Since becoming a Mom for a second time I find myself frequently stopping and staring blankly at whatever room I’ve entered… “Why was I in here again?!” My memory certainly isn’t what it used to be.
But the young and fresh minds of our piano students have no excuses and are begging for you to fill them with beautiful and stirring music. Do you have your piano students memorize their pieces? If not it’s time to start. By exercising the brain through memorization you’ll not only improve your piano students skills as pianists (playing from memory is the best way to develop fluency and musicality) but you will also be providing them with memorization skills they will need during their years of schooling… and again when they’re a sleep-deprived parent one day too!
Looking to build that mental muscle? Teach these 4 strategies to your piano students:
1. Dig Out the Bones
My boy students love this activity…. mostly because of the name. And because they get to use a pencil with a skeleton on it. To help with memorization of piano pieces, your students need to understand the “bones” of the piece… meaning the scaffolding on which everything else is hung. Teach your students to find:
1) The form… is it ABA? ABB? Where are the sections that repeat? How many times? Are the repeated sections exactly the same or slightly different? Label these things directly onto their music so they are reminded of these facts each time they play with their music … they’ll learn through osmosis 🙂
2) The primary chords. I’m a big proponent of having students be able to easily identify, find and play the I, IV and V chord of every piece they learn. Your students will never randomly and frantically search for the final note of a piece if they understand these chords. More advanced students can hunt out the entire sections where the composer was clearly working in a “V harmony” etc.
2. Gary and Bethany Eat Dinner After Eight
When memorizing a difficult part of a piano piece, instead of just drilling the section over and over give your students’ brain something to cling to. Come up with a story… the first letter of each word in the story corresponds to a note in that particular section (ie. GABEDAE becomes the heading above). I once memorized the entire left hand of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3 using this strategy. I haven’t played the piece for about 10 years… but I could play the left hand tomorrow if you asked me to. Have fun making up a silly story using each note as the first letter in the words you choose. This works SO well with a left hand waltz pattern too, where the first note in each bar can be difficult to memorize.
3. Trigger the Taz…
Prepare yourself… this one can get ugly… but it works. There are always “those” sections in a piece that your student will have difficulty memorizing. Perhaps it’s a sharp or flat they continually forget, or a left hand chord that always goes awry. I promise you they won’t forget after they “Tazmanian Devil it”. How do you do this? Identify what it is that is causing the memory glitch, and then have your piano student shout, shriek, jump up and down, beat their chest like a gorilla, speak in a Tazmanian Devil-like voice (google it if you don’t know what I’m talking bout) etc. while saying the correct note/chord etc. five times in a row. Let them be as goofy as they like. They will always remember how they sounded when they reach this part in their piece.
4. Break Out Your Inner Poet
Come up with a theme or story for your student’s piece (ie. swimming at the lake, the circus, marshmallows… anything) and then write rhyming lyrics under their melody line. Sing along as they play. Their brain will process the shape of the melody and the overall “plan” of the piece much more quickly if there are accompanying words. We have an amazing aptitude for memorizing lyrics; couple this ability with some really motivating and silly words, and your students will have the piece memorized in record time. The beautiful thing is once you’ve done this once with a student you can re-use your lyrics the next time you teach the same piece!
Piano students need to practice memorizing as much as they need to practice any other aspect of playing the piano. Without the ability to memorize, all of their hard work is at risk of being “lost” the moment they don’t have their books. What use is being able to play the piano if you are continually hampered by whether or not you have your music with you? So jump into teaching memorization and watch it change your piano students’ level of enjoyment and level of aptitude.