[1.III.6.5] Starting the Memorizing Process

Start the memorizing process by simply following the instructions of sections I and II, and memorizing each practice segment before you start practicing it. The best test of your memory is to play that segment in your mind, without the piano -- this is called Mental Play (MP), which will be discussed at length below. How well you understand and remember a piece depends on speed. As you play faster, you tend to remember the music at higher levels of abstraction. At very slow play, you must remember it note by note; at higher speeds, you will be thinking in terms of musical phrases and at even higher speeds you may be thinking in terms of relationships between phrases or entire musical concepts. These higher level concepts are always easier to memorize. This is why HS practice, and getting quickly up to speed, will help the memorizing step. However, to test your memory, you must do the opposite – play slowly, as explained below.

Even if you can play HT, you should memorize it HS. This is one of the few instances in which memorizing and learning procedures differ. If you can play a section HT easily, there is no need to practice it HS for technique. However, for performing the piece, memorizing it HS will be useful for recovering from blackouts, for maintenance, etc. If you test the memory (e.g., by trying to play from somewhere in the middle of a piece), you may find that it is easier if you had memorized it HS.

Memory is an associative process; therefore there is nothing as helpful as your own ingenuity in creating associations. So far, we saw that HS, HT, music, and playing at different speeds are elements you can combine in this associative process. Any music you memorize will help you memorize future pieces of music. The memory function is extremely complex; its complex nature is the reason why intelligent people are often also good memorizers, because they can quickly think of useful associations. Conversely, if you learn to memorize, your effective IQ will go up. By memorizing HS, you add two more associative processes (RH and LH) with much simpler organization than HT. Once you have memorized a page or more, break it up into logical smaller musical phrases of about 10 bars and start playing these phrases randomly; i.e., practice the art of starting play from anywhere in the piece. If you had used the methods of this book to learn this piece, starting randomly should be easy because you learned it in small segments. It is really exhilarating to be able to play a piece from anywhere you want and this skill never ceases to amaze the audience. Another useful memorizing trick is to play one hand and imagine the other hand in your mind at the same time. If you can do this, you have memorized it very well!

Memory is first stored in temporary or short-term memory. It takes 2 to 5 minutes for this memory to be transferred to long term memory. This has been verified innumerable times from tests on head trauma victims: they can remember only up to 2 to 5 minutes before the trauma incident; we saw a most vivid example of this from the survivor of Princess Diana's fatal accident – he could not remember the accident or the few minutes prior to the accident. After transferal to long term memory, your ability to recall this memory decreases unless there is reinforcement. If you repeat one passage many times, you are acquiring hand memory and technique, but the total memory is not reinforced proportionately to the number of repeats. It is better to wait 2 to 5 minutes and to re-memorize again.

In summary, memorize in phrases or groups of notes; never try to memorize each note. The faster you play, the easier it is to memorize because you can see the phrases and structure more easily. This is why memorizing HS is so effective. Many poor memorizers instinctively slow down and end up trying to memorize individual notes when they encounter difficulties. This is precisely the wrong thing to do. Poor memorizers can not memorize, not because their memory is not good, but because they do not know how to memorize. One cause of poor memory is confusion. This is why memorizing HT is not a good idea; you cannot play as fast as HS and there is more material that can cause confusion. Good memorizers have methods for organizing their material so that there is less confusion. Memorize in terms of musical themes, how these evolve, or the skeletal structure which is embellished to produce the final music. Slow practice is good for memory, not because it is easier to memorize playing slowly, but because it is a tough test of how well you have memorized.