Become a Better Pianist with These 5 Simple Tools

Become a Better Pianist with These 5 Simple Tools

Are you trying to become a better pianist but aren’t sure where to start? Maybe you’ve been faithfully playing and practicing for years but feel a bit stuck. Or maybe you’re simply looking for inspiration to keep going.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to become a better pianist, I’ve got something for you! From podcasts to equipment to courses, you are guaranteed to find something unique and helpful on your own piano journey.

Let’s get started!

Click here to read about the benefits of learning piano as an adult.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Track Your Practice

If your goal is to become a better pianist, practice is key! And although this post is full of helpful tools to get you there, nothing can ever replace consistency.

Small actions repeated over and over again add up to big victories.

Victories such as flawlessly playing that piece which once seemed hopelessly out of reach. Successfully sight-reading all types and styles of music. And performing the piece you absolutely adore from memory.

Victory looks a little different for everyone but the common denominator is consistent practice.

Staying consistent has its challenges, especially if you have a busy life. As a mom of 3 who also works full time, I know firsthand how difficult it is to fit everything in. Between homework, housework, and your actual work, life can feel pretty overwhelming. And when you’re a mom, putting your goals and dreams on hold often feels like the path of least resistance.

But is it really easier to simply ignore who you are beyond wife and mom? Is it easier to give up those things which excite you and make life worth living?

Don’t get me wrong. There are times in your life when your focus needs to be on your family. But it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your own goals entirely. It may simply mean you have to shift how you go after those goals.

And if consistent practice is what you’re after, I’ve got the perfect solution for you!

1. The App Designed for Musicians by a Musician

Practicing consistently has been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I would go through stretches where my practice was extremely consistent however these tended to be few and far between. And my playing suffered for it.

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a podcast and was introduced to one of the most helpful apps I’ve ever come across. An app designed by a musician to assist fellow musicians in not only achieving consistency but in getting the most from each session.

The app is called Modacity and it has tons of features to help you become a better pianist. From a metronome to a tuner to recording features, this app has it all!

It even has the ability to track the amount of time you spend practicing each day, a huge incentive to achieve consistency. Adding even 5 minutes a day to your practice total is extremely motivating. And for me, adding more time is enough to overcome any internal objections I may have to sitting down in front of the keys on any given day.

In fact, my back-to-back daily practice record was a few days over 365 this summer when an emotional incident derailed my efforts. I’m happy to say that my practice consistency has now gotten back on track and I am again going after any time I can get at the keys.

Other than the practice counter, the feature I love most about Modacity is the recording feature. There are many times when I’m practicing that I want to record and critique a section of my playing. Modacity allows me to quickly and easily record without any interruption in my practice session. It then gives me the option of whether to save or delete the recording. A truly useful feature which has definitely helped me become a better pianist!

2. Up Your Practice Game

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Mark Twain – The Musician’s Way, pg. 6

Aside from consistent practice, one of the best ways to become a better pianist is to analyze your practice sessions. Are you playing with purpose or simply playing to play? Do you have a goal whenever you sit down to play? And do you know the steps you need to take for improvement?

I will be the first to admit that for most of my piano playing years, I was under the mistaken impression that more practice time = instant improvement. It never occurred to me that the quality of that time makes a huge difference in whether you linger in obscurity or whether you actually become a better pianist.

And it may sound strange but there were so many times I would sit down to practice and had no idea where to start. How should I allot my practice time? What are the best ways to resolve technical difficulties? How do I get rid of tension in my playing? What are the memorization tactics which result in the strongest recall?

I felt completely and utterly stuck.

Despite my frustration, I continued to love playing and desperately wanted to become a better pianist.

My desire to improve led me on a search for answers. Answers for how I could maximize my practice time and actually become a better pianist.

And then one day, I stumbled upon the book that changed everything for me.

The Ultimate Guide to Practice

“We first make our habits and then, our habits make us.”

John Dryden – The Musician’s Way, pg. 20

The Musician’s Way, written by Gerald Klickstein, is a comprehensive guide to practice and performance. This book breaks down nearly every practice-related topic into small, easily understood concepts. From defining practice to creating your ideal practice space to preventing injury, this book covers it all.

  • Wondering how you can solve your own technical issues even if you’re not working directly with a teacher?
  • Curious about the habits of musical excellence?
  • Looking for answers on how you can stay motivated to practice?
  • Struggling with memorization?
  • Are you searching for the key to fearless performances?

