Thursday, February 2, 2017

Memorizing Piano Music


Memorizing music is a tricky thing.  Even when we think we know a piece well, our memory can suddenly slip.  By bolstering our memory of a piece using several different methods, we can be much more confident and secure in our memorization of music.

Music Theory and Memory

Some students love music theory and others don't.  However, a good understanding of the structure and patterns used in a piece of music are a tremendous aid in memorizing a piece.  This works through a process known as chunking.

Chunking is a process we use to store information in our short-term memory.  Our short-term memory is generally able to store up to seven chunks at one time.  For example, take the following string of letters and numbers ABC1776XYZ3792.  There are 14 characters in this string, but the short term memory is only capable of remembering up seven chunks, so we will need to divided this into larger chunks of letters and numbers in order to hold it in our short-term memory, like this:

Chunk 1: ABC
Chunk 2: 1776 (If you are American, this is easy to remember, as it is the year we declared independence)
Chunk 3: XYZ
Chunk 4: 37
Chunk 5: 92

If you chunk the string of characters into these five chunks, it is much easier to remember! Can you close your eyes and recite it from memory?

Now, we need to relate this concept of chunking to music.  Take the first four measures of the right hand in Clementi's Sonantina in C Major.  There are 23 notes; how few chunks can you make out of this?


There are multiple ways to chunk this, but I've shown one example below.  The first measure and second measures are C major arpeggios.  The third measure contains a descending C major tetrachord and a lower-neighbor figure.  The fourth measure contains a descending G major pentachord.  If you recognize these patterns, it is easy to take these 23 notes and think of them in terms of five chunks.


So, chunking can be very helpful in improving memory from phrase to phrase, but a music theory understanding of overall form is also very important for memory of a full piece.  When I was a young piano student learning Clementi's Sonatina in C, I would sometimes make the mistake of reiterating material from the Exposition during the Recapitulation (including the modulation to V).  After I understood that Sonata form Expositions modulate V, whereas the Recapitulations typically remain in the tonic key, I no longer made that sort of memory error.

Muscle Memory and the Problems it Can Cause

Many, many young piano students rely almost entirely on muscle memory when preparing a tune for a recital or competition.  This can be a major problem because any sort of distraction can cause a memory disruption from which it is very difficult to recover during a memorized performance.  Muscle memory involves the memorization of the muscle movements required to perform a task.  After a while, the task can be performed with little or no conscious effort.  I know that when I get to a certain point of playing something by memory, I find myself thinking more about what I'm going to eat for lunch, or making plans for the weekend, or just about anything else that has nothing to do with the piece I'm playing!  This lack of focus is fraught with peril, and we must make sure to practice keeping our brain actively engaged when playing pieces, even when we think we know them backward and forward.

Here are several things you can do, to keep your brain actively engaged in the piece, by disallowing muscle memory from being the only form of memory being actively used:

  • Practice the piece at a different tempo using a metronome.  If a piece is at a 120 tempo, try playing it at 60.  You might be surprised at how difficult this is to do, if you have been relying too heavily on muscle memory.
  • Play the entire piece with staccato notes.  Altering the touch will force your brain to focus on each individual note.
  • Use shadow practice, meaning that you move your fingers across the piano as usual without fully pressing down the keys.
  • Practice the piece beginning at many different starting points.  Younger players especially tend to want to start over from the beginning when they make a mistake.  This is because they are relying mostly on muscle memory to get them through, with little understanding of the notes or the patterns found in the piece.  Try beginning in awkward spots in the middle of phrases.  It's more difficult to do, but it will increase your brain's engagement in the piece.

Auralizing, Visualing, and Mental Practice

Different students have different learning styles, such as aural, visual, and kinesthetic learning, but of course, musical performance includes all three components to some extent.  Muscle memory largely appeals to kinesthetic learners, but even if you are a kinesthetic learner, you need to bolster your memory with aural and visual memory.

Aural learning is, of course, important for musicians, as music involves the production of sound.  However, often when we are playing, we concentrate so much on the muscle movements and the sheet music, that we aren't actively listening, other than identifying wrong notes or mistakes.  Try to record your performance of a piece and listen back to it.  From a performance perspective, you might hear things that you want to improve, but having a good aural concept of a piece is important for memorization.  Without the sheet music, try to play the entire piece back in your head.  If you have trouble doing this, you probably lack a good aural understanding of the piece.  If this is the case, try listening to the piece in your head while looking at the score.

