It has long been a practice for soloists and singers to perform their music from memory. Today, some orchestras are going so far as to have the ensemble perform their concerts entirely from memory. Musicologists and performers often have debated whether or not memorization enhances performance, but the fact remains that as musicians, we are often called upon to memorize our music. Here are five tips from the pros to help you memorize your parts faster and better:
#1. Memorize Sections, Not the Whole Piece
Although it may require less effort to learn a piece by playing it through over and over again, this method can cause problems in the event of a slip up or missed note. For example, most people can recite the alphabet, but have a harder time if asked to start from the middle. You can avoid this problem by dividing your music into short segments and rehearsing them individually, in addition to practicing the piece as a whole.
#2. Alternate Between Playing from Memory and from the Score
When you are comfortable playing a section of the piece from the score, try playing as much of it as you can from memory. After this first trial, take a look at the score and identify any mistakes. Play the whole section again from the score, and then try another run through from memory. It’s likely you won’t get it in your first or second try unless you are already familiar with the piece, but that’s ok. By alternating between playing from the score and from memory, you’ll learn the piece faster and you’ll avoid accidentally memorizing mistakes.
#3. Record Yourself Playing from the Score and Listen to the Recording in between Practice Sessions
Although practice is incredibly important, it is equally critical to take breaks and rest between practice sessions so that you don’t get fatigued. Listening to yourself performing the piece helps ingrain the notes, rhythms, and phrases in your mind, laying the groundwork for memorization.
#4. Practice Much Slower than the Tempo on the Page
It may be tedious, and even time-consuming depending on the length of the piece, but there is absolutely no substitute for learning music slowly. Our brains place a high value on things that take a lot of effort or a lot of time to acquire or complete, so when you practice music at a slow tempo, you’re telling your brain, “This is important. Remember this.”
#5. Give Yourself Enough Time to Memorize the Piece
On occasion, students can pass a test by cramming for it the night before, or by speed-reading the material. This simply does not work with music. You are much better off learning a piece in one-hour intervals over eight days than you are trying to learn it in one eight-hour session. This is true for a couple reasons: first, sleep is essential to memorization. When you sleep your mind gets a chance to solidify what it learned during the day, so when you learn music over a longer period of time you’re much more likely to remember it. Second, when your mind and body are working at the same thing for too long, they get tired and less efficient. When you push yourself to practice the same material for long periods of time, you are actually spending more energy for lower quality results than if you took your time to learn it.
Of course, everyone practices differently, and what works for one musician might not work for another, but hopefully with these tips you’ll be learning your music by heart in no time!
Over the past 34 years, MidAmerica Productions has produced over 1300 concerts in Carnegie Hall and in historic venues all over the world. To have your ensemble perform in Carnegie Hall or internationally call us at 212-239-0205 or visit us at www.midamerica-music.com.