Playing music from memory is an excellent way to delve deeper into the understanding of a composition. It also frees the student to utilize their senses other than the visual, to truly hear the sound they are creating in order to maximize expression and mastery of technical acuity in the moment.
All students should have at least one piece they are working to memorize.
In the current issue of MTNA’s American Music Teacher magazine, Clinton Pratt identifies 10 tips to ensure successful memorization. The following is a summary of his first five suggestions. Feel free to peruse a copy of AMT at our Wexford location, or in your local library.
- The first tip is something I say all the time in lessons- Keep going! Your child must get in the habit of playing all the way through a piece without stopping, no matter what happens. Sure little mistakes will occur- but we have to practice not stopping, going back, and fixing. As your student practices a run through, encourage them not to get bogged down by imperfections, just keep pressing through until the end. Mr. Pratt calls this one “Keep the Flow”.
- Create “Checkpoints”: Break the music down into sections, based on the form of the piece, smaller sections of musical ideas, or beginnings of phrases, including the end (very important!). Then have the teacher “test” your student’s memory by having them start different sections of your piece. This keeps the big picture in mind so a performer knows where they are and where they are going.
- Put it in reverse. Do #2, only start the sections in reverse order, starting with the end. Play sections until they overlap with the one that comes after it. This one the author calls “Reverse Checkpoints”.
- Have you ever noticed that performances can be noisy occasions? There are coughs, programs falling to the floor, babies crying. Have a little fun by trying to create distractions while your student plays through their piece. This is humorously titled a “Distract-a-Thon”.
- Put all of these to the test by actually stopping your student at a random place. Then they have to resume where they left off, or at least close to where they were. Challenge them further by having them look around the room, or solve a math problem before continuing to play. This activity proves that the performer can actually survive to the end of their performance- despite any “Interruptions”. Or you could put a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote spin on it and call it Performus Interruptus.
Forward, backward, stopping, not stopping- try these steps for assured success in performing from memory. Check back next week for part 2!
Pratt, Clinton “Don’t Crack Under Pressure!” American Music Teacher. February/March 2020: 17-21. Print.