Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Questions on learning to play the piano, and piano music.

Moderators: Feg, Gill the Piano

Post Reply
Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 05 Sep 2011, 02:25

So the big question is as a piano player of a significant number of years but with with a memory like a sieve, is it really worth all the hard work to commit a piece to memory? Obviously it seems a necessity for public performance and all the most accomplished pianists play from memory. But while it all looks very awe inspiring as a meer spectator what are the real benefits as oppose to just plodding along sight reading? To play a piece well does it really have to be without the music?

To those pianists and even other instrumentalists of a high level (grade 8+) who regularly play and learn pieces from memory how does the experience compare to that of sight reading a piece well? Also does playing from memory just come naturally to you without much effort? It certainly doesnt to me. :roll: Only with a lot of boring monotous repetition and 'analytical' approach which kills the fun of playing. Perhaps this is the sacrifice that has to be made.

As a bona fide sight reader i find i get a real thrill from just picking up any old piece that comes to mind and just playing it through once or twice, albeit it not 100% accurately! :shock: Although i feel i may be missing out an important aspect of playing that comes with being free of the score. I play mostly classical pieces just so you know (Chopin! Brahms!).

Opinions from both sides welcome as to whether playing from the score is just as good as playing without...

Thanks :mrgreen:

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 05 Sep 2011, 18:16

Pianists always used to play from music until Liszt, damn his eyes, showed off and did without. Personally, I think it puts the player under unnecessary stress unless they've been brought up doing it, particularly in a performance situation. But anything that stretches you as a pianist is good and as long as you don't get twitched about it (as I would) go for it! :)
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

User avatar
MarkGoodwinPianos
Senior Poster
Senior Poster
Posts: 698
Joined: 04 Nov 2006, 05:28

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by MarkGoodwinPianos » 05 Sep 2011, 19:32

Once you've learned a piece by heart, the score becomes a negative presence.
I feel like playing from memory you can give the piece a different delivery every time whereas playing from the score I feel restricted to playing it very strictly.
Yamaha Pianos for sale (usually 50+ in stock)
email markgoodwinpianos@gmail.com with any Yamaha, Kawai, Bechstein or Steinway questions :)

Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 06 Sep 2011, 01:15

Well i have only recently been experimenting with playing from memory but still cant make up my mind if im sold by it or not. Its definately different. Personally i find i can get lost in the music more by having it all there in front of me. Its almost like having a safety blanket and so therefore enabling me to feel freer. Only time will tell i guess..

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 06 Sep 2011, 12:33

Hi Cascade,

Playing from memory is a wonderful achievement in itself. When I was younger, I was almost 'forced' by Denis Matthews to perform from memory.... because it was probably dragged into him!! I still play the odd piece from memory - in fact I HAVE to play Fantasia Impromptu by Chopin from memory because looking at the music, I wondered how on hell's ground how I managed to learn all those notes!! I tend to rely on key/ chord changes to get me through. I've found that slower music is more difficult to memories than fast music?

I think the piano is classed as a "memory instrument" in its professional solo capacity.... not sure where or who uttered these words, but I've found that some music festival adjudicators (maybe those as pianists themselves) often mark the form with 'memory' at the top before writing their comments, and it has sometimes made the decision between 2 good performances, one from the music, and others from memory. Its funny, even if you have the music CLOSED in front of you, its not classed as a memory performance!!! presumably some Godly character 'kicks in' and enables you to see though the music cover!!!!

I think that on the whole, a memory performance is your own opinion, it sometimes helps to eleviate the problems of page turning/ russling papers, and I guess we can become more focussed on the expression/ cantabile and listen to the music more rather than looking & listening. However now in my mid-40's, I teach to Diploma standard, and whilst my pupils& students are doing well, very few will throw away the music. I remember playing all my grade 8 pieces from memory.... dont know how I did it, but its what I could back in the early 80's.
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 06 Sep 2011, 16:29

Denis Matthews, eh? Impressive!! I so wish I could play without music, but like Cascade, i need the music. I was playing Golliwog's Cakewalk when my teacher closed the music. 'Why did you stop???' she shrieked. 'Why did you close the music???' I shrieked back. 'You weren't looking at it,' she said. 'No, but I neeeeeeeeeeeeed it,' I whined. Pathetic... :roll:
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

