Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

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Smudger5150
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Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Smudger5150 » Sun Oct 15, 2017 11:34 pm

I've read a lot of threads regarding memorising pieces versus sight-reading and I wondered how all you memorisers(?) cope with expanding your repetoire or trying out new pieces.
Is there general a limit to how many one can remember at 1 time?
Do you all limit the number of pieces you have memorised so that you don't forget one of them?
Is that why some players seem to play the same repertoire all the time? (Maybe that's just my perception...)
Do some of you rely on sight-reading to 'remind' you how to play a piece therefore allowing you to not have any limits to what you learn to play? Or does that have it's limits too?
Is it not possible to rely on sight-reading to play some pieces more or less straight away or is that only possible for pieces x number of grades below your level? i.e. an advanced player should be able to play all beginner pieces from sheet music without needing to learn a piece (I theorise). Or is there a limit to that too i.e. even the best sight-reading CG player can't play a piece with, say, 3 voices and would have to learn it to some degree?

So in an attempt to summarise my various hopefully-related queries:-

Do you all find there is a limit to how many pieces you can memorise and what techniques do you use to learn/play new pieces without affecting your memory of the pieces you already know?
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Contreras
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Contreras » Mon Oct 16, 2017 1:25 am

I often think about this. I have memorized a lot of pieces, but they are by no means all performance perfect - they might need a few runs through to get them up again.
I suppose it should be no surprise that the ones I remember best are the ones I've been playing the longest.
I tend to be working on a couple of new things at a time, and others can get rusty. Recently it occurred to me that I hadn't played Cancion de Cuña since memorizing it a couple of years ago, and I had to go right back to the score.
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andreas777
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by andreas777 » Tue Oct 17, 2017 6:06 pm

I think there is no hard limit. There are players that can memorize lots of pieces easily without much effort, but others struggle already learning one or two pieces. At the moment I have memorized about 25 pieces (10x Barrios, 8x Tarrega, a few Lecuona pices, Albeniz, and others). I have memorized all of them during the last 12 months. But I have more and more trouble keeping all these pieces in my memory, and I already start to forget parts or single chords. I think for me as an amateur player a level of about 20-25 pieces is somehow a critical mass considering the limited time I have to practice them daily. In the future when I learn new pieces I guess I have to abandon other pieces of my repertoire. I hope I can keep these abandoned pieces in a 'standby' mode, that means I can't play them anymore without sheet music but it would take only 1-2 days of practicing to memorize them again. I agree with the observation that professional players keep their repertoire quite small, at least smaller than you would expect. I think this is due to the fact that it takes a lot of effort to maintain the perfect level that is needed for performances.
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Daniele Magli
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Daniele Magli » Wed Oct 18, 2017 11:31 pm

My limit is difficult to establish because I play the classical guitar as an interpreter
but I also do the guitar teacher and I'm a music composer.


As interpreter I have around two hours of music in my repertoire ,
Bach, Tarrega, Villa -Lobos, Barrios , Sor, Torroba, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Others...


As Guitar teacher I Know by heart many many books
because I prefer look at the guitarist and not the sheet music.

As composer I'm incredible because I have many ideas Always in my head
and I keep it all in my mind and sometimes when I walk around the city
some new peace get out , and I'm sure it is all a question about memory.

When I add a piece to my repertoire, I often divide it into various parts and
I consider any kind of music as ... a theme with variations.

This method helps me a lot.

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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Mike Gover » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:29 am

I think the amount varies by person, their experience and skill level.
Rather than number of pieces I would suggest measured in total minutes of music.

One hour of music is a lot for the average amateur hobbyist but for a top professional soloist on guitar, piano or violin I think 2-3 hours is probably more the norm.

At one point I was able to keep about 1.5 hours of music memorized well enough to perform paid background gigs and that required about 2 hours a day of practice.

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Charles Mokotoff
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Charles Mokotoff » Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:46 am

I've got an hour in my head now and that's typical. When I retire a piece and add a new one, I often can't play the old one again without the score. I can get it back up to speed in less than a day though. I do know some guys who remember everything, seems like everything they ever played and I am insanely jealous.

There are some pieces (e.g. Leyenda) that I won't play for years but can still remember and play well with no prep. I think it is related to both how long I've known it and how WELL I learned it in the first place.

