Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. The topic today is about why some pieces are harder to memorize than others. Some composers are really hard to memorize compared to others. For example, Mozart may not be easy to play, but his pieces tend to be easier to memorize than a composer like Bach. Why is this?
The music of Mozart generally has melody and accompaniment.
Memorizing music that has melody with accompaniment is far easier than other types of music. You have a melody that you can remember because it’s something you can hum. And then you just have broken chords in the left hand. With something like a Bach fugue, where you have counterpoint, memorization is much more difficult. You don’t have a clear melody and accompaniment. It’s melody and melody! More than that, in a fugue with 3 or more voices, melodies are divided between the hands. So practicing hands separately sometimes doesn’t make sense. This is why counterpoint can be challenging to memorize. However, there’s a reason why even this may not be the hardest thing to memorize.
There’s a certain amount of tactile memory in counterpoint.
Even though there are a lot of interweaving parts, it all falls under your hands very nicely. Your fingers have a memory all their own! It’s sometimes referred to as muscle memory. Have you ever noticed yourself playing the piano and in the middle of it, you realize that you were spaced out? Your mind was thinking about something else entirely, but your fingers kept going! I made a video years ago about how playing scales is kind of like learning how to walk. At first, a toddler has to think of each step with great concentration. But soon they can walk and not even be thinking about it. Well, you can also play scales without thinking about it. The fingers just know where to go, as long as you practice.
There are times when muscle memory won’t help you.
When there are leaps in your music, you can’t rely upon the memory of the fingers because you have to know where you’re leaping. I remember when I first learned the Scriabin Etude in D sharp minor, Op. 8, No. 12, how difficult it was to memorize all of the jumps. You have to be aware of what notes you’re jumping to. Your fingers don’t remember that, do they? Even if something isn’t as complex as a Scriabin etude, any time you have to jump from one register of the piano to another, you have to be intellectually aware of where you’re going.
With leaps, you have to know exactly what notes you’re landing on.
It’s difficult when you’re going from one section of the keyboard to another, particularly if you have a piece that leaps from one place to another in one section, then that same section leaps somewhere else later. In a sonata, for example, the exposition is different from the recapitulation, because the keys are different. You might take a wrong turn if you don’t know intellectually where you are in the music and where to go next. You need to just lock it in so when you get there, you know where you are. You can’t guess because you won’t know where to jump.
Those are the two things that make music more difficult to memorize.
Something with a lot of counterpoint, as in Baroque music and fugues in general, are more difficult to memorize than music with just melody and accompaniment, like in Mozart, Haydn, or even Chopin, depending upon the piece. Sometimes his harmonic sophistication in Chopin can be rather challenging as well. The other thing that makes music more difficult to memorize is leaps. Leaps can be difficult to remember even if you have memorized the music. You need to keep track of your jumps. You have to be keenly aware and have a good intellectual grasp of where you’re going in your score. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.
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