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I am interested to find the different methods people use to play songs without sheet music.
My method has been to play the piece by reading the music very slowly (around grade 1), until I have learnt the piece and can play it at the correct speed and by then having played it probably 100's of times (as it takes me that long to perfect it!), I realise that I am no longer really reading the music just staring blankly at the music score. I then take away the sheet and play it.
Because I initially play and look at the score, not my hands, when I come to play from memory it seems to be my fingers that have developed the memory of the song, NOT my brain and if I make a mistake I am quite frankly foobarred as when my playing is disrupted the finger memory is lost (not all the time, obviously it depends on the severity of the mistake), which leads me to the point that as I have a major fear playing especially in front of my teacher, the fear makes me make errors and then I lose the plot, which I just cannot do in an exam, so I have decided its not the be all and end all of piano playing if I dont progress with my grade 1 for now.
My piano teacher said that if I do play from memory I do need to look at the keyboard and make a mental note of what keys I am pressing so that if I make a mistake , I can correct myself. Obviously if I am playing from a score then I dont look at my hands.
Everyone seems to go on about not looking at your hands so I am somewhat confused.
What ever the concensus is, I still need to find a new technique to memorise the songs as I think its good to have the confidence to play with the music and wondered whether you could help!
Getting into the mood of the piece and having mental "milestones" also helps me.
When I learn a new piece it takes me a while to play it ok, so by the time I have sorted out the technical side of the piece like fingering and any other things I find difficult, the piece is virtually memorised.
Stetting a target or mile stone within the piece is also what I do. I say, learn from bar 1 to 6 then from 6 to 12 then I glue these bars together in to one larger section.
I completely understand what you mean at having learned and piece and you stare at the score blankly. I used to do that a lot but now I follow the music as I play it even though I don’t really need it for the notes. I can’t always memorise the dynamics and other things so need the score to see when I need to get louder or softer or phrase etc etc.
What you will notice is as your sight reading becomes better, if your finger memory fails you and you lose it, you can if you were following the score sight read your way out of it but slowly, then the finger memory kicks in again; this is something new that is happening to me now. Of course I still lose it in the lesson and the piece falls part in front of my teacher.
I think looking at the keyboard while playing is not a crime (just look at some top pianists play from memory, they look at their hands!) I think it is necessary to look at them from time to time as this also helps you with memorising the piece and you can see where you went wrong and fix it.
I remember my first piano teacher say to another one of her one of students: 'look at your hands it helps you'
I think memorising a piece takes place in several of these ways, and the different areas will be stronger for different people.
Aural memory – what the piece sound likes, and what come next.
Visual memory - Where your hands are on the keyboard or what the notes look like on the page.
Muscle memory or finger memory – the way the piece feels, the physical sense of playing the piece.
Hope this is useful!