Sunday, October 02, 2011

Memorizing for Adults

One of the recurring themes for my adult students is the sheer difficulty of memorizing music. As they age, pianists who once memorized works without a second thought have difficulty in managing those same feats in middle age. The solution for my adult students seems to be developing an organized and systematic approach to memorization, as opposed to the near-instantaneous recall that younger pianists are capable of. Joy Morin has some resources on Color in my Piano that are worth a look:
Also take a look at chapters 13-15 in the 31 Days to Better Practicing ebook for my own ideas on the subject.

But there's another thing I've also noticed about older pianists - sight reading gets easier and more natural. Whereas young students generally tend to need poking, prodding, inspiration, and constant reminders to work on their sight reading, older learners often develop this skill without any undue effort. Could it be that the brain as it ages tends to de-emphasize memory accuracy in exchange for better visual processing? 


  1. This topic has been getting some screen time on a number of blogs lately (see especially the comments that Joy Morin's post generated!). I can't speak remotely intelligently on any brain processes or changes, but my thoughts are that when we're teen-agers we're still really struggling and, therefore, putting in a lot of time just to learn to read the darn notes, and by the time we get to that stage a lot of memory is laid down. At this adult stage, especially for those of us who have already spent a lifetime reading new notes - as accompanists/teachers/soloists/ whatever - our reading skills are so developed that we don't have to put in the time to get to the notes-learned stage. Because the process is so much faster, the memory doesn't have as much time to get secured. This might make it more a time issue, rather than a brain-change issue.

    Maybe, too, our expectations are too high at this point. I don't practice any one piece for anywhere CLOSE to what I did 30 years ago, so why should I expect similar results memory-wise?

    Does this make any sense?

  2. Mike Langlois6:46 AM

    When you learn the music, it will be memorized! It's that simple.

    There are three reasons why something is not remembered:

    1) There is something you are not hearing in the texture, and therefore have not committed to memory.

    2) There is a passage whose logic you have not yet uncovered, either in itself or within the architecture of the piece.

    3) Lack of concentration . . . what you sow in the practice room is what you will reap on the stage . . .

    This comes from someone who had at one point a great deal of trouble memorizing music, having not started doing so until college/conservatory auditions at the age of 17. Perhaps as an adult memorization/learning takes longer, but that is all - time.