Friday, March 1, 2013

[How To] Memorize Music with Ease

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Do you sometimes struggle with memorizing a piece of music? Consider that memorization can actually be a natural process, and you may be memorizing your music without even knowing it!

There are several commonly used methods for music memorization. Most successful memorizers are probably using a combination of methods including “rote memorization,” “repetition,” and “silent study.” I would like to introduce the concept that memorization can come quite naturally. Consider the following true story:

In 1970 I was a member of my university’s symphonic band. On one occasion we had traveled several hours to perform an hour long concert. Upon arrival it was discovered that our music folders had been left behind. What were we to do? Our director made a decision; we were to perform the concert from memory! We had never before played any of the music from memory - we never imagined it would be necessary. But yes, the 90+ members of the symphonic band assembled on stage and played a full hour long concert totally from memory.

So how were we able to pull it off? That’s simple. We had rehearsed and performed the music so many times that we didn’t really have to rely on sheet music. We had memorized it without even intending to. It was a “natural” result of having played it so many times.

If memorization is a struggle for you, try this experiment:

Play One Phrase
Take the piece you’re working on and select one phrase. Play that section of music repeatedly while reading the music. Don’t think about memorizing it. Just play it and listen intently to what you’re playing. It’s important to use your ears.

Look Away
Begin to look away from the sheet music for a measure, then two measures, then three or four. Just let it happen. We have a natural ability to remember things we do repeatedly.

Test Yourself
Use your aural memory to help remember what the music sounds like and then reproduce it naturally. Test yourself and try again and keep trying until you succeed.

Work Backwards
When learning long pieces, some people do better by working from the end of the music back to the beginning. In other words, play an entire section repeatedly and each time through, look away from the sheet music a measure earlier while continuing to the end from memory.

Sooner than you think, you’ll be playing the entire piece from memory. Yes, it takes repetition.
But using your natural ability to perform music “by ear” can help speed the process. Whether you’re learning saxophone, piano, clarinet or any other instrument, be sure to ask your teacher for their tips and tricks. That’s exactly the sort of thing they can help you with!

Is there a memorization system that works for you? Share your tips in the comments!

Wayne Land is a virtuoso saxophonist with over 45 years of teaching and playing experience and two degrees in music education. Book an online saxophone lesson with Wayne in The ZOEN.

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