pianist magazine

Tools for Memorisation

Here is the second part of my article MIND OVER MEMORY, published last year in Pianist Magazine. Remember, everyone who has ever played the piano in public has had that horrible experience of losing their way – including professionals and great artists. Here are some insurance policies you might want to consider taking out. Toold for Memorisation These tools may be used as part of the note-learning process (ideal), or after the notes have been learned, even partially, to check and reinforce the memory. One-finger Practice It may seem perverse to play a line from memory with one finger, but it is a marvellous tool for checking if the music is in the aural/analytic memories or merely in the muscular. If you only know the music by muscular memory, you’ll have difficulty doing this, and if it is only in the muscular memory, it might not be strong enough to withstand the stresses of performance. This technique works especially well for passage work and contrapuntal music (where two voices can be played simultaneously with one finger in each hand). If you are taking one line, you can ring the changes by playing the white notes, say, with one finger in one hand, and the black notes with one finger in the other hand. Making a Skeleton This involves playing only selected components of the music (from memory, of course!): Play the melody and bass lines minus accompanimental or background material Play the accompaniment alone, or the accompaniment with the bass line, etc. Play hands separately from memory, especially the left hand (the ear usually tends to focus on the right hand) Swapping Hands This is a glorified version of practising hands separately, by using both hands […]

The Analytic Memory

I have had several requests for an article on memorisation. Since I already wrote one last year for Pianist Magazine, entitled Mind Over Memory, I thought I would include it here. This is Part One, dealing with the most neglected aspect of memory, using one’s brain. Next week, I will give specific tools for memorisation. ***   ***   *** Mind Over Memory (Part One) What NOT to do: Learn the piece with the score until eventually you find you can play it without! While this method may work if you are playing in cosy situations (such as for yourself, a trusted teacher or a few friends), it will often let you down in a recital or exam when you are nervous because the stakes are higher. Why? Firstly, muscular memory tends to be easy come, easy go. Under the stress of performance, muscles tighten and the mind plays tricks that can cause memory cues to break down, sometimes irretrievably and always to the detriment of self confidence. Secondly, we must take steps to memorise actively, and not merely hope we remember. Given that the way we encode the information (practising) is vastly different from the way we decode it (performing), there is a considerable margin for error, and terror! I liken this to the tightrope artist who risks nothing when the rope is close to the ground, but everything when it is several meters up in the air. We have all found that as soon as we remove ourselves from our comfortable and familiar surroundings things can feel so totally different, as though we did not know the piece at all. To the student who complains that they can play it perfectly well at […]

Five-a-Side Team Events: Some Thoughts on Chord Playing

In my youth I was fortunate enough to have some lessons with Philip Fowke, the first one was on Rachmaninov’s rather overplayed Prelude in C sharp minor. I recall the lesson vividly. He showed me a way of practising the chords in the outer sections whereby, with the chord held down, you select a given finger, pair of fingers or group of fingers to lift back up and repeat. It is a good plan to exhaust all the permutations here. I practised in this way assiduously for the next week and noticed a dramatic improvement in my control of the chordal passages, my ability to voice them in the softer section and to play very fully and yet roundly in the fff section. In a nutshell, this way of practising chords helps them to fit like a glove! For the sake of convenience in my own teaching, I have given this a neat label – I call it “tapping”. It is fashionable to rail against what is known as “mechanical practice” and yet tapping, while it is concerned with the mechanics of what the playing mechanism has to deliver at the keyboard, needs to be done mindfully in order to be of any value. We need to concentrate on the finger combinations we are using so that we can go through these systematically. We also need to make sure the holding fingers remain at rest at the bottoms of their keys without pressing, and to check in with our arm to make sure there is no tension building up. For me, mechanical practice is that sort of mindless, repetitive drill pianists used to be encouraged to do in the old days, while reading a newspaper, […]