- Published Jan 14, 2014 in Music 101
- Read time: about 3 minutes
Time to get your face out of that music stand. Memorizing music makes it easier to be creative during a performance. And that's what the audience really came to see.
If you play songs from charts, tabs or standard musical notation, you may find yourself reaching for the music long after you've found your way around a piece. But staying tied to the music is more than an inconvenience—it can actually hold you back musically.
When you give up the written music, you are free to bring more of your attention to creating a fluid and expressive performance. Also, the mere practice of memorizing songs will heighten your understanding of music, as well as increase the speed at which you are able to pick up on new songs. Last but not least, your audience will surely appreciate your making eye contact with something other than a music stand.
Most people believe that memorization naturally occurs with repetition. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case.
Most people believe that memorization naturally occurs with repetition. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case. The best way to ditch the written music is to learn and employ a few intelligent and proven approaches to music memorization.
You will gain the most reliable results from combining these approaches—and remember that regardless of your approach, efficient learning comes from gaining facility with one small bit (usually two to four measures) at a time.
Before you begin to memorize a song, take a few minutes to analyze it, making note of the form and looking for common and not-so-common chord progressions and key changes. When a song makes sense to you, it will be much easier to remember.
Hear that sound?
The first aspect of the music that you should commit to memory is the sound. You may have listened repeatedly to a song and think that you know how it sounds, but chances are that your ear has hooked onto catchy parts and neglected to focus on certain lesser parts.
Go back and listen again, this time with a commitment to hearing every aspect of the music, including any subtle or understated bass or harmony notes. If you are learning a piece from written music without the benefit of having heard a recorded performance, make it a point to listen deeply to your own performances each time you practice.
To complete the memorization of the sound, practice listening to the song with your internal ear. Run it through your head when you are away from your guitar. Be sure that as you listen in your head, you include every detail and keep a consistent beat.
A more visual method.
The next two ways to memorize a song involve visual recall. The first visual method is to take a mental snapshot of the musical notation and mentally review it, the way you would if you were studying for a test in school.
The second way is to recall the patterns and shapes that your fingers make on the fretboard. Practice watching your left hand in your mind’s eye until you can mentally play the piece correctly and without pauses. Playing the piece in your head this way is an important process that will involve the internal ear listening skill, as well.
Keep in mind that this form of recall may unexpectedly fall away when you become self-aware or nervous…
Kinesthetic recall naturally occurs when, after frequent repetitions, your fingers develop a memory of their placement and movement. Keep in mind that this form of recall may unexpectedly fall away when you become self-aware or nervous, so be sure that you have given adequate attention to all of the other methods of memorization before performing your piece in front of an audience.
As you work with these methods, you may need to push yourself a bit to give up the written music. Stay with it and you will discover that you are not only much better at playing from memory than you might have guessed, but you are also a better musician for your efforts!