Memorization mistakes are probably the most dreaded of all performance difficulties. But it is possible to learn to avoid making them, or at least minimize the aftermath.
How do you make certain your music is well memorized? I have a few suggestions.
First of all, you need to understand the real nature of the problem. So-called “memory slips” are almost always caused by lapses in concentration or focus, not actually forgetting the music. Playing from memory is like driving on a road with lots of potholes. You may be able to drive around the potholes, or you may accidentally hit one. In your practice, you actually want to try to hit the potholes, so you can locate them and repair them.
But as every driver knows, repairing potholes is not a “once and done” thing. The old potholes come back and new ones form. But the more you practice, the deeper your knowledge of the piece and the smaller and less damaging your potholes, or memory slips, will be.
So these memorization checks are designed to help you find the potholes and pave them over, so you will ride smoothly through the performance.
1. Are you practicing, not just playing, without the music? Can you stop and start virtually anywhere in the piece? Practice the piece backward or from the middle out by sections. Practice hands separately without the music. Practice using different sections as technical exercises. For instance, the arpeggios in La Source by Hasselmans can be played in all the Conditioning Exercise patterns.
2. Can you talk through your piece section by section? Can you push your pedals as you talk it through? Have a meaningful helpful verbal reference for each section, as in “This starts with the E major chord…”
3. Give your mind something to do all the time. You don’t want to sabotage your performance by a concentration lapse. Practice actively focusing on dynamics, on phrasing, on technique, on lyrics, on anything other than the notes. Keep your mind busy helping you, not worrying about remembering what comes next.
4. Mix it up. Move your harp to a different room or just turn it around to simulate the different environment of the concert hall. Play test concerts for anyone of your friends or family who will listen. Play at different times of day.
And always practice in your shoes!
What are your favorite memorization tricks?