TIP FROM MARK
I recently received another inquiry concerning a player’s inability to memorize guitar pieces, in this case my arrangement of the Turtles’ ’60s hit “Happy Together.” Here’s my 2020 response:
Simply put, you MUST STOP LOOKING AT THE MUSIC to memorize it. The brain will take the easy way out if you allow it to always read!
Force yourself to memorize the music you are reading by simply closing the book or turning the paper over as you practice.
My suggestion: Play a very short passage (one measure or two) of the piece over and over and over, reading it. Then close the book and play the same passage again, over and over and over.
You might make mistakes when you first stop reading. If you do, open the book again and play it correctly by reading it. THEN close the book again, repeating the passage numerous times without looking.
Take small bites. Once you’ve memorized very short passages you can string them together.
The process: You are burning new neural pathways into your brain: both muscle memory and AUDITORY memory. This is why it is so important to practice new pieces/passages CORRECTLY. If you burn neural pathways for incorrect movements, that’s what you will have: incorrect movements which will affect the music negatively. Do it right — from the beginning!
Methods: There are many methods of memorizing. You can try to conjure up a visual image in your mind of the notation/TAB. Or you can hear in your inner ear what the original recording sounds like. This is part of the method I use: I can hear in my mind’s ear what is coming in the next phrase. I also am thinking about what chord is coming, or what fingering, or what position. Your brain should always be a little ahead of your fingers when you play music!
Mostly I’m thinking about the MELODY, the most important part of the piece.
Here’s a funny story: A very talented student at one of our summer seminars played Leo Kottke’s finger-busting “William Powell” for the student recital. But he couldn’t memorize it. So he photocopied all 12 pages, taped them together side-by-side, laid them out on the floor, then played the piece sitting on a wheeled office chair scooting sideways across the floor as he read the pages. Hilarious, but not very practical for a performance setting.
Of course, these days he could have loaded it into an iPad with a foot switch and turned pages with his foot. But, the point is clear: Memorizing a piece of music frees you up to play a piece more effectively — better dynamics, phrasing, interpretation, etc. — because you REALLY KNOW the piece.
Copyright © 2020 Accent On Music LLC & Mark D. Hanson.