It’s all covered in this one resource which I consider essential for all musicians.

To say that this book took my playing from ordinary to extraordinary would be an understatement. It revolutionized the way I approach practice and inspired me on a deeper level.

In short, this book gave me tangible strategies to make my practice not only more effective but more efficient. And who doesn’t love efficiency???

Give yourself the gift of The Musician’s Way by clicking here.

Click here for tips on improving your piano practice.

3. Get Inspired with a Podcast

If you’re a busy person who also wants to learn, podcasts are the best! Not only are they packed full of great information but they are also typically free.

And in the quest to become a better pianist, there are some truly great podcasts out there!

The Bulletproof Musician

Learning to play an instrument generally involves performance at some point. Whether it’s in front of your teacher, a crowded auditorium, various family members, or your dog, there are times when you will have an audience.

And performance opportunities may very well mean performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember but hit its peak for me in college. A couple of years ago, I began searching for answers on how to finally conquer my stage fright and found The Bulletproof Musician podcast.

One of the most compelling aspects of the podcast is that creator Noa Kageyama has personal experience with performance anxiety. Having learned to play violin at a young age, he began to notice inconsistencies in his performances as he got older. While studying at Juilliard, he had the opportunity to take a sport psychology class geared toward musicians. The class changed everything and propelled his career into a new direction.

Noa has spent years helping others overcome performance anxiety and the podcast is full of his very best advice. Although he has the experience to back up his knowledge, he relies strongly on research evidence, an aspect which lends further credibility to his advice.

He also frequently interviews prominent musicians about their own experiences. Listening to personal stories about performance challenges is incredibly inspiring and normalizes the performance anxiety experience.

If performance anxiety is holding you back, I highly encourage you to check out The Bulletproof Musician!

The Mind Over Finger Podcast

“Practicing is not forced labor; it is a refined art that partakes of intuition, of inspiration, patience, elegance, clarity, balance, and, above all, the search for ever greater joy in movement and expression.”

Yehudi Menuhin – The Musician’s Way, pg. 4

All musicians know that practice is the path to mastery. But practice is only effective if you are actively engaging in the process. Mindless repetition and practice without goals gets you nowhere.

If your goal is to become a better pianist, you MUST understand how to make practice work for you.

The Musician’s Way helped me master the basics of efficient and effective practice. And to advance, you first have to understand the foundational aspects of practice.

The Mind Over Finger Podcast transformed my basic understanding of practice into true mastery. It has been a constant source of new inspiration and motivation for me in my own practice.

Host Dr. Renee-Paule Gauthier hones in on most useful practice elements, dissecting each into bite-sized pieces which can immediately be implemented in your own sessions. She also explores a variety of music-related topics guaranteed to propel your musicianship to the next level.

One of the more compelling aspects of her podcast is the interviews she conducts with a wide range of musicians. From conductors to authors to musicians, her interviews run the gamut and guarantee that you WILL discover something useful!

4. Become a Better Pianist with this Essential Tool

The intriguing thing about making music is that it’s simply one moment in time. One tiny sliver of emotional expression in life similar to a ripple in the ocean. Once you play the note, it’s forever gone, never to return again.

Unless, of course, you capture that moment.

I spent so many wasted years trying to critique my playing in real-time. My vain attempts only resulted in mindless repetitions and frustration because the truth of the matter is that you can’t play and critique simultaneously.

Playing and critiquing require two entirely separate thought processes and trying to do both simultaneously mean you’ll do neither very well.

Luckily, there’s an incredibly simple solution which virtually guarantees you will immediately become a better pianist.

Record yourself!

And if you’re looking for ease and quality, look no further than the Blue Yeti USB microphone.

After I became serious about improving my piano skills a couple years ago, I searched high and low for the absolute best in recording. My goal was to find something which was both easy to operate and of the highest quality. This particular microphone checked off both those boxes.

The Blue Yeti USB microphone requires no complicated set-ups or adjustments. Simply plug the USB cord into your computer and begin recording. It’s that simple.

The one piece of advice I will give is that you want to make sure there are a set of headphones plugged into the microphone itself to cut down on background noise. Do this and you will be amazed at the sound quality you’re able to capture with this incredibly reasonably priced equipment! This microphone has hands-down been one of the best investments I’ve made for my own playing.