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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by simonm » Thu Oct 19, 2017 6:51 am

Charles Mokotoff wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:46 am
... I think it is related ... how WELL I learned it in the first place.
A very important point.

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riemsesy
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by riemsesy » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:34 am

I noticed that also circumstances can have an influence in how much you can remember..
When playing at home (with family or close friends as audience) I have no trouble remembering a lot of songs to play
But last year my teacher asked me to perform a few pieces for a small audience, as do all his students.. pieces I noramly play blindly and have played for years, but during the performance I lost it all because I was too nervous. Of course I had the paper in front of me, but I couldn't make head nor tail out of the notes. it was a disaster.
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Smudger5150
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Smudger5150 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:06 am

Interesting replies as usual.
For me, this is not just an academic question but a pragmatic one.
I don't want to be restricted by the number of pieces I can play and I'm hoping
I can get my sight-reading skills to a level where I can play anything (more or less)
without worrying about forgetting pieces I already know.

However, I see a potential contradiction here:-
I theorise that the harder the piece is technically, then the more one would need, or rather,
want, to fall back to the sheet music to remind them of the music.
But these may be the pieces that someone who has reached a 'diploma' or concert-level
may want to memorise so as not to hampered by forgetting difficult parts, and, to be able to give the best performance they can.
Which is why I wonder if easier pieces can be played from sheet music quite easily by good players.
In other words, is it possible to 'forget' easier pieces, and just rely on playing them
from sheet music so one can concentrate on memorising harder pieces - this is the point that seems contradictary to me.
The easier pieces, may be easier to memorise because, by definition, they are easier, rather than needing the sheet music as a reminder.
But I admit that easy to play may not mean 'music that is easy to memorise'.


As a grade 5 'intermediate' (?) player who's come back to regular practise after a hiatus of a
few years, I'm going through various methods, studies and pieces for grade 6.
And I'm trying to get to a stage where I can sight-read easily for the whole fretboard.
I'm almost there with the 9th to 12th fret, but the 5th string is my weakness (unsurprisingly).
So with this goal in mind, I'm working through LOADS of pieces from all the resources I have
and I'm finding loads of (lesser known) pieces all over the Interweb via delcamp and some of the
members' sites that are helping towards this.

So, if I follow this approach, hopefully my reading skills will be vastly improved soon.
But pragmatically, I can't afford to 'memorise' every piece or study/etude I come across.
Memorising each piece you learn has been touted as 'essential' in some quarters but whilst I can see
that this would give you the optimum chance to play the piece to the best of your ability, I can't see
how this is practical IF you want to play a wide variety of music.

As an alternative, I'm hoping to memorise only the pieces I want to perform
(for grade exams or as my favourites to family/friends etc) and everything else will be part of the
set of 'sheet' music I have that I can get out whenever I want something else to play.

So is this approach not ideal? Am I restricting my chance of being the best player I can due to not
memorising every piece - study or otherwise?
Maybe, maybe not. But on the flip side, I hear how us CG players are notoriusly bad at sight-reading
that I wonder if one of the reasons is because many put the onus on memorising pieces because
that's the percieved way to get to know a piece and be able to perform it to the best of your ability.


I actually have only really learnt 2 pieces all the way through over the years - Adelita, which I still can play
and Bach's Bouree (from BWV 996 - the one the rocker's love to play!), but I have forgotten Bouree and
I'm finding that it's not a quick process trying to go back to the sheet music to re-learn it.
I'm hoping this is because my sight-reading was not perfect when I originally learned the piece.
But I'm wondering if this is the kind of 'confusion' that other players experience when they try to
remind themselves of a piece or relearn it.

So I guess my critical mass for pieces is 1! :oops:

But I agree that different factors can affect the number of pieces one can remember. As some have mentioned - practise and the pressure to perform are relevant among other things.

