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Memorization: a Few Tips to help the Medicine go down

The Sensible Flutist: Memorization: a Few Tips to help the Medicine go down

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Memorization: a Few Tips to help the Medicine go down

Most of us flutists hate memorizing anything. Very few are able to easily memorize and must learn a technique that works best for us to be able to go out on stage and perform a piece of music. The way in which you learn (are you a visual or aural learner?) also affects how easily you may be easily to memorize that concerto.

Here are several techniques that musicians utilize. Experiment finding which combination of techniques works best for you by choosing an exercise like Reichert No. 1 from Seven Daily Exercises and memorizing it, always conscious of what leads to the fastest results for you. This is also a good way of finding which type of memorization you're best at, and which type your skill not be as strong.

1) Visual memory. This is usually one of the primary ways we learn how to memorize the first time we are asked to do so (high school marching band, anyone?). Remembering what the page looks like is only one part of the memorization process. More often than not, utilizing visualization as the sole means of memorization will not result in a successful performance in public or in a lesson setting. Most of us don't have a photographic memory so how can we expect to have one if we are relying completely on visualizing the music. How can we make it better?

First, look at what you're playing. What's the tempo marking, time signature, accidentals, odd rhythms, etc.? Once you've answered these questions and sang the passage to yourself, then play the passage. Starting the memorization process with a visualization of the piece is the first step in utilizing a total system of memorization so that you do not go into a performance with a one-dimensional conception of the music. Let's move on to the second type of memorization.

2) Tactile (Muscle) Memory. Many young piano students like memorizing music by remembering where their fingers fall on the keys. As a flutist, this technique is a little difficult and recalling information on the basis of touch alone is a faulty system that does not take into account the total picture. To take advantage of this strategy, silently finger the patterns of steps and leaps on the flute. The visual strategy has already given you the key information, so you can focus more on the intervals with this method. When you've reached the end of the passage, always review what you've just done. This mindfulness will prepare you to move on in your next practice session.

I stress to my students the importance of developing a daily technique practice schedule that incorporates the practice of scales and arpeggios. The best foundation a student can have is all scales and arpeggios memorized in their most basic form. From there, technical exercises become much easier now that we know the fundamental patterns. This leads to a understanding that tonal music is based upon scales and remembering these patterns will make the process of memorizing easier to manage.

3) Aural Memory. Good aural training develops a musician's ear to make this final layer of the memorization process the icing on the cake. For a tonal piece, singing the passage with solfege (I prefer Movable Do) solidifies the pitches in the ear. Once you can hear the pitches in your ear, transferring it to the instrument will be very simple. In tonal music, there are basic tonal patterns such as La-Sol or Do-Re-Mi that are easily played on the instrument. If you already know your scales, you can play those tonal patterns in any key.

For more modern pieces that are not easy to sing with solfege, learn the piece with the music first in order to easily familiarize yourself with the pitches. Go back to the visual memory strategy and analyze the piece as well. Again, just as with either of the other two strategies, beware of relying too heavily on just one. You may memorize a piece and be able to hear the opening phrase in your ear beautifully, but fail miserably to communicate the phrase in a performance setting.

Memorization is a very useful tool that can be used to communicate music more powerfully. Combining all three strategies saves flutists time and stress. If your visual memorization fails you in a performance, rely on your aural memory and vice versa. The more tools we utilize to memorize one thing, the better our chances of success.

I remember memorizing the first half of the Jolivet Concerto for a competition. I used all three strategies to memorize, but when it came time to perform the piece in the semi-final round, I relied heavily on my aural memory. Several sections did not go very well, and strengthening my visual memory of the piece would have solved many of my problems. But as with each new piece you memorize, your method is a work in progress. So keep practicing!Here are a few more resources to check out in your pursuit of learning to be a better memorizer: (this isn't music related; however, it discusses multi-sensory learning techniques)


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