Discover the First Step to Memorizing Music

Let’s say we want to learn Packington’s Pound. It’s a great Renaissance piece. Not to mention a well-loved party piece.

But it’s three pages long. That’s a lot of notes. And we don’t want to worry about page turns. We want to play it from memory.

So how do we set about memorizing the music? The best way to start is in small sections.

How do We Start to Memorize a Piece of Music?

When we start learning a piece, many of us think, “Ok, I’ll get my fingers around the notes first, then go back and memorize it.”

But that’s not always the most efficient way of doing it.

It’s quicker and more effective to memorize our pieces straight away. As soon as we start to play it, in fact.

So what’s the first step?

The First Step is to Identify Small Sections

Many players try to learn a piece by playing through the whole score many times. This is not time well spent.

Instead, we can work on small sections and get to truly know them. This is much more efficient and productive.

So the very first thing that we want to do is decide on small sections of music. This could be just a measure or two, or a whole phrase.

To Find Phrases, Use Your Ears

Music is often written in logical “sentences” called phrases. These are often four or eight measures – but not always.

We may find a long note at the end of the phrase, or we might hear repeated notes and rhythms gelling the section together. And sometimes we’ll hear a place where the music appears to rest momentarily. That’s the end of the section.

When we hear the music start to do something new, it’s likely to be the start of another section.

Sections Don’t Always Fill Entire Measures

If a section ends on a long note, it will often end just before a bar line. Then the new section starts after the bar line.

But sometimes a section won’t fill an entire measure. It will end short of the bar line. So that means that the remaining notes of the measure belong to the next section. Again, use your ears.

This is helpful when we’re thinking about how to play musically. We usually want to play across a bar line, not stop at it.

Don’t Let Us Hear the Bar Lines

Stopping at a bar line is not musical. It will sound awkward if we stop at a bar line while the composer’s musical line continues through it.

So if a section finishes part way through a measure, we want to make sure the remaining beats of that measure dovetail smoothly into the next section.

So usually, it makes good sense to make our small sections cross the barline by one note. Then our music has continuation and forward momentum.

Grab A Pencil and Mark the Sections on the Music

Now we’ve identified our small sections, we need to mark them on the score (sheet music).

It doesn’t matter how we do it. We can call it Section One, or mark it with a highlighter. Or we can put a star where we’ve decided it ends. In CGS repertoire courses, we call them Practice Sections and number them.

The point is that we can now see small sections of music that we can practice and memorize in isolation.

Memorize the Small Sections in Turn

All we need to do now is memorize each of these little sections in turn, then craft the transitions between them.

To memorize, we can use the 7-step process, or any other method we choose.

For a complete course on how to memorize pieces of music, click here.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…1

  • Move your hands safely and fluidly
  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work
  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an
organized, effective guitar practice. >>>