Memorizing music, it's a worthwhile challenge

For some, memorizing music is a quick and easy, even an automatic process. However, for so many of us, it’s labor intensive and time consuming. A combination of playing by ear, muscle memory, remembering what note names or chords to play in tricky spots and even visual memory of where passages appear on the page, all of these things factor into successful performance from memory.

It’s vitally important to be able to sing in your mind’s ear exactly the melody you are memorizing. Otherwise, you will rely too heavily on muscle memory, which will let you down every time.

Being aware of a piece’s structure and knowing what section comes next as you play through certain landmarks in the music gives confidence. Having the ability to start in lots of places in the piece can save you as well. Being over prepared is a must before performing a piece from memory.

All that being said, I’m hardly an expert at performing from memory. This would be a great place to share your tips. One that I believe is a big help for me is practicing lots of patterns such as scales, scales in broken thirds, fourths, fifths etc., arpeggios and other patterns. These help my ear training, so that if I can sing a piece of music, I am more apt to be able to play a piece more easily be ear.

Combined with landmarks, such as “start this passage on an F#” and “play an Ab major triad here” this type of ear training helps me to memorize more successfully. Playing under tempo (slowly) from memory is great way to shore up your memory and to test yourself.

Do you have any pointers for successfully performing from memory? If so, please share them here.