Visual learning is also very important.  There are two different important visual learning components for pianists - visualizing the score and visualizing the keyboard.  If you have a good visual memory of the score, you can probably remember what page you are on and what part of the page you are on as you play.  Whereas very few people can visualize entire pages of music, it's helpful for memory to be able to visualize the overall form of the piece on the sheet music, and certain patterns, such as chords and scales.

Finally, I want to talk about mental practice.  For me, this has proven to be one of the most effective methods for bolstering my memory of a piece.  Unfortunately, it is a very difficult thing to demonstrate to students.  Mental practice involves visualizing the keyboard in your head.  This is more difficult for some students than for others, but it is a very important tool for learning music.  If you can visualize the keyboard in your head, try visualizing your hands on the keyboard and play the piece visually in your head.  This can be done with our without the score.  Again, this eliminates the reliance on muscle memory and forces the brain to be actively engaged in thinking through the notes and the motions required to play the piece.

Conclusion

As previously stated, most young students rely almost entirely on muscle memory to perform memorized pieces.  Through a more thorough understanding of music theory, using various methods to disallow muscle memory from being the primary form of memory engaged, and from bolstering memory through mental practice, students can greatly improve their ability to memorize music.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Musical arrangements of The Star-Spangled Banner to download

The Star-Spangled Banner sheet music
The American flag, also known as "The Star-Spangled Banner"!

"The Star-Spangled Banner," by Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith is the national anthem of the United States of America.

To purchase and download PDF sheet music of these "The Star-Spangled Banner" arrangements and print instantly, just click on the appropriate link below.  If you would like it rearranged for another instrument, just ask and I'll be glad to do so!

Keyboards/Percussion

"The Star-Spangled Banner" for intermediate piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for easy piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for very easy piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for xylophone/marimba with piano

Handbell Choir

"The Star-Spangled Banner" for 2-octave handbell choir
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for 3-octave handbell choir

Voice

"The Star-Spangled Banner" vocal with chords lead sheets in every key

Woodwinds

"The Star-Spangled Banner" for flute with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for oboe with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for Bb clarinet with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for bassoon with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for alto sax with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for tenor sax with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for bari sax with piano

Brass

"The Star-Spangled Banner" for trumpet with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for trombone with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for French horn with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for tuba with piano

Strings

"The Star-Spangled Banner" for violin with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for viola with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for cello with piano
"The Star-Spangled Banner" for string bass with piano




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Musical arrangements of Silent Night to download

Silent Night, Holy Night
Silent Night, Holy Night
To purchase and download PDF sheet music of these "Silent Night" arrangements and print instantly, just click on the appropriate link below.  If you would like it rearranged for another instrument, just ask and I'll be glad to do so!

Keyboards/Percussion

"Silent Night" for easy piano
"Silent Night" for very easy piano
"Silent Night" for xylophone/marimba with piano

Choir

"Silent Night" for SA choir
"Silent Night" for SSA choir
"Silent Night" for SAB choir
"Silent Night" for TTBB choir

Band

"Silent Night" for early intermediate band

Handbell Choir

"Silent Night" for 2-octave handbell choir
"Silent Night" for 3-octave handbell choir

Woodwinds

"Silent Night" for flute with piano
"Silent Night" for oboe with piano
"Silent Night" for Bb clarinet with piano
"Silent Night" for bassoon with piano
"Silent Night" for alto sax with piano
"Silent Night" for tenor sax with piano
"Silent Night" for bari sax with piano

Brass

"Silent Night" for trumpet with piano
"Silent Night" for trombone with piano
"Silent Night" for French horn with piano
"Silent Night" for tuba with piano

Strings

"Silent Night" for string quartet
"Silent Night" for violin with piano
"Silent Night" for viola with piano
"Silent Night" for cello with piano
"Silent Night" for string bass with piano
"Silent Night" for easy violin (optional piano accompaniment)
"Silent Night" for easy viola (optional piano accompaniment)
"Silent Night" for easy cello (optional piano accompaniment)
"Silent Night" for easy string bass (optional piano accompaniment)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Musical arrangements of Amazing Grace to download


Amazing Grace downloadable PDF sheet music

To purchase and download PDF sheet music of these "Amazing Grace" arrangements and print instantly, just click on the appropriate link below.  If you would like it rearranged for another instrument, just ask and I'll be glad to do so!

