Strategies to Memorize Music

Momorize a pieceOne of the obstacles in playing an instrument is to memorize pieces. The next concern is how to make sure we won’t forget the piece during an exam, a performance or a recording session. Anyhow, memorizing the music is an important skill, regardless of the genre and the style of music. Certainly, one can play a piece much better when he/she can play it by heart rather than reading off of the score (sight reading). Naturally, one can be more confident when he/she knows the music by heart as well.

Here are some helpful suggestions to memorize the musical pieces and to make sure we won’t forget them during a performance, exam or recording session (the following suggestions are for all instruments):

1- Analyze the piece before playing it. It shouldn’t necessarily be a thorough analysis. Even a quick and simple analysis can help a lot, as long as you know the phrases at least. Theoretically knowing what is going on can really support you to remember the piece easier and faster, because then you would know what is going on.

2- When you start playing a piece, spot the places you keep forgetting – play one bar before the place you forget and continue for 4 or 5 bars (repeat this for a couple of times), then, play until the end.

3- Try practicing chunk by chunk and step by step but make an effort to remember the piece as a whole not section by section. Because if you forget one section or even a note, you would forget the rest of the piece and you won’t be able to continue anymore.

4- Always sight-read the piece until you are 200% sure – absolutely sure that you are playing the notes correctly. Otherwise, you might make a mistake and play wrong notes. Afterward, because you are not looking at the score, you keep practicing your mistake and it might become the second nature to you. After all that, it might be a little challenging to correct the mistake, because you must change the fingering, maybe position, musicality, etc. and it all can affect your memory as well.

5- Don’t play the pieces from start to end, mechanically. It can be frustrating and boring to sit down for a long time playing the same thing over and over. Also, it might seem harder to remember.

6- Try different fingerings. Also, try to play on different positions (if applicable). When you find the best fingering or position, write it down on your score. Therefore, you won’t forget it.

7- Make decisions about your timbre and dynamics. Feel free to try different timbre and dynamics for different parts of your piece until you find the one that sounds right. Write down the decisions that you make on your score, so you won’t forget them.

8- When you want to check if you remember the piece, other than playing the music from start to the end on the instrument, you can put the instrument aside and just play the whole music in your head without the instrument.

9- As a practice, you can start from the middle of a piece or random places and see if you can continue until the end.

10- The next strategy is to play the music using your left hand only (without the right hand). See if you can play the whole piece from start to end without your right hand. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t sound perfect – the point is to see if you remember the piece.

11- Another way is to mute the instrument (if possible) and start playing as you can hardly hear anything. Can you continue until the end of the piece?

12- It can also be helpful to play on an imaginary instrument. Imagine you have your instrument, and move your fingers as if you are really playing. Hear the sound of the music you are playing in your inner ear. See if you can continue until the end.

13- Though it can be a little challenging, make the instrument out of tune (if it is not too much trouble like for the piano). Now, start playing the piece from the start to the end. The point is to improve your muscle memory.

14- You can also, put the instrument aside and sing the whole piece. If you have some long pauses or you forget some parts you can check with your instrument or the score.

Clearly, you might not need to go through every single one of the steps above to remember a piece. But if you have an important recording session, a performance,  an exam coming up or if you are a serious musician – all the steps above can be helpful for you. Also, you might find some more creative strategies to remember the musical pieces. If so, feel free to share them with others in the comment section.

By Arash A.

Related posts:

Strategies to improve your sight-reading

Prevent physical injuries playing musical instruments


13 thoughts on “Strategies to Memorize Music

  1. Reblogged this on Matthew Stidham, Guitarist and commented:
    Some great ideas here from the pure musician blog! I’ve used most of these personally, including mistuning your guitar (it’s harder to play than you think!) If you want to get that muscle memory down, it’s definitely worth your time to try each of these tips! Happy reading!

  2. Very interesting. My daughter just started playing violin this year and I played when I was younger. One of my key issues was memorizing the music. Must try these tips with my daughter.

  3. Nice article! There is also a way to memorize every single note before you take the instrument! That makes the music very clear and you will remember everything after years, even not practicing that technically.

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