Author Topic: No__58___Playing Music From Memory  (Read 431 times)

Peter Anderson

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No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« on: July 10, 2015, 05:33:47 PM »
I expect that many of you, like me, have always longed to just sit at your AR and play many pieces from memory.    We also envy those who do this with consummate ease.

On this board, I shall be exploring this whole subject, and have a fair bit prepared, so perhaps it would be helpful to delay questions or points that may move us on too fast until later.   However, endorsing comments from others may add benefit as we proceed.

It is common nowadays for professional musicians to play without a score, and it is generally thought that Liszt was the performer who invented stage fright!  He thought that every one of his pupils should play without music, whereas Chopin chastised one of his pupils for doing so, declaring that he was arrogant!  Perhaps he felt if people played his compositions from memory, they were trying to pass off the piece as their own composition.   However from the late 19th Century, it became the norm to perform from memory.

There are many arguments for either option, with neither side winning outright.

But, for we amateurs, it must be advantageous to just sit down and play at least a few select pieces from memory.  Besides that, if we have properly prepared a piece, we will play it well, and memorizing it, ensures we have properly prepared it.   It also avoids having to look at the music, so we can concentrate on other things with our eyes, (like ensuring we hit the correct notes in tricky sections, or when making large leaps) and being able to focus on the expression or sensitivity we are putting in to the piece, instead of worrying about the accuracy of our note performance.

 In the following posts, I attempt to explore how we might go about memorizing pieces to play.

Peter

Margaret Draper

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2015, 09:48:07 PM »
Peter - I look forward to learning about playing from memory.
My husband once tested me as I was playing, and took away the music I was reading from.
After about three bars I stopped playing and my husband asked why, after the numerous
times I had played that tune, I could not just carry on from memory.

When I have watched professional players, I have always thought how much easier it must be
that they can look down to make button changes rather than being fixed on the sheet music.
 
MARGARET

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2015, 09:51:40 AM »
Hi Margaret,
This will by no means be exhaustive or complete, but all together, we might be able to stimulate and encourage one another in developing our memory skills.
I will value every members input as we proceed.
Peter

Hugh Wallington

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2015, 02:32:45 PM »
Peter,

Playing from 'memory' is a funny thing.  What is it we are expecting to 'remember'?  If it's chord progressions then I do 'remember', or rather know instinctively what the next chords in a piece are .. and if I don't, then I have to have the music score up in front of me.  Not for the notes on the stave but for the written chord symbols so I can follow them.

And when I do play 'from memory' it's not quite what it seems.  I have to play the bass notes at the same time as I play the chords or I come unstuck.  I think the bass notes I play have an 'association' with what my left hand is doing.  If I were to make a recording without playing the bass, then when I play it back I can't 'add' the bass to it.  Not so with a melody line or 'counter melody'.  I can add that after, no problem.

At our organ club last week we had Elizabeth Harrison playing.  She played with no music, and looked straight up in the air (with her eyes shut most of the time).  When asked about this (as many people do) she said that she was singing along with the tune, or picturing what the music was portraying.  She never looked at the organ.  She said that after 30 years of playing the organ she didn't need to look to see where things were.

Hugh
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2015, 07:52:14 PM »
 If you can play some pieces from memory, then you can play anywhere there is an organ, without worrying about whether you have the music with you, and not having to turn the pages.
Also if that ‘clown’ in your household, suddenly turns the lights out while you are playing and leaves you in the dark, then you will have the last laugh, or the last note!

Let’s be frank, we are not all the same and have differing abilities and giftings.  Therefore, our memories excel in different areas.   One might be able to memorise a music score, others favour people’s names or faces.  We can also be brilliant in one of these spheres and hopeless in another; such is the wonder of our ability to remember anything.

As a teenager, my father attended a Sunday afternoon bible class in London, during the 1930’s, and was playing a hymn on the piano, when the leader arrived.   “Didn’t know you played the piano Ron?”   My dad replied, “That’s the only tune I know!”   So they sang it 4 times that afternoon with him playing.   He decided there and then that he would master the piano – and he did.   He could play anything without the music.   Even if he had never heard the tune before, you hum it and he would play it superbly, and change key effortlessly to put it in the correct pitch.   He said that he ‘saw’ the music in his mind, so he could play it.     Just like Elizabeth Harrison at Hugh's organ club, see the previous posting.   
What a gift!    I didn’t inherit any of it.  But I am sure there are many others who share this ability.