User avatar
MarkGoodwinPianos
Senior Poster
Senior Poster
Posts: 698
Joined: 04 Nov 2006, 05:28

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by MarkGoodwinPianos » 06 Sep 2011, 19:40

Gill the Piano wrote:Denis Matthews, eh? Impressive!! I so wish I could play without music, but like Cascade, i need the music. I was playing Golliwog's Cakewalk when my teacher closed the music. 'Why did you stop???' she shrieked. 'Why did you close the music???' I shrieked back. 'You weren't looking at it,' she said. 'No, but I neeeeeeeeeeeeed it,' I whined. Pathetic... :roll:
:lol:
Yamaha Pianos for sale (usually 50+ in stock)
email markgoodwinpianos@gmail.com with any Yamaha, Kawai, Bechstein or Steinway questions :)

Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 07 Sep 2011, 20:16

Wow Colin your well qualified. A diploma level piano teacher and piano technician. I thought you could only be good at one of those! Well i was born in the early eighties so i guess there is still hope if i want to be like all those superstar pianists and play without the score. But aside from a performance perspective i just wonder if learning and playing from memory is worth the extra effort even if you are just playing for yourself for pleasure. Like you say it is an achievement but is it a necessity to play well?

I guess you can focus on both hands better if you can look at them rather than the music, especially the left hand which i tend to overlook alot. But i just wonder if memory should just come as a result of working at a piece from the score or whether someone should actively be trying to commit sections to memory as you learn them?

Ive read one manual on how to effectively practice which suggests learning everything hands separate and from memory first before putting it together. I know another guy who works backwards from the piece in a very bizarre fashion working on 8 bar sections at a time and overlapping them as he progresses (backwards!). Seems to work for him as he can play from well and from memory. I think for now i seem to be able to get lost in the music better by not thinking too much about what im doing, i.e by just sight reading. Maybe im just too damn lazy!

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 07 Sep 2011, 21:53

Blimey Gill.... remember teaching & playing that Debussy piece to a grade 8er about 6 years ago!! and a swine to memorise.... the 6 flats killed it!! there was always a 'bone of contention' when we had to write down the name of the piece for the Harrogate music festival!!

If Johnkie is about.... wondered if he ever tuned his grands! I had tuition with Denis around 1980 - 1982 and his much-younger wife, Brenda McDermott.... they lived in Jesmond (Adderstone Cresc I think) near Newcastle. Regrettably Denis commited suicide around 1987 on Xmas Day.... poor chap, very eccentric - but a charming bloke.

The only time is good for memory performances is when you are in a hotel lobby with your mates (and a grand appears!!)
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

User avatar
Johnkie
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 246
Joined: 14 Jan 2011, 16:15
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Johnkie » 09 Sep 2011, 01:12

Colin Nicholson wrote: If Johnkie is about.... wondered if he ever tuned his grands! I had tuition with Denis around 1980 - 1982 and his much-younger wife, Brenda McDermott.... they lived in Jesmond (Adderstone Cresc I think) near Newcastle. Regrettably Denis commited suicide around 1987 on Xmas Day.... poor chap, very eccentric - but a charming bloke.
Yes Colin - I remember Dennis very well - He was held in extremely high regard as a musician, but as you say "VERY eccentric" !! I had tuned for him only weeks before he hung himself from his banisters ... and before you or anyone else says it .... no I am pretty sure it wasn't a result of my tuning skills !!

