How do you begin teaching memory, and approximately when in a student's study do you begin? 


I like to begin memorizing within the first few weeks of study and continue it as a regular part of piano lessons from then on.

Like every other discovery, memory should first be a secure and pleasant experience before it is given a name or thought of as a process.

Let's take a piece as easy as "Stargazers," from early in the first semester, when the student is still reading off-staff notation.

We take for granted that in learning this piece the student has become familiar with:
  • title
  • lyrics
  • dynamics

and developed security with:
  • rhythm
  • keyboard positions
  • phrasing 

To check if the piece is remembered by "head" instead of by "heart", close the music and ask the student to:

  • block the two different positions, moving back and forth several times securely.
  • tap and count the rhythm (tap RH notes with RH, LH notes with LH).
  • play and say the finger numbers, playing on the keyboard cover.
  • play on the keys and sing the lyrics, being careful to pro- duce a singing tone and beautifully shaped phrases. 

If the performance is secure and musical, conclude with something like, "Congratulations! You remembered that piece really well." 

Short experiences like this, every week or every few weeks, will begin to instill confidence in playing pieces without the music, long before you call it memorizing. Remember, par- ents who studied piano as children are very apt to make comments about memorizing that cause their children to dread it. We've all heard them lament, "Oh, 1 never could memorize" or "1 hated to play from memory." Our goal is to develop a secure and comfortable process that eliminates any possible nervousness or dread. 
STARGAZERS. By FRANCES CLARK, LOUISE GOSS and SAM HOLLAND. © 2000 (Renewed) SUMMY-BIRCHARD MUSIC. A Division of SUMMY-BIRCHARD INC. Exclu- sive Prim Rights Administered by ALFRED PUBLISHING Co., INC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

By the end of the first year of study, a student might be playing a piece like "Grand Entrance."

By this time, students are ready to learn the actual process of memorizing by analyzing the piece, seeing it in their mind's eye as they think it through.

Close the music and lead the student to describe how the piece is made. Correct student responses are given in italic s. 

1. The entire LH is made of what interval? (5ths) and most of the 5ths are...(whole notes). 

Find the starting position, then move down a...(3rd), down a...(3rd), up a...(2nd).

Play and count line 1.

Now compare line 2.

It starts on the same 5th as line 1, but an octave lower.

Like line 1, it first moves down a... (3rd), down a... (3rd), up a... (2nd), but then goes up a... (4th) and ends with a repeated...(5th).

Notice especially that in measures 7 and 8, the rhythm changes to... (half notes).

Play and count line 2.

2. Now let's analyze the RH.

With what kind of rest does it almost always begin? (quarter rest).

After the rest, the RH is always in a 5-finger pattern on... (G), and it almost always plays a slur on fingers... (1), (5), (3).

But remember that in measure 4, fingers 2 and 5 play... (half notes). And in measures 7-8, the fingers you play are... (1), (5), (2) in... (quarter notes) and finger. .. (3) as a... (whole note).

By the way, which is the only RH finger that doesn't play in this piece? (4).

Now play and count the RH of line I while tapping the LH.

Then compare line 2 by playing and counting the RH while tapping the LH.

Finally, play and count the entire piece as written.

On paper, these steps seem cumbersome and time consuming. But remember you are devoting time to learning a memory process using just a single piece at a time, and probably not every week.

It has been my experience that aural, visual, and kinesthetic memory pretty much take care of themselves at this level. The teacher's emphasis needs to be on the analytic approach, as described in the steps above. I have found that the time spent on memory in the earliest years is money in the bank when it comes to repertoire classes, recitals, auditions, and competitions. Even more important is the freedom and joy in being able to play for others without music, whenever and wherever the opportunity occurs. 

GRAND ENTRANCE. By SAM HOLLAND. © 2000 (Renewed) SUMMY-BIRCHARD MUSIC. A Division of SUMMY-BIR- CHARD INC. Exclusive Print Rig/us Administered by ALFRED PUBLISHING Co., INC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

You have to be a member to access this content.

Please login and subscribe to a plan if you have not done so.