Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can You Learn a Piece of Music Without Ever Forgetting It?

Tips to improve memorization

In this video, Robert gives you practical tips to improve your repertoire memorization.

Released on March 30, 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

Hi, this is Robert Estrin with and And today's question is, is it possible to learn a piece so well that you'll never forget it? This is a great question. You know, someone like myself, who's played for so many years, I sit down and play and people wonder, "What do you have, a perfect memory?" Well, nothing could be further from the truth, yet there are pieces I can play anytime in just about any state of mind.

So how is this possible, and what does it take to be able to get to the point where you can have a piece burned into your permanent memory? Interestingly, I can learn a new piece and perform it once, and then if I don't play it all for the next few months or a year, it will be very hard for me to remember it. It will come back a lot easier than if I just started the piece. Yet there are other pieces that I just remember. The reason for this, and the secret is, if you have a piece and you've played on a number of occasions in performance, where you've had to learn and re-learn the piece, eventually it becomes such a part of you.

Think of it this way. Imagine being able to forget the song "Happy Birthday" or something like that. It's inconceivable that you wouldn't remember it because, for your whole life, you've sung this tune and it's kind of just totally emblazoned upon your brain. The same thing happens with a piece you play on the violin, the clarinet, the piano. You've played it so many times, it's a part of you. It's unimaginable that you could forget it. Now, I will say this. It's always important to go back and refresh your memory with the score because no matter how good your memory is there will always little details that will creep in that are not accurate from the original score. Yet you can remember the gist of a composition and the overall sound of the melody, the harmonies, and the textures enough to flesh it out, even if the memory isn't perfect.

So my suggestion for you, if you want to have pieces in your permanent repertoire that you always have, play them on a regular basis and play them for people, even in formal performances, will reinforce your memory. So that's the key because you get into heightened state in a performance that is far above the concentration level you might be able to achieve otherwise.

So give it a shot. Your friends will appreciate it, friends and family you play for, and it will help you to solidify your memory so you'll never forget some of your pieces. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Doug Baker on April 4, 2016 @10:28 pm PST
Very helpful. Thank you.
Mike Skirvin * VSM MEMBER * on March 30, 2016 @6:07 am PST
Are there fingering technique drills or practice that helps you recognize which to use when learning a new piece? Do you 'spread' your fingers to stay in contact with the keys when trying to reach a note beyond your normal reach? I am self taught. I would appreciate your help.
Mike Skirvin
Robert - host, on March 30, 2016 @1:18 pm PST
Fingering on the piano is a complex subject. Unlike a clarinet or trumpet which generally have fairly standard fingering for each note, every new piano piece you learn necessitates finding unique fingering solutions.

However, there are certain fingerings which should be learned which recur in your music again and again. There are standard fingering for all major and minor scales and arpeggios.

When learning a piece, you can reduce the music technically into hand positions and fingering patterns which I describe here:

You should strive to connect whatever you can with your hands. Avoid utilizing the pedal when figuring out fingering solutions so that you can hear the connection of notes possible using only your hands first.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on March 30, 2016 @5:30 pm PST
Many piano pieces have some fingering already suggested, printed above the notes. However due to my extra small hands, some are impossible for me, so I try whatever is more comfortable, but I write with the pencil the fingers above each note. What I consider a necessity is that once I have figured out the fingering that works for me, I must stick to that, otherwise I will make mistakes.
Nell * VSM MEMBER * on March 30, 2016 @6:05 am PST
I appreciate learning from your expert knowledge of music. I just started playing the violin again about 6'years ago. Prior to that most of my musical knowledge and experience came from playing violin in the high school orchestra. I remembered from my 1st violin lesson, that I needed to master the bowing first. Lately, I feel, I am hearing a somewhat of a scratching tone when I practice. Do not know if is pressure on the bowtechnique or too much or not enough rosin,clean strings, etc. I just recently purchased a new electric
Barcus Berry Violin. Please send me any articles you have, or give me suggestions to improve my playing. Sincerely, Nellie Allen
Robert Estrin - host, on December 9, 2016 @1:29 pm PST
There are many variables to tone production on the violin. My daughter is a violinist - I wish she was here to answer your question! If you are playing through the Barcus Berry Violin, that could be part of what you are hearing.

Tone production on the violin is affected by the instrument, the bow, type of strings, room acoustics, bowing technique, finger technique and other factors. You may ask violin expert here at VSM William Fitzpatrick after providing him with more information.
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