At least Dennis has, and will continue, to live on in peoples memories through the many wonderful recordings that he made. R.I.P Dennis :cry:

David Murrey now seems to be somewhere up there in the Number one slot in our area.
Concert Tuner & Technician for 45+ years - North East UK

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 09 Sep 2011, 03:30

Johnkie wrote:I had tuned for him only weeks before he hung himself from his banisters ... and before you or anyone else says it .... no I am pretty sure it wasn't a result of my tuning skills !!
Ooo, as if we would!!! :lol:
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 09 Sep 2011, 12:32

Thanks for that Johnkie.... I always remember his huge house - No 7, and showy bow ties!! His wife Brenda McDermott (she used her maiden name for recitals, but she was also known as Brenda Matthews) was also a concert pianist, and if Denis was engaged somewhere, she would step in.. wow, I think she was better than Denis!! (and I always remember their horrible kids, Delia & Howard!).... I also went to one of Brenda's recitals in Newcastle (cant remember where), and she played the Liszt B minor 'perfectly'!! Anyway, long distant memories now. I also remember Brenda occasionally playing on Epilogue!!.... remember that? One day, during a lesson with Brenda, I remember Denis 'barging' in and wanted me to meet John Ogden.... wow!!.... he played some Debussy, and I noticed his nicotine streaks in his hair & moustache.... I think he was suffering from depression & allsorts, and had a nurse/ carer with him.... but nevertheless, a unique experience to meet him. I still have a few Mozart sonatas with his handwriting in.... "more tune" !!!! despite the fact that he wrote all the analytical notes for them on page 1 !! ......, and he always reminded me that it was "Denis with one N " !!!!
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 09 Sep 2011, 19:14

John Ogden was wed to a Brenda; not the same woman was it? (after DM carked it, of course - not suggesting bigamy!)
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

User avatar
Johnkie
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 246
Joined: 14 Jan 2011, 16:15
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Johnkie » 09 Sep 2011, 19:34

Gill the Piano wrote:John Ogden was wed to a Brenda; not the same woman was it? (after DM carked it, of course - not suggesting bigamy!)
Ohhhh Gill ..... If only all moderators (and posters in general ) had your sense of humour .... I love it !!!!! :lol: :wink:

Brenda ...... and now you imply, Big Amy .... :lol: :lol: :lol:
Concert Tuner & Technician for 45+ years - North East UK

User avatar
Colin Nicholson
Executive Poster
Executive Poster
Posts: 1829
Joined: 04 Jul 2010, 19:15
Location: Morpeth, Northumberland
Contact:

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Colin Nicholson » 10 Sep 2011, 08:52

Would have been great gossip if the same Brenda!!..... but I think John Ogden was married to "Brenda Lucas" (who became Brenda Lucas Ogden).... I never met her - but she was a concert pianist aswell, and I suspect they may have separated when John went through his manic depression stages (or at least, not together anyway). John arrived at Denis' & Brenda Matthew's house with a nurse. He shuffled me off the piano - thats my claim to fame!! (as tho it was a drug), and started playing some Debussy; I can always remember his long streak of grey hair over his eyes, and tainted in yellow nicotine stains from his heavy smoking. His playing was awesome, and I'll also remember him 'humming' and muttering to himself whilst playing..... that was it, my lesson had ended, and my Dad was waiting outside to take me back to Morpeth... that 5 minutes has stuck in my mind ever since!!
AA Piano Tuners UK

Colin Nicholson Dip. Mus. CMIT CLCM PTLLS
Piano tuning & repairs. Full UK restoration service
http://www.aatuners.com
Tuition ~ Accompaniment ~ Weddings
http://www.pianotime1964.com
Member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen

Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 12 Sep 2011, 23:41

Hi PianoLove...(i love piano too!)

Well to be honest i dont play by ear at all and have always relied on the music to play. I play classical music mainly which is not always easy to pick up by ear unless your of the autistic savant capacity! But your right about analysing and looking at chord structure to help with this. Jazz is very much improvisational so its important to know about chords and i think this helps in other areas such as general memorisation and learning. I think i rely too heavily on my sight reading at the expense of other tools at my disposal such as visual memory of the keys, theory of the music.

I think perhaps the late Denis Matthews had reason to 'force' his pupils to learn pieces by memory because it certainly makes your mind work harder and in ways its not used to. Its alot harder to coast and go on 'autopilot' from memory than it is with sight reading so you have to listen and be more attentive which im sure is good. Im practically forcing myself to learn a few pieces from memory at the moment and although its hard work i can certainly see myself learning them from a more 'broader' perspective even though the process of repetition/ analysis can be a little mundane and unexciting at the time.

