Musicians & Memory

Musicians young and old struggle with memory. I have a few students who are really struggling with it this year (we memorize in chunks). You may ask, “Why do musicians need to memorize their songs?” If you learn something “by heart”, you know it inside and out. You understand it on several levels and can perform it confidently – consistently. Plus it just looks good.

Now there are times to memorize and there are times not to. Memorization is required at festivals and exams. Student recitals? It depends. If it’s a recital to air out exam pieces, then yes to memory. If it’s just a fun recital, it’s optional. If you’re just jamming with family and friends, memory is optional (improvising is probably more valuable here). If you’re at a family reunion and you’re dragged to the piano? You better have something ready at your fingertips (or be a good improviser!).

There are five types of memory that musicians use. The more forms you use, the stronger your memory is. They are:

  1. Aural: memorizing by ear
  2. Visual: AKA “photographic memory”
  3. Tactile/Digital: AKA motor memory
  4. Analytical: looking for patterns and relationships
  5. Kinesthetic: AKA “muscle memory"

Here are a few interesting articles on memory and music:

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