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3 Secrets to Memorizing Music

I'd like to welcome guest writer Neil Nguyen from Sublimelody to the blog today. He will share 3 secrets that will assist students and other players in memorizing music. Here's Neil:

“Is there any way to memorize music faster and easier, and learn it well?”

If you are a classical or non-classical player, these 3 secrets will save you more time and headspace by remembering less!

Let’s dive right in.

1. Focus on The Melody and Analyze Its Chords

The 2 most important elements of a song are the main melody and its chord progression.

Your right hand often plays the melody and the left hand plays the chords.

Instead of remembering all the notations on the sheet music, we will put most of our efforts into memorizing the simplest version of melody (in single notes) and its chord progression.

For example, let's assume that you’re going to learn this advanced happy birthday piece: (source).

It is overwhelming with many notations and symbols!

However, if we cut all the harmony notes on the treble clef staff (right hand) and simplify the pattern of chords on the bass clef staff, we will have this version:

Now, it’s much easier.

You can remember the melody on the treble clef staff with ease.

Also, the chord progression on the bass clef staff is simplified with just triad and seventh chords. They are: (F C7 C7 F) (F Gm F C7 F)

Our work now is just to memorize F, C7, Gm chords, and when to play them!

After remembering all the simple melody version and the chord progression, you will find that the advanced piece is just the complex version of the simple one.

It’s harder in 2 ways:

1. The single-note melody is added with more harmony notes and rhythm base on the genre and the chords

2. The left-handed notes are played with a more difficult pattern rather than just the chords alone

Let’s sum up:

Memorizing the single-note version of the melody and the chord progression will help you get the core of a song and to be exact: its structure.

From it, you will be able to learn the song much faster by memorizing fewer notations.

You will also remember the song much longer just like a firm house building on a solid foundation.

2. Eat an Elephant By One Bite At a Time

When learning a new intermediate or advanced piece, we have found it is difficult for us since it’s really long with many new techniques and symbols.

Yes, almost no one can memorize a whole long piece in just one stroke.

The solution? Eat an elephant by one bite at a time.

From the whole piece, we divide it into smaller sections and other tiny sentences (i.e. just 1-3 measures).

Let’s move back to the simple version of happy birthday:

As you can see, the original piece is divided into 2 sections and 4 tiny sentences. Our work now is to focus on the 1st sentence in a practice session. After we master it, we will move to the 2nd one. Then, we will combine these first 2 sentences together to finish the 1st section!

Repeat the same process for the 2nd section: smoothly play the 3rd and the 4th sentence.

And then combine 2 sections to complete the whole piece.

It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

This applies not just to the simple piece above but almost every intermediate and advanced piece.

3. Repeat with consciousness

Now, we knew the structure of a song by single-note melody and its chord progression.

We divided the whole piece into small sections and sentences and know the order of practice.

So, how do we practice each sentence?

Well, try to practice each sentence slowly, correctly, repeatedly with full consciousness, and a motto: "5 times in a row, perfectly."

Practice slowly will help you play the sentence correctly. It teaches your muscle memory the right movements.

Otherwise, if you play the sentence fast immediately, you will probably make a mistake. That mistake teaches your muscle memory the wrong movements, thus, take more time to prevent them!

About repetition with full consciousness, let’s look at the forgetting curves below:

(Source: knowledgeplus)

As you can see, if we recall our first memorization 4 times in the span of 60 days, the information will be stored in our long-term memory.

As a result, if you keep repeating the same sentence until you can play it perfectly 5 times in a row, its melody will go deep into your long-term memory.


These 3 strategies above have accelerated my piano learning. I also use many visuals in my learning journey --- you can take a look at this article.

However, I will share my visual learning in another article.

Now, I would love to hear from you: What are your favorite tactics to remember music?

Do you have any question related to this article?

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

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