As I mentioned in another blog,
Piano recitals were one of my biggest nightmares as a child. As I look back, I think the reasons were that we only had one recital each year and that the music had to be memorized. Going up to play in front of an audience poses many challenges in itself: what if I hit a wrong note, will people think the piece is too easy a piece for my age, will they like the way I play, etc.
I always attended lessons with my music, always practiced with my music, and then was asked to go on a stage in front of a room full of people and play from memory. Going up to play without music felt like I was naked!
So, now I am a piano teacher asking students to perform with memorization as a requirement. Crazy, huh? No actually, it’s smart. The difference is, is that I give the student a game plan and teach them how to memorize and what to do if they get in trouble at a performance. I have students memorize pieces often and perform often. Because of the frequency, the students build their skills to memorize and the fear is taken out of being in front of a group.
A teacher once said to me that a person does not to begin learning a piece until after it is memorized. This flummoxed me! I felt that I had learned all the notes and rhythms; wasn’t that enough? But ownership takes place after notes and rhythms are learned. At that point the student can concentrate on the peripherals: dynamics, tempo, mood, rubato, and nuances which make the literature turn into music.
Children need to be taught how to memorize. As a child , my method to memorizing music was to just to play the piece over and over until I hit the notes correctly. What an ineffective and risky method! As a teacher, I feel it is my job to teach the student how to memorize.
The first thing I do is analyze the piece with the student. The student has to be cognizant of how the piece is put together. We discuss form, key signature, chord structure. We find similarities and differences in the music and mark those points. We divide the piece into many small units for practice. That way, when a child is practicing, they don’t always have to start at the beginning of the piece. In fact, I encourage them to practice the parts scrambled up so that all parts get equal attention.
When we begin to memorize we then approach the task by memorizing in small chunks as marked noting the chord structure and endings of phrases. By doing all this, the student is using a cognitive approach, not playing on automatic pilot. He is keeping his brain engaged, which will keep him more focused. That way, when a student is performing if he does have a memory lapse, he is able to go to any of the little memorized “chucks” of music and continue without too much of a hesitation. Also, with the music divided into small chunks, the student, during practice, can jump to trouble spots instead of just playing through.
When a child is asked to memorize often, they build the skill of memory. They begin seeing patterns more readily and the act of memorizing becomes stream lined. When asked to perform from memory often, the student’s fear diminishes and because they are relaxed, they will perform more musically and successfully.
If a child can perform music from memory, think of how hard the brain is working and how that can benefit him the rest of his life! So, as painful as it was for me as a kid, I do require my students to memorize their music. However, I give them the tools to use to be successful.