Reinforcing Memory at the Piano

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Memory can be one of the great challenges for musicians. You take the time to learn a piece, practice it again and again, and master it. Then you may forget something! Today we are going to discuss how to retain the music you’ve learned.

In the past we’ve discussed how to memorize music and you may reference that video for tips on that topic.

So, let’s say you have a piece you’ve memorized and you want to make sure you keep it on a high performance level. It might be a piece you played sometime ago, and while you remember most of it, there are certain parts that aren’t secure. Are there any tricks to keeping this information stored in your mind?

The first thing is to play with the score. Now you might be wondering, if you play with the score, doesn’t it negate the idea of memorizing the music? Afterall, it’s the exact opposite! Once you’ve memorized the music, that’s when the real work begins. Playing with the score will help solidify your knowledge of the music. You aren’t going to just play it through though, you study the score playing very slowly with no pedal. Take in all the notes, rhythm, fingering, phrasing and expression. Listen to what is going on in the piece and study it intently. This will greatly enhance your knowledge of the music and reinforce your memory like you never thought possible.

Another important practice tool to reinforce your memory of a piece is to play with the metronome. Make sure that you keep with the metronome and play the music exactly as written. Go through it several times while reading the music and playing with the metronome to make sure the rhythm is solid.

So the three basic ways to reinforce your musical memory:

1. Play slowly with the score
2. Keep your foot off the pedal
3. Play with the metronome

An advanced technique is to play your music away from the piano. Now this might sound strange (after all, how do you play music without the piano?) but it’s a great practicing technique. If you really think you’ve memorized your music, try playing it from memory – you can start by moving your fingers in your lap at first to make it easier. Imagine playing every note and nuance and see how much you really know playing mentally. It can be incredibly challenging but it’s extremely beneficial. Eventually you can play your music in your head by thinking it through. This will allow you to create the exact performance you have in mind without any physical constraints or problems with the instrument. This is a great way to strengthen your memory.

Listening to other performances of your music can also help. But there is nothing better than pulling out the score and referring to it again and again. In order to truly understand a piece and retain it in your mind you need to learn the score and reinforce the memory constantly.

I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me for more information.