Developing the musical memory : tips for pianists

Having spoken of good tuition, hard work and health, I come to another vital consideration, namely, the development of a reliable memory. It has become the fashion for all instrumental soloists to perform in public by heart; it is a habit that has only grown up in the last thirty years, and I do not know that it is always a good one. For the mere presence of the music upon the piano will often give greater confidence to the nervous performer, and ensure his giving a good account of his work, while the absence of it may so obsess his mind with the fear of forgetting that he will be unable to let himself go in the interpretation which he had prepared. However, the public generally, more or less, expects that the pianist should play from memory, and probably, if he has no fear of its failing him, he does under these circumstances give a freer and consequently more inspired rendering of his music. At any rate, it is an urgent point to cultivate a good memory. With many musicians this memory is a gift of itself, and needs only constant and ordered use to make it perfectly reliable. On the other hand, there are frequent instances of very great artists whose memory will play them tricks, and from one cause or another even the best of them have been known to fail at times, often merely from over- fatigue, ill-health, or some preoccupation.

Common mistakes about musical memory : tips for pianists : piano concertos

One of the most extraordinary examples of this happened to a very famous pianist at a concert. He was playing the Concerto of Beethoven in C minor and had arrived at the second subject of the beautiful slow movement which starts with a very similar progression to the beginning of the second subject in the Adagio of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in G minor. The pianist started the Beethoven second subject correctly, and then in a moment of oblivion wandered away into the one in the Mendelssohn Concerto to the astonishment of the audience and his own dismay when he realized what he was doing! It is said that this particular artist never would play in public again without his music, so greatly had he been upset by the occurrence. The pianist has also to learn to control himself in the emergency of forgetting, which is one of the most agonizing experiences that an artist can undergo in public. But if he can only keep his presence of mind, he can often extricate himself from his predicament with the aid of his musical instinct, and that sometimes so cleverly, that his lapse will pass unnoticed by any save the most knowing amongst the audience.

Tips for pianists : How to avoid musical memory problems

To do this of course needs great command of nerve on the part of the performer, but as in every public career emergencies do arise occasionally, it is an essential part of the professional artist’s equipment that he should know how to meet them. His own nervousness is one of the worst demons he has to combat. Even very experienced players suffer from this on the concert platform; in fact, as the artist gets older and understands his responsibilities better he will feel, as a rule, more nervous than the youth who does not realize so much. But his greater experience will help him naturally to obtain the mastery over this difficulty, and even to turn the inner excitement it causes to good account. For when he can command it, this tension of the nerves will stimulate the brain to greater activity and thus will help the performer to give a more vivid interpretation to the music than if he was feeling quite cold and indifferent. I have never known any really fine artist who did not sometimes suffer from nervousness in public, but that need not frighten the beginner,as through constant playing in concerts he will acquire the habit of the platform to a certain extent, and gain the necessary control over himself.