Music: Memorized!

As a young student I dreaded the deadline of having my music memorized. Memorizing was boring, not fun stuff like sight reading new music or improvising. Through the grades of Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music I gradually found it harder and harder to "cram" for tests since the pieces got longer and more involved. By the time I decided to get back into playing classical music in university, I had almost completely lost the ability to retain classical pieces (Mozart's Sonata K570 I picked up pretty quickly, but other than that it was a struggle.) 

I remember asking a friend for help and she suggested to try doing whatever it is I do to memorize jazz tunes. It dawned on me I had no idea how I learned jazz tunes either.  In fact, the tunes I know I had mostly learned the way I used to learn classical songs, repeating them over and over again (often conveniently on gigs) until they were just 'in there'. I decided I had to be more proactive with my musical memory.

Over the years two opposite and equally strong ways of learning material have opened doors: aural and visual. Ran Blake has many great ideas in learning by ear, many of which are in his excellent book "Primacy of the Ear".  One that seems obvious is to put recordings of music you are learning into a digestible-sized playlist and listen to it constantly. For denser material, you can throw in slowed-down versions. I like to use the program Transcribe! to manipulate my songs, as you can also fix tuning issues and EQ with rougher recordings and then export an mp3. For visual reference learning, many classical pianists have told me they analyze what they are playing away from the piano (we've all heard stories of musicians learning music on a train), and keep the music in another room. The physical act of getting up to go look at it gives my lazy self extra incentive to stay at the piano and remember how it goes. Lately I use both these methods in short bursts with breaks and I find I can memorize music quicker than I thought possible.



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