Home / Performance & Technique

10 Tips for Memorizing Music

Many student musicians wonder if memorizing is an important aspect of their education. For those who want to excel as performers, the answer is emphatically yes. Memorizing music gives you greater artistic freedom in your performance technique and helps you quickly master improvisation skills. Plus, for some reason, audiences prefer listening to musicians who’ve memorized a piece, rather than those who are reading from a score.

However, many students neglect to understand that memorization is a skill that needs to be developed too. You must learn how to incorporate the best way to absorb music for yourself—individually—because effective recall is strongly connected to your preferred learning style.

Preparation is key. Traditional memorization requires hours and hours of practice. The following tips will hopefully reduce the time required for you to remember a piece, without compromising your results. Because even if you don’t know what learning style you respond to, these tips involve a comprehensive strategy that can help anyone master the skill.

#1. Start small

This might go without saying, but building your memory is a process. A hopeful athlete doesn’t start off with an advanced technique, he starts with something basic and builds from there. The same is true with memorizing. Begin with 8-12 bars of music. Later you’ll be able to focus on longer pieces.

#2. Use sight reading tips

Before you can commit a song to memory, you need to be able to play it correctly and identify all the elements. Pay attention to notes, phrasing, dynamics, and rhythm when reading through the music.

#3. Play it through

Perform the piece completely. Don’t worry about missed notes. Keep the rhythm and do your best. After you finish, analyze the mistakes you made, and just concentrate on those areas. Then play it through again. This technique is a lot like deliberate practice.

#4. Use your other senses

Turn off the lights or close your eyes while you play a piece of music from memory. Just like in Star Wars, use the force...of your instincts, they’re stronger than you realize. You’ll be surprised by the closer connection you’ll feel with your instrument and how much easier it is to understand the music when you have to rely solely on sound and touch.

#5. Visualize the music

When you close your eyes, try to see how the music looks on the sheet. Can you see the notes and dynamics? Most people have recall abilities that are never tried, but nevertheless, still available. Imagine taking a mental snapshot of the music before you play and then referring to it in your mind, while you play.

#6. Watch your hands

This is another great way to incorporate visual learning techniques. Watch the way your fingers move to the next note, apply vibrato, and their placement. Looking at your hands reinforces the sound and performance technique connection, making it easier to memorize music. It also strengthens and forges new neural pathways that will help you learn future pieces.

#7. Write it down

You don’t necessarily need your instrument to memorize music. Print off some lined staff paper and carry it with you. For many people, writing something down solidifies it in their memory. So when you’re waiting in line, or traveling, grab a pencil and your music paper and copy the music you want to memorize. This technique really works. Although it doesn’t add the instrument, it makes it much easier to visualize the music later when you’re playing.

#8. Hum, solfege, or hear the piece

This method is used by vocalists, but can help you memorize dynamics, phrasing and other key elements in a piece. If you can reproduce the song accurately, even only mentally, you’ll have a better grasp when it’s time to practice on your instrument.

#9. Consider the broader aspects of your part

If you want to learn a piece of music from an orchestral composition, consider how your part influences and impacts the piece. Do you play bass and build a feeling of apprehension? Does the violin piece you’re playing provide the contrast or the foundation of the piece? Understanding the emotion your part conveys can help you when memorizing.

#10. Ask other musicians for their tips

One of the best ways to learn effective memorization techniques is to ask others who have already been there. Your teachers, friends, and online music chat buddies (if allowed) can provide a number of new strategies and helpful advice.

Learning to memorize music will enhance your performance technique. Focus on it during your regular practice schedule and before long, you’ll see an incredible improvement in the way you memorize, and the amount of music you can easily recall.

This article sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld

Violin being played