how to memorize music

Tips on Project Management and Learning Music

For those of you doing a music exam or playing at the music festival, you're probably feeling the pressure from your music teacher and parents. After all, we're in exam and music festival season and the clock is ticking!

To help keep my students on track, I've helped them come up with a Project Management Timeline for the areas that need work. When I first used this backwards project timeline, it was during my co-op term at CPO. I had to plan out when I needed to write my press releases for upcoming concerts at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Working backwards from the radio, TV and print media's submission deadlines, I was able to figure out when I needed to write the press releases for the spring concerts. It works well for music too:

Backwards Timeline

D-day in this case is the week leading up to the APTA Festival. I had my students count out how many weeks they had till D-day. Then, I informed them that they needed to give themselves at least one month to let their memory settle and to polish their pieces. This is represented by the first two numbers on the LH side of the page.

From there, we calculated just how many weeks they had left to memorize "Piece X" and how many weeks they had to finish learning the piece.

Next, we looked at the RH side of the page; at the total number of lines in the piece, the number of lines learned already and finally, the number of lines left to learn. Then it was time to put the math hat on:

  • 9 lines to learn DIVIDED by 3 weeks learning time = 3 lines to learn per week
  • 18 lines to memorize DIVIDED by 7 weeks = 2.6 lines to memorize per week, give or take a bar or two, depending on phrasing

In this example, the student needs to spend some practices learning the rest of the piece and some practice time on memorizing a section.

With the formula, the music memorization deadline thus becomes the week of March 27. You can also use this formula to help figure out your practice milestones for the week.

Give it a try with your current pieces - good luck!

P.S. Now, the milestones will change, depending upon the level of difficulty of the piece and the student's work habits


On Memorizing Music

Often, a piece of music becomes memorized after practicing it many times. However, for a piece to be truly memorized, musicians should incorporate more than one type of memorization. This is a great article on the different types of memory that music students can use, called "Music Memorization". Yes, it's similar to the VARK Learning Styles. Harmonic or analytical memory stems from read/write learning.

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB. All rights reserved.

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:

© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.