, I've always played (since I was twelve) from memory. I cannot explain it properly, but memorizing a piece implies a combination of images of the fretboard, a mechanization of the intervening fingers, chord positions and passages between them (trying to use as much as possible chord positions I'm familiar with to cover as many measures as possible), the whole melody slowly building "in your head". Having a piece memorized does not imply that I will play it well. Mistakes will happen - specially when you try to increase the tempo - but I will know immediately what I did wrong, not needing to consult the score.

As I am a very poor sight reader, I try to memorize the piece phrase by phrase (one or two staff lines, generally), by playing the first phrase over and over again until it is "in my fingers". Then I extend the practice to the following phrase, but starting again with the first phrase, until this second phrase is also "in my fingers". T this stage I am already playing a chunk of the piece without even knowing how it finishes :D. I then extend the practice to the following phrase and so on... In order not to get tired of doing always the same thing, I intersperse this practice with other pieces I'm already familiar with. This gives me a degree of comfort and confidence and "touching" these other pieces prevents me form forgetting them as well. At the end of the day, I'll have logged much more time with the new piece than with any of the others I already know.

Using this "method" can take me days, even weeks, to memorize any given piece. As an example, Sor's Opus 60 #24 took me a week to memorize. I could then play it at a slow, comfortable pace, without too many mistakes. I put then a metronome at work to make sure that I could play it in a fluid manner - I'm now playing it at 1/4 = 86 bpm and I'll slowly increase the tempo until I reach the one stated in the score (Allegro moderato, 1/4 = 112-115 bpm, tough I find this too fast).

Having said all the above, I wish I could also play by looking at a score. You see, at least in my case, when I play a piece (by memory) and make a mistake, because the whole thing is mechanized, I find it almost impossible to ignore it and proceed, my tendency is to go back a bit (one or two measures) and start again from there. It's OK if you are playing for yourself but not OK if you are playing for an audience.
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Re: Best way to memorize a piece

Post by Arduous » Sat Sep 22, 2018 1:30 am

Repeat repeat repeat...

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