The difference between concert pianists and the amateur pianists is that we make memorizing a part of learning. Our definition of memory is learning. Every time we practice we are memorizing committing the music to our head. We do not play it over and over again - that is utterly ridiculous.
This is my answer to another person's questions regarding memory and how it should be approached. This is how myself and my colleagues memorize.
Well Memory is Learning! The moment you start practicing a piece is the moment you start memorizing it. You see, memory means - the absolute knowledge of a piece. Why do things twice? Why learn then memorize when its the exact same thing?
So when you are practicing think of these tips. If you practice like this then your memory will be secure and you will learn faster and play the piece better.
Always tell yourself what you are doing when you practice. If you are learning a new fingering, say the finger out loud to yourself. If you recognize a cadence, tell yourself the cadence. If you play a sequence, identify the sequence and how the melody is used. The reason why it takes many a long time to learn music is because they just play through it! They don't actively tell themselves what is going on. If you just play through it over and over again, you are not practicing. You are not reminding yourself about what is going on. You have to be active! Your mind must be involved. Count out loud, sing the musical lines, work small sections, tell yourself the harmonic progressions... even something as simple as reminding yourself about how the theme repeats will help you memorize and understand the piece. When you are playing a crescendo, tell yourself! This way you associate the dynamic with the musical line and the fingering. This is what professional musicians do to learn music.
For professionals, the concept of memory begins he moment we begin to learn the piece. Memory is not something we do at the end after we learn the piece. For us, memory is learning. Our goal is to memorize something every day! You should do the same. And this is where conscious practice comes into play. Other ways to do conscious practice are
- transposing difficult technical sections
- practice with different rhythmic variations in for hard technical sections
- memorizing fingerings
- sing the melody line while playing the bass
All these things work to improve a piece. Take your time with the challenging sections but with the mentality of conscious practice. The more you stimulate your mind when practicing, the faster and stronger the memory will be. Memorizing anything involves focus and concentration. Muscle memory is only good to train the fingers where to go but you cannot rely on that when you are stage! What happens if you shake and your L.H. can't remember where to go on the fretboard? Well, thats where being conscious is important! By reminding yourself what you do, telling yourself, verbalizing what you practice will improve your time at the your instrument. The verbalization reinforces what you are doing physically by activating your brain. Music is 90% mental, 10% physical.
Memorize every day! Even if you can only memorize 4 bars, at least your memorized something. If you do not tell yourself to memorize something every day then it will take forever. You can't say " I'll start with the first page and memorize it, once its memorized I'll start the memory for the 2nd page"... Well what if it takes 10 weeks to memorize the first page? Then you're in trouble. Give yourself small goals... 4 bars a day maybe, 8? Whatever works for you, but you have to have small goals and something to work for.
I have pieces I learned 10 years ago that take me one or two days to get back in my fingers because of the way I learned them.... I can interchange the word Memory for Learned....
Remember : Memory = Learning
In addition - we look for patterns - familiar patterns, analyze the music so we understand harmonically what is going on. At all times I know exactly what key I am in and what chord progression the music is going through. This only strengthens my memory. I memorize fingerings as well. Whatever it takes - everything on the page is committed to memory through conscious learning.