Furthermore, being very practical, as we get older, memorizing new things does take much more effort, but it can be done.

I am not suggesting that we should try to master a complete evening’s entertainment, but surely we could make the effort to learn a few pieces to play by heart.

Now, how do we go about it?   See the next posting.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2015, 04:04:07 PM »
It is imperative that everybody understands, there is no shortcut, or magic method to playing from memory.    Effort and patience are required.

For those who drive, when we are speeding along, we don’t have to remember much of what we do, and often can’t remember much of our journey, when we finally arrive.  There are many things like this, that we do regularly and take our memory for granted.    Constant repetition will provide excellent results.    So, even if you think this is impossible for you, other experiences and achievements of yours should encourage you to have a go.

Don’t start out with the idea that you have a point to prove, but approach this with the intention of enjoying yourself and your playing.

Be sensible and pick a suitable piece.  Select a tune you know and love well and ensure that it is in a key that you are comfortable with.   Avoid choosing a complicated or tricky piece.   Better to start with something you find easy to play.

It will probably be helpful to listen to a recording of the piece, (You Tube is invaluable here) which will help you to firm up exactly how it should sound, but don’t be too affected by the style, so that it over influences your personal interpretation.

Initially, play the piece through slowly, concentrating on accuracy.  Don’t forget that you can train your memory, but you can also allow physical memory to dictate the persistent action of your fingers and feet, performing repetitive mistakes.

So select your first choice for a suitable piece of music to tackle, and enjoy playing it, with memorisation in mind.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2015, 07:02:00 PM »
With everything we do, to commit things to memory, repetition is the key.   Therefore for some people, simply playing things over and over again will enable them to memorise the piece.   But, the capacity of our minds, which varies for all of us, may make this very difficult, if not impossible.

I accept that some can easily master great chunks of music and play from memory with ease.  Others struggle to accomplish anything, but eventually succeed.   Still others struggle, but never feel that they have memorized the music well enough to feel at ease when playing it.

For everyone, the common fear is that we might forget while playing, and don’t relish the humiliation that might result.

So we need to tackle the piece in manageable chunks.   Perhaps the most logical approach is to approach this from the first phrase and add the other phrases in sequence.    Obviously any repetitive phrases are a bonus.

Also don’t forget that deviations in a repetitive phrase are easy to remember.

Graft is the key, and it may end up being hard graft, but there are things to help us.

One way is to play the first phrase  (use both hands and feet) – repeat it – keep on repeating it – play it over by memory – several times.   Don’t try to memorise the whole piece in one go.

Then play the first phrase and add the second phrase and repeat the above cycle, until you have this committed to memory.

Don’t rush this stage.   It will be different for each of us.    But racing ahead with the next section, before you have committed the previous ones to your long-term memory, may mean you will lose what you have previously memorised.    So take it steadily.

Then follow on with the rest of the phrases until you have mastered the whole piece.

How long it takes to do this, will vary for everyone, but once you have managed to play it from memory, go back and do it as often as you can.   Every day, at least a few times and several times each day if you can.    Within a few days (or a little more for some of us) you will have conquered it.

Persevere, and you will do it.    Boy! What a sense of achievement.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2015, 06:59:15 PM »
Some favour starting with the end phrase and working forwards.   Often the end of a piece can be more difficult, so this cements the piece very firmly in your mind.
It does have another advantage, because if you do falter, later on,  while playing without the music, it is much easier to pick up from your mistake and complete the piece, because during your learning process in this way, you will have done this several times before.

Still others recommend learning and memorising the awkward phrases first and then adding the other phrases.

Since most of us will probably choose manageable music, I favour working through from the beginning as outlined in the previous posting.   This helps to learn a smoothly flowing performance, rather than a collection of disjointed phrases played one after the other.

If you play with chords, don’t forget to see patterns that conform to the Circle of Fifths.   If the Circle is already committed to your memory, it will accelerate your learning the piece.

Even if you don’t, knowing the Circle of Fifths is an amazing tool to assist you in this area.

