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Musical Memorization and Setting Priorites

Teacher’s Corner:     by Adam Cicchillitti

The Importance of Musical Memorization and Setting Priorities for Long-Term Learning

As most of you already know, memorizing music is fundamental to the Suzuki philosophy. Suzuki students are expected to recall a larger and larger amount of musical information as they grow older and gain experience through the process of reviewing older pieces while learning new pieces. It may seem like common sense at first, but when I was first introduced to the Suzuki method five years ago I had never made the conscious connection between the importance of reviewing music and learning new pieces simultaneously as a pedagogical practice, it was just something I did naturally. I cannot stress enough the importance of this duality. I will explain how this continues to be an important daily routine for me after over twenty years of playing guitar.

Though there are several applications of memorization and review in a plethora of fields, I will speak to you from the perspective of a professional musician. I have just completed my first semester as a doctoral student at McGill University. These first four months required a delicate balance of scheduling, practicing, performing, recording, teaching and writing. I am required to set short and long-term goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to ensure that I stay on top of all my work. I set these targets to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed throughout the course of the year and my musical memory plays a crucial role.

Currently I am working on two hours of repertoire for recitals in the spring, all of which must be memorized. Naturally, I have to approach my daily guitar practice with a plan. Not only do I need to attend seminars at McGill and teach nearly twenty students at OSS, but I just finished recording an album of Spanish guitar with Analekta and am currently preparing a doctoral recital of contemporary solo and chamber music. The only conceivable way for me to manage this large amount of music is to ensure that every day I have an idea of what deadlines are looming in the short and long term. As a result, I dedicate a portion of my practice to memorization of new material and then an even larger amount of time to review of recently-memorized material. Once I am satisfied with my progress, I begin reviewing older music and then alternate between improvisation, sight-reading, technique and composing, not necessarily in that order.

There is no way to “cram” in music. Musical memorization requires repetition over long periods of time as our brains need rest in order to consolidate the information that has been learned. It takes time for our brains to transfer learned motor behaviours from the short to the long-term memory-centers of our brains. This is why it is paramount that children develop the habit of memorizing from an early age so that it becomes just as normal as all of their other routines. Try consciously making memorization of new music a part of your child’s weekly practice schedule if you aren’t doing this already. If you are, work on bigger and bigger chunks and set more ambitious goals as your child becomes increasingly comfortable. Speak with your teacher about activities that encourage memorization and concentration and implement them as often as you can. I myself am constantly balancing new and old music just like a beginner Suzuki student.

If you want to see my musical memory in action, I will be performing solo and chamber music recitals in Montreal on March 3rd and May 7th and in Ottawa on March 10th and April 13th. I’ve almost finished memorizing my whole program for my first doctoral recital, leaving me several months to polish the final product. On March 10th, I will be performing my album live at St. Bartholemew’s church as part of a CD-release concert. We’ll be going out for refreshments afterwards and everyone is invited! Here is a link to my video of Tonadilla: