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How long does it take you to learn a piece of music?

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  • #16
    At this point I only memorize out of necessity (i.e. the music is fast enough that I can't sight-read it or it's complicated enough that I have to watch my hands). I used to only memorize (because I couldn't sight-read more than a single melody or harmony line) but that changed after I dedicated a decent amount of time to learning how to sight-read better.

    If I had to memorize something, I would start by working it up to speed without mistakes with the music. At that point I would have some muscle memory started and the tricky parts that took some extra practice might already be memorized. After that, I would probably start breaking down the overall structure of the piece (usually by parts that are in different keys and then by repeated motifs or patterns). This is mainly for my brain to keep track of where I am in the song and what signals (unique sections, or slight variations to the patterns) I need to be ready for while my hands (muscle memory) are filling in the gaps.

    If it is super critical that I know the piece inside and out, I spend a while (after I can play the song from memory) playing a game where I pick a pseudo-random spot in the song and play from that point to the end from memory. This ends up serving two purposes for me. First, it gives me the confidence that if something goes terribly wrong, I can start from pretty much anywhere in the song and play to the end. Second, it helps even out the ends of the song. When memorizing I end up playing the beginning of the song more often and I end up being more comfortable with it. By playing the game the end of the song becomes a lot more familiar.
    Sam
    Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
    Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

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    • #17
      I'm learning a lot from these posts. When I was a youngster and sort of a "piano prodigy" in the country Baptist Gospel music sense (I could play about anything if you hummed the tune for me, because all the songs I played were only three or four chords with predictable bass lines). Back then, I wasn't really "memorizing" songs so much as playing them by instinct, as I had a good ear for chords and harmony.

      In later life, trying to become a more serious musician, I realized that my style was not all that great and that playing real hymns and other music required more discipline. It's only been in the past couple years that I've found I could memorize stuff that has more than four chords in it ;-) One day I started playing the Doxology (Old One-hundredth) and realized that I could play it note for note the way it is in our hymnal, since I've been playing it every Sunday morning for going on nine years now. Whodathunkit? Didn't realize the notes had actually gotten into my head!

      And lately I've found that I can play a number of fairly complex hymn tunes without having the music in front of me. Something must have "clicked" without any conscious effort on my part. Now that I know it's possible, I've been doing some of the very things you guys mentioned above, as I make an effort to commit more and more hymns to memory.
      John
      ----------
      *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

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      • #18
        I think it's a good part laziness and "I don't need this anyway" that I find memorising organ music quite hard. It's not that my brain isn't capable of memorising music; there was a time when I could sing both soprano and tenor lines of the choir pieces of all parts of the Christmas oratorio without looking at the music (and of course concentrating on the conductor); also, at the piano, I still find memorising harder than sight-reading, but I can do it.
        I try to combine both analytical thinking (as myorgan mentioned, finding out where things are repeated, looking at chord progressions etc.) and memorising the sound - and a bit of muscle memory too, although I found this far from fail-safe in the past so don't rely on it much.

        I guess I'm too impatient with myself, too. When sight-reading comes so natural, it can be hard to admit that other things don't come as easily. 😀


        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
        I'm learning a lot from these posts.
        So do I. Thanks, and keep them coming!

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        • #19
          I have not memorized anything since I was a student. When I was an active church musician, I played so much literature in a year that I did not have time to memorize. When I occasionally gave a concert, it was an addition to my regular weekly responsibilities. Probably because I have not done it enough, memorization does not come easily to me, but I do see its value.

          I once had my choir sing Thomas Tallis' "If Ye Love Me Keep My Commandments" from memory. They were a bit apprehensive about it, but It is a short piece that they had sung before so I knew that they could easily memorize it. It turned out to be their best performance of the piece. Because no one was looking at music, they were very focused and did an excellent job.
          Bill

          My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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          • myorgan
            myorgan commented
            Editing a comment
            I second what Bill said in his first few sentences above. Sometimes we're too busy performing music to take the time to memorize it. As I get older, I wonder if it's not a young(er) person's game.

            Michael

          • Nutball
            Nutball commented
            Editing a comment
            I have found that having practiced memorizing before, then not for a couple years, then again, I do notice a significant decrease in memory, but forming the skills of memorization again come back very quickly. Somewhere, I think in the book of wisdom, the bible said something like: if you don't learn to do something now, how will you learn it in your old age? So, I wouldn't call it a younger person's game, it's just something you probably want to obtain the skill of early on even if you don't use that skill much, so that it may be easy to use it much later when desired.

          • myorgan
            myorgan commented
            Editing a comment
            I memorized plenty of music–in college. My recital(s) were required to be memorized. However, I can't even play some of the recital pieces now because I haven't played them in so many decades.:-( As one gets older, it takes more time to get it back–especially after heart surgery. It's amazing how much that affects.

            Michael

        • #20
          Interesting reading so far in the thread!

