Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking an old friend to heart

In a previous post, I suggested that new repertoire needs to be memorized as it is learned, as opposed to learned and then memorized. I also asserted that, if a piece is not memorized, it is not learned.

In my own case, I've been bringing a number of learned-but-not-memorized pieces to memory, although, this summer, most of my learning has been from scratch. While this blog has been mostly dedicated to scratch learning, it does raise the question of how one might memorize a piece that is already in the fingers (or voice) and may have already been performed with score.

As you know, I firmly believe that tactile memory is the weakest form of memory. This is why scratch learning is so important to me, as it keeps tactile memory from taking precedence over intellectual (i.e., visual and aural) memory. However, if you already have a piece in your repertoire--but not memorized--, how are you going to get it memorized?

Begin by approaching the piece as if you don't already know it. After placing your landmarks, spend some days only doing mental practice with a metronome. You might surprise yourself by how much you know; you might also be discouraged by how little you know. In your mental work, establish your landmarks. Be able to see them and hear them cold.

After a few days, set up a daily schedule beginning with mental work followed by work at the instrument. At the instrument, work only from your landmarks--slowly, with a metronome--, and resist the temptation to play through the piece. Are you able to visualize and play the first few notes of each landmark?

You might need some remedial memory work. Use the techniques described previously in
The same could be said for memorization.
this blog. Find patterns in the music. Use analytic techniques to bring you to a greater understanding of the piece. The good news is that you probably already have a strong aural sense of the piece, so don't be afraid to use your ear as much as possible.


When you finally come around to some fairly thorough memorization, play the piece slowly with metronome, but make sure that you are thinking of each landmark before you play it. Congratulations! You've now reached the middle stage of memorization. I'll discuss this stage in the next section of this blog, along with techniques for making your piece ready for performance.

Above all, assume nothing, and make sure that you have approached your old friend with as much care and attention as you've been approaching your new friends.