Robert Estrin - piano expert

Advanced Memorization Techniques

How is it possible to memorize an advanced piece of music? Learn how in this video.

In this video, Robert teaches you how to memorize an advanced musical piece. The Prelude in D sharp minor by Scriabin is used as an example to show you how to apply this advanced technique.

Released on February 5, 2014

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Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with a technique video, Advanced Memorization Techniques. I have a video on the basic, how to memorize music, which I learned from my father. I got to have the benefit of learning how to memorize at my very first piano lesson as a very young child. So memorization never seemed difficult. You should watch that video. It describes a very simple process of taking one hand at a time at a very small phrase, mastering all elements of the music. Then, putting the hands together, each little phrase, getting that memorized, and connecting each phrase and working through an entire piece that way.

It is a phenomenal system that really works, not just for me and not just for my father, but for thousands of students. My father, my sister, and myself, and students of all of us, have gone on to teaching careers and taught it to countless thousands of people. I can tell you that even people with average or even below average intelligence can memorize music with this system, because it enables you to digest little chunks. It's a beautiful thing. You learn a phrase, you get it memorized, you learn the next phrase, memorize that, put the two phrases together, and work through a whole piece.

Well, sometimes a piece is just so complicated. For example, this [gravitating to] the D-sharp minor, I'm going to play a little bit of the beginning of it so you can see what I'm talking about. All right. So you get a feel for this beautiful, lush, romantic music. But there's so much complication with the music. There are a couple of issues that make it really difficult to memorize. So how can you memorize a piece like this. Sometimes a Bach Fugue can give you similar problems. Particularly, when you have music where there's a middle voice that's divided between the hands that keeps going back and forth, practicing hands separately is very difficult.

One of the most difficult parts of learning a piece of music is putting the sections together. Putting the hands together is one very difficult part, and putting the sections together is another very difficult part. So with a piece of music that is so complex that each hand is not well-defined by itself, but the music actually goes, there are inner lines that are divided between the hands, it's extraordinarily difficult. Sometimes there are techniques you can use. For example, play just that middle voice. Even if it's divided among the hands, play that middle voice to see what that's like.

A very fundamental technique, however, for getting those phrases connected is sometimes you just have to plow through a piece, even though you can't successfully connect the phrases all strung together. So for example, if you were to take the first phrase of this... Let's say you memorize that much. But then, the next phrase, you memorize that, but you can't put it together. Now, sometimes that happens. Yet, if you waited for yourself to be able to get those two phrases put together smoothly, it could take you so long that your practice session, you end up working up so little music.

So here's the secret. Sometimes it's necessary when memorizing to memorize a phrase, get it solidly memorized, memorize the next phrase, get it solidly memorized, try your best to connect those two phrases, get it at least once or twice smoothly. Even if it's not something repeatable and fluid, go on to the next section. That's right. Even though you haven't successfully put the two phrases together really with reassurance and solidity, you go on to each phrases, and then if necessary, the next day when you practice, you try connecting every two phrases. That's right.

Maybe you still can't connect all the phrases. But you'll have the first and second phrase, where you can play those together. You have the second and third phrase, where you can play those together, the third and fourth phrase. So you'd think at a certain point, "Yeah, the four-measure phrases are going to pop and it starts to come together." So that's the secret of advanced memorization techniques, is sometimes try as you might, you are not going to be able to get the music absolutely perfected and refined to the extent you might want. But you still have to push forward, knowing full well you're going to revisit in future practice getting larger sections put together.

All right. Very good. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here,
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Elena on August 30, 2020 @2:37 pm PST
Would you consider please to present a video showing how to re-distribute notes of the left hand in the étude by Scriabin op. 8 no. 12? I’ve played a Scriabin sonata in the past but then a lapse of 20+ years away from the keyboard. Your two videos on memorization should be an essential guide for any pianist beginning or continuing. All your videos are very inspiring with excellent verbal instruction and clear demonstrations on the piano keyboard—THANK YOU!
Robert - host, on August 30, 2020 @4:17 pm PST
That's a great suggestion! I take the second note of the triplets in the left hand with my right hand when they are right under my right hand fingers!
Ken Cory on November 1, 2017 @9:05 pm PST
Some of the best advice I ever received was this: when learning a new piece, memorize each section or phrase and practice it from memory. One of my early piano teachers introduced memorization at the end of the process of learning a piece, and I know now that he got it backwards. If you memorize a passage of music as you're learning it, you'll be so much further ahead. Another tip to aid memorization: practice with your eyes closed. Just try it.
Mary B. on November 1, 2017 @11:08 am PST
I appreciate your excellent and very useful videos. This one reminded me of my teacher when I was in high school. A fine musician herself, she insisted on her students' developing and using memorization techniques. I remember her teaching us the same technique that you demonstrate in this video. One of her favorite memorization methods, though, was to have us work in the same way, but beginning at the end of the piece and working backward - learning one small segment at the time and then, as she said, "stitching the little bits together." I Sixty-five years later, I'm still using her (and your) methods, which do save time and also provide firmly memorized music (and a sense of immediate accomplishment.) Thank you.
Robert - host, on November 1, 2017 @12:40 pm PST
I have heard of this technique and I suppose it can work. However, it is illogical to learn a piece of music this way unless the end of the piece present substantial challenges. Then learning the end first could make sense.

