Monday Mailbag – When Students Can’t Memorize

What happens when students just can’t memorize (I’m one of them; I just don’t have the capacity for memorization)? Do we give up on them as musicians, or is there another way?

We are all gifted in different ways, with different capacities for various skills. In my opinion, it’s more valuable to be able to sight-read with ease than memorize with ease. But that’s probably because I can sight-read well, but have great difficulty memorizing. One of my students and I have this debate frequently because he is…shall we say…significantly lacking in the sight-reading department, but he can memorize effortlessly and play dozens of songs off the top of his head. Naturally, he thinks that memorization is a more desirable skill than sight-reading. Too bad for him that I’m the teacher, so I win the debate by nature of that fact. 🙂

Anyway…my personal philosophy is to never have such a narrow view of what a music education has to look like that it doesn’t leave room for students who have a desire and/or talent to learn, but may not possess the capacity for certain things – like memorization. Along those same lines, unless my students are playing in a competition or festival that requires memorization, I leave it up to them whether they want to perform from memory or with the printed music in front of them. Some play better from memory; some enjoy the challenge of working a piece up to that level; others prefer the security of playing with the book. I’d rather have them play beautifully while looking at the printed music than have a disastrous experience just because I required memorization and they couldn’t handle the pressure.

I guess for me, memorization just isn’t that big of a deal. But I’d be interested to know what others think. Do you require memorization? What if you have a student who just can’t seem to memorize? Is that okay with you?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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