William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Is learning memorizing, or is memorizing learning?

Learn the right path to music memorization

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick gives you a clear path for music memorization by featuring passages from Fitzpatrick's Violin Melodies book.

Released on November 4, 2015

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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

I think that as a violinist I've been fortunate enough to have not had many regrets, but there is one thing, one nagging thing that I do regret. I regret that I did not memorize my quartet parts. It's quite astonishing to me that though I always memorized my concertos and solo pieces, I never memorized, or even considered memorizing my quartet parts. When I think of the freedom and focus that I had by memorizing my concertos and solo pieces and that I did not take advantage of this process with my quartet parts, I'm truly amazed by my lack of lucidity and judgment. So, with that regret stuck in my mind, it begs the following question: Is learning memorizing or is memorizing learning?

Welcome to VirtualSheetMusic.com's "Meet the Expert". My name is William Fitzpatrick and I am the Henry Tamianka professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I am as well Director of MusiShare and the MusiShare Young Artist Program, which is located in Irvine, California.

To begin exploring this question about learning I need to talk a bit about my time living and working in France. After having taught for a few years in the '80s at the Conservatoire de Levallois Perret, which is located in a Parisian suburb, the director told me that because my students were starting to graduate from my class I needed to replace them. He told me that unlike in the US, here I would have to start teaching them from the beginning. Teaching beginners was not at all something I had ever really envisioned or prepared for, but now, forced I was into it so I began seriously thinking about what I would have to do as this would begin in the next fall. I was not brought up through Suzuki nor was I trained to teach those ideas, so just using the books, as some teachers do, was out of the question.

After much discussion with some of my very wonderful French colleagues I decided to make my first book. I called it "Chansons pour les Jeunes Violonistes", or, in English, "French Songs for the Young Violinist." All the songs in the book were songs that were traditionally learned during childhood in France like "Une Souris Verte," in English that would be a green mouse. Or, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon", a traditional French song about a bridge near Avignon, which is in the south of France. The parents absolutely loved the idea of singing along with their child to help them learn the songs on the violin as it gave them the opportunity to be more involved in their child's musical education.

Each song had an illustration surrounded by the words, exercises, and a fingering board linked to the notes on the staff and the keyboard. The key order for the songs was from A major, to D major, to G major, to B-flat major, to E-flat major, and then to F major. And so just like that, well it actually took a year to put it together, I had a starting method for a young French violinist to learn from. But now I wondered just how should I move those students forward after the songbook? You see, I hated the books I grew up with, books like "Tune-A-Day," Wohlfahrt, Whistler, Mazes [SP], the list goes on and on. I decided to think back and to try and figure out when I started to like the music that I was being forced to learn. Doing this made me realize that it was with the Vivaldi A minor concerto and Kayser Etude that I began liking the music I played. I decided to dig into this music and look for the essential ideas one needed to be able to play them.

This study led to my next book which was called "Melodies pour les Jeunes Violonistes", or "Violin Melodies: Learning Tools for the Young Violinist". I composed the book like this: I would write and work on an idea from my research into Vivaldi and Kayser into the long train ride that I took four days a week from Paris to Avon, where we lived at the time. The next week I showed this idea to my older students at the Conservatoire de Levallois, and then, I would revise the composition based on their and my observations. I did this for almost a year and voila, the melodies book was born. The form used in the melodies, for the most part at least, is a simple A-B-A form, so a discussion about phrases is possible. In fact, it's necessary. It's because of this discussion that I can then show the student how to better organize their practicing, because they have learned to break the melody down into phrases.

This kind of practicing is critical to the memory process, as the successful retrieval of those phrases from that long-term memory occurs because of the manner in which they were practiced in. In this case that being through the use of phrases and not measures or lines. Why don't I play the sixth melody for my book for you? Let's break this melody down. First of all measures 1 through 4 are the first phrase in the A part. This gets repeated in bars 5 through 8, so if one learns and memorizes measures 1 through 4, one has learned and memorized measures 5 through 8 as well. With that, we've saved time. This is the beginning of the development of good practicing habits.

The B part's phrase are measures 9 through 12. It as well repeats, so if one learns 9 through 12, one can play 13 and 14 as well. Now there are only measures 15 through 16 to work on. And with that we can now play measures 9 through 16. Now we return to the A part and it has already been learned as it is identical to measures 1 through 4. There is only the ending measures of 23 through 24 to practice and it's learned. Oh, yes, it's important to decide how long to practice these phrases. I suggest students to either use the amount of time, three or four minutes per, or the number of times, six, eight times per. As soon as you have the phrase in hand simply turn away from the music stand and play it like this. Stands over here, I'm turning away.

But if you have an issue, do turn around and look at the music. Once you've figured it out turn away and play it again. By using repetition to learn the phrases we will start the memory process. As simplistic as this may seem it is really quite effective, as it provides a process for storing the information cleanly into your long-term memory. Oh, yes, one of the practice habits that I insist on when using this book is to learn a melody in one week and memorize it the second week, or even better, all in one week.

Let's look again at the steps we need to take to successfully learn and memorize this melody. Step 1 - learn and repetitively practice measures 1 through 4. Step 2 - learn and repetitively practice measures 9 through 12. Step 3 - learn and repetitively practice measures 15 and 16. Step 4 - learn and repetitively practice the ending, which is measures 23 and 24. Step 5 - practice measures 1 through 8. Step 6 - practice measures 9 through 14. Step 7 - practice measures 1 through 16. Step 8 - practice measures 17 through 24. Step 9 - practice the entire piece. Step 10 - at the end of the day's practice session on the melody, make a note of the problem areas and begin with them in the next day's practice. When this is done, repeat steps 5 through 9.

And with that, we have explored the idea that learning is memorizing and memorizing is learning. I hope that this will help you to become more efficient in your practicing and it will lead you to even better performances. If you have a question or a comment, please feel free to post it below. Take care.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

John Crawford * VSM MEMBER * on December 27, 2015 @5:48 pm PST
Professor Fitzpatrick,
I am returning to violin as a retiree after a 50 year hiatus (briefly broken for a year or so about 20 years ago). I get alot from all of your videos. Memorizing has always been an achilles heel for me. I feel like a slave to written music. This video is really inspirational. I plan to give your approach a try and I'll let you know how it goes.
Thanks again,
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:29 pm PST
Please keep me informed!
Maureen F on December 2, 2015 @7:07 am PST
This is very helpful. I have struggled with memorizing music for years. This provides the road map I've been looking for. Thank you.
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:29 pm PST
Member * VSM MEMBER * on November 4, 2015 @8:42 am PST
Wow! This is exactly what I have been looking for!
I bought the Melodies book and can't wait to start it.
Thanks very much for your work on this.
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:29 pm PST
Danielle J on November 4, 2015 @8:02 am PST
Very helpful, thank you for sharing this approach to learning!
William - host, on July 14, 2016 @11:29 pm PST
Sorry for the late reply! Thanks!
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