Memorization – it’s something our students work on constantly in piano lessons and piano practice. Whether they are memorizing it for fun or for a recital, we as teachers so our best to give them strategies to aid them with the memorization process. Short pieces are so easy for my first years to memorize but as students get older, memorization takes more and more time & energy. And it becomes really important for students preparing for auditions and competitions.
So what should we be teaching them to help? Since all students learn so differently, we as teachers need plenty of ideas to help each type of learner. (If you’re not familiar with the types of learning modalities check out this article by Susanna Garcia – it’s amazing!) I recently began teaching a college student who has memorization difficulties. Since memorization comes very naturally for most of my students, I pulled out all of my reference materials one day to review the different processes and tips to work through with this student.
In this blog post, I wanted to share my favorite approaches for each type of learner and give you plenty of ideas to work through with your own students. I’ve realized that doing things a certain way at the beginning of learning a piece makes the memory process so much easier so some of these start early but have definitely helped many students.
Also I have to note that most of my students tend to be a mix of these learning types (as I am myself!). They have one dominant area that we can emphasize but it helps to approach memorization from new angles and try new tactics. And as always, I would love new ideas for my students so comment below if you have tips to share!
For Kinesthetic Learners:
- Make sure to keep the technique exercises going at every lesson. The more comfortable their hands feel with scales and arpeggios, the less worried they will be when scales and arpeggios appear in their pieces.
- Chord Progressions are important – when they find these in their music, it’s a gold mine! They already know how to play them in any key from practicing each week and when they appear in the repertoire, my students memorize that part within a few days!
- Try playing through sections away from the keyboard. Encourage them to tap it out on the kitchen table or pull the piano lid down to play on so students feel the coordination of the rhythms.
For Aural Learners:
- Listen to recordings – not just before they start learning the piece but several times throughout the learning process. This helps remind them of the mood and sounds created by great artists. However make sure you inspire them to find special moments within the music that they want to bring out differently.
- Listen to hands separately – as pieces begin having more difficult counterpoint or just more happening, it becomes harder to hear everything if they are always playing hands together. Remind students to play hands separately not just to work on tricky spots but to really listen to every musical line so their memory can be deep and solid.
- Practice with your eyes closed – when they think they know a section well enough, take away the visual distraction and listen to the music with their eyes closed. Often, there’s a new musical moment my students find that they didn’t see before when they were busy finding notes or watching the music. It really allows the musicality to take off!
- Say it out loud – say the chord names out loud while playing or try saying the bass note of the LH that’s always moving down through that tricky section. Whatever it is, try verbalizing information out loud to get it to stick even better.
For Visual Learners:
- Analyze the music – know what themes are coming up again or how they have developed/changed. Know your sections and write it in the music from the beginning. And highlighters are awesome when done in an organized fashion that makes sense to the performer.
- Mark patterns – even the little ones. Find the bass progression measure to measure. Look for scales and arpeggios throughout. Figure out when exactly those patterns change. And so on. It takes a lot of detail work but students can memorize so quickly when they know these minute details if this is their strength.
- Make a map – remember this post? Visual learners often love to visualize and draw pictures of what they’re internalizing so use this to your advantage and make a music memory map.
This is by no means a full exhaustive list of all the opportunities to help our students memorize better. I hope you will share any ideas you have found effective for learners of any type. There’s a quote that I always use to remind myself that my students don’t learn exactly as I do and I need to remember to find what works best for them.
When we can incorporate all 3 modes of learning into teaching memorization, students really do encounter fewer difficulties throughout the memorization process. It’s also a lot more motivating to do it when they have success! The same is true for the opposite – if we don’t incorporate all modes of learning into our teaching process students have more setbacks, become less motivated and in the end, even less interested in piano. I hope we can each remember to help all types of learners in every part of our teaching!
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com