Throughout high school, I was told about visualizing the piece in my mind. I was told to try to play through the piece in your mind without the guitar and music. The only problem was, I didn’t understand how to do this. How do you develop the ability to do this? It wasn’t until I got to college, that I was given an answer.
At The Hartt School, I studied with Richard Provost, the writer of the book The Art and Technique of Practice. I think the first or second week of classes I was asked to go to the library and read the book. Instead, I bought it and it was the best decision I made my first year at Hartt, because I can now go back to the book whenever I want. In this book, Provost discusses in detail methods of what goes into memorizing a piece. I use these methods and ideas in my own practice and teaching.
Provost talks about four parts of memory needed to have a piece memorized. These are physical, mental, aural and visual. However, just seeing these words might not make sense to many players. This is how I (and Provost) explain each of the four parts.
- Physical – Probably the most common thought of memory, better known as Muscle Memory. This is developing coordination of phsyically getting the notes/rhythm/dynamic/tone color/shifts/etc. Typically we work on this through drilling out problem areas in a piece of music. Plus the simple act of practicing helps develop muscle memory.
- Mental – Better known as analysis. This proves the importance of knowing Music Theory. Understand simple things like the harmony that you are playing and where the basic structual sections of the piece can greatly increase your knowledge of where you are in the piece.
- Aural – It is quite hard to play a piece that you don’t know. Many students complain about this, and it is very simple to fix. Listen to pieces that you are playing, if you have the opportunity to. Being able to hear the piece in your mind allows you to follow along as you perform the piece.
- Visual – Many teachers talk about being able to see the piece in your “mind’s eye”. And it was this aspect of memory that I had the hardest time with. What you visualize depends on the player, but not matter what there is a mental image running through your mind while playing. It could be seeing the score of the piece your playing, seeing your hands moving (right, left or both), or a combination of the two.
How To Develop Your Memory
Sing. This was the single word that changed my life in terms of playing music. For me, singing letter names and counting allowed me to work on 3 out of the 4 parts of memory all at once. I’m able to work on my analysis of a piece but hearing and understanding where the phrases are located. Singing works on my aural recognition of the piece of music I’m playing. Also, by singing letter names, I’m mentally creating an image of the score in my mind. Add counting out loud and now I’ve completed the score by adding rhythm to it.
So sing, don’t worry about how “good” your voice is. You won’t be performing a recital with singing in it. It will take time for you to get used to this concept, but the more that you do it, the more comfortable you become. Also, the easier newer pieces are to work on because this process becomes part of your practice routine.