And it may be that it will vary depending on where you are in your path to your learning goal. Someone who has reached a performance/concert-level may have a different objective of how many pieces to learn/maintain than someone who is still climbing up that hill, so to speak (like me!) where there are so many pieces and studies that one can try and learn from.
"Music washes away the dust of every day life." Art Blakey

"If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it." Louis Armstrong

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georgemarousi
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by georgemarousi » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:24 am

I keep to memory around 15 ( advanced level )

about 5 of them are current work, the others 10-12 old ones that I like and try to maintain ( have to play them on a weekly basis or I'd lose one/some )

Over that number, I find i put too much effort and time to keep more and more, so eventualy I "drop" an older piece I like the least every now and then..
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mhjones12
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by mhjones12 » Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:28 am

My memory is not so good, I've come to think that it is a limiting factor in my ability to advance past my current skill level. I can keep about 5 classical pieces. 2 easy ones that I never seem to forget (Romanza and nice arrangement of Greensleeves), and about 3 intermediate pieces which rotates depending on what I'm currently playing. I can't seem to keep more than that. If I don't play a piece for a week or two I'll forget parts and have to spend 2ish days refreshing my memory.

I can keep a more folk and blues pieces, perhaps around 10, because they are much simpler.
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DerekH
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by DerekH » Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:57 pm

Memorising a piece is all very well, but it's a snapshot of "the score and one's interpretation of it" that's frozen in time. If it stays frozen for too long, the score becomes detached from the memory, and the memory exists in a sort of insular no-man's-land.

I love to sight-read - it's the greatest labour-saving device known to a guitarist (or indeed NOT known to many guitarists!), and as a teacher teaching as many as 400 different pieces in a year, it's clearly impractical for me to have to "rehearse" 400 pieces alongside teaching 1200 lessons. Life's too short!

Why do roads have roadsigns? So we don't have to memorise the route!

So I have ended up where much of the entry-level music I teach is "ingrained" but not because of a memory of the score or of muscle-memory, but because I can re-create its melodic content by ear.

And what can I play from memory? Not much. Does it matter? No. Does the newsreader read from memory on The News? No. Does anyone even notice? Probably not!

I can't recall attending a concert where the audience has demanded a refund if the player uses sheet music. Which leads me inexorably to my conclusion... my critical mass is zero pieces but the ability to sightread wins over a static memory one hundred-fold...


As a teacher, some of my intake is people who say "I can play Grade 8 pieces from memory, but I'm stuck", and it invariably means a student who has a repertoire of three pieces, a memory, no grounding in technique and no way forward...

If you sightread you will see more problems, more solutions, more ideas, more hidden pathways... If you spend your time memorising, you will miss all of that...

There aren't enough hours in your life to play all the guitar music out there - best enjoy sampling the canon, rather than memorising a couple of pieces!
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by khayes » Sat Oct 21, 2017 10:03 pm

Lots of good points there, DerekH
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Smudger5150
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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by Smudger5150 » Sun Oct 22, 2017 4:01 am

Well the goal of relying on sight-reading rather than memory is what I was working towards until I read on delcamp about the opinions that memorising is the way to go.
So it just shows that there are different ways to approach things in the CG world. Some people said that it's good to be able to watch the fretboard whilst your playing whereas others say you shouldn't need to (like when you sight-read) even saying you should be able to play in the dark - I think I read that Hubert Käppel played a concert piece in the dark once and Yo Yo ma (the cello player) does it too.

As an amateur, I'll probably memorise at least one or 2 pieces I love to play so I can play something in those occasional moments at friends and family when you get a guitar thrust into your hands.
"Music washes away the dust of every day life." Art Blakey

"If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it." Louis Armstrong

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Re: Critical mass - how many pieces can one (/you) remember?

Post by R.V.S. » Wed Oct 25, 2017 5:39 am

The more you memorize, the more you'll be able to memorize. There's a common misconception that memory is like a computer's hard drive which has a fixed amount of room. People think that if you fill it up, you need to move things into the trash to free up space.

But that's not true. Memory is more like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

Each piece you memorize will make it easier to memorize the next piece.

There are also many different ways of memorizing a piece. You can memorize an audio recording, the sheet music (the visual dots and lines), the note names and durations, the fret numbers (the tab, basically), the hand positions/movements, or any combination thereof. The more of these components of a piece you memorize, the stronger your memory of the piece will be. Everyone's brain is different, so start with what feels easiest. For me, the hand positions/movements and the audio are the easiest to remember, while the sheet music is very hard.

Experiment and see what works for you.

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