Memorizing music

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Zabava77
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Memorizing music

Post by Zabava77 » Mon Jul 25, 2016 3:58 pm

I am studying using books by Parkening, Braid and Shearer. What percent of musical pieces do you memorize as opposed to playing them using sheet music as a guide?
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delayedMusician

Re: Memorizing music

Post by delayedMusician » Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:03 pm

A good question. By 'Using sheet music as a guide', I suppose you mean sight-reading. That's the technical term. In my opinion, sight reading is one of the skills that differentiates the men from the boys, and in my opinion, to learn to sight read really easily, is harder than learning anything else.

I really try to avoid memorizing any pieces, because for me every time I practice is an opportunity to sight read, and I try not to lose it. Except in the most advanced pieces where there's a lot of speed involved and all the position shifting makes sightreading very difficult.

A couple of years ago when I started on CG , I was very disappointed about my sight reading skills. I knew a lot of theory and I used music reading only for learning pieces, not for sight reading ( two very different things) but because of the bad sight reading I felt like a schmuck, so I worked on it quite a bit, and now I am where I wanted to be. It's probably the hardest thing I have done in music so I am quite proud of having developed this skill.

I prefer sight reading to memorizing, but sometimes I have no choice. Memory can fail you, easily, and the more advanced is the piece, the more easily will memory fail you, for example contrapuntal pieces are harder to memorize than homophonic pieces. Sight reading skills cannot fail you, unless the piece is very fast and there's lots of position shifts. Even then, you'll be surprised how much sight reading you can do even when your LH is going all over the fretboard at fast tempos. If it gets too difficult and I have to keep my eyes on the fretboard, I will momentarily look away from the score. In the score I will have marked a sign before hand, with a highlighter. That way I can return to sight reading as soon as the troublesome passage has ended.

The downside of sight-reading is that if you lose your focus, you can lose your place in the score, and as you don't have the piece memorized, you can mess the whole thing up. As long as you don't lose focus, if you can sight read well, you are pretty much unstoppable.

The other downside: learning to memorize won't take work, we are already born with that skill. Learning to sight read well will need special processes and and hefty amount of work, and the weaker the sight reading, the more work it will need.

Then again, it all depends on where you are and where you are going. Developing excellent sight reading skills is for the serious player and not the faint of heart.

I prefer to use the word 'serious' to 'professional', as too many people seem to believe that if one isn't earning money with music, isn't a professional.

For that matter, Bach never made a cent from his music. But I would not say he wasn't a pro :lol:
Last edited by delayedMusician on Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Erik Zurcher
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Erik Zurcher » Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:20 pm

In my opinion, memorizing a piece is the final stage of learning a piece. Even when I pick up an 'old' piece, I read the sheet music first.
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Brynmor » Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:47 pm

I think there is a further stage. It is what is called internalising. This is where the music becomes part of you, you no longer have to think about the notes and can concentrate on interpretation.

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Re: Memorizing music

Post by oski79 » Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:56 pm

Brynmor wrote:I think there is a further stage. It is what is called internalising. This is where the music becomes part of you, you no longer have to think about the notes and can concentrate on interpretation.
Years ago I saw Eduardo Fernandez in concert. Partway through, I noticed he had his eyes closed. I watched more closely, and notice he hardly ever opened his eyes while playing. I asked my teacher, who knew him. He said he had noticed that too in the past, and asked Eduardo, who told him that he felt if he needed to look at his hands, then he didn't know the piece well enough to perform it in public. I'd say that this is an extreme example of your theory, Brynmor!
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Zabava77
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Zabava77 » Mon Jul 25, 2016 11:15 pm

Thank you all for your valuable suggestions! delayedMusician, I possess the skill of sight-reading. I can't play a new piece perfectly just by sight-reading it, but I hope this will come with more practice.
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by souldier » Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:26 pm

I believe learning a piece properly naturally leads to memorizing a piece. I think a very ineffective way of learning a piece is to merely sightread it from beginning to end over and over if the intent is to bring it up to a performance level. This approach leads to habitually learning mistakes into the piece. One video I found really helpful in regards to how to properly learn a piece was on the Classical Guitar Shed website called "7 Steps to Learning Any Piece Quickly and Easily."

If a persons intent is to master sightreading, one way to do it is to get several pieces that they don't really intend to incorporate into their performance repertoire, and only play them 2-5 times even if its filled with mistakes, then move on to the next piece. If you play a piece more times than this, you're no longer sightreading but partially playing from finger memory.
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Mike Gover » Fri Jul 29, 2016 5:03 pm

Zabava77 wrote:I am studying using books by Parkening, Braid and Shearer. What percent of musical pieces do you memorize as opposed to playing them using sheet music as a guide?
Hello,
For me its about 1/3 memory and 2/3 reading. I believe memorizing and reading music are both fundamental skills well worth equal time in the practice room. I try to keep an hour or so of memorized pieces, another 30-40 minutes that I can bring back with a few runs thru the scores as Ed Zurcher suggests.

