Remembering your pieces

By Robert Estrin


The subject in this lesson is about memorising piano music.


 I’m going to give you strategies and techniques for long-term retention. This is a really important subject. Have you ever learned a piece and gotten it to a high level, but after some time you don’t remember it? You put in all that work, and now you can’t remember how to play the piece! Now what do you do? You can go back to the score and play it slowly. That might help you rekindle the music. But today, we’re talking about how to keep pieces in shape.


How many pieces can you keep in shape?

There are only so many pieces you can keep in shape. If you spend too much time with your review pieces, you don’t have time to learn new music. So you have to prioritize which pieces you’re going to keep in shape.


How do you keep pieces in shape after you learn them?

The most obvious thing of all is to simply play them on a regular basis. If you don’t play the pieces you learned before, they’re going to elude you after a while. So play them on a regular basis. If they’re short pieces, play them every day! People do all kinds of exercises just to keep their fingers in shape. Instead, you can use the pieces you’ve learned as good physical exercise for your hands. That way, you get the added benefit of keeping them in your memory.



Is playing through your pieces regularly enough to keep them in shape?

Sadly, just playing through your pieces regularly is not enough to keep them in shape. Did you ever play the game Telephone as a kid? You whisper a message to somebody next to you; they whisper to the person next to them, and it goes on and on. By the end of the class, you end up with a whole different message! The same thing could happen with your music. If every time you play it, it’s slightly different and you don’t realize it, you can end up with a whole new piece!


You have to refer back to the score.

The best thing you can do is get out the score, take your foot off the pedal, and play slowly, delineating everything in a very deliberate manner. You may also want to work with the metronome. For example, let’s say you’re working on the third movement of Mozart’s K. 545 C Major Sonata. You want to practice that piece slowly, exaggerating the staccatos from the wrist and using raised fingers so that the fingers that are up are up, and the fingers that are down are down. By doing this, you’re not just using motor memory. You’re deliberately playing each finger in a relaxed manner. You shouldn’t have any tension playing with raised fingers. It’s just like the stretching of an athlete. If you stretch to warm up before exercising or dancing, it doesn’t add tension. Quite the contrary, it’s a relaxation technique if you do it correctly. Playing very deliberately and slowly, absorbing the score, and solidifying the fingers and the sound is a fantastic way to solidify your review pieces.


You can also just think through your scores!

If you ever have time when you’re waiting in line somewhere or taking a shower, you can play the music in your head! Keep the sound of it, even just the sound of the melody, in your head so that you don’t forget it. Ultimately, the sound is the most important part of your music! Listening to recordings is a great way to keep a piece familiar while expanding your interpretive possibilities. Keep your music fresh by playing it on a regular basis, practicing it, listening to it, and thinking it through. You will be rewarded by having music you can play! What is it all about if you don’t have music you can sit down and play? If you do this enough, and take pieces that you have dropped and re-learn them again and again, then you really will have pieces in your permanent memory! I hope this is helpful for you! 


Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at