But normally, a piece of music unfolds logically like a play or a novel. Think how strange it would be if you were to memorize a story starting at the end and working backwards!

In a piece of music, themes are introduced and developed just like a storyline. So, learning a piece of music in the sequence it is written will reveal its structure as you learn it presenting a logical progression.
Veragra on July 29, 2015 @4:43 pm PST
where can I find the verbatim transcript of this video? I do not understand spoken english. Thanks.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on July 29, 2015 @5:22 pm PST
Hello. This video doesn't have a text-transcription yet. We will add it as soon as possible. Thank you for asking!
Veragra on July 30, 2015 @3:17 am PST
Thank you very much
lisa garrett * VSM MEMBER * on April 8, 2014 @8:12 am PST
I have a 1911 upright grand steinway and the keys stick.And I am thinking of sending the piano back to NY steinway for overhaul.. We have a local steinway refurbisher but what I understand only NY steinway can replace the soundboard. Not that mine needs to be replaced but should it, since it is a 1911and it has had little work done to it? It still has the original pins. And if I were to have a piano player added to it does it decrease the value in anyway because this piano has history to it. My husband does not play and he would like to listen with the piano player when I am not around. I also have a 1912 grand M steinway that I play too. And I love your website and wish I could play like you I practice twice a day, everyday.
Robert - host, on April 8, 2014 @9:58 pm PST
It is true that Steinway would replace the soundboard of the piano if they were to rebuild it. However, it may or may not have to be replaced in order to get a high level of playing depending upon its condition. There are many rebuilders other than Steinway who can also replace soundboards in pianos.

A player system can enhance the enjoyment of your piano. If installed correctly, it doesn't harm the instrument at all. Eventually the player system will become obsolete, but the piano will always be a piano! It could potentially add some value in the near term if you found a buyer who appreciated having a player system in the piano.

If there is strong sentimental attachment, it could be worthwhile restoring this piano. However, if you were to rebuild this instrument and replace the soundboard, you would have much more invested in the piano than you would ever likely be able to sell the instrument for, even without the thousands of additional dollars it would take to install a player system.

You are welcome to contact me for more insights into what may be a good direction for you to go regarding your pianos.

Robert Estrin
rajiv on March 2, 2014 @9:00 pm PST
thank you v.much..i love the videos
Eddie Bush on February 6, 2014 @8:03 am PST
I just viewed your video about advanced memorization techniques.

I am 69 years old and have played the piano since I was 7. I took private lessons from 2nd grade thru high school...and...I STILL don't know how to all.

I 'got by' by using muscle memory...I think. My idea of how to memorize was to play it over and over and over. And my junior year of high school, my hands landed in the wrong place on the last page of my recital piece...I COULD NOT finish the piece. So, I apologized and went back to my chair to get my music...then I played the last page.

It was very traumatic of course....and teacher just pointed out that I needed to memorize in my HEAD and not in my one ever told me HOW to do that.

I would love to see videos of how to begin to memorize!!!

I can't even play 'Happy Birthday' w/o music, but I am an accomplished player of most kinds of music and have played in hotels and background music. I can improvise and have my own style of playing...but take the sheet music away....and I've got NOTHING!

Thank you,
Eddie Bush
Robert - host, on February 6, 2014 @11:45 am PST
There is a link to a video I made a few years ago on how to memorize. Maybe you didn't notice it. It's a system that has worked for countless people:

I hope this helps!
Addy Oberlin on February 5, 2014 @1:58 pm PST
I can not get any sound and would like to hear the video.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on February 5, 2014 @5:16 pm PST
I am sorry about that Addy. Do you have this problem with just this video or other videos on our site? Please, let me know. Thanks!
christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on February 5, 2014 @9:53 am PST
Very helpful. Tour insights are most welcome. Thank you. Christopher.
Bev * VSM MEMBER * on February 5, 2014 @6:20 am PST
Love your instructions. Can you tell me how to modulate between two pieces having two different keys.
Robert - host, on February 5, 2014 @7:35 pm PST
Modulation usually occurs within one piece or movement of a piece. When going from one piece to another in different keys, this isn't strictly speaking modulation. Modulation involves harmonic changes that establish a new key within a work. When playing pieces in different keys, you simply stop one piece, then start the next observing the key signature so you establish the new key.
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