To read about the Circle of Fifths, click this link to go directly there:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=954.0

Also, be prepared to talk to yourself (you do get good answers if you do!) as you memorise a piece, and if it helps then do it.   e.g. Say to yourself, “This starts in C.”  “Here is an arpeggio in G.”  Even state the Chords that you need to play, or sing along if you know the words.  Linking the music to words you already know, helps the memorising process.     
Eventually when you play the piece from memory, these unusual words will fade away, (but not the lyrics) as our brains are brilliant at dumping unwanted information whilst retaining helpful factors.

Peter

Hugh Wallington

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2015, 10:05:41 PM »
A comment or two from me .. Hugh

Playing from memory ...

If you are playing the music ‘note for note’ from sheet music as it is written, I would have thought it would be fairly impossible to play without the music in front of you.  Surely in this situation your brain is processing the notes you are seeing into the notes you are playing .. and not necessarily remembering what those notes actually are?  But then I don’t ‘read the dots’, so what would I know?

All I do know is that when I play ‘by ear’ I have to know the tune well, or listen to it over and over and pick out the notes forming the melody as I listen to it.  Or, at a pinch, I can work out the melody from a single line on a music score.

Then I have to decide on what chords to play.  Luckily, probably as a result of the length of time I have been doing this, I instinctively know what the chords should be.  Unless the chords are not in a progression I recognise, in which case I have to write them out so I have them up in front of me.  When I do write the chords out, I do it in bar lines, which is how we used to do it when I played in the band (as a teenager).

Eg.  / C - Am - / Dm - G7 - /

Or, pop the sheet music on the music stand in front of me and follow the chords from there.

So for those of you that only ‘play from the music’, have a go at this piece ‘playing by ear’.  I guarantee that if you can play this, you won’t be doing it from the sheet music .. as we will not be using any.  The tune I have in mind is Michael Row The Boat Ashore.  This song was first published in 1867, so you may know it!  If not, click on this LINK to YouTube to hear Pete Seeger singing it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd_5-2kCzfs

First you need to play this tune by picking out the notes.  Start with C (followed by E and G) which will put it in the key of C.  It’s really not that difficult, and when you’ve got it it should sound like this (click this LINK):

Michael Row the Boat Ashore Melody Line (MP3)

Now for some chords to go with it.  Well, I suppose you could get away with just playing the piece with C, F and G.  But this is not the point.  You need to find chords that will make it sound ‘special’.  I have chosen C, C7, F, Em, Dm and G7.  Click the LINK below to hear how these chords sound with the melody line.  Note: The first chord comes in on the third note (ie. Michael Row), which is the first beat of the bar as listed below.

Michael Row the Boat Ashore Melody + Chords (MP3)

If you do need to see these chords ‘written’ (and then remember them), here they are:

/ C - - - / C7 - - - / F - - - / C - - - /
/ Em - - - / Dm - - - / Em - G7 - / C - - - /

Next, a bass line.  Listen carefully to what I have played on the pedals (you will probably need to wear headphones to hear the bass properly).  The notes are based on the chords above (playing the root note of the chord), with some ‘walking up’ for good measure.  Click on the below:

Michael Row the Boat Ashore Melody + Chords + Bass (MP3)

Next, I have brought in a STYLE.  This is 6/8 Ballad 2 from BALLAD. 

But ...

I wasn’t too happy with the part CHORD 1, playing  Guitar ‘on the beat’ (and I thought the sound of the guitar was a bit harsh too).  So have put this Style into ACCOMP. PROGRAM; changed the VOICE from Clean Guitar to Steel Guitar; Deleted the CHORD 1 Part and replaced it with some chords played on the ‘off beat’ instead.  Saved that to USER 1 and hunted for it via the 1 on the right in the STYLE section, paging until I found USER.  You will find this Style is still called 6/8 Ballad 2 as I didn’t use INPUT NAME to change it.

Here below is the whole operation from beginning to end.  The Voice I chose for the chords on the Lower is HORN; and second time round I have added CHOIR to this.

Michael Row the Boat Ashore Melody + Chords + Bass + STYLE (MP3)

Finally, click this LINK below to download the files to 'play' in the AR.  Download in the usual way and 'unzip' the files to a floppy in the A: Drive.

http://www.ar-group.org/Files/MichaelRowTheBoat.exe

Please Note: Peter has included this floppy track in his JOT 35 - C (Track 15) so you can play this song from that.  With the present lack of floppy disks about we thought it best not to have to put just one track on one floppy disk.