Check out the Blue Yeti USB microphone in action

5. Invest in Yourself

If you’ve been trying to become a better pianist but have limited access to one-on-one piano coaching, this next one is for you! I would never try to suggest that an online course can replace the value of working closely with an instructor. But there are times in life when you are simply unable to participate in regular lessons.

Maybe you live in an area where the closest piano instructor lives several hours away. Or maybe between work and kids, you simply don’t have time to both prepare for and attend weekly lessons. Maybe there’s a global pandemic and you are hesitant to attend in-person lessons for fear of getting sick.

Ok … if you had asked me about that last one a year ago, I would’ve told you that you were straight out of crazy town. But somehow, here we are. Who knew???

Regardless of why instructor-led lessons are a barrier for you, I’ve got the perfect solution!

Josh Wright is an internationally acclaimed pianist with a passion for helping others on their own piano journeys. He has an array of helpful courses perfect for anyone who wants to become a better pianist.

I have seen incredible leaps in my own pianism after joining his paid course. So much so that I immediately began spreading the word to others about how valuable his courses are. You can read my story of finding his courses and why I recommend others check it out here.

It’s Your Turn

I truly hope you have found this post inspiring on your own journey to become a better pianist! Give something new a try today … you just might be amazed at how far it will take you!

As always, I would love to hear what you found most helpful and whether you have any helpful tips or advice to share with others. Until next time … happy practicing!

Become a Better Pianist Resources

In case you missed them, here are links to the resources discussed above.

Click here to check out The Musician’s Way book.

Go here to check out the Blue Yeti USB microphone.

Click here to check out Josh Wright’s online courses.

5 Benefits of Learning Piano as an Adult

5 Benefits of Learning Piano as an Adult

Have you thought about learning piano as an adult but are not sure whether it would be worth your time?

Maybe you attended lessons when you were younger but never took it seriously and have since forgotten everything.

Or maybe you stuck with lessons for several years and still remember a bit but are now confused about where to pick up again.

I have had countless conversations with adults who tell me they would love to be able to play piano but feel that it’s simply too late to learn.

Each and every time I encounter this situation, my advice is the same.

It’s NEVER too late!

In fact, there are several benefits to learning piano as an adult versus as a child. (I believe there are way more than 5 but for purposes of keeping this post at a manageable length, I had to limit myself!)

In this post, I will be sharing the benefits of learning the piano as an adult, common roadblocks keeping you stuck, and resources for continuing your piano journey.

If you’re already confident that you’re ready to begin learning piano, check out this post.

Benefits of Learning Piano as an Adult

Music has the ability to transport us to a completely different place and time. It has the power to evoke a long forgotten memory or bring out emotions we have tried our hardest to avoid.

Try to imagine watching a movie without music. Pretty tough, isn’t it? Music is the unseen character adding life, passion, and humanity to each and every scene.

Music inspires and motivates on a deeper level than can be achieved in other ways.

And the ability to make music? To breathe life into the melody running through your mind? That is something else entirely!

1. Anxiety and Stress Reduction

I will be the first to raise my hand and admit I have anxiety.

Give me some type of vaguely hypothetical situation and I will concoct a compelling reason why you should be afraid. Very afraid.

Unfortunately for me, anxiety + creativity = excessive worry about completely ridiculous situations.

My tendency to allow anxiety to slowly creep in and eventually take over is one of the reasons I love playing piano the most.

When my brain is busy transferring notes from the page to my fingers, it doesn’t have space left to perseverate.

The integration required between the instrument, my brain, and my body is too complex to allow for any extraneous thoughts to creep in and take over.

And when I’m not fixated on anxiety-provoking thoughts, relief from the sometimes all-consuming anxiety follows.

Interestingly, research has shown that the act of making music is enough to interrupt the normal stress response which is triggered by anxiety.

Even beyond the physiological effects of the stress response is the fact that making music is simply fun!

You may also enjoy reading Elegie in Eb Minor.

2. Playing Piano Boosts Cognitition

Playing the piano is a complex task which requires integration of the motor system and multiple senses.

The pianist’s main goal in balancing all of this is to convey emotion through their artistry.

I don’t say this to intimidate you in any way but rather to encourage thought about the complexity involved in translating writing on a page to an emotional idea.

