7 Surprising Benefits of Memorization

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memorizationDo you memorize your music? You should.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe it’s necessary, or even desirable, to memorize every piece you learn or to play all your repertoire from memory. But I do think it’s a good idea to practice your memorization skills. And the best way to do that is…to memorize.

I have written before that memorization is less about remembering than it is about learning. That old phrase about knowing something “by heart” speaks to the essence of memorization done the right way.  When you have truly memorized your music, you have learned it so well that it has deep roots inside you.  Your knowledge of the music is not superficial, accidental or merely “in your fingers.” It is not just muscle memory. It is more than intellectual understanding. It is visceral.

Many students need to be convinced to try memorizing their music. Those who sightread easily may feel that taking the time to memorize slows down their learning process. Some students don’t see any reason to memorize since they don’t expect ever to play from memory. Others are doubtful about their ability to memorize.

If you are one of these hesitant students, I would like you to consider these seven benefits to practicing your memorization.

  1. You develop the habit of paying attention in your practice. “On purpose” memorization requires in-depth learning of what is on the page, noticing the notes, the patterns, the fingering, the harmonies and more. It is about gathering information, which is a critical component of efficient and effective practice.
  2. Memorization is a useful tool for securing a difficult passage. The trickier the passage, the less attention you want to devote to reading the notes, so that you can pay more attention to playing the notes.
  3. The memorization process helps you become a better musician. It helps train your ears as you associate what you hear in your head with what you are playing. You will find that you recognize patterns and musical form more quickly, which speeds your learning and helps you play with more musical understanding.
  4. Memorized music is easier to play. Once you no longer have the distraction of reading the music, you can play the music more freely and more musically. You have more capacity to refine any aspect of your playing, like technique or expression. In short, you can play your memorized music better.
  5. You can play in the dark. Ok, I put this one in just to lighten (pun intended!) the mood, but I have been in performances during a sudden power outage. It feels good to keep the music going even when the lights are out.
  6. Use it or lose it. Practicing memorization regularly will keep those special learning skills in shape and keep your mental processes sharp.
  7. Memorization helps you feel more connected to your music. Your memorize music is not only embedded in your soul; it is also at your fingertips. You have music you can play whenever and wherever you want. It is a powerful feeling.

Are you feeling energized to try making memorization a regular part of your practice? Would you like some ideas about how to do it the right way, so it sticks?

If so, I’d like to invite you to join me for my upcoming webinar: “Make Your Memorization Stick (So You Won’t Get Stuck)” on Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. Click here to find out how to register. I hope to see you there!

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  • Rob Stone

    In many jobs that I performed as a saxophonist I had to memorize the music or get fired! One group I had to memorize the music, learn the dance steps, sing harmony- all good skills but at the time I thought I just wanted to play my instrument and everything else was “show biz”!


  • Nanci

    I began the harp at 57 and didn’t know how to read music. It was VERY easy for me to memorize as that is a skill I’ve always had. However, I found later that it really hindered my ability to sight read. My teacher would say she could tell I was playing from memory and not reading the notes. She has really worked with me on sight reading. But I agree that it’s great for tricky passages as well as being able to play with more musicality and nuance etc. So it’s a bit of a double edged sword. I prefer to play from memory once I’ve learned a piece.


    • Anne Post author

      Exactly right, Nanci. Reading music is just as important. And here’s something else to consider – the better your music reading skills, the easier it becomes to memorize. I know you are already a very speedy memorizer, but you will probably find that your music learning process speeds up as your reading improves.


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