A few years ago, if you had asked me to memorize a piece of music I probably would’ve quickly dismissed the idea. Other than marching band, a few orchestral excerpts, and some warm-ups, I played very rarely without music. More recently, however, I’ve come to realize what I had been missing by not getting away from written music at times. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:
1) The process of memorizing makes learning the music more important than learning how to play the music. Here’s what I mean: too often we focus on the challenges that a piece demands of us, like the fingers, tongue, range, speed, endurance, etc. Of course, we have to work on these things, but when we are working to make music away from the page, we’re more focused on getting the sound of the piece inside of us. Recalling the musical story becomes the goal rather than overcoming any technical hurdles involved.
2) Memorization can free us up to pay attention to the other parts of a piece of music. Single line instrumentalists and vocalists too often forget that there is more to a musical work than what they hear in the practice room. The fact is that our part in most pieces works together with other parts, such as a piano or ensemble. A great benefit to memorizing AND a solid way to build memory is to get to know the other parts that work together with ours.
3) Once we start memorizing a piece of music we can practice it anywhere and anytime, with or without our instrument or music. My eight-year-old son who studies with the Suzuki method goes about many days singing or whistling the pieces he is working on. I’m convinced that even though he doesn’t know it, he is essentially practicing at these times. Subconsciously, he’s working out the details of the sounds, patterns, rhythms, phrasing, etc. This is a great advantage, especially for those of us who have limited practice time with our instrument.
4) It’s an empowering feeling of accomplishment when we really know a piece of music, not just because we can read it from the page. We’re no longer dependent upon something like a teleprompter to feed us our lines in performance. Plus, we now know the piece better than we ever would have with the music staring us in the face for the thousandth time.
If you were like me and rarely have committed music to memory, why not try it? Let me know what you discover along the way.