Playing from memory – children (part 3)

Memorisation in the early stages of learning piano (part 3)

Polyphonic and duet pieces featuring a simple imitative structure or written in the form of a canon provide the greatest development to a child’s auditory memory during piano lessons. When learning those types of music pieces, student’s and teacher’s cooperation is recommended, involving the student in playing the right hand part and the teacher playing the left hand part (and the other way around), emphasising the imitative nature of such a piece. The student will then find it easier to hear the dialogue between parts. If the child’s voice abilities permit it, the student may try to sing individual parts on his/her own or in a duet with the teacher. Following that, one may proceed to a more challenging task of playing the lower part with a simultaneous humming of the higher part and vice versa. A very efficient method enabling the memorisation of a music piece is starting practice from its different points, e.g. from the second theme, a change in key and other characteristic places. The student should also memorize the left hand part in homophonic pieces, while in polyphonic ones he/she should know each individual part. One of the simplest methods is manual memorisation. It involves multiple repetitions of a piece or of its fragments, possibly at a slow tempo. A series of finger, palm, hand and wrist movements performed must be of utmost precision. It will result in consolidating these moves and it will enable the student to perform a piece from memory. However, the manual method contributes to the playing becoming automatic, while music learning ought to be active and conscious.

Music literature provides us with numerous fragments constituting a difficult memory challenge for performers. These are places similar in melodic terms, but different in harmonic aspects. They most frequently occur in the form of a sonata and in the pieces of ABA1, ABB1, AA1 structure. In such cases it is worth first learning what is secondary, since an original version becomes typically ingrained much more easily in the memory. Such places must be very carefully examined and any differences thoroughly analysed. Changes introduced in the endings of the first and second version of the volta are yet another memory trap for young performers. They require a careful analysis and attentive concentration, since a repeat entrance into the first volta carries the risk of multiple repetition of the same piece fragment.

The method that numerous teachers recommend especially to individuals gifted with excellent auditory memory is listening to recordings of the analysed piece. It accelerates the process of remembering, since we assimilate the work we know faster. It also allows avoiding text mistakes in the first stage of a score study. The method, apart from its doubtless advantages, has certain drawbacks, since it may lead to the student’s subliminal and uncritical adoption of the interpretation heard in a recording.

Once the student learns a piece of music to such a degree that allows its free performance from notation, the student may attempt to recreate it from memory. Just in case, the score should be kept at hand, best on a folded instrument stand. The student should try to recreate possibly the largest fragment of the learnt text, and if any memory lapse occurs, the student should not look into the notation straight away, but try in their mind to recollect its continuation. If it turns impossible, only then should they get up and check the text. The prospect of constant checking of the same fragment forces a student to concentrate more and to pay greater attention.

All piano lessons London are delivered by Edyta Lajdorf. If you wish to arrange a trial lesson, please contact me directly.

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