Musician and blogger, Caroline Wright, is currently pursuing a project at the moment looking into the question of how and why musicians memorise music – I was invited last week to participate and answer a few questions about how and why I memorise music. Check out her blog here: http://memorisingmusic.com
So, I thought I’d share with you, dear readers, some of these thoughts of mine on memorisation of music and memory lapses.
Should we memorise?
Only if you want to, I’d say. In some situations you may have to play from memory, such as during an exam, then you have no choice really. Otherwise, it’s up to you and you shouldn’t feel you have to just because that’s what others may be doing. Sometimes I like to play with a score, sometimes without. If a piece is particularly involved and complex, like a Bach lute suite for example, I like to use the score.
Yes, it looks kind of cool to play without the score, and in some ways can really help you get to the heart of the music, play from the heart literally (they don’t calling it “playing be heart” for nothing you know!). Conversely, having the score there with you when performing can really help keep you on track and help concentration, especially if performing a multi-movement work or many pieces within a recital.
What about memory lapses? Can they be avoided?
I think it would be unrealistic to say that memory lapses will never occur. It’s going to happen at some point. And that’s just fine. So long as you recognize that and don’t get caught up in it. Just move on. It’s happened. It’s passed. It’s gone. It’s done. No use ruminating on it, especially in the moment of performance!
It’s also vital to remember that when we’re performing, we are invariably doing so for others. It not about you. It’s about what you’re giving to the audience. So get over yourself and give it your best for the performance of the music to come!
But how can I minimise the potential for memory lapses happening or happening more than once?
We must know our pieces inside out. We must know what our right hand is doing. We must know what our left hand is doing. We must know where the music is headed. We must know how we want it to sound. We must be able to sing it or hear it in our head. We must understand the structure, the harmonies, the landscape. We must know the various “signposts” in a piece.
If a memory lapse has occurred in a performance situation – and yes, it has happened to me – you must pay attention when coming back to the practice room, address that particular issue and ask ourselves a few questions – why did that memory lapse occur just there? What is that bit? Do I really know how it sounds? Do I really know what the left hand is doing? Do I really know what the right hand is doing? What is the harmonic landscape doing? What is that chord? What is the key there? And so on…
And please, please do not look on a memory lapse a failure. I like to believe instead that there is no such thing as failure. It’s pure and simply feedback. It’s a gift that’s telling us we just don’t know that bit quite as well as we might. So we just need to tweak our learning strategy for that particular element. Job done!
I think it would be a great idea to follow up this post with some pointers on how to memorise! How about that? Feel free to let me know your own thoughts on memorisation.
Oh and if you want to get involved with Caroline’s projects and provide your thoughts head here: http://memorisingmusic.com/interviews/