I’m on a mission to help musicians learn faster and better so they can practice more efficiently and effectively and perform more confidently and with more control.

To complete this mission successfully, I draw on many resources to make sure I’m giving sound advice to musicians:
• my decades of experience as a professional musician and teacher music-brain-15
• interviews with other musicians and music educators
• books, articles, journals, websites, and blogs that cover everything from teaching music to changing your thinking to a success mindset
• academic research on any topic that can be applied to learning and performing music

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on memorization, and there is a LOT of information available. In no particular order, here are some of the best tips to help musicians memorize more effectively:

1. Memorize Early and Often: Don’t make memorization something special to do at the end of the learning process. Memorization happens as musicians learn to play each short section of the song.

2. Avoid the SAD Syndrome: Practice slowly enough that you don’t continually make a mistake, abruptly stop, go back and fix the mistake, and then move on. This process upsets the learning/memorization process. (I call this process the “SAD Syndrome.” SAD = Stop And Do-it-again. All musicians must avoid the SAD Syndrome to memorize successfully.)

3. Slow Down: Learn sections very slowly, so the muscles learn correctly the first time. When musicians play too quickly, they make mistakes over and over again. What ends up getting memorized are the mistakes!

4. Break It Down: Learn just one section at a time. This is known as learning “chunks” and chunking is probably the most recommended memorization tool for musicians.

5. Build Backwards: Once the musician can play each section accurately, play the last section. Then, play the last two sections. Then, the last three. Continue until you play the whole song.

6. Keep Listening: Listen to recordings of the song many times a day, before and during the learning process.

7. Sing and Play: Sing one section, then play it.

8. Differentiate Similar Sections: Be able to describe specific differences in similar sections. For instance: “The third section is just like the first section, but it ends on the high A instead of the low A.”

9. Don’t Go Top to Bottom: Do not work on a song from start to finish every time. According to learning specialists, this will most likely result in memory difficulties two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through.

10. Randomize the Order: Play the sections in random order, just to make sure you know each one individually.

11. Memorize from Recordings, not from Sheet Music: The memorization process is easier if you know how the music sounds, not just how it looks on paper. memory-headphones

12. Describe the Sections: If you can describe all the sections of your song (what order they’re in, how long each is, something specific about each section that helps your memory), they will be easier to play. It may seem strange to describe them using language, but these ideas will help you when you’re performing.

13. Try a Performance: It can be useful to run through an entire song when you think you know it. Even if you play some mistakes, it’s a good experience. Then, you can go back to the sheet music or recording to help fix what was broken.

14. See the Music: If you are using sheet music to learn a song, it can be helpful to see the written-out notes in your mind. You can “see” the notes on the top of page 4 as you play from memory.

15. Write It Down: See if you can write out the song form from memory.

16. Practice Away from Your Instrument: Visualize. Visualize. Visualize. Can you picture yourself playing flawlessly all the way through the song?

17. Look for Patterns: Especially in very complex music, seeing related patterns can help you learn and memorize more quickly. Also, you may need to play patterns that you already know well like scales and arpeggios. Define these patterns as you come across them.

18. Give Yourself a Break: Don’t try to do too much memorization at once. Mix in some other items on your practice list. This is what psychology researchers call “interleaving practice.”

19. Tell a Story: Many musicians find it helpful to assign characters, moods, colors, stories, metaphors, and other ideas to specific sections of a song in order to remember them better.

20. Vary Tempos: Playing very slowly is best for muscle memory. But, it’s important to be able to play your song faster than performance tempo too. This gives you the control you’ll need in a performance if you find yourself playing faster than you planned!

I’ll be writing about many of these memorization methods in future blog posts. Stay tuned!

And, if you have some memorization tips I didn’t include here, please leave a comment with your tips.

2 Responses to “20 Memorization Tips”  

  1. 1 E Sayuri

    These are great tips…that I will apply to the repertoire that I’m currently learning and get back on the comment board to let you know how it goes….

  2. 2 Greco

    I like that performance tip. Recalling information is a good way to practice and see how much you actually know. It doesn’t have to be a complicated performance, just something that forces you to use skills you have been practicing.

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