I get a lot of enquiries about playing by memory. Here are a few useful tips:

1. Mark out the sections and phrases
It’s important to know where a section / a phrase starts and ends – this practice is not only important for memorisation but also in practice and knowing the music more deeply and securely

2. Repeat in small doses
It’s a very useful tool to memorise a piece in small doses first especially if you are new to the practice. Start with one phrase and then two, gradually working up to a whole section. Then work on two sections and more eventually leading up to the whole movement/piece.

For example:
Repeat each phrase 5-10 times. Then two phrases 5-10 times. Then three phrases 5-10 times and so on.

It’s also great to try starting in the middle of a piece – a lot of times when performers have a slip of memory it’s never at the beginning of a piece or not even the beginning of a section/phrase. I encourage my students to start playing /memorising in the middle of the music to see if they can start and continue from there – I call them “safety stops”. It’s like taking a train: it starts and ends at big terminals, but it also travels through and pauses by many small stations / stops in between the whole journey to pick up and drop off passengers. So throughout the whole music journey (the music piece you are playing and memorising), you also need some musical stops to know where you are at currently. It helps you keep track of where you have been, where you are at, and where you are going, until the end.

For me I even memorised from the end back to the beginning just to test my memory of the piece. Most important of all, try to be creative about your memorisation process and think/practice outside of the box – remember, there is no one way to do it right for you, and often, those “weird” ways of doing one thing are THE ways to get you closer and faster towards your goal!

Until next time,

Teresa Wong

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