And where there is complexity, growth follows.

Multiple studies have shown differences in brain structure between people who study music and those who don’t.

This has most dramatically been noted in studies of cognition in the aging population.

In short, cognitive function is better in adults who study piano in comparison to adults who do not. If you’re curious and want to learn more, check out the study results yourself here.

Memory also improves among adults who play the piano.

Although adults typically aren’t taking math and reading tests on a regular basis, studying piano has also been shown to boost scores in these areas.

It may just be the compelling reason you need to inspire your kids to start learning piano as well???

3. Playing Piano Instills Discipline

Getting better at any type of activity requires doing more of that activity. The more we do something, the better we get at it.

Learning to play the piano is no different.

It requires a certain amount of dedication.

Consistent, high-quality practice results in progression of your skills.

The good news is that learning piano as an adult often requires a degree of discipline that you already have.

Chances are good that you have learned how to excel in various areas of your life. In order to excel, you have already figured out how to put in the work to see the pay-off.

And if discipline is an area you struggle with, there’s good news for you too!

Setting a practice schedule (and sticking with it) can set the stage for discipline in other areas of your life.

Once you have figured out consistency in this area, it’s easier to apply to other areas.

If you are looking for more tips on piano practice, check out this post.

4. Improved Ability to Handle Feedback

Getting feedback from someone else can be hard!

If you struggle with emotional vulnerability, the natural response to feedback often comes across as defensiveness.

And nothing shuts down open communication quicker than being defensive!

But sometimes we need the perspectives of others to make positive changes.

We need input from employers, spouses, and friends to become better versions of ourselves.

Unfortunately, daily life often doesn’t provide a safe space to practice receiving feedback.

Unless you’re learning a new skill under the direction of someone who is more advanced.

A new skill like learning to play the piano.

Learning a new skill takes the pressure off getting feedback.

As a beginner, you’re not expected to know anything. At the same time, feedback is exactly what you need to improve.

Piano lessons are a great way to practice getting feedback in a low-pressure situation. You can then apply this skill to other areas of your life and watch your ability to communicate with others improve as well!

5. Playing Piano Increases Confidence

Although it may seem contradictory, learning a new skill can actually increase your overall confidence.

Learning something new encourages a sense of curiousity. When we are curious, we are far less likely to be overly self-critical.

Our energy is instead focused on learning and growing. As we begin to see improvements, we become more and more confident.

The confidence from one specific area of our lives can spill into all other areas.

Especially if this new skill involves an element of performance.

And whether you are by yourself practicing, playing through a piece for your teacher, or giving a recital, music is performance.

Confidence is an essential aspect of musical performance and is incredibly useful in daily life.

Roadblocks Keeping You Stuck

Now that we’ve covered the top benefits of learning piano as an adult, let’s talk barriers.

Despite the benefits, I know there are a few things still holding you back from getting started. Let’s break them down, one-by-one.

Piano Lessons are for Kids

Although it is true that many people begin lessons as kids, learning as an adult actually has several advantages.

The first is that as an adult, you are choosing to learn piano. No one is setting a practice timer for you. You’re not getting grounded for skipping your lesson.

You call the shots.

It’s up to you to find a teacher you mesh well with. You also get to decide the instrument if you don’t already have one. It’s also entirely up to you whether you take in-person or online lessons.

Your success with the instrument rests entirely in your hands.

And speaking of hands … the second advantage to learning as an adult is that your hand-eye coordination and muscles are fully developed.

Learning certain pieces and specific techniques is now possible. Although kids may progress rapidly in their study of the instrument, they can be held back on further progress due to development.

The third advantage involves attention span and critical thinking skills. Both are much more advantageous to effective learning in an adult versus in kids.

Many kids can only sit and concentrate for ten minutes at a time. Their practice is therefore somewhat limited.

Adults on the other hand can focus for much longer stretches of time.

They also have a greater capacity to integrate music theory and analysis to more effectively learn music. This is one aspect of playing where I continue to feel somewhat disadvantaged.

Although I did have elements of music theory in my lessons from a very young age, I didn’t fully appreciate it until I was older. By that time, I feel that I had already developed my own specific way for learning pieces without the theory component.

I continue to accommodate for this deficit today and am making progress but feel that learning piano as an adult is a major asset in this area!

