Monday Mailbag – Memorizing Incentive

Do you have any incentive ideas for a memorizing contest, or something of that nature to encourage memorizing pieces? Some of my students are very beginner, and some are older students who have transferred (or who have REALLY applied themselves). How do you make it equal for both types of students – the 6-year olds and the 16-year olds, working on very different material?

I’m hoping that some others will chime in on this one, because I’m not sure how helpful I will be! For one thing, I don’t make a very big deal about memorization in my studio and I don’t require it for my recitals. Some students are naturally gifted in this area and memorize almost simultaneously with learning to play the piece. Others are strongly note-reading oriented and feel extremely nervous and uncomfortable playing from memory. I fit into the latter category and have had too many disastrous memorization-related experiences to enforce memorization across the board.

That said, there are, of course, certain times when memorization is required – for our state evaluation programs and for competitions. And many times I’ll have students elect to memorize a piece for one of our group classes during the year. In these cases, I have certain strategies that I use with my students to help them learn to memorize effectively, but I haven’t done a strictly memorization-oriented practice incentive in any of my practice incentive themes.

Here are a few strategies that I like to use for memorization:

1. In the Faber Piano Adventures Level 1 Technique and Artistry Book there is a piece called Kaleidoscope Colors. I love to introduce this piece by having the student discuss the patterns they see in the first line. Then I take the book away and have them play it by memory. We do this with each subsequent line so that in a few short minutes they can play the entire piece by memory based upon an understanding of the patterns. We do this a little bit with earlier level pieces, but this is typically the point where I officially introduce the principle of cognitive memorization.

2. Label various sections in the piece with numbers or letters and then write the corresponding numbers/letters on slips of paper. Have the student randomly select one of the slips and then work on memorizing that section. Continue until all sections have been worked on. Then I drill them at the following lesson by randomly choosing sections to see if the student can play them as stand-alone sections.

If you have other suggestions for memorization strategies or contests, I’d love to hear about them! This is an area where I could definitely use some improvement!

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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