When I was thinking of topics for this blog article, I originally intended to write about the importance of memorizing music for recitals and other important events such as juries, competitions, and exams. After asking myself why I thought this was an important skill, I realized that playing one’s pieces without the score is not really the end result one to which one is working. It is the internalization of the piece as a whole that one is always striving to achieve in practice and in the learning process.
When one INTERNALIZES a piece, one can play from memory but also:
- understand all the building blocks of the piece (i.e. notes, harmonies, rhythms, structure)
- make relationships in sequential phrases or other structural ideas
- "hold a piece together" by knowing its total arch
- communicate the character of the piece more freely and effectively by not being bogged down by basic concepts
- have more confidence in the musical performance through a better understanding of the work
It is difficult for even a professional musician to truly know when a piece is internalized from beginning to end; therefore, one can imagine how difficult this task will be for a student while he/she is in the learning process. This is why I believe memorizing pieces is important. Once a piece is “learned,” the question becomes, “how well do you really know this piece” by memorizing it? Knowing the chord progressions, hands separately (for pianists), dynamics, etc from memory really can help a student to realize what he/she has internalized and what parts of the practice have been superficial.
Something that has really worked in my own teaching is not only memorizing for important year-end recitals but also FOR THE LESSON itself (at all levels). When a student has had a piece for a decent amount of time, I ask for him/her to memorize a portion or the whole piece for the next lesson. Here are a couple benefits to this idea:
- students become accustomed to memorizing their pieces and expect it; when recital season comes, they are not surprised or flustered
- it gives students confidence in knowing they can play a piece when they sit at ANY piano they come across
- beginner students feel inspired that they are already playing pieces without the score
- it becomes second nature and they will begin to memorize faster and with greater ease
Therefore, playing with the score is not necessarily a bad thing. The question one must ask is, WHY is the student (or professional) using the score? Is it a crutch? Has the student truly internalized all the aspects of the score? Is the student still reading as if they haven’t seen this piece before?
It is a fine line, but it is up to us as teachers to instill the importance of digging deep and learning their music inside and out for the benefit of the music and also for the student's own personal growth. Lastly, memorization is an ACTIVE process. Neither Google nor WikiPedia can help them. They may just have to bite the bullet and engage, even just for a couple of hours in their practice time.