Time (Or Lack Thereof)

I get it. Your day is busy. Maybe even crazy. I’m sure there are days which pass so quickly you are left wondering where the time went when your head hits the pillow at night.

I have those days too.

But do you really want to spend your days wondering where the time went?

Or would you rather use the time you have been given to pursue your biggest goals and dreams?

Learning piano as an adult may seem like it will take an enormous amount of time and energy.

Depending upon your goals, it will.

Guess what though?

You don’t have to expend all that energy in one day. Practice is actually more beneficial if broken into small, very intentional, chunks of time.

You may also enjoy reading this post about how to find more time in your day.

There are days when I only have 10 minutes to devote to practice.

But I make the most of it and look forward to the days when I’m able to practice more.

Every minute adds up to better and better playing.

The time will pass anyway. You might as well make the most out of it!

You may also enjoy reading this post about how to be more intentional with your time.

Finding a Teacher

Thanks to technology, the days of traveling to your piano teacher’s house for lessons are gone.

Maybe.

There are still plenty of teachers who continue to offer lessons this way.

And learning this way continues to be the preferred method for many people.

But what are your options if you don’t have a teacher nearby? Or if you don’t have time to devote to driving to the teacher?

You could choose to attend lessons online or subscribe to a membership website dedicated to helping people learn to play piano.

One such membership website also has a Facebook group for others who are also learning to play.

I am personally part of one of these websites and have found it a great supplement to my existing knowledge.

You may also find this website helpful if you already have a solid foundation in piano basics but are looking to start again.

It’s a great option if geography or time limits your lesson options!

Check out an example of the lessons contained in the membership website here.

Finding an Instrument

Not having an instrument is an obvious barrier to learning piano as an adult.

In order to make progress, you will need consistent practice. Practice will require an instrument.

Luckily, you also have several options in this area.

Many people prefer an acoustic piano. Acoustic pianos come in several different sizes and in quite variable price ranges.

You can find a spinet (a smaller acoustic piano) for free on Craigslist. There are also many perfectly acceptable instruments out there for less than $1,000. Keep in mind that in many instances, you get what you pay for.

In the beginning of your studies, you can make progress with a lower quality instrument.

Investing less up front can also take the pressure off later if you decide that piano isn’t for you.

I definitely recommend working with a piano tuner to find an instrument within your budget. They will be able to give you an accurate estimate of the instrument you are considering. Piano tuners can also tell you whether any major work on the instrument is required.

An electronic keyboard is another option if space is limited. A great advantage of these is the option to plug in headphones. You can then practice any time of the day or night.

Keyboards also offer many different setting and recording options. They also come in a wide range of features and prices.

Let’s Get Started!

And there you have it! Five benefits to learning the piano as an adult and the common roadblocks holding you back. For even more information on getting started, check out this post on how to learn piano as an adult.

I truly hope this post inspires you to get out of your comfort zone and go for it! You never know where this one decision will take you. So get out there and get started!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and whether it inspired you to take the first step!

Music Memorization For Pianists

Music Memorization For Pianists

Can we talk shocking revelations for a minute? Despite studying piano from the age of 7, I had never memorized a single piece of music until college. Not “Hot Cross Buns” or “Jolly Old St. Nick.” Not even Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique which I played at state solo and ensemble when I was in high school. No music memorization whatsoever for this gal.

In no way do I blame my beginning piano teacher for missing anything in my early musical education. I have always been very headstrong and I’m sure that I met attempts at encouraging music memorization with resistance. And I honestly did not take lessons seriously when I was younger. I loved to play and learn new music on the instrument! I never gave much thought to truly developing my skills or the incredible benefits that memorization brings to overall pianism. In fact, I had never considered a career in music until I entered college.

Check out this post to learn more about my musical journey.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Sight Reading and Music Memorization

I am also a strong sight reader which often translates to less reliance on memorization. I could simply play the notes written on the page so there was no need to memorize. At the time, I saw no reason to go further in-depth into music memorization than that.

Flash forward to college and suddenly I was expected to memorize my pieces for periodic performances and evaluations every semester. When first confronted with this information, I had absolutely no idea where to even begin this seemingly monumental task. At one point, I vividly remember my professor handing me a sheet of paper with tips for memorization. Although some of the tips made sense, I still found the information disjointed and unclear.