Keyboards/Percussion

"Amazing Grace" for easy piano
"Amazing Grace" for very easy piano
"Amazing Grace" for xylophone/marimba with piano

Handbell Choir


Woodwinds

"Amazing Grace" for flute with piano
"Amazing Grace" for oboe with piano
"Amazing Grace" for Bb clarinet with piano
"Amazing Grace" for bassoon with piano
"Amazing Grace" for alto sax with piano
"Amazing Grace" for tenor sax with piano
"Amazing Grace" for bari sax with piano

Brass

"Amazing Grace" for trumpet with piano
"Amazing Grace" for trombone with piano
"Amazing Grace" for French horn with piano
"Amazing Grace" for tuba with piano

Strings

"Amazing Grace" for string quartet
"Amazing Grace" for violin with piano
"Amazing Grace" for viola with piano
"Amazing Grace" for cello with piano
"Amazing Grace" for string bass with piano
"Amazing Grace" for easy violin (unaccompanied)
"Amazing Grace" for easy viola (unaccompanied)
"Amazing Grace" for easy cello (unaccompanied)
"Amazing Grace" for easy string bass (unaccompanied)

To see all of available sheet music titles, click here visit my Sheet Music Plus page.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New music arrangements for Yellow Submarine's 50th birthday!

The Beatles Yellow Submarine PDF sheet music
The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" turns 50 on August 5, 2016.


The song "Yellow Submarine" was included in The Beatles' album Revolver as well as being the B-side to the "Eleanor Rigby" single.  Both were released on August 5, 1966, nearly 50 years ago. In celebration, Samuel Stokes Music is now offering several different musical arrangements of "Yellow Submarine."  These arrangements are great fun to play!

To purchase and download PDF sheet music of these "Yellow Submarine" arrangements and print instantly, just click on the appropriate link below.  If you would like it rearranged for another instrument, just ask and I'll be glad to do so!

"Yellow Submarine" for easy piano
"Yellow Submarine" for xylophone/marimba with piano

Woodwinds

"Yellow Submarine" for flute with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for oboe with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for Bb clarinet with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for bassoon with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for alto sax with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for tenor sax with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for bari sax with piano

Brass

"Yellow Submarine" for trumpet with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for trombone with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for French horn with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for tuba with piano

Strings

"Yellow Submarine" for violin with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for viola with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for cello with piano
"Yellow Submarine" for string bass with piano


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tutorial - "Eleanor Rigby" for easy piano


Purchase and download PDF sheet music of this easy piano arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" here:
http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/eleanor-rigby-for-easy-piano-digital-sheet-music/20195902?aff_id=506037

This is a tutorial for an easy piano arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arranged by Samuel Stokes.  You can purchase the sheet music for this arrangement in the link above.

Visit the following link to see all of my available sheet music titles at SheetMusicPlus.com:
http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/m/SamuelStokesMusic

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here." -Albus Dumbledore

"Ah music. A magic beyond all we do here." - Albus Dumbledore

"Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here." is a direct quote from Albus Dumbledore on p. 125 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (also known as Philiosoper's Stone).  I was 16 when the first book came out and exploded in popularity.  I have to admit I was skeptical at the time.  After all, it was a book about 10-year old children learning magic, seemingly not the sort of thing high schoolers would find very interesting.  In fact, I didn't even engage in the series in any way until the first film came out on DVD.  I really enjoyed it, but I still sort of felt that it was primarily for younger children.  I actually didn't read the books until my mid-20s, but once I got started, I couldn't put them down!  It may have been aimed to children, but it certainly has some very grown-up themes in it, and all that aside, it is highly entertaining story-telling.

As a music teacher, I absolutely love that Professor Dumbledore acknowledges music as "a magic beyond all we do here."  It is such a true statement, and when you take away all of the fictional magical spells from the Harry Potter universe, music remains.  Music has a power like nothing else - it has restorative healing properties for the mind, body, and soul.  Music is a magic we can all access, whether it be through singing, playing, or simply listening.  Perhaps most of all, it shows that even Muggle-born musicians like myself can actually wield a powerful form of magic.  And who knows? If Professor Flitwick ever retires from his post as Hogwarts choirmaster, then maybe I could join the ranks of magical experts at Hogwarts!