3 Steps to Mastering Memorization

Mastering Memorization

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Your ability to play with musicality and freedom is intricately tied to the depth of your memory from your practice sessions. Whether your goal is to memorize a piece from start to finish or simply enhance your playing with greater musicality, memory plays a pivotal role in musical mastery. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore three crucial steps to help you solidify your music memory.

Step 1: Understanding the Four Types of Memory 

Before you even think about trying to actively memorize music, you need to understand the four types of memory that are at play when it comes to your brain and music.

  • Muscle Memory: The fastest-developing yet least reliable memory type. It’s very important, but it’s not the most reliable form of memory. When you are playing through a piece and you make a mistake that completely throws off your train of thought and you have to start the piece over, you know that muscle memory was at play. 
  • Aural Memory: Remembering how the music sounds. If you can hum or sing your piece away from your instrument, you have aural memory.
  • Visual Memory: The ability to remember both the music’s appearance on the page and the hand positions on the keys (or on your instrument).
  • Cognitive Memory: The ultimate memory goal, where you can write out the entire piece from memory, including notes, rhythms, dynamics, and more.

Strengthening all these memory types, especially cognitive memory, will elevate your musicianship skills. 

Step 2: Creating Memory-Enhancing Puzzles

The more puzzles (exercises) that you create for your brain to solve, the more solid your memory will be. There are endless puzzles (exercises) that you can use to strengthen your memory. Here are a few: 

  • Muscle Memory: Practice efficiently using revolutionary techniques, such as the Post-it method or rhythmic practice. These methods expedite the development of muscle memory. If you’d like a more in depth explanation of these revolutionary practice methods, check out this youtube tutorial that describes these methods in detail. 
  • Aural Memory: Sing your piece as you play it, even if you’re not a trained singer. This technique helps you internalize the melody and anticipate musical elements. If you can’t sing and play your instrument at the same time, sing your piece away from your instrument while following along in your music. 
  • Visual Memory: Take your sheet music away from your instrument and follow along with a recording of your piece. This exercise reinforces your visual memory as you learn to track notes and rhythms without the keyboard. This actually also strengthens your aural memory at the same time!
  • Cognitive Memory: Analyze the piece for patterns, including intervals, chords, scale passages, and repeating motifs. Mark your sheet music to highlight these patterns. You can also try memorizing one hand at a time before combining them. If you are fluent in music theory, you can do a formal harmonic and structural analysis of the piece. 

Remember that these exercises can be challenging, but the difficulty is a sign that your brain is actively strengthening its memory.

Additionally, you can use MakeMusic Cloud to help strengthen your memory. Sing or listen along to the professional level backing tracks to improve aural and visual memory, or use the looping feature to improve muscle memory in difficult sections. You can even adjust the tempo to increase as you practice as an added challenge! Built in assessment will track your note and rhythm accuracy so you can easily see your progress as you practice.

Step 3: Increasing Difficulty 

As you progress, it’s crucial to keep challenging your memory to prevent stagnation. Memory isn’t always linear, and recalling information out of order is common. There are hundreds of ways that you can practice to ensure that your memory is always being strengthened. These suggestions are a great place to start: 

  • Experiment with different starting points in your piece instead of always beginning from the start. This helps deepen your memory. The best way to do this is to go through the piece and label your phrases numerically. Then, practice jumping between the starts of the phrases from memory. Do this backwards, out of order, and randomly. When you start the phrase, do so with the correct tempo, fingering, notes, and musical expression. 
  • Practice sections of your music backward, a technique that reinforces your memory in a unique way. This can be done with individual measures that are difficult, with entire phrases that are causing trouble, or even with entire sections of music. It will be difficult, but ensure that the correct rhythm, fingering, and notes are used while playing backwards. 
  • Is it possible to notate the piece on manuscript paper with correct notes, fingering, dynamics, rhythm, and musicality symbols? This is a great end goal with memory and through the process of trying to notate the piece, it will become clear where the gaps in memory are. Practice exercises can be created depending on the gaps that come up. For example, if you are able to notate an entire page except for some of the rhythms in a transition section, you know to go back and work on the rhythmic memory of the transition section. 

Mastering musical memory is a journey that requires patience and dedication. By understanding the four memory types, creating memory-enhancing puzzles, and progressively increasing the difficulty of your memorization exercises, you’ll find yourself well-equipped to memorize any piece of music. Additionally, consider joining a supportive community of fellow piano enthusiasts (if you’re a piano player) for valuable insights and guidance on your musical journey. Ultimately, a solid foundation in memory will pave the way for the musical freedom and expression you aspire to achieve.

Ashlee Young is a pianist, educator, and content creator whose happy place is helping piano players learn to play beautifully by learning to practice smarter, not harder. Ashlee also works with piano teachers to help them scale and grow their businesses. 

Ashlee has an extensive background in performing having earned a masters degree in classical piano performance from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and having performed at world-renowned venues like Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center. 

After working with thousands of adult piano players from all over the world, Ashlee’s superpower is taking your struggles and turning them into successes with Revolutionary Practice Methods, solid practice routines, and mindset work.

Ashlee puts out a wealth of content for piano players and teachers with her  YouTube tutorials, on her instagram page, in her FREE community for piano players, her free community for piano teachersThe Prosperous Piano Teacher Podcast, and in all of her programs and courses

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