Is it Really Important for my Child to Memorize the Music?

Memorize the music? What? The teacher expects my child to actually memorize the music? Isn’t life stressful enough without memorizing music? What’s the point? Let me assure you that if your music teacher wants your child to memorize the music, there are good reasons for it. Music teachers are not out to see how difficult they can make life for their students! Let me help you understand some of their reasoning.

Why Memorize?

First, there are some events in the life of a music student that will require pieces to be played from memory. It might be the rules of a competition, the standards of a music guild or association. Future auditions might require memorized music. Your music teacher knows this and wants to start early to prepare your child for the future. Learning to play from memory is an acquired skill that takes practice. So, your teacher is really doing your child a favor by requiring memorized music now.

Learn the music better

Also, memorizing the music helps your child learn the music better, helps to make the music his own. When you memorize something, you must internalize it, pay attention to all the little details. This helps you learn something even better. As we work on memorizing music, we begin to see patterns in the music. We begin to understand shy the music does certain things, why the phrasing works the way it does.

Become a better musician

Memorizing music also helps students become better musicians. Instead of looking at the page in front of them, students can focus more on the musical qualities of the piece. The hands and fingers know what to do (almost automatically) so the mind can think about how to make the piece sound more musical, more beautiful. The musician can work on making the music sing, tell a story. Memorizing allow us to go beyond what is seen on the page and get to the real heart of the music.

Life skills, Learning skills

Believe it or not, learning to memorize music helps the student in many other areas of life. Memorizing music helps her learn to store and retrieve information from the brain. How to pull information, organize it, and use it. These are skills applicable to all of life and all of learning! Your child’s music teacher is teaching life skills and helping you out!

Performance under pressure

Memorizing music helps students learn about performing under pressure. Let’s face it, music performance is pressure situation. But it is not the only pressure situation students will face in life. Learning to perform under pressure is another one of those life skills kids need to learn. We might think we are doing our kids a favor by eliminating stress from their lives, but the real world isn’t so forgiving. Will they ever have to give a presentation at work? In front of other people? The more opportunities we give them for performing under a little bit of pressure, the better they will do in real life.

How to Memorize Music

Let’s face it, not everyone is good at memorizing things, especially music. For some people it’s easy – play the piece enough times and they’ve got it down. For others, it is much more challenging. But it is far better to learn to memorize when a child is young than to try and tackle memorizing a difficult piece when they are much older. Here are some ideas that might help your child with the process.

Small sections at a time

Work on small sections at a time. Have your child work on memorizing just a measure or a phrase at a time. Once they can play that much without looking at the music, have them work on the next measure or phrase. Then, see if they can play the first two sections together without the music. And then go on to the next little section.

They probably know more than they think they know

Another idea is to have them attempt to play the piece without looking at the music. If they have been practicing the music for a while, they probably know a good portion of it better than they think they do. Have them see how much they can play from memory already, mark the sections that they don’t know, and work on those sections a little bit at a time.

Work backwards

Sometimes it helps to work backwards. Memorize the ending first. Then, the section right before the ending, and then the section before that. Endings are important, so being confident of knowing how the piece ends will boost their confidence as they get closer to the final part of the music.

Copy this

Another method to help with memorizing music is to copy the music. The more senses we involve with learning music, the better the student will learn and retain the music. As your child works on copying the music, he might see patterns that he didn’t notice before. She might see expression markings that she previously missed. My daughter is working on this right now as she prepares for an upcoming recital.

Slow practice

Have your child practice SLOWLY! Slow practice is hard! Slow practice makes your child really think about what is coming next. I had an instructor tell me (more than once!) that if I wanted to play something well at a fast tempo, I had to be able to play it correctly very slowly. Slow practice requires thought and concentration. You can’t just put your mind on auto-pilot and hope for the best. You must be aware of what you are doing and of what comes next.

Listen to the music

Another suggestion for memorizing music is to listen to the music. Does your child have a recording of the piece she is memorizing? Have her listen to it – repeatedly! In the car, at bedtime, while walking the dog, whenever. Memorizing music requires the music to become part of you. Listening will help that process.

Here are some other suggestions for helping your child practice – https://amusicmom.com/music-practice/

So, to summarize:

  •         Memorizing music is an important skill to learn.
  •         It will help your child become a better musician.
  •         Memorizing music will give your child important life skills.
  •         Learning to memorize music will help your child academically as well.
  •         Playing memorized music will help your child learn to perform under pressure.

Oh, and one other thing. If your child has memorized some music, he will always have something ready to play when he visits the grandparents! What can be more important than that?!

Here is some more information on how memorizing music can be helpful for your child.

More on the Minors

Last week’s theory post introduced the concept of minor scales. I promised you more on the minors, so here we go.

