Memorizing Long Pieces

said: Sep 3, 2010
 5 posts

My daughter (Book 6 violin) takes both Suzuki violin and traditional piano from 2 different teachers. She has never had trouble memorizing long pieces of music until recently. She tripped up on a difficult piano piece, and her piano teacher mentioned how my daughter was using “motor memory”. She indicated that the “by ear” Suzuki method encourages kids to learn pieces using motor memory, and hinted that it can potentially be a problem if you stumble on a longer, harder piece. (More difficult to pick up from where you stumbled.) She definitely was NOT putting down Suzuki, as she has always complimented my daughter on aspects of her playing that she credits to the Suzuki background in violin. But she left the impression that there are different ways to memorize…
My questions are:
What exactly is “motor memory”?
Is” motor memory” really how Suzuki players memorize long pieces?
Is there some other way to memorize long pieces?
The piano teacher mentioned something about making a photographic image of the notes of music in your head, so if you stumble you can literally recall what the notes on the sheet of music look like. (!!!)
(I thought, heck, sounds like something out of “Rain Man”. My kid is good, but she’s no savant!)

So, are there different methods for memorizing long, difficult pieces?

Timothy Judd said: Sep 4, 2010
Timothy Judd
Suzuki Association Member
Glen Allen, VA
57 posts

“Motor memory” is the memory of the fingers and hands. In repeating passages during practice your daughter has physically memorized the piece. The fingers of the left hand and the bow hand know exactly how to co-ordinate, when to shift, ect. After fully learning the piece they can go on autopilot.

I’m sure your daughter also has an aural memory of the piece. That is the ability to “sing” the music inside your head. As she plays she is “singing” the next notes and passages in her mind and groups of notes are flowing and unfolding. This is essential to playing musically and it is why Suzuki puts so much emphasis on listening to the CD. Students who begin reading notes from the beginning are in danger of seeing the note and putting down the appropriate finger without first “singing” the note in their inner ear.

Your piano teacher is referring to a visual memory. If you practice while reading the music you may begin to actually visualize the notes measure by measure as you play.

It is important to develop all three of these ways of memorizing, so you are not relying on just one or two. That way there is always a back up. As your daughter hits the teenage years, she may find that she needs to broaden her memorization to include a visual memory of the notes on the page. This is also the age when nerves during performance become more of an issue.

I suggest that she spend some time studying the score visually, paying attention to the overall form of the piece. It is a good idea during practice to develop the ability to start in random places throughout the piece. Finally, after learning the notes well and working on short passages she should spend a certain amount of time playing through the piece without stopping.

I hope this is helpful and I wish your daughter good luck!

Christine said: Sep 4, 2010
Christine GoodnerInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Hillsboro, OR
102 posts

It has been my experience that each student is different in how they memorize —some do it visually (they can see the music in their head), some do it aurally (they can hear the music in their head), and some do it physically (much like we have a physical memory of the keys on a keyboard when we type).

I don’t believe that one is better than the other but rather it can be very useful to develop all 3 ways of memorizing over time (and as the music becomes more advanced).

When I memorize a piece I tend to switch between seeing the music in my head, hearing what comes next and my fingers just remembering what to do depending on how I have practiced each particular section in order to master it. I may practice a difficult passage of a cadenza over and over and eventually my fingers will just remember what to do. Where I have practiced to improve the tone and sound quality of a slow passage I may hear it in my head etc.

I would love to hear what others have to add to this . . .

Christine in OR

Christine Goodner

Blog: The Suzuki Triangle

Suzuki Licensed Book: Beyond the Music Lesson: Habits of Successful Suzuki Families

“When Love is Deep, Much can be Accomplished” ~ Suzuki

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