Even after reviewing any information I could find on music memorization, I still had a ton of questions. “But how do I go about transferring the written notes on the page to technically accurate and emotionally compelling performances?” It all seemed so vague. I honestly felt that I would never excel at memorization because in all my 18 years, I had never before done it. Surely it was too late to learn now.

Challenges with Music Memorization

Somehow I pulled myself through my degree, painfully memorizing as required. Despite fulfilling the requirements of the degree, I never fully grasped the bigger picture of memorization. Memorization enables learning a piece to the point where it truly becomes a part of you. In those days, I relied heavily on muscle memory. As discussed below, this is a technique which often fails when in the midst of a high pressure performance situation. At the time, I had no understanding of the different types of memorization. I also had no understanding of how different types of memorization work together to truly solidify memory and strengthen performance. Even though I eventually succeeded at memorization, it remained a task which I despised and I never felt as if I truly mastered it.

After my college graduation, I continued to freelance as a church organist. I also accompanied for everything from high school choirs to singers and instrumentalists competing in solo & ensemble. Accompanying doesn’t require music memorization and as my life became busier, I put it on the back burner.

Benefits of Music Memorization

About a year ago, I decided to once again expand my solo pianistic skills. I absolutely love pieces from the Romantic period, especially composers such as Frederic Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff! I therefore focused on these pieces. After all, what’s the point of learning a piece if you’re not absolutely in love with it? Check out this post for a piece which steals my heart every time! As beautiful as I find these pieces, they are incredibly difficult. In most cases, memorization is required to deliver a performance worthy of their distinction.

Once again faced with the prospect of music memorization, I began searching for any information I could find on memorization. My ultimate goal was to facilitate more solid music memorization and therefore better performance.

First things first … let’s talk about different types of memory.

If you are also looking to get back into playing after a break, check out this post for advice on how to do it!

Muscle Memory

Repetition leads to muscle memory. Creating muscle memory requires a great deal of time and many repetitions. Our brains are constantly looking for ways to automate activities in order to use as little energy as possible. Muscle memory is a great example of automation in action and was the type I solely relied upon in college. Unfortunately, this also resulted in my very tenuous grasp on performance.

Automation does allow for increased attention to the other aspects of creating music however there are also drawbacks. This is especially true if this is your sole form of memorization. The biggest is that if anything impedes your muscle memory during a performance, you’re stuck. If you have no other forms of memory, picking up again with only muscle memory is incredibly difficult. It can be nearly impossible to resume where the slip occurred and continue on as if nothing happened. Unfortunately this is also the least secure type of memorization. It is the first type of memorization to vanish under pressure.

Visual Memory

Looking at information creates visual memories. It is this type which allows you to hear a word and form a picture in your mind.

Visual memory is similar to muscle memory in that it is subject to high rates of recall error. This type of memory is also especially prone to errors in the face of contradiction. Imagine you’re playing through a section of a memorized piece. Suddenly, you question whether the melody travels up to the C or C#. Doubt begins to creep in. You then make a note error two entire measures prior to the note in question. Unless you have a photographic memory, it is nearly impossible to use strictly this type of memorization. Despite the drawbacks, visual memory can be a useful type of music memorization in combination with the other types.

Auditory Memory

Auditory memory is similar to the other three types in that it relates to one of our senses. In this case, it is the sense of hearing rather than those of touch or vision.

This type of memory allows you to recall the piece even when you are not actually playing it. Auditory memory also enables you to anticipate your sound prior to even playing a note. Developing this type of memory is an incredibly useful skill beyond its function in memorization. It does, however, require time and a great deal of practice. Having a solid auditory memory of a piece in conjunction with the kinesthetic and visual aspects solidifies your memory. It is also extremely helpful when engaging the next type of memory, analysis.

Analysis

Although music theory is not always the most engaging subject, it provides an excellent foundation for creating memory through analysis. Knowledge of key signatures, harmonic structures, and cadences can all be helpful beyond passing a music theory test. It can help with memory of a piece through enabling you to improvise a section if your memory does falter.

The ability to find your way through a memory slip contributes in a huge way to confidence on stage. Take just a minute to think about the different types of memory we have discussed. Consider approaching a performance guided only by your finger memory of thousands of repetitions. But suddenly, a baby in the audience starts crying. How would you know where to start up again once distraction strikes? The same can be said of memorizing music strictly through vision. With analysis to back you up, you have the confidence of knowing you could improvise through any potential slip-ups!

