Playing by memory : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

Hello everyone,

This is a great site and learning a great deal.

I have been playing the piano for long, long time. I am and advanced player, approx. GR10 RCM level. My problem is that I cannot seem to play anything by memory. I seem to depend completely on the score, so if friends come over, or I go some place and am asked to play I cannot. I do lack a lot of confidence in performing, but play beautifully, so I've been told, if I have the score. How can I get myself to have a repetoire (of a few songs) under my belt so that I can play on the spurr of the moment. This is frustrating for me, I can't seem to get rid of my "shyness" Any advice would be great.

Thank you Lam

-- Lam (, February 09, 2004


There are a lot of facets to memory, and you probably need to work on all of them.

The first thing I would suggest for you is to choose just one piece to concentrate on. Make it something simple -- even a really pretty Grade 8 piece -- so that you definitely won't have technical worries. Also, you should probably choose something short. Analyse the piece in as many ways as you can: melodic or harmonic patterns, repeated finger patterns, key changes/transitions, rhythm patterns, etc.

Break the piece down into short sections -- perhaps four bars, or however the music naturally breaks down. Memorize the starting position for each hand. Practise each section HS, saying the note names, finger numbers, chords, or whatever is relevant to that particular section. Then play it HT seven times in a row (with the score). After that, close the book and try to play it from memory.

As you work on the next section, memorize the transition between the two sections -- talk yourself through it (Ex. "now the RH jumps up an octave and plays F# with finger 3, but my LH stays here).

Don't just practise the notes; also practise the moves (i.e. one hand, or both, jumping to another position on the keyboard).

After you think you know the piece pretty well, sit down with some manuscript paper and see how well you can write it out -- you can "play" on the tabletop, but not the real piano.

Now, regarding your shyness, I understand it (have long experienced it), but someone who plays at a Grade 10 level has nothing to be ashamed of! That is quite advanced, and probably most of your hearers are nowhere near that level. Unless you are among professionals, you will probably be the most talented musician in any room you happen to be in! So, don't be embarrassed; even great figure skaters (for example) fall down once in a while, but we are all still aware that they are far more skilled than us! Just enjoy the beauty of the music and others will enjoy it, too.

Good luck!

Alice Dearden

-- Alice Dearden (, February 10, 2004.

Dear Lamm, I'm so glad you asked this question, and Alice, I'm so gratified by your answer. It seems quite complete, and I know there are many of us in the same boat as Lamm who will benefit from your instructions. Thank you!

-- Shirley Gibson (, February 10, 2004.

You can also find some ideas at Go to the "infopedia" (archive) and then to the section for students (can't remember whether it's called "for students" or "practising". Anyhow, there are a few articles on memorization there.


-- Alice Dearden (, February 11, 2004.

Thanks, Alice! Shirley

-- Shirley Gibson (, February 11, 2004.


Thank you for your suggestions. I will definitely give them a try. I am definitely working on my playing confidence. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks again. Lam

-- (, March 14, 2004.

Lam, I just want to encourage you to keep trying even if memorizing does not come easily to you. About a year ago someone (who knows I struggle with memorizing) encouraged me just to keep trying, and told me that the more you force yourself to work on memorization, the better you'll get at it. I have found that to be true. I agree SO much with the advice above about *talking* yourself through it. Also, be very aware of where any bit of insecurity within the piece is--then work work work on that tiny bit. For example, if you really realize you always have a little pause (while you're trying to remember what to play next) between beat 3 and beat 4 of the 17th measure, than play JUST beat 3 and beat 4 of the 17th measure. Over and over and over. And so on through the whole song. Don't play big chunks--concentrate on little spots that are causing you to lose your bearings. That's what has worked for me.

-- annie (, March 15, 2004.

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