How to learn and memorize better

This article in the Boston Globe resonated with me and validated my thoughts on the various lectures I’ve given on how to learn your music or practice memorization at the piano.

Read the article first. I briefly reviewed each term suggested in the article as it applies to the piano, below:

Repetition – it only goes so far or your brain feels full and your fingers wind up doing all the dancing without thought. It’s a dangerous practice, if you ask me.

Retrieval practice – put some random numbers on a piece of paper that goes up to the number of measures that occur in one of your pieces. Peek at these measures as a way to test yourself that you know the score. Continue playing or playing by memory from this bar.

Space out practice – switch between pieces that you’re working on. Forces your mind to work extra hard, therefore re-engaging it.

Go wide – use as many different ways to memorize as possible: visual, tactile, using theory, harmony, aural skills, etc.

Rules – use theory and harmony as much as possible to figure out where the music is traveling to. I love it when I play the following chord progression: D, A, e, b, C, G , C, D and everyone shouts out that it’s “Pachelbel,” except it wasn’t. This progression is everywhere!

Testing – that’s what dress rehearsals are for. Get yourself out of your practice room and test yourself before the big shindig!

Practice elaboration – redefine your music on your own terms. I remember having to memorize the Periodic Table in 7th grade (laughing as there were far fewer to memorize back then) and associating some of the elements with ways in which I could remember them. For instance, Fe = Iron, Fe sounded heavy to me and I’d make a gesture of lifting something heavy to reinforce my memory. Au is gold and I’d think of Auld Lang Syne as something precious. Ag for silver, ag as in less than au. My way of memorizing this would not work for someone else but it remained strong in my own memory and certainly helped me when I took my test!

History – placing your music in a historical context will help you remember what makes sense when it comes to memorizing the material. This also helps if needing to utilize improvisation when in the midst of a memory slip like knowing that an Alberti bass figure isn’t going to work in a piece by Bach.

Just a few tips to think about. I enjoyed reading this article today and wanted to share my take on it in relation to the piano.

About Polly van der Linde

Pianist, teacher, director of International Piano Camps in VT, for adults and children of all levels of ability
This entry was posted in Memorization, Piano practice, Practice, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to How to learn and memorize better

  1. andrea says:

    I agree with all your points, Polly. I’ve learned so much from you about using different practice methods to learn and retain, such as breaking down into melody or downbeats, or using different rhythms, etc. When I feel stale on something, I always try to get creative about a different practice method.

  2. Lya Ferrer says:

    that is what I try to convince my students of … it’s not just dots and keys on “automatic pilot”. thank you for the article.

  3. Martin says:

    This reminds me of a lesson I had when I was a teenager. My teacher would close the lid of the piano and have me play from memory on the lid while he would sing along. At random intervals he would say ‘stop’. At that point I had to say which keys would have been played and which fingers I used. I distinctly remember breaking out in a sweat!

  4. Ann Clem says:

    Sounds great, but I couldn’t locate the article on the Boston Globe. Apparently, it wasn’t called “How to Learn and Memorize Better”. Thanks for the help!

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