When the piece has finished, play a few chords with the STYLE 6/8 Ballad 2 accessed from the 1.  Listen particularly to the backing part I have put in CHORD 1.  Now do the same with the original Style 6/8 Ballad 2 from BALLAD (press the BALLAD tab).  The 6/8 Ballad 2 I have put into USER 1 may be more suitable than the original for some tune you want to play yourself.

You can also hear what the 'Auto' BASS part sounds like by pressing the FINGERED CHORD button at the top, and then playing a chord.  I agree.  Dull and uninspiring!  So glad I worked out a Bass Part to play on the pedals myself.
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2015, 10:58:20 PM »
You may have heard of a technique called ‘chunking’.    It simply means memorizing things in chunks or suitable groups.   With a piece of music, there are usually natural phrases that make up one chunk.   For example the line of a verse or chorus, of the song.   Even if there are no lyrics for your piece, there are natural breathing or rest points, which define the phrases. 
Don’t forget to include with this, looking out for patterns or repetition.
The experts are agreed that the average person can cope with 7 plus or minus 2 bits of information to memorise at any one time.  So you need to think of a chunk as between 5 and 9 ‘bits’ of information to absorb at one time, depending on what works for you.   Therefore, don’t bite off more than you can chew, before moving on to the next chunk.
If you remember things well, be prepared to take longer sections when learning the piece.
If you know you tend to be forgetful, then handle smaller sections as you commit the piece to memory.

Doing the same thing with variation can help the learning process.   So change the style, if you are using one, or the registration.    Even changing the pitch, up or down, can be helpful, here.

Peter

Hugh Wallington

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2015, 10:35:56 AM »
Playing from Memory ...

Now here's a success story.  Read the comment near the bottom of the posting by Les White re: playing the tune Carillon in response to Margaret Draper's email (in the Members Section):

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2360.msg8114#msg8114
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2015, 06:10:14 PM »
Have any of you other members succeeded in playing from memory, especially if you haven't done so before?
Why not share your experience?


A little bit of technical information, for those who may be interested.

What’s the difference between learning a new piece of music and memorizing it?

Both involve memory, but of different kinds.   First:   There is the progressive aspect, where you build the memory process like the links in the chain.    These tend to be implicit or unconscious, because the next step follows naturally from the previous one.

The major weakness here is that to reach any link in the chain, you have to start from the beginning.   So if you fumble mid-way through, you have to start over again.   This can be embarrassing, besides being conscious of the fact that it may happen next time, at exactly the same point.   To make matters worse, you concentrate so hard to overcome that hurdle, and another one arises.

And Second:      What is often called Content-Addressable memories.    These are more likely to be explicit or conscious, and involve committing physical and auditory procedures to memory.

To memorise a piece of music to perform, you need to integrate both these kinds of memory.

We talk about learning a piece and memorizing it.    Some musicians, can memorise a piece of music in a very short time, but would not dream of going on stage to perform it at that point.   They have to learn it as well, so that it becomes a flawless and smooth action, in which they have total confidence.

Contrary to popular belief, our memories are not a vast store of exact and multiple original events.    Rather memories for specific events are reconstructed at each remembering, on the basis of related knowledge, representing unspecific memories.      This is why, we think we can remember the past accurately and in enormous detail, but if we took the trouble to check, we find that many of the details are wrong.

It follows that in trying to remember how to play a piece of music, we would expect our performance would be full of mistakes. 
So why aren’t they?
The answer is seen in looking at our forbears, who passed on information and records, either verbally or in writing (or both), verbatim, from one generation to another, across many years.  The memories were reconstructed each time, and although they varied, they were sufficiently consistent so that the distortion is minimal.  In oral material, the strict formal constraints of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration, as well as grammar, meaning and metre actually reduce the inaccuracies.

In a similar fashion, similar constraints are provided in music.   These include melody, harmony, metre and rhythm.    Additionally repetition is normally much more pronounced in music, than in language.

All these constraints make memorizing things easier for us.   Knowing how various composers use different conventions on their works, means that experts find it easier to memorise music than we novices.

