Guidance from The Strad’s archive on performing and practising from memory – and how to deal with memory lapses

Memory

Memory-playing is your next step towards advancement in music. It will open up many new and bigger opportunities to you as well as a higher standing and recognition.Reginald Foort, The Strad, March 1928

First take a precise mental photograph of the bar as it looks in case your idea of the sound should not be trustworthy; secondly, when you have considered each detail of the passage, trust your fingers.

L.H.W., The Strad, February 1910

With the right concept and skills, any musician can successfully learn music by heart. Secure memorisation rests on a foundation of deep learning. Adept memorisers absorb the musical and technical ingredients of a piece from the outset of practice, and they remain aware of those elements throughout the mastering process. Depending on the composition, some performers begin memorising at the outset of learning; others practise for weeks before they break away from the page. Nonetheless, I’ve observed that many students do best when they memorise a solo as soon as they can play it as a slow tempo. In that way, they promptly establish habits of playing without a score.

Gerald Klickstein, The Strad, October 2009

The anxiety of performing from memory comes not from a fear of memorising but from a fear of forgetting in public. Practising it may be hard work, but it is probably not stressful.  A memory lapse at the concert, however, can happen to the inexperienced player as well as to the seasoned artist.

Laurinel Owen, The Strad, March 2001

Playing from memory is indispensable to the freedom of rendition. You have to bear in your mind and memory the whole piece in order to attend properly to its details.

Josef Hofmann, The Strad, March 2001

Once you can visualise an entire piece note-by-note, without hesitation, you will never worry about your memory when playing that piece. The places in your mental rehearsal where you hesitate, wondering what the next notes, bowings or fingerings might be, are the points at which you are most likely to have memory slips.

Simon Fischer, The Strad, May 2008

Have patience when you’re memorising. It’s not a contest: it’s about an intimate relationship between you and the music.

Mitchell Stern, The Strad, March 2001

Read: How to memorise music for performance

Read: Should soloists always perform from memory?