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Can You Memorize a Piece of Piano Music Quickly?

house David Chang Jun 21, 2022

Advanced and professional pianists often require months (if not a year) to properly learn and memorize a piece of piano music. The music is difficult, must be learned to perfection, and must be memorized to the extent that nerves, audiences, and audition pressures won’t have a negative impact.

But is it possible to memorize piano music quickly? If so, how would you go about it?

In this blog, I explain how I would memorize piano music if given a short period of time to do so. And if you would like to take the finest piano lessons in Brooklyn or online, please get in touch for a free consultation.

Is it Possible to Memorize Piano Music Quickly?

Yes, it is possible to memorize piano music quickly. An advanced musician may be able to memorize an easy piece in a day or two, and if the piece is more intermediate or early advanced, a couple of weeks is not entirely out of reach. But there are many, many variables:

  • How many hours per day can you spend working on this piece?
  • How melodically complex is the tune? Is it easy to remember and hum?
  • Is the piece highly patterned, and is material repeated?

We should also differentiate between two scenarios: 1) you have never seen the music or practiced it before, or 2) you have already started learning the technique, but you haven’t focused on memorizing the music.

In the case of the former, you can only memorize very easy piano music quickly. Even a Chopin Nocturne would probably be impossible to memorize in a week if you’ve never played it before, unless your technique is already advanced and you have listened to the music many times.

If you’ve already been practicing the music for a period of time and can play it fluently with the score, you may be able to fully memorize it in a week or two.

If a Piece is Very Easy, You Might Be Able to Memorize It in a Day or Two

Take Debussy’s Prelude No. 10, Canope, for instance. It is highly patterned, requires almost no independent finger work, and is entirely modal. You may be able to hum the melody by memory after one or two listens. If you were desperate, you would probably be able to memorize this in a day.

Quick Memorization Does Not Lead to Long Term Memory

Emergency memory won’t help you in the long term. Committing a piece of piano music to long term memory takes weeks or months of work, not in concentrated bursts, but in a consistent, planned manner. If you memorize even a simple piece of music for a next-day performance, you will probably not remember that piece of music a week from now.

Strategy For Memorizing a Piece of Piano Music Quickly

Here are some of the things that I will always do in order to memorize a piece faster.

Memorize Piano Music in Small Sets

They will most likely be moderately sized sets (a measure or two), and I will have to use my problem-solving skills in order to “solve” each one. For each set, I must be able to play it both mentally and physically from memory. When playing physically, I must always be consciously aware of what is coming next in the music. Often, I memorize the sets in reverse order, starting with the set at the end of the piece or section. I will then increase the size of the sets until small sections, then large sections, and then the entire piece is linked together from memory.

Utilize Mental Practicing Techniques

I think it’s important to emphasize again that when memorizing, I will always mentally play everything after I physically play it. Apart from this, it is best to go through “detailed” mental practice as much as possible away from the piano. It is also important to have gained the ability to do “rough” mental practice as well.

Speaking of mental piano practice, read my blog about how to practice piano while you’re traveling.

Practice Loudly With Accents

Practice “all loud with accents,” with the metronome, at multiple speeds, if the piece is technically challenging and/or rhythmic. Practice with altered rhythms and other methods as necessary. If the piece is technically secure, muscle memory will become much stronger and mental practice will become much easier. I will often do this metronome practice in combination with memorizing in sets.

Once I reach the max speed (or whatever speed I can currently manage), I play with the real shape, balance, voicing, etc. and usually it is much easier to get the effect I am seeking.

Record Yourself Playing the Piece

I need to have quick, accurate feedback about my playing and recording myself is an excellent way to attain this. I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of my playing just because I am memorizing quickly.

Listen to Recording of Other Pianists Playing Your Music

I am not really of the opinion that listening to recordings will rob me of all original thought. On the contrary, recordings can educate, inform, and inspire. They can aid me in making many interpretive decisions and even occasionally in just reading the score correctly. It is very important to listen to multiple quality recordings.

Perform For Others as Much as Possible

I will perform the memorized piece for myself at spaced intervals as often as is useful and feasible, particularly if the piece has to be performed in public soon. Each time I perform, I try at all times to be aware of what is coming next in the music. Performance for others as often as possible is very important and performance on different pianos if possible is also very helpful.

Additionally, I will perform the most challenging sections of the piece in random order without warming up. Every performance (and recording of the performance, if I’ve recorded myself) has the potential to reveal weaknesses such as technical insecurities, memory issues, and unmusical playing. The appropriate weaknesses can then be practiced in earnest.

Let Me Help You Memorize Piano Music

I’ve worked with hundreds of highly motivated adult amateur pianists (beginners and advanced), and we always place a significant amount of emphasis on memorizing piano music and preparing it for professional-level presentation. I would love to help you reach your goals at the piano, and I hold a free phone consultation with every student before they enroll.