It is worth commenting that in song we combine musical and literary forms, which makes the memorizing process so much easier.

Playing the organ, involves physical actions, and these combined with our cognitive systems also provide us with multiple retrieval skills, when performing.    That is why it is easier to play a piece that you have memorized, rather than write out the score.
For us visual memory of the score, will eventually be superseded by visual memory of our fingers on the notes being played.

Memory is a wonderful gift, and experts are still exploring exactly how they function, but this is enough ‘technical jargon’ for us.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2015, 07:52:32 PM »
Good rememberers (is that a word?     Well, it is now!  You heard it here first.)  Good rememberers tend to recognize that their memory is fallible.  So they utilise memory aids and strategies that work for them.

Poor rememberers simply hope they won’t forget!

Here are 4 helpful strategies to start you off:
      
1   Perception
Grasp this concept and your playing will resonate with meaning.

Capture the style and form of the piece.   Appreciate the boundaries of the phrases and sections within the composition.    Look for harmonic and rhythmic patterns in the piece.   Reflect on peaks and reposes.    Check that your fingering is definite.    Mark your score accordingly.

2   Ingraining
Ingraining is the methodical process where we etch tracks into our memory.    The deeper this process the better our memory of the piece.    Our ability to recall will improve, even if we feel jittery about performing.
Shallow memorisation results in easily splintering under pressure.

So plan your practice.   Schedule regular and concise memorization sessions.   Set yourself a suitable length of time for each period , with ample breaks in between.
You may prefer to work on a number of bars.
Either way. Divide the piece into ideal segments that you can ingrain as units.

Learn deeply and efficiently.    Without looking at the music, play the segment very slowly, being accurate and creative as you play.

But beware of mindless repetition, which is simply playing a piece over and over without thinking about  what you are playing.

Link the segments.   For example, Learn A, then B.   Then master A & B together.
Then move on to C, then D.    Then join C & D together.     Then put A, B, C & D all together and so on to the end of the piece.
You may recall, that a couple of postings ago, we introduced the expression Chunking which is often used to describe this technique.

Limit the amount of music that you commit to memory in one session.    Don’t overload your memory, or it will be muddled.
Get plenty of sleep – during sleep our brains consolidate what we have learned.

3   Maintenance
Ingraining carves tracks in our memory, but if we don’t maintain those tracks, they will disintegrate.    Furthermore, when we recall a piece of music, we enliven our playing, with technical and interpretive improvements.
So maintenance is not just merely a process of upkeep, but one of ongoing innovation.

Practise performing.   Record yourself and critique the performance.   Use the MDR in your AR, or even try videoing yourself.     Rework any unclear phrases.

Scrutinise the score.   Practise challenging sections with and without the music.   Consider where you might play the keyboards separately or use a solo voice in a multi voice passage.

4   Recall
Effective maintenance will boost recall.
When you perform, even to just yourself, make sure that you are focused.   
Go beyond just playing through the piece.  Make it more than just a collection of notes and chords.    Give it some life.  Think about the expression you put into the music, where you might speed up and slow down, and especially think carefully about the volume of every section of the piece.   The stronger you make these aspects, the greater will be your ability to convey the music to others, and at the same time your memory skill will be enhanced.
Jettison irrelevant thoughts and always be enthusiastic over what you are about to play.   Always play your heart out!

If your memory misfires, be prepared to  improvise.   Try to ad lib for a bar or two.     Consider points at which you can pick up the piece and suitably complete it to the end.



Playing from memory can bring abundant rewards.   You can enjoy unfettered music playing, but it doesn’t come overnight.
However, with a disciplined approach you can be free of the printed score and play your AR with greater liberty and enjoyment.

Peter

Charles Hughes

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2015, 03:05:43 AM »
Peter,

I must congratulate you on presenting such an excellent series on playing from memory.  It seems to me that you have captured just about every aspect there is on the subject in a way that is both clear and concise.  Everything you said resonated with me as I reflect back on my years of learning and playing.  Thank you so much,

Charles

Peter Anderson

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Re: No__58___Playing Music From Memory
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2015, 03:16:19 PM »
Thank you, Charles. Appreciate your endorsement.  Have a summary posting to come (away from home at present) listed as bullet points and a couple of others. Watch this space,
Peter