Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

Memorization on the Cello

How to memorize music effectively on the cello?

In this video, Prof. Mendoes gives you an easy approach for memorizing music on the cello.

Released on February 3, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello everyone. This is Joseph Mendoes with another video for First of all, I want to apologize for not having a video for a while, there's several other projects I was working on and just didn't quite have time. But anyway, today I'd like to talk about something that I feel like is pretty important. It's not so much a technical thing, but more of a kind of mental thing. It's the importance of memorization.

How important it is to memorize. I think it's especially important for string players. You know, well I'll get into why it's important for string players later, but let me just first start off with why it's important generally. It's importantly generally because I think that when you memorize a piece you really internalize it. It really almost becomes a part of you and in a way almost literally it does. It's in your memory. So when you are performing from memory, I think you'll always experience a certain degree of freedom that you otherwise wouldn't have. And I know many of you are scared of memorization. That maybe you're afraid of forgetting on stage. I've even forgotten on stage several times in my life and, you know, it's not so bad when it happens. You learn from it. It's never something that can really cripple you totally.

So there's nothing to worry about there. I just find it's very, very helpful to perform from memory when you can. Now, of course, there's going to be certain circumstances when you have to use music. For example, when you are in orchestra or when you're playing chamber music or when you're playing things like that where it would be kind of strange, you know, to have say in a string quartet everybody but the cellist using music. That's pretty bizarre. So in cases like that you still want to memorize your music but then obviously use the part as you play it.

Now the reason why I say this is because not only does it becomes a part of you then, but also your brain is free to focus on a wide variety of other things. All these technical things that I talk about such as, well we talked about vibrato, you know, getting that nice free vibrato or bow changes making sure that you're able to make really, really smooth beautiful bow changes. All these kinds of things, it's easy to forget about those things when you actually have to sit down to play.

However, when you have a piece in your head and you have it memorized, not only do you have it memorized but you have all the motions that are required to play the piece memorized as well. So all these things that you work on, all these techniques that you work on, become then a part of actually what you're doing. So I think this is actually really critical to be able to perform at your best whether again you are in orchestra or what, trying to memorize your part is really important.

Now, how to memorize is another important question. I mean there's a lot of techniques that I think are useful. I personally like to spend some time with the music away from the cello. Not only to study the piece really in a way that I couldn't with the cello in front of me, but also it helps me to get just kind of the pure musical aspects of it in my head. So I'm not really spending time memorizing going bowings or fingerings here, I am just memorizing the way it sounds, which can be helpful because there's been times, for example, when I have been performing where I changed my fingering right at the last minute because I think of something better. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. But that's not such a bad thing and you're able to do that only if you have the piece itself, the way it sounds memorized.

Not just the bowings and fingerings. I have many students that when they memorize something all they do is memorize the bowings and fingerings and it's very easy to get off if you suddenly find yourself in a weird place. Like you meant to play a fourth finger G, you know on the D string and then suddenly you are in second position and you're not sure how you got there. You know, you can easily find your way out of these problems if you have it memorized really just in terms of the musical aspect apart from bowings and fingerings. However, if all you have memorized is the bowings and fingerings then we have a problem. Okay?

So those are just a few tips for memorization. Again, I think its' really important and I also think it's important, strangely enough, to try and memorize a piece as soon as you can in the learning process. This is very, very helpful. It really not only speeds up the learning process, but it helps you to really memorize all those details and kind of learn with an intensity in the beginning of learning a piece that normally we don't really do.

So, that's what I had to say about that. Please leave your comments down below if you're watching this on YouTube. Please go to and leave your comments there. I cannot respond to comments on YouTube so please I'd love to hear your comments about this idea of mine and I guess that's it. So this has been Joseph Mendoes for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Allesandra on August 11, 2017 @5:19 pm PST
Yep! That's cool for sure regarding memorising the piece as soon as possible , very empowering .
I try very hard to not just think of the bowing and fingerlings now, but also the feel of the string / tension , phrase shape , not with tunnel vision is how best I can describe it .
dkdevereaux * VSM MEMBER * on February 10, 2016 @11:51 am PST
Fourth paragraph, third line of transcript, didn't he say vibrato, not bravado?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 11, 2016 @2:48 pm PST
Good catch, thank you for reporting this! Just fixed Smiley Face
Briana * VSM MEMBER * on February 3, 2016 @5:22 am PST
Great video - glad you're back!

I'm back to the cello after a decade+ venture into singing, which is where I learned everything you said is true. Memorization is so freeing and allows you to be the master of the music and create something new, as opposed to having the music be in charge of you!
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