Always, Review First

First, though, a quick review:

  • Major scales all follow the same pattern of whole steps and half steps.

                        W-W-H-W-W-W-H

  • Natural minor scales all follow the same pattern of whole steps and half steps.

                        W-H-W-W-H-W-W

  • There are two types of relationships between major and minor scales.
    • Relative major and minor –
      • Both the major and its relative minor have the same key signature and use the same notes.
      • The relative minor scale begins on the sixth step of the major scale.
      • The relative major scale begins on the third step of the minor scale.
    • Parallel major and minor –
      • Both the major and its parallel minor scale begin on the same note.
      • They will use the same note names, but with different accidentals (sharps or flats).
      • The major scale and its parallel minor scale have different key signatures.

Now, More on the Minors

There are three forms of minor scales:

  • Natural Minor – follows the key signature exactly, and is the same both ascending and descending (going up and coming down).
  • Harmonic Minor – raises the 7th step of the natural minor scale, both ascending and descending.
  • Melodic Minor – raises the 6th and 7th steps of the natural minor scale going up, but lowers them again when coming down.

Here are some examples of the three forms of minor scales.

Here is an example of the A minor scale, in natural form. There are no sharps or flats in the key signature, and none are added.

Now, the harmonic form of the same A minor scale. Notice how the 7th step of the scale is raised (sharped). And the 7th step keeps the sharp on the way down the scale as well.

And here is the melodic form of the same scale. This time, both the 6th and 7th steps of the scale are raised as we go up the scale. But on the way down, the sharps are eliminated.

Now, let’s look at a couple more examples of the same thing, but in different keys.

D minor scale, Natural form

D minor scale, Harmonic form

D minor scale, Melodic form

E minor scale, Natural form

E minor scale, Harmonic form

E minor scale, Melodic form

And, of course, the Big Question – Why?

Why Minor?

So, why do we use minor scales? Why use different forms of the minor scales? First, using minor scales/minor keys adds a different “flavor” to the music. Some say music in minor keys gives a darker, more complex sound to the music. Others feel that minor music is more somber, or serious, or sad-sounding. Being able to use minor scales in music gives composers and arrangers more options and more variety. And variety and options are good!

Why Harmonic Minor?

Now for the why of the different forms. It’s all about how things sound! The harmonic form developed because people didn’t like the way a final chord cadence sounded. In major keys, most music ends with a V chord leading to a I chord. That chord progression gives a very final-sounding ending to a piece. In the natural minor, though, you don’t get the same sort of finality. By raising the 7th step of the minor scale, the V chord became major, so going from V to I chords produced more of a final-sounding conclusion. Also, because our ears are used to hearing a half step progression from the 7th step of a scale to the last step, the raised 7th fit better.

Why Melodic Minor?

But wait! That caused a different problem! Now, in a minor scale with a raised 7th step, there is a huge jump between the 6th step and the 7th step. Really awkward to sing, or play, or listen to! Solution – raise the 6th step also. In a melodic minor scale, the first half of the scale sounds minor, but the second half sounds major – more of what we “like” to hear or are used to hearing. But descending? Doesn’t matter so much. So, in the melodic form the 6th and 7th steps are lowered back to the natural form of the minor.

Scales Forever!

When you are learning your scales, and you think you have mastered all 12 major scales, don’t think you are done with scales! You still have 36 more scales to learn! All the minor scales, in 3 forms! You are never done with scales! Just keep practicing! And thinking! Your fingers and your brain will thank me later.

More on the Minors

Where Did your Violin Come From?

You should know something about the instrument you play. Like a little bit of its history. So, where did your instrument come from? Did it just appear one day? Did some guy wake up one morning and decide that he was going to make a violin that day? What led to the development of today’s violin?

Bowed Instruments

Violins are instruments that have strings. There have been instruments with strings for thousands of years! But violins have strings that are played with a bow – that’s different from instruments with strings that are played by plucking the strings. References exist to bowed string instruments at least as early as the 9th Century A.D. And these references come from all over! There were bowed string instruments in Mongolia, Persia, Spain, Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Finland, France, China, and India. But none of these early instruments were really like the violin.

Which instrument provided the direct link to the violin? Good question – and there is not a definite answer. The two most likely answers are the viol (viola de gamba) or the lira de brascia. Neither of these groups of instruments were shaped like a violin, but they were based on some similar ideas. Viola de gambas were played in upright positions, sometimes even between the legs. (“gamba” means “leg). Lira de brascia instruments were held in the arms (“brascia” means “arm”).  For that reason, some think the lira de brascia was the direct link to the violin.