Let’s Get Started!

Combining various aspects of each of the four types of memorization creates solid memories of the piece. It also facilitates better performances. Below, I outline the process I use to create solid memorization of a piece. If you’re new to music memorization, start with an easy piece below your current playing level. Memorization can be challenging! Take this opportunity to become proficient in memorization by downgrading the difficulty of the piece.

Your first task is to analyze the piece starting with form. Chunk the piece into sections and determine whether any of the sections are repeats. Do key signatures or time signatures vary through the sections? What about tempo? Does the piece remain in the same tempo throughout or does it have contrasting tempos? How should dynamics you shape dynamics? Spend some time analyzing the harmonic structure as this will make memorization easier.

Engage your auditory memory by listening to the piece several times and write down the emotions it evokes. Dig into the history of the piece to determine the deeper meaning behind its composition. Was it composed for someone in particular? Or perhaps to commemorate an occasion? Are there political undercurrents? What was happening in the composer’s life at the time? Consider the historical context in which the piece was composed. All these details can work together to enhance your understanding of the piece. This information later transforms your performance from mediocre to memorable.

Click here for tips on how to improve your piano playing.

Break it Down to Small Sections

Once you’ve analyzed the various aspects of the piece, it’s time to choose where to focus your memorization efforts first. I typically pick out the most challenging part of the piece to focus on first. You may decide to start at the beginning or even the end. The key to memorization is only attempting memorization of small pieces of information at a time. When first starting out and depending upon the difficulty of the piece, this may only be a note or two. Break the entire piece into smaller chunks of between 2-8 measures and work to memorize each individually. Memorization solidifies over a period of time. Attempting to shove too much in your brain in a short time period only results in a jumbled mess.

I simply cannot over-emphasize the importance of attempting to memorize only small sections per day. The other alternative is to work in short time increments repeatedly throughout the day. The most important concept is to allow your brain to rest in between sessions. If you don’t, your hard work will be for nothing. Your brain will simply jam the information into a jumbled mess instead of creating usable memory.

The Temptation to Read vs. Memorize

If you are the pianist who sight reads well, this is where the challenge really begins. I struggle so much with memorization because my tendency is always to read the notes written on the page. Producing the notes on the piano without written notes in front of you requires different thinking. You therefore have to employ different tactics to bring forth a completely new type of thought process.

When I first began memorizing again, I had to put the music I was memorizing away from the piano. It’s otherwise too tempting for me not to look at! This tactic forced me to visually remember the note pattern to play it. It otherwise forces me to get up and look at it. And let’s face it … we all have a slightly lazy side which prefers to continue sitting whenever possible! While looking at the notes you are memorizing, try to hear in your mind how this will sound. When you go back to the instrument, focus in on how the part sounds. Continue to visualize the notes while you play so you can further solidify your memorization.

Life Hacks Useful for Music Memorization

Track your memorization progress by putting check marks behind each measure as your memorize. When you have tough practice sessions, look back at all the progress you have made. This will motivate you to continue making progress!

Never under-estimate the importance of sleep on your brain’s ability to assimilate this information into your working memory. Memorization is an incredibly active process which requires your full attention. It will therefore be infinitely more difficult if you are not well rested.

In line with this is choosing a time of day when you are most alert. As a working mom of three, I can’t always practice during my ideal times. If you also find yourself in this boat, be patient. Lower your expectations about how long this process will take you. You’re juggling so much right now! Does it really matter whether it takes one month or five to memorize that piece you love so much? The only thing that really matters is that you keep making progess in your goals.

And speaking of making progress … I’m always looking for other great resources on the topic of musicianship to propel me forward. I stumbled across this book a few years ago and have taken an incredible amount of knowledge away from it! From practice tips to performance anxiety to musician wellness, there’s a wealth of information to be gained in it!

Memorization is a skill much like learning to play an instrument. The more you do it, the better you become at it. When you do it correctly, the reward is elevation to a level of musicianship not otherwise attainable. It also comes with a sense of pride in that you are accomplishing something which is meaningful and fulfilling.

Now get out there and start memorizing something! Drop a comment below on what you’re working on and whether you have also struggled with memorization. I’d also love to hear whether you have your own tips and tricks on memorizing!