Many music students wonder if memorization is an important aspect of their education. For those who want to excel as artists, the answer is resounding yes.
Memorizing music gives you greater artistic freedom in your playing technique and helps you quickly master improvisational skills.
Also, for some reason, the audience prefers to listen to musicians who have memorized a piece, rather than those who read a score.
In this article, I will show you why. I will also show you a technique on how to memorize music that will change your musical practice. I’ll explain how you can memorize a song faster by starting at the end and working your way to the beginning of the song.
It’s an approach that many classical musicians use, but I rarely hear other musicians talk about it. Anyway, it has been my secret weapon to learn new music for years, since I found out.
However, many students forget to understand that memorization is a skill that must also be developed.
You must learn to incorporate the best way to absorb music for yourself, individually, because effective recall is strongly connected to your preferred learning style.
Preparation is key. Traditional memorization requires hours and hours of practice. Hopefully, the following tips will reduce the time it takes to recall a piece, without compromising results.
Because even if you don’t know which learning style you respond to, these tips involve a comprehensive strategy that can help anyone master the skill.
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How to Memorize Music Fast
Memorizing music is an easy task for some and a tedious task for others. Depending on the length and difficulty of a piece, memorizing may take a certain time.
To help you define the perfect memorization technique, we are going to share with you six different methods that you can try.
A key tip for memorizing music is to know that there are four types of memory in music: visual, auditory, motor, and analytical.
Using all four types in the right way is the best way to memorize music and keep it solidly in your memory.
1. Memorize in Small Sections
This may go without saying, but building your memory is a process. A hopeful athlete doesn’t start with advanced technique, they start with something basic and build from there.
The same goes for memorization. Start with 8-12 bars of music. Later you can focus on longer pieces.
Possibly the most common way to memorize music is to divide it into small sections.
It can be intimidating to tackle an 8-page article at a time, so memorizing section by section allows for a more focused mindset and better retention.
The length of the sections you choose to tackle is up to you.
For particularly difficult sections, you can memorize in even smaller sections, perhaps one or two measures at a time.
Once you’ve mastered a section, remember to come back to it so it stays in your long-term memory and you don’t have to repeat the process later.
2. Remember the Four Kinds of Memory
Visual memory: visual memory is being memorized with the eyes. This may be because you can still see what the music looks like on the sheet music, or it may also mean seeing where your hands go on the keys.
Auditory memory: auditory memory is being memorized using your ears. This means that it remembers how the melody and harmony sound before pressing the next note. You remember how the piece goes.
Motor memory: Motor memory is when your fingers know where to go. They are on “automatic pilot.” Motor memory, however, is the LEAST RELIABLE type of memory, because it is the first type of memory to be forgotten when performing or recording, so don’t rely on it.
However, this type of memory is not all bad.
Analyze: Analyze is to understand the piece.
This is the BEST kind of memory because when you understand the piece, you can know where you are going and pick it up again if you make a mistake.
The analysis is the safest type of memory because it remembers music in “chunks.” Knowing what the next chord allows you to at least move on to the next part and not get stuck as you can with engine memory.
3. Start at the End and Work Backward
A very common technique in memorization is to start from the end of a piece and go back to work from the beginning. Similar to dividing your music into small sections, this technique does the same, but in chronological order backward.
You can go back by phrase or by measure (s). For example, you can start two bars from the end, then start four bars from the end, six, and so on.
This method is very effective because after you have memorized a section, you will continue to repeat it over and over again, locking it firmly in place.
By the time you get to the beginning, the ending will seem like a piece of cake because you’ve rehearsed it many times.
4. Visualize the Sheet Music
When you close your eyes, try to see what the music looks like on the sheet. Can you see the notes and the dynamics? Most people have memory skills that are never tested but are still available.
Imagine taking a mental snapshot of the music before playing and then consulting it in your mind as you play.
Viewing scores works particularly well for those with a photographic memory. If you can see the score in your head, you can anticipate what’s next.
As all musicians know, memorization is much more than the notes in a piece. You should also memorize dynamics, repeats, tempos, time signatures, codas, lyrics, fingerings, expressions, crescendos, and much more.
Visualizing your score applies to each of these things and can give you a huge advantage when it comes to memorizing.
If you don’t have a particularly photographic memory but would like to try this technique, take some time to study your music without playing or singing. Speak through the music, drawing attention to difficult sections or sudden changes in expression.
