Meaningful Memorization: A Holistic Approach to Secure Memory
Baylor University MTNA Collegiate Chapter, Waco, TX
Clara Boyett, NCTM; Hayden Coie; Serenity Fung; Kristen Neel; Blake Proehl, NCTM
History of Memorization – Hayden Coie
History of Memorization Pedagogy
Memorization not a traditionally accepted practice until mid-nineteenth century
Researchers and teachers began to explore methods of memorization
Some historical documents that trace the journey from stage to studio:
o 1886: Article published in The Etude, argued to be one of the first documents for
o 1899: Musical Memory and Its Cultivation by Frederick Shinn, an early
comprehensive look at memorization. Mentions four modes of memory: aural,
visual, kinesthetic, analytical.
o 1958: The Pianist’s Art by Powell Everhart talks about memory as being a
standard part of learning and playing piano.
Memorization Pedagogy Today
Early ideas like a systematic approach and four memory modes still used today
Music should be memorized to fully internalize it for performance
Science of Memorization – Serenity Fung
Memory Pathways: how your brain collects and stores outside stimuli to create different types of
memory. These are not sequential and a combination is often employed to create strong
Procedural: muscle memory
o Repeated motion at the keyboard
Episodic: context and setting
o Rehearsing in the performance venue and on actual instrument
Semantic: words on the page and spoken word
o Score study and instruction from the teacher
Automatic: conditioned responses
o Mental rehearsal, practice performing and how to respond to mistakes
Emotional: strength and type of emotion related to memory
o Trace emotional relationship to the piece
Memory Recall: Utilizing Memorized Music – Blake Proehl
Structural cues: movements, sections, sub-sections, and other boundaries
Basic cues: technical details requiring attention
Interpretive cues: conceptual ideas applied to specific spots
Expressive cues: feeling to be conveyed to the audience
Detailed Reviewing: keep score details fresh in mind and search for new ideas
Mental Rehearsal: keep vivid memories and cues
Expanding Rehearsal: short, frequent sessions → long, spread out sessions
Focus in Performance
Pre-performance preparation: mindfulness, breathing techniques, positive thinking,
Stable intention creates secure concentration – scripting, visualization, audiation
Always push forward!
Teaching Strategies – Kristen Neel
Mindful Memorization: creative strategies to engage students’ minds to memorize in different
Visual: Puzzle Game
Aural: Singing Recall
o Three part: Phrasing, dynamics, and notes
o Memorize melody by shorter, then longer segments
Kinesthetic: One Fingered-Hand Exercise
o Play RH or LH part with one finger
Conceptual: Reverse Practice and Linking
o Break piece into sections and memorize starting from the last section and
o Link shorter sections to form longer sections
Combination: Starting Points (visual, kinesthetic, and conceptual)
o Emphasizes knowledge of form
o Choose and number starting points for form, texture, and key changes
Analysis – Clara Boyett
Using Analysis to Strengthen Memory
Analyze form, harmonies, scales, patterns, etc.
Streamlines memorization process and aids in memory recall and retrieval
Should begin early in musical training
Sources and Further Reading
Chaffin, Roger. "Learning Clair de Lune: Retrieval Practice and Expert Memorization," Music
Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal 24, no. 4 (April 2007): 377-393.
Croom-Hatch, Sarah. "Continuous Audition for Piano Performance," American Music Teacher
42, no. 1 (August/September 1992): 14-17, 72-73.
Dickinson, Stefanie. “A Multi-Level Approach to More Secure Memorization,” College Music
Symposium 49/50 (2009/2010): 271-283.
Forehand, Mark R., Kevin Lane Keller. "Initial Retrieval Difficulty and Subsequent Recall in an
Advertising Setting," Journal of Consumer Psychology 5, no. 4 (1996): 299-323.
Inglis, Holly J. “How Memory Works.” In Sticky Learning, by Kathy L. Dawson, Holly J. Inglis,
and Rodger Y. Nishioka. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2014.
Klickstein, Gerald. The Musician's Way. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Sharpe, David Drake. “Applications to the Pedagogy of Memory and Piano Playing: Building
Solid Foundations.” DMA diss., Arizona State University, 2004.
Early Elementary: Russian Folk Song, from Faber Piano Adventures Primer Level
Late Intermediate: Sonatina in G Major, Op. 55 No. 2 by Friedrich Kuhlau
Early Intermediate: Arabesque, Op. 100 No. 2 by Friedrich Burgmüller