The 4 stages of memorising music for performance
With the right concepts and skills, any musician can successfully learn music by heart, as Gerald Klickstein explains
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Is memorising worth the effort? For most musicians, it probably is. Not only do performers report feeling greater artistic freedom when playing from memory, but audiences also prefer memorised solos to those played from scores. Still, we need inclusive preparation if we’re to perform confidently without notation in front of us.
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. Conversely, when a musician’s practice isn’t thorough – say, when phrasing is unclear – the confusion undermines any attempt at memorisation.
Although deep learning is essential, there isn’t any ideal memorisation method. We should be flexible about when in the course of learning a piece we start to memorise. 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 at a slow tempo. In that way, they promptly establish habits of playing without a score.