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.
Repeat each phrase 5-10 times. Then two phrases 5-10 times. Then three phrases 5-10 times and so on.
3. Memorise from different parts of a piece
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,
Starting from April, I will give a pointer every month for you to pay attention to and work on.
The first and foremost: sitting posture.
Now, many of you might think, “what does playing the piano have to do anything with how we sit?”
How we sit affects how we play.
If we do not have the right sitting posture, we cannot play well.
Remember from now on, we do not play with only our fingers.
Instead, remember, we play with our whole body.
Sit properly with your bottom situated firmly on the piano bench, with your body weight spread evenly among the two sides of your bottom.
Plant your feet firmly into the ground. Spread them a bit more hip width apart. You should be able to find a V-shape formed from your hip creases out to your knees.
Your feet should be so firmly planted into the ground that you can stand up from your sitting position on the bench without the help of your hands (holding on the bench or the piano).
Start straightening from your lower back all the way up.
Think and move your back as one solid plank, so that you cannot crunch or curl your back to the front or to the sides.
When you have straighten your back more, you can feel your body weight is distributed more evenly to your upper body instead of all down in your lower body.
Sit up straight, my students!
Your thighs should be more parallel to the the ground- Julian is not tall enough yet so his thighs are more slant now.
Now go back to your bottom again. Make sure you are not leaning backward. Check if your back is leaning to the back and your weight going to the back as well. Your body weight should be at least situated in the middle if not to the front.
Tilt your pelvic bones to the back, so that you can feel your body weight moving to the front and to the feet. If you are leaning backward, then your pelvic bones are being pushed to the front. Move them back, so that your upper body is folding to the front. You can now feel your body weight is grounded heavily to your feet.
For the kid students whose feet cannot touch the ground and therefore cannot be secured to the ground yet, place a little stool or steady box to let the feet step on it.
Use a stool under the feet to maintain a steady sitting posture
Try to maintain your forearms more or less parallel to the floor.
Again, if the stool is too high, use a box or something sturdy to step on.
Before we start playing, in piano lessons or practice, we need to have the right mindset. Only under such condition can a student learn and improve.
Now then, what is the right mindset? First and foremost, you have to have the positive learning attitude. That is, you are here to learn and improve. You want to play better. Respect your teacher and yourself. Trust your teacher’s guidance and try your best to follow. Whether in lesson or practice, you are there for yourself to better your own playing, but not for your teacher, parents, or friends.
Second, focus. Focus on your teacher’s instruction and your own playing. It is very important to stay focus during lesson and practice. Without focus, you are merely moving your fingers across the keyboard. So, focus, listen and play.
Third, be confident and have faith in yourself and your playing. If you keep thinking that you cannot improve, you will never improve. Trust yourself that you can play better. From this attitude, face the problems you encounter in the piece and find the right method to solve them. Never think practice is boring or it is a chore. If you think that way, it stays that way in your head. Think practice is interesting and it helps you improve. Indeed, practice is so much fun! For me it is a problem-solving musical activity, it is like you are reading a detective story and trying to solve the case by using the bits and pieces of the evidence; the rest of it is right there for you to find.
Don’t believe me that practice are fun? Try think of it that way before you start your next practice session. Prepare yourself with such positive and fun attitude. Walk to your piano confidently. Start you practice full of hope. You are the music detective trying to solve the case in this piano piece! You will find it a completely different practice that you have never experienced before. (more on growth mindset vs fixed mindset)
P.S. It works only if you believe it works!