The Big Three of Violin Makers

Enter the Amati family in northern Italy in the 1500’s. Andrea Amati was a luthier. (Originally a luthier was a lute maker, or lute repairman. Today that is the term used for those who make violins.) He was the one responsible for making the first known four-string violin. He was commissioned by a member of the famous (and wealthy) Medici family to build a four-string violin. He must have done a good job because he and his family went on to make a name for themselves building many famous violins.

The Amati family of violin makers were responsible for establishing the basic proportions of the violin – very similar to the instrument you have today. At some point he started using a mold, or a form, for his violins. This allowed him to be even more precise in his measurements. Quality control for his violins. The most famous violin maker in the Amati family was Andrea’s grandson, Nicolo.

The Amati family also taught others to make violins through an apprenticeship program. Two other famous violin makers learned under the teaching of Nicolo Amati – Giuseppe Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari. Ever heard of either of them? I hope so! A few of their violins are still in use today – and they are worth millions! Many violins made since them are patterned after the designs and techniques of either Guarneri, Stradivari, or Amati. The label on the inside of your instrument might have one of their names on it – meaning your instrument was made in the style of one of those former makers.

Changes in Perception

Let’s play a little word association game for a minute. What are the first things that come to your mind when you hear the word “violin?” Instrument? Practice? Expensive concert? Exclusive? Lovely sound? To our minds today, violins are associated with concert halls, high class performances, etc. But it wasn’t always that way. Originally the instrument was associated with the lower classes. It started out as an instrument for professional street musicians. Other performers who used the violin were servants, folk musicians, performers of dance music. Over time the violin became more accepted by the upper classes. By the early 1600s the violin was being used in orchestras. Claudio Monteverdi was one of the first composers to include the violin in his scores.

Changes in Violins

Has your violin teacher ever said anything to you about your posture? Like, maybe, every week? Good thing your teacher didn’t have to deal with early violins and violinists! No good posture solutions existed then! During the time of Bach (Baroque era), chin rests and shoulder rests did not exist. Violinists held the instrument angled toward the floor. That limited the use of the arm holding the violin, so no one could play in any of the upper positions. The bows of the time were shorter and lighter, limiting the sound of the instrument. Early violins produced a sound that was soft, rough, and muddy. Baroque violins did not sound like the violins we are used to hearing today.

Bow Innovations

Innovation to the rescue! How did we get the violins that we hear today? What caused the sound to change, the technique to improve, the comfort level and posture to become bearable? In 1726 Francoise Tourte redesigned the violin bow. He changed the bend of the bow, so it arched backwards. He also standardized the length and weight of the bow. These changes in weight, length, and balance allowed the violin to sound with more power and brilliance, especially in the upper ranges.

Addition of a Chin Rest

Another great improvement came in 1820 when Louis Spohr invented the chin rest. Can you imagine playing your instrument without a chin rest? The addition of a chin rest allowed players much more comfort in holding and playing the instrument. It also allowed for a great advancement of playing technique – the left arm was much freer, so the fingers were freer to move up and down the fingerboard. The sore necks of violinists have been thanking him ever since!

Change the Instrument, Change the Sound

And then there were changes to the instrument itself. In the 1800s the fingerboards were lengthened, which allowed players to use more of the E string. The bridge was raised, and the fingerboard was tilted and raised, giving a greater volume and brightness to the sound of the violin.

While we’re at it, Change the Strings

Even the strings got in on the improvement action. Originally violin strings were made of sheep or lamb gut. As early as the late 1600s, though, violin makers started using G-strings of gut wound with silver or copper. By the late 1800s violinists were experimenting with steel strings. This was especially true with the E-strings. They were the thinnest strings and, therefore, the most easily broken.

The two World Wars had an impact on violin strings. The wars caused great disruption to the animal trade – not so much sheep gut available for strings. Also, the wars brought about advances in the steel industry, so it was easier to produce the thin strings needed for violin. But many players didn’t like the sounds produced by steel strings.

By the middle of the 1900s players were beginning to use, and like, synthetic strings. Dominant strings made by Thomastik were the first big players in the synthetic string market. D’Addario began marketing strings for violins made of the same material as the strings used for tennis rackets. Now, most violinists use synthetic strings.

Does your own violin have its own story?

Do you appreciate your violin more, now that you know a bit more of its story? Aren’t you glad you have the more modern version of the instrument? And the help of a chin rest? Do you know anything more specific about your instrument? Sometimes the label inside the violin will give you some clues. (Look inside one of the f-holes to look for a label.) When one of my daughter’s bought her bow, she was told that it was made from wood that used to be a Brazilian fence post. I’d love to hear anything you know about your instrument! Tell me your stories! (Use the Comments Section.)

To read more about the history of violins and their strings, you might enjoy these sources:

Where did your violin come from?
Where did your violin come from?