Have you ever experienced that for most of the repertoires that you learnt during your youth to your adolescence, you are still able to play them from memory well into adulthood? Yet, it takes twice or thrice as much to learn and memorise a repertoire in your adulthood. This is because during our youth, we learn differently than how an adult does. As a child, we accept and absorb all that comes to mind, our memory has more capacity to store that information and we were cognitively more inquisitive.
As an adult, intellectually we have developed a higher level of attention to detail, interpreting and analysing them at a more critical level thus consuming a lot more of our mental capacities than we were in our youth. This entails a great deal of memory since memorisation is not just a question of learning to play the correct notations if one is to play properly adhering to the accurate musical details. This could mean bringing out the counter-melody, humble inner voice, expressing the rhythmic and harmonic features, respecting the signs and choosing the appropriate tempo for a performance and a whole lot more.
Here are 5 things that can naturally help with memorisation:
1. Analysing the Harmony
As we study a piece, analysing the underlying harmony that forms the basis of music will help with the score reading. The homophonic and polyphonic texture (two or more parts each have a melody of its own such as contrapuntal style) can aid with the process of understanding what constitute the sound the composer intended to achieve. For example a dominant seventh of C Major would be G, B, D and F. This can be written in a solid block chord, keyboard style part writing or merely an accompaniment figuration.
Understanding the underlying harmony that involved would reduce the time to learn the notations as one can quickly grasp that dominant seventh of C Major is made up of G,B,D and F.
2. Understand the Scallic patterns
Melodies are made up of scales which can be in a basic form of Heptatonic Scale (7 pitches per octave), Diatonic scales (consists of 7 modes), Pentatonic Scales (5 notes only) runs on both major (omitting the 4th and 7th degree) and minor (omitting 2nd and 6th degree), dominant seventh ( 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th degree of a scales), diminished seventh ( each note is a minor 3rd apart) and so forth.
The ability to identify different types of scales and modes enables players to learn a piece not only quicker but with also much less confusion. Instead of reading notations one after another, a player can, with one glance of the scallic pattern, play them like how it should sound.
3. Analysing Patterns
This comes with your theory training where analysis forms the basis of your ability to discern repetition passages, any imitation used by composers either directly or indirectly or phrases that are built using sequences.
These patterns can be created using rhythmic patterns, rising or falling intervals and scale passages in a format of similar or contrary motions.
4. Employment of Fingerings
When determining the employment of fingerings, players need to ensure an effective use of fingerings to achieve economic movement. Always strive to keep the hand position in one place using the available fingers to group notes and minimise the need to move unnecessarily. Fingerings also have its own patterns and will assist the process of memorisation.
Remembering the transition of hand position into another position will also help with memorisation. By knowing the geography of the passage you are playing can actually reduce the length of time learning a repertoire.
The renowned harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska highly advocated the first and foremost thing to do when learning Bach is to write down fingerings as much as possible.
5. Practice Management
A student may be taught to play the entire bar and stop at the very 1st beat of the next bar. There is a connective motion in our motor movement that may fail to connect between the bars. Stopping on the first beat of the next bar allows the motor movement to capture the motion which helps to register the muscular memory. In continuing the remaining of the bar, pick up from the 1st beat of that bar where student just stopped, play through the bar and stop at the next 1st beat of the next bar.
Until such time the pupil feels confident with capturing the motion, the same process takes place but for stopping at the 1st beat of every bar, subsequently on every 1st beat of every second bar, then every third bar, fourth bar respectively until you mastered the whole section. Before the player knows it, they have learnt to play the whole section with much less barriers.
Memory will certainly ensue with this process of practice and the analytical work involved. It will consume more time but the memory will be much more engrained following this process instead of learning purely notations. It also helps to build confidence, reduce anxieties and increases performance accuracy.