Tips for my Students

Memorization

Recently there was a blog on the Eastman School of music site (my Alma Mater) that motivated me to write something for my own website for my students and parents.

Interesting fact! It was proper in Mozart’s time to always have the music on the stand. He had to fake reading it as he memorized everything! For most of us “normal” people this is not the case. Memorizing a piece takes many hours of practice and study. I have played many performances both by memory and with the music. What I have found is that unless I have put all those hours into memorization, I will not want to perform that way. Now, it is different for different people. Some memorize easier than others. Rarely, someone has a photographic memory and it is no effort at all after just 1 or 2 readings, but again…that is very rare. ( I have a friend in Los Angeles who could play a three hour show book of music and close it after the 2nd reading and play it all from memory!) The pieces I put the time into to memorize have stayed with me for many years. Some players love to perform this way, others don’t, however, sometimes it is a requirement.

Memorization is often required for a concerto performance or audition. Here are some useful tips to help you through the process:
 

  • Sit down and study your printed part and sing it. Conduct it. Look for all important points such as key, time signature, speed, changes in any of these, rhythmic patterns and the form. 
     

  • Visualize yourself playing the piece. You can see in your mind the pages go by, or you playing it, or a vague impression but hearing it exactly. All are good! Whatever works for you. Oh, and see yourself playing the ways you want to…relaxed, easily, dynamically, calmly, and if you see anything you don’t like, change it! Another mental exercise you can do is to see yourself the day of the event and walk yourself through the entire day. Make it as real as possible including things like what you will wear, eat, the drive over, walking into the building and room., unpacking ad the performance with people giving you positive comments afterwards. This is all helpful.
     

  • Mindful repetition is necessary. This means doing focused “spot” practicing I teach so you are not learning a mistake. WARNING: DO NOT JUST PLAY PROBLEM SPOTS IN TEMPO WITHOUT FIXING THEM! I often mention that we have to reprogram our brain computers to delete the mistakes we have learned and put in new information. This is actually physically true. You are reprogramming your brain synapses. Be kind to that brain and go slowly at first….no, I mean SLOWLY!
     

  • Set up a few markers for yourself of different places to start in case of a slip. DO NOT GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING unless you are right near it. These markers can have to do with the form of the piece (ABA etc.) or a rhythmic pattern …whatever is meaningful and comfortable for you. Practice starting at these places. Recovery from a slip is more important than the slip itself!
     

  • Play for everybody! This means, don’t pull in strangers off the street, but any friends, relatives, or acquaintances you can get an opportunity to play for. Physical changes often happen when we are in a performance situation. Here’s a good physical exercise to recreate some of those changes: run up and down a flight of stairs singing the piece. This creates shortness of breath and increased heart rate, and you are letting your body know that it is OK if that happens and you can play anyway! (Your family may think you’ve gone over the edge but let them keep guessing. A little mystery is good for our artistic image!)
     

  • Remember that you are in control! It can feel as though you have to rush, but take as much time as you need to get set before playing, including sight reading. Then begin. If it is an audition remember that you are auditioning them too! Be very well prepared and always look back at the audition requirements when preparing to be sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
     

  • Take good care of yourself. Exercise (watch those precious fingers) and eat properly. Get enough rest. The day of the event, limit caffeinated beverages. You want to remain calm and steady and your body will be revving up for what you have planned for.
     

  • Breathe!! Life is good! Music is wonderful and you have chosen to make it a rich part of your life. Your efforts will be repaid in a lifetime of memorable, musical experiences. No one can predict what will happen in an audition or performance. Just be as prepared as possible and make music. That is the most important focus when playing for an audition or performance.

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