Plus like you say its always a bonus to have a few pieces stored away in the noggin for that impromptu time when you stumble upon a piano and dont have your library of sheet music to hand. :lol:

David B
Persistent Poster
Persistent Poster
Posts: 153
Joined: 26 Jul 2006, 09:25
Location: Kent, England

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by David B » 13 Sep 2011, 09:50

I find that I can play from memory a piece that I know very well, but suddenly the flow will snap, and I have no idea what is supposed to happen next :)

I did go on a short course at the City Lit in London, and if you want to learn to play by memory, it needs to be done in a bit more of a scientific way that simply happening to remember it.

I seem to remember that it relies on two things, visual and audio memorising. Visual of the score and the hands, and hearing the music in your head. Some people I think entirely visually memorise (and analyse) the score before going anywhere near a piano.

all too much liike hard work, if you ask me :roll:

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 13 Sep 2011, 15:55

I hate analysing music; it spoils it for me to think 'This is where it changes to G minor' or whatever. However, lots have people have said it helps with memorising. I think I'll just keep blundering along reading the music...:)
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 16 Sep 2011, 16:54

Its true. I like to just listen and enjoy the music rather than breaking it down into some sort of algorhythmic (see what i did there?!) pattern of notes and chords. I was just hoping an accomplished memoriser on here would be able to bring me round to the virtues of learning from memory or whether it unlocks an extra dimension to the enjoyment of playing.

I guess David B is right its not something that can happen incidentally after just playing a piece through over and over again (think thats more to do with muscle memory) but with anaylsing the harmony and using visual cues. Although when we listen to music generally (i.e when not playing/ singing) and are inspired im sure most of us are not thinking 'ah yes and that is a major 7th chord moving through the dominant' or whatever (obviously my theoretical knowledge leaves alot to be desired!) we just enjoy the sound for what it is....

Gill the Piano
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 4114
Joined: 25 Oct 2003, 19:39
Location: Thames Valley

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Gill the Piano » 16 Sep 2011, 18:57

I used to have this argument at university about analysis; I said it was like pulling the wings off a butterfly to find out how to fly. You kill the butterfly and you still can't fly. However out professor was a renowned musicologist specialising in analysis, so you can guess how popular my point of view was!
I play for my own amazement... :piano;

Cascade
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 15
Joined: 22 Aug 2011, 01:32

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Cascade » 18 Sep 2011, 18:14

Well i guess the 'ology' in musicology says it all as i like to think of Music as art and not Science. Science can be a bit cold and clinical. I like the analogy though. Remember someone saying something similar in that you can look close up to a painting and analyse the brush strokes/ detail of it etc., but it doesnt tell you anything more about the person who did the painting. Perhaps applicable a little in this instance...?

Firefox1701
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 11
Joined: 12 Nov 2011, 12:27

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by Firefox1701 » 19 Nov 2011, 18:35

Well, just my humble contribution, but as someone who has never sight-read, playing from memory is second nature to me. To be fair, having never had classical training, I've never attempted any of the more challenging classical pieces, so I can't comment on what it would be like to try and memorise any of those; on the other hand, there are one or two Emerson, Lake and Palmer jobbies that I've learned to play from memory, and they have their moments. Having come up through rock bands rather than the classical stage, though, the ability to sight-read has never been an absolute necessity, and I can't imagine doing it on stage. If it's good enough for the likes of Wakeman and Emerson (amongst others), it's certainly good enough for me. I'd have to say it's not an ability I've ever tried to consciously cultivate, though; just something that's come about naturally through repetition of any given piece. Personally I couldn't imagine playing from sight; it feels like it would be more of a distraction than a help, but then that's probably because I've never done it.

As I say, just my humble contribution ...

dorsetpiano
Junior Poster
Junior Poster
Posts: 23
Joined: 23 Oct 2011, 17:17

Re: Playing from memory...To be or not to be?

Post by dorsetpiano » 25 Nov 2011, 22:14

Isn't there a saying about you need the music in your head rather than your head in the music?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests