Memorize music…?!

Have you heard any murmurings at home about how students have to memorize music for their recital?

Do your kids wonder why they’re put through this herculean effort?

Well, those are good questions! Let’s look to Niccolo, Franz, and Clara for some answers!


A Romantic Goal–To Memorize Music

You see, the practice of memorizing music for performance began during the Romantic Era (1820-1900). This was when Niccolò Paganini, Franz Liszt, and Clara Schumann were giving concerts around Europe.

Before 1820, performers usually used sheet music in concerts and recitals. They weren’t expected to memorize music.

This was mainly due to the fact that these performers had little time beforehand to prepare.

New music was written and performed so quickly that memorizing it all in a short amount of time wasn’t realistic or expected.

Instead, audiences were looking for the “next big thing”. The idea of reusing music was not a popular one.

But beginning in the Romantic Era, music was written more slowly. Composers began writing “art for art’s sake” instead of for a strict deadline imposed by an aristocratic audience.



Memorize Music  Listen to Paganini’s music

Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840) was one of the greatest violinists of all time. He spent most of his adult life on tour performing his own compositions. His ingenuity and skill developed the way the violin was played. His music pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible on violin. And he was among the first to memorize music for his performances. 



Memorize Music Liszt  Listen to Franz Liszt’s music

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was quite the lady’s man and rock star in his day. He was one of the greatest pianists in history and also quite a sensational performer. Ladies would often swoon and faint during his concerts (picture Beatlemania in the ’50s).  In his youth, he saw Paganini perform and wanted to be the pianist version of Paganini. Liszt wrote his own pieces, but also transcribed many classic pieces by other composers for piano. He would also memorize music for the concerts he performed.



Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was one classy lady. She was a renowned concert pianist. She liked to perform the works of famous composers before her like Bach and Mozart. She also performed her husband Robert’s compositions, as well as those of her close friend Johannes Brahms. She concertized throughout Europe and then became a celebrated piano teacher. She taught her students to play all their solo piece from memory so they would perform with greater finesse and confidence.


A Modern Goal–To Memorize Music

These famous musicians changed the way music was performed.

Of course, other musicians wanted to emulate them. So they began to memorize music as well. Eventually the tradition of memorizing solo music came to be expected.

Today, we musicians spend a lot of time working to memorize music. In my own preparation, I feel I spend half of my practice time striving to learn notes and the other half trying to memorize music.


Practical Benefits to Memorizing Music

Here are some of the important practical benefits we receive when we memorize music:

·      Consistent note accuracy

·      Increased expressiveness and artistry

·      More freedom to engage with the audience

·      Faster speed and agility

·      Increased ability to perform at a moment’s notice


The capacity to memorize music also develops performance skills under pressure.

Students can easily translate this skill to presentations, job interviews, public speaking, and other aspects of non-musical life.


So if your kids are concerned that they have to memorize music, feel free to blame Paganini, Liszt or Schumann.

Let’s help students remember that their performances will be significantly better once the music is safely stored in their memories.

Happy practicing… and memorizing!



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