Playing from memory – Conditions

Those who happen to experience memory problems, the so-called “memory blanks” in a musical image, know best how important it is for a musician to be able to memorise and retrieve from memory various music pieces. The awareness of the blank appearing in one’s mind causes panic, nervousness, or at times puts a stop to music playing. That is why the skill of memorising musical texts needs to be included in the educational processes, and the teacher should teach how to commit such texts to memory in a conscious and lasting manner. The teaching process requires the participation of both the student and the teacher, however, all too often student’s memory failures tend to be attributed only to the student, while according to Jan Wierszylowski ‘remembering is not a function of merely an abstract memory concept, but it is a result of the operation of the entire personality. The fault for student’s poor academic results typically lies with the educator rather that the educated’[1].

Before discussing the question of memorization, I will first present the conditions that are particularly conducive to the process, which are, inter alia:

  • interest in the subject,

  • systematic approach to work,

  • ambition,

  • trust in oneself, in one’s abilities and memory.

Interest in the subject

The subject that the student finds interesting will be able to freely attract the student’s attention, and a skilfully aroused interest may with time evolve into activity and emotional commitment: the student will take a liking to music, will learn to enjoy practice and will be keen to devote their time to it. This will strengthen the need for memorising everything that is linked to music, while the process of remembering itself will become quicker and more permanent.

Systematic approach to work
The ability to motivate oneself to work and its adequate planning in time ought to become a daily habit for our student. A child accustomed from the start to systematic, clever practice, to work that has been properly programmed and planned by the teacher, will find the memorisation easier, quicker and more durable.

Working with an ambitious student is a source of great pleasure and satisfaction to the teacher. Such a student craves knowledge, good, or even excellent results and will spare no effort in achieving that aim.

Trust in oneself, in one’s abilities and memory
The student needs to be assured that the material given to them for memorisation is selected by the teacher adequately to their abilities, therefore, the student is capable of its understanding, mastering its technical and musical difficulties, and any failures the student may encounter on the way will not be serious enough to discourage them from such work. For that reason the selection of suitable repertoire, demonstrating proper manner of practice and giving the student clear and concrete aims is the proper path towards the student’s progress. The path that holds a promise of positive results, which in turn will fortify the student’s sense of self-worth, strengthen the trust they have in themselves, in their abilities and memory.

There are many memorisation techniques, therefore it is important that they complement one another and that remembering should result from an internal need, for instance, from the fact that the student enjoys the subject and draws satisfaction from playing. ‘The more stimuli induce memorisation, the stronger and the wider their effect is, both within emotional and intellectual sphere, consequently leading to better learning results’.[2] Practice based on mindless repetition is comparable to the so-called “swotting” used to rote learn some incomprehensible material. Such practice develops a bad habit, and – according to Garczyński – ‘The longer we delay working on the development of new habits, the more entrenched the old habits become. Thus, teaching of the skill of remembering needs to be started as early as possible.’[3]

Edyta Lajdorf BMus (Hons) RCM, MMus, LRSM (Teaching), SMISM

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[1] J. Wierzylowski, Zarys psychologii muzyki (Warsaw 1968), 101
[2] J. Wierzylowski, Zarys psychologii muzyki (Warsaw 1968), 101
[3] S. Garczynski, Jak zapamietac (Warsaw 1976), 11

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