What about Memorizing?

By Andrea Bentz, January 2, 2017

Memorizing music is not as common as it once was, yet there are still some wonderful benefits to memorizing a special piece of music. Perhaps the most important benefit is knowing the music so well that the musician is really comfortable with it, able to play with few or no mistakes and able to draw out beautiful expression in the music as they play. The mental discipline of memorization benefits students academically, also. There are several ways to approach memorizing music to make it more certain it will be available for recall when needed. Here are a few methods to memorization, paraphrased from several blog entries on The Bulletproof Musician

1. Try memorizing a piece from the start – when you first start learning it.

Called retrieval practice, efforts to play from memory are begun as the music is first presented to the student. 

2. Mental practice can help

Auditory imagery – or being able to hear the music "in your head" should be a foundation on which memory rests.

Analysis – figuring out the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic structure of the piece is another important aspect of mental practice.

Listening to a recording can help – once again, to support the development of the inner soundtrack of the music in your head.

3. Deliberate Memorization (also called Content Addressable Access)

This is embedding little retrieval cues (or “performance cues”) throughout the piece. Little written reminders about phrasing, dynamics, character, articulation, musical structure, and more and put directly on the page. These things aren’t necessarily related to memorizing notes, but nevertheless comprise a “mental script” of little details to focus on as you make your way through the piece. Reminders to keep you on-task, ensure that you bring out every nuance and detail, and don’t just cruise by on autopilot.

The student is encouraged to mark up a blank copy of the score with arrows and colored pen, so as to begin coming up with specific “cues” to pay attention to while practicing. Generally, four types of categories were marked:

Basic technique (e.g. positioning of her hands, the notes)

Musical structure (e.g. phrasing)
Interpretation (e.g. dynamics)
Expression (e.g. the mood or character he wanted to convey)

Taken together, these four types of cues add additional layers of information to the music, kind of like landmarks that let us know if we’re on the right path or not, and help us get back on track if we start to lose our way. It definitely takes time, but there is a good payoff!

4. Overlearning

While overlearning seems to be a good thing, it’s not so clear how much overlearning is best. More seems to be better, but there is a point of diminishing returns.  Besides, overlearning for the sake of overlearning can lead to mindless, ineffective practice, and do more harm than good. If a passage is particularly difficult to memorize, the suggestion is to play it 50% more times than it took to master it. Yes, if you are an advanced student, that could be a lot of repetition!

5. Evening/Morning Learning

A recent study showed better retention of material if the student studied in the evening before bed, then reviewed the material in the morning. (This was not a music memorization study, but did involve memorizing.) Perhaps the most efficient way to memorize is with a short session in the evening followed by another short session in the morning. 


Just a few of the ways memorization can be approached! Any student who undertakes memorization of a special piece will find reward in better mastery of the music.


The Amazing Benefits of Music Study!

Thursday, July 9, 2015 by Andrea Bentz | Benefits of Music

This four minute video contains a wealth of information in a easy to follow animated format. Enjoy!