Memory Tip: How to Memorize and Recall Classical Guitar Pieces More Quickly

Memorizing music gets easier with time. This is partly because we get better at the process of memorizing.

Like all else when learning classical guitar, memory is a skill we build with practice.

This leads to the question, “What can I do in practice to help my musical memory?”

Memory is Recall

It’s actually easy to memorize music. We do it already. The hard part is remembering it later. The input is easy – it’s getting the notes back out, and on cue, that’s challenging.

So to build our memory, we need to practice recall. Forcing ourselves to play from memory is like lifting weights for our brains. The more we do it, the stronger we become.

Play from Memory First, then Look to the Sheet Music

When we first sit down to practice a piece of music, we often open the sheet music and dive in. We start reading through the notes. We work on small sections. We practice. Then at the end, we try it from memory.

However, this routine is not the most effective. Instead, we’ll memorize music faster if we try to play it from memory first, before looking at the sheet music.

Playing first from memory can be extremely challenging. We often struggle. It is hard work. If we’re doing it right, we don’t stop when it first becomes difficult. Instead, we stick with it and strain our brain to find the next notes.

So challenging, yes. But this work does wonders for putting the music into our long-term memory. By doing this work, we both learn and memorize the music more quickly.

After we’ve recalled the notes to the best of our ability, we can then open the music and practice as usual.

Frequent Small Practices vs. Occasional Long Ones

As a next step, we can expand on this method of recalling music. We can create several small practices, instead of one big one.

We can first recall, then practice for a short time. Then we can move to another practice area (scales, other repertoire, whatever). Then, we can return to our new piece and force ourselves to recall it again.

Frequent efforts at recall accelerates the process. This also tells us where we need to review or re-learn. This can guide the next practice.

In time, this way of practice becomes familiar, and thus more comfortable. The work of recall may still be mentally challenging. But we get better at doing the work and seeing the results.

Further Reading on Musical Memory

For more on musical memory, see these articles and videos:

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.

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