Learn it by heart with heart

Memorization is a dry-sounding word that conjures up memories of that seventh grade world history class that you always fell asleep in. I fell asleep in history classes until 11th grade when I had a teacher named Gordy who got us to talk about history and make connections. More importantly, he taught us to think.

If we look at this from the perspective of a music student, we want to memorize things so that we can more quickly get to the point where we are playing music. Instead of just going through the motions and placing your fingers where they should go, memorizing something will allow you to get to that amazing state of mental flow in which you are one with the music you are playing

Memorize the music as soon as possible. This way you can put 100% of your attention into playing the tune or exercise, which allows you to focus on improving these aspects of your sound:

  • Tuning
  • Timing
  • Tone
  • Flow

Start small. Memorize the first quarter of a piece, or even just the first few notes. It’s alright if that’s all you manage to memorize on a given day. Master that. Then the next day, memorize the next little phrase and then practice putting the first two phrases together. 

Be patient. If you continue to practice memorization, you will get faster at it and will more easily be able to remember longer pieces.

Memorization frees up mental resources. Once something is memorized you don’t have to think about what you’re supposed to do and you don’t have to stare at tabs or sheet music.

Focus. Now you can turn your attention to playing each note in tune, by playing different intervals from that piece or practicing audiation. Work on your tone by practicing memorized phrases with throwaway bow. Now that you know it by heart, you can loop the piece which will give the music a feeling of flow.

The sooner that you memorize something you care about, the sooner it will sound like music.

To learn more about how to improve your sound take the following lessons:


Three Phases of Learning A Fiddle Tune

Awesome, now go fiddle with it ?

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6 responses to “Learn it by heart with heart

  1. I just did a 4 day music camp where it was expected to play by ear and the instructor was very reluctant to hand out the sheet music. I practically had to beg her for it before getting an ulcer. I am 60 years old and have never played by ear. I can do one quarter then get overwhelmed when we move on. If I get the next quarter, I’ve forgotten the first. I feel like it’s a lost cause ☹️ Should I continue to stress over it? Keep trying? Or just enjoy playing with my music?

    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for sharing this. Sounds like a great challenge you had at camp with learning by ear. It was nice they ended up supporting you with sheet music. Makes sense to keep trying to learn by ear, at your own pace, and respect that it’s good to try it (to any degree) in a higher pressure environment like you did, and that the pace was too quick for you to learn fully by ear at that time. Keep working on it though, as slow as the process may be, it’s so beneficial to develop that skill.
      I have also relied on sheet music for alot of my playing years and find it quite difficult to go the route of learning by ear when I know I could learn it much faster by seeing the music. (Similar to going for the processed snack food that is already made when I could otherwise go into the garden or fridge and take some time to make something from scratch.) I continue to remind myself that the skill of learning by ear is what I need to develop and it is it’s own path, much different than the one I am more comfortable with/impulsively drawn to. 🙂

  2. I have been playing and singing for most of my life. Piano for the most part and I’ve heard been encouraged to memorize music except for recital pieces. Maybe it was just a teacher choice but now my violin teacher (of yesterday) and you are encouraging me to memorize the tunes. I took lessons from her for about 4 months and then she said Play it from memory. She had never before mentioned memorizing the Suzuki pieces from the book.
    Will do, Jason. I’ll start memorizing.


  3. This is very encouraging. I’m going to start memorizing all my favorite pieces. I have a few memorized but not all of them, so I’ll make it a goal. I’ve always felt a little overwhelmed by the prospect of memorization, but now that you said it, it makes sense that it would help me focus on and improve other parts of the tune, if it’s already memorized. Thanks for writing this! ??❤️