5. Practice Using Different Tempos
Being able to play the piece at extreme tempos and in the middle. Practice at very slow, medium, and fast tempos to feel more confident. The most valuable thing is a slow practice.
Very rarely do musicians learn a new piece of music at the indicated tempo. Starting slow ensures that notes and rhythms are learned correctly. The same method can be applied to memorization.
It’s very common to start making mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make when starting to memorize. Suddenly things that you previously mastered recede and it’s easy to get frustrated and discouraged quickly.
Reducing the tempo has the same effect as when you first learn a piece: it ensures accuracy. It also gives you plenty of time to think before playing or singing the next note.
As you return to the indicated tempo, you will exercise the repeat. Altogether, this method will avoid much of the frustration that memorizing music can cause.
6. On and Off Sheet Music
When memorizing a piece of music, it is easy to “cheat” from time to time. Maybe your music is in front of you, and you steal a look or two on the difficult sections.
At the same time, it can be difficult to hide the music completely. Going back and forth between being “in” the book and “out” of the book is a way of letting go of the sheet music.
Memorizing in and out of the score involves a review of your piece (or a section) with the music in front of you, followed by a review without it.
As you feel more confident, you can try one rehearsal with the music in front of you followed by two rehearsals without the music.
Going back to music gives you the opportunity to correct mistakes and find the notes or sections that you couldn’t remember without the music.
Eliminating your music entirely gives you a chance to try, using only your brainpower and brainpower.
7. Beginning to End Repetition
Some musicians don’t like the tedious work of dividing a song or having a precise method of memorization. And that’s fine!
Sometimes all we need is to play or sing the song from beginning to end over and over again. The only precaution when approaching this method is to make sure that you don’t skip difficult sections or problem areas.
You certainly don’t want to reinforce bad habits or missed grades after working so hard to learn the piece!
But once you’ve fixed all the problems, playing your piece several times in its entirety is a great way to solidify memorization.
As we mentioned before, there is a lot more to memorize outside of the notes only, and this method is perfect for memorizing the ebbs and flows of your piece.
8. Use Your Other Senses
Turn off the lights or close your eyes while playing a piece of music from memory. Just like in Star Wars, use the force … of your instincts, they are stronger than you think.
You will be amazed at the closest connection you will feel with your instrument and how easy it is to understand music when you have to rely solely on sound and touch.
9. Hands Separate and Together
Even when you know a section very well, it is sometimes a good idea to play your hands separately. Keeps you safer, especially for fingering.
This is another great way to incorporate visual learning techniques. Notice the way your fingers move to the next note, apply vibrato, and their placement.
Looking at your hands reinforces the connection between sound and playing technique, making music easier to memorize.
It also strengthens and forges new neural pathways that will help you learn future pieces.
10. Know Thy Sections
Know where the beginning of all your sections is and you can resume any of them “cold”. Start playing in the middle of the piece and go to the end.
11. Consider the Broader Aspects of Your Part
If you want to learn a piece of music from an orchestral composition, consider how your part influences and impacts the piece.
Do you play bass and build a feeling of apprehension? Does the violin piece you are playing provide the contrast or the foundation of the piece?
Understanding the emotion your part transmits can help you memorize.
12. Ask Other Musicians for Their Tips
One of the best ways to learn effective memorization techniques is to ask others who have already been there. Your teachers, friends, and online music chat partners (if allowed) can provide a number of helpful new strategies and tips.
Learning to memorize music will improve your playing technique. Focus on it during your regular practice schedule, and in no time, you’ll see an incredible improvement in the way you memorize and the amount of music you can easily recall.
There’s Only One Way to Find Out…
All of this may seem a bit theoretical. All I can say is: take a solo, chord progression, or whatever else you’re working on and give it a try. See how this backward strategy works. Even if you are efficient and effective, what matters most, in the end, is your experience.
Personally, I really like this approach, and if you like it too, it’s a great tool to have in your toolbox to memorize music faster, practice songs efficiently, and simply learn more music in less time. So give it a try!
Being able to play with sheet music is great, but nothing says that you own a piece like being able to play it by heart.
The memorization process can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to get started, so we hope the memorization tips in this article have given you some confidence.
For more information on practice strategies, as well as all things piano, stay tuned to Liberty Park Music!