Like DelayedMusician I take a measure of satisfaction, in having invested the time and effort to developing my reading skills enough to play from a score and have it sound like... well...music. Possessing solid music reading skills is important for ease of learning new repertoire and is a fundamental skill to be considered a "classical musician" at every level from novice to virtuoso. If I had the opportunity to play with an ensemble reading would be an even more valuable skill.

Now that while I also practice "sight reading" the consensus definition seems to be that sight reading is performing from a score at first sight. I don't know how many amateurs or professionals only perform a piece of music one time? To me "sight reading" is not nearly as important as "reading" or playing from a score regardless of how many times I've been thru a particular piece of music.

All that said it seems to me that the truly gifted and best performances of much music involves memorization and internalization to the point that the musician can now concentrate on and develop tone, nuance, phrasing, dynamics, rubato and all the other interpretive effects that defines a world class or virtuoso performance.

Mike

Edit for wrong attribution.

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Zabava77
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Zabava77 » Sat Jul 30, 2016 12:43 pm

souldier wrote:I believe learning a piece properly naturally leads to memorizing a piece. I think a very ineffective way of learning a piece is to merely sightread it from beginning to end over and over if the intent is to bring it up to a performance level. This approach leads to habitually learning mistakes into the piece. One video I found really helpful in regards to how to properly learn a piece was on the Classical Guitar Shed website called "7 Steps to Learning Any Piece Quickly and Easily."
Thank you, souldier, for this resource! Very useful!
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Non Tabius
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Non Tabius » Sun Jul 31, 2016 9:34 am

I like to memorize a piece .That's how I feel I have reached a point where I am comfortable enough to let the piece "sing" as it were.But most of the time I still find myself having to have the dots in front of me as a guide (as already stated above).I see its use as a guide in the same light as a lecture or speech notes are used as a crutch for reference.I don't think one can be too dogmatic one way or the other.Whatever it takes to get the job done!

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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Contreras » Sun Jul 31, 2016 9:50 am

Good post OP.

Definitely a good skill to develop ... I can do it up to a point, etudes and so on, but I can't get a piece to performance standard until I have it completely internalised and no longer have to think about anything but interpretation.
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Re: Memorizing music

Post by tonychu » Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:27 am

For me, it has always been an internal fight between the desire to be better at sight reading and the pleasure of playing nice, and relatively challenging, new musical pieces. As an amateur player, it has always been easier for me to lean more on finger memory than sight reading. I just keep jumping from learning one piece to another base on my love of the melodies but not their difficult levels. One time, I tried to focus on sight reading by going back to ABC, practising sight reading on new pieces ways below my technique level but then gave up after 6 weeks because I get so bored. Maybe someday I will learn it properly when I have enough time to spend on classical guitar but not sure when would that day come! :)

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Re: Memorizing music

Post by aokoye » Sun Jul 31, 2016 4:50 pm

Mike Gover wrote:Now that while I also practice "sight reading" the consensus definition seems to be that sight reading is performing from a score at first sight. I don't know how many amateurs or professionals only perform a piece of music one time? To me "sight reading" is not nearly as important as "reading" or playing from a score regardless of how many times I've been thru a particular piece of music
Quoted for truth. I'm confused as to why a bunch of people here seem to have a different definition. I see people on this forum refer to sight reading as if it is just playing music from a score even if you've played it before as opposed to playing music from the score at first sight (as in the first time you've seen the music). This is the only place I've ever seen or heard your above definition not being used (note that I played flute very seriously for 10 years and still play, have looked at university requirements which require sight reading, have taken sight singing classes, etc). So again, to repeat for clarity - sight reading is playing a piece of music from a score for the first time. That is all it is. A quick Google search shows that that is also the definition used in the UK so this isn't just an issue of the way the term is used in the US.

But yeah - I'm really good at sight reading on flute and less so on the guitar if only because I'm not as good at playing guitar. That said I really enjoy sight reading on guitar. I agree though, that what's more important to me is being able to actually play the piece well. If I was planning on auditioning for anything I would probably put more work into improving my sight reading but I'm not. I do have both of Robert Benedict's classical guitar sight reading books but I don't look at them on a regular basis. I find that I memorize guitar pieces via normal practice which interestingly isn't the case with flute where I would have to make a concerted effort.

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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Mike Gover » Wed Aug 03, 2016 4:30 am

"seem to have a different definition"

I don't dispute the strict definition of sight reading or it's value as a musical skill.

I do think there is a need to distinguish sight reading from reading music as in playing from a score or "playing them using sheet music as a guide" as it was phrased by the OP.

Looking back my comments were somewhat off the original topic- sorry for the diversion.

Mike

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Re: Memorizing music

Post by Rylan » Wed Aug 03, 2016 5:14 am

Sight reading is the beginning for oneself and memorizing is the later part of it I personally think. Keep at it, it will develop.

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