          Memorising:

          As for me, I'm an almost instant memoriser, I always have been. My piano teacher was always telling me not to memorise things, but that wasn't going to happen. I could hear something a couple of times and sing the melody when I was very young and when I started playing piano I found I could do the same for the harmony. Once I started reading music, I found that I could read and learn a section and it would stay memorised - I could then move swiftly on to the next section and so on. My piano teacher hated that - it went against her rather regimented way of teaching.

          When I started playing semi-pro, that ability came in very useful. I'd be able to work out things entirely by ear if I wanted, or I could borrow a book and learn everything in it before giving it back. Back in the days where the shops would stock individual copies of tunes, I could sneak in, read a piece through, memorise it internally, put it back on the rack and then go home and play it. I built up a collection of pieces that I could play from memory - my 'little black book' stopped at around 1500 titles but I'd estimate that maybe I doubled that at one point. Now, well I've no doubt forgotten a lot, but I occasionally set myself a challenge of picking up a book, opening it to the list of titles and trying to play them. Most come back OK, and where the middle eight eludes me it usually only takes a couple of notes to be read from the music and it's back.

          This doesn't apply to classical music, which I will read through, learn and practise and which takes some time to memorise. I'll still keep the music in front of me! But for non classical pieces, where I'm creating my own arrangements as I learn then, I'm delighted that I'm still as fast as I was 50 years ago.

          I have students who, like me, can memorise very quickly. Unlike my piano teacher, I don't discourage this but I tell them that if they are going to memorise something, they have to get it 100% right before committing it to memory. Un-learning a mistake takes more time than learning it right!


          It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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          • myorgan
            myorgan commented
            Editing a comment
            Originally posted by andyg
            I have students who, like me, can memorise very quickly. Unlike my piano teacher, I don't discourage this but I tell them that if they are going to memorise something, they have to get it 100% right before committing it to memory. Un-learning a mistake takes more time than learning it right!
            I am officially jealous! I wish I could learn things like that.

            That said, I do find it harder to memorize Classical music than popular music or hymns. Popular music or hymns generally have a limited chordal development (not always, though), and it renders them much easier to play. For example, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is so chordally consistent, it's easy to play as written or even improvise upon. However, a hymn like [I]For All the Saints/[I] or Wonderful Grace of Jesus are so unique (in their original construction), it would be more difficult to memorize or improvise upon.

            With popular music like some early rock from the '50s, they generally followed a I, vi, IV, V7 pattern, rendering them much easier to memorize. For example, Ritchie Valens' Oh, Donna, the song Heart and Soul, or even Elvis' I Can't Help Falling in Love With You all generally follow that pattern.

            Michael

        • #21
          Andyg makes an interesting distinction between classical and other genres. I have difficulty learning classical music, but I when I used to play cocktail piano, I had no difficulty memorizing those pieces. However, I was not really memorizing written notes in that case, I was improvising on a melody. Those were my own arrangements and I had no difficulty remembering them.
          Bill

          My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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          • #22
            As an aside on the topic of age -- Though I was a teenage piano pounding prodigy, I got much more serious about playing the organ (and music in general) well into adulthood. Though I had a few piano lessons and played in school band, sang in college choir, I knew very little about the organ and had very little time on the bench until I was in my 40's and started playing organ in a country church. Even then, playing in that little church for 17 years, I still wasn't going much beyond my simple childhood country-Baptist-Gospel playing style. I either couldn't or just wouldn't learn to play hymns that I considered "too hard" -- Hyfrydol, Lasst Uns Erfreuen, Lobe Den Herren, Slane, even Diademata. Can you believe a church organist who couldn't play these foundational hymns of the faith? Well, in the country-Baptist-Gospel tradition these are "high church" (along with Nicea) and only "Episcopalians and Catholics" use that kind of music!

            But when I took on the role of organist/choirmaster at my present church almost nine years ago, I realized that I was going to have to get better. The church hired me, I'm convinced, because they were desperate, having been in a year-long search for someone who could actually play the organ and lead a choir and who would do it for the small salary they offered. When I tried out for the job (my wife playing piano along with me) they seemed pleased that we could actually play the fairly simple hymns we'd prepared -- "It Is Well" was one of them, I recall. Apparently they'd had some real doozies apply for the job.

            Week after week of playing the Doxology, for example, and needing to use some of those hymns I'd previously refused to learn, I must have stimulated some circuits in my brain that had been dormant. Within a few months I noticed a dramatic change in my abilities. And in the past two or three years I've found that I can actually memorize some of the most complex hymns. I can only chalk it up to an increased focus on the organ playing, and to having a good organ at home and actually practicing through the week more than I've ever done before.

            So perhaps there is hope for even us in our senior years. Many things don't work as well as they once did, but my music memory seems to actually be improving.
            John
            ----------
            *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

            https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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            • voet
              voet commented
              Editing a comment
              One of the advantages that playing a musical instrument offers is that it is possible for most people to enjoy it for their entire lives. A dancer or other athlete usually reach a point where their infirmities prevent them from pursuing those activities. One of my great joys in retirement is learning organ literature on my bucket list.
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