Memorization in Classical Guitar Performance

Greetings fellow tonebuddies! One of our members raised an intriguing topic during the live stream event: Revitalizing Your Classical Guitar Journey: Mastering the Fundamentals with Dr. Daniel de Arakal. The discussion focused on the role and importance of memorization in classical guitar performance.

Kevin Loh's recent performance at the GFA, where Kevin confidently read from the set piece and subsequently won 2nd prize. This is worth discussing since reading from the score is often frowned upon among classical guitarists.

So, let's continue this discussion that Joel started. What are your thoughts on memorization in classical guitar performance - are you pro, con, or neutral? Looking forward to hearing from you all!

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    • Jim King
    • Retired
    • Jim_king
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I believe that I am neutral about memorization.  It depends on the circumstances one is in whether one should memorize or not.  For myself, my "performances" are very limited so I have no issue with having the score in front of me when I perform.  In fact, I think it saves me time as I am not spending the time needed to memorize an entire piece.

     

    I also believe that to a certain extent, memorization happens just because of the number of repetitions I go through just to learn a piece.  Once I have a piece up to tempo, there is no way that I can read each and every single note.  Accordingly, I must have it memorized to a certain extent and am using the score as a cue as to what to play next.

    Like 3
    • Peternull
    • Peter.3
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    The musical performance and interpretation is the only thing that matters. While it may surprise that someone is able to play a long programme by memory the use of the score is equally valid - not just for the notes but as a reminder of dynamics and minor variations in performance that can get lost without the score in place. I certainly don鈥檛 find it a distraction if people perform with music.  I listen with my ears surely. 

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    • Alan Rinehart
    • Performer and Instructor
    • Alan_Rinehart
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Whether or not a piece is memorized should not be a consideration but there certainly is an attitude in the classical guitar community that everything MUST be memorized. The real issue is the musical quality of the performance. With a confident, well thought out and well executed playing, whether the piece is memorized should be irrelevant. It is also a matter of context-a heavily contrapuntal work or one with many specific performance directions will (or should) be more comfortably performed from the score, on the other hand I would be more likely to perform Villa Lobos Prelude 1 or Tango en Skai from memory as the musical gestures are easier to assimilate and one can 'keep an eye' on the rapid left hand movement. A bigger issue is when the over focus on memorization in the earlier learning stages leads to poor reading skill, difficulty playing chamber music and having a vastly limited repertoire.  

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    • Steve Pederson
    • The Journey is My Destination!
    • Steve_Pederson
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I think it's interesting that, if you go to almost ANY other classical music concert (for example a symphony orchestra), they are all reading from sheet music. One of my favorite solo vocal performances from Handel's Messiah on YouTube is a sung by a guy holding sheet music! 

    What's so ironic about this "need" for guitarists to have pieces memorized is that the guitar is often considered an inferior instrument compared with the other classical music instruments. It seems that guitarists are held to a different standard. 馃

    "The times they are a-changin'" to quote Bob Dylan. I recently heard a very prominent legendary classical guitarist (who had been trained by Segovia) give a speech. In it he mentioned some practices that "must be adhered to". I think that way of thinking is on the way out. We are progressing as guitarists. The world is progressing. 

    Personally, I have seen people perform using sheet music and it didn't taint my experience at all. On the contrary, my thought was, "Huh! Now why didn't I think of that?! You can do that??? Wow! This whole live performance thing just got interesting!" 

    Naturally, I think it's more enjoyable to see someone perform who isn't tethered to their score. I think the musician is apt to give a better performance if they have internalized the piece - owned it so to speak - to the extent that they no longer need "the script". Would you rather listen to someone tell a story/give a speech/deliver a sermon if they have it memorized and are not reading it to you? Of course! It's more believable

    I think that's the thing to remember - when we're performing we're telling a story. How well do you know they story? Do you need the book to tell it better and move your audience more? Then, so be it. If not, let it go. 

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    • Peternull
    • Peter.3
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    As I鈥檓 in Iserlohn now I asked Kevin Loh about this.  Today he played in competition without music but as he said it just depends whether it makes you feel safer with or without. 
     

    Tonight David Russell is playing. I think he plays with music in front of him usually. 
     

    I really don鈥檛 think it is a consideration at all. 

    Like 1
      • Jose
      • Jose.1
      • 4 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Peter 

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      • Jose
      • Jose.1
      • 4 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Jose 

      I have several stumble blocks to read directly from the score, as well as memorizing.  I am close to 80 yrs old.  I am myopic and use progressive lenses, although several years ago I had cataract surgery on both eyes and that improved my condition.  In addition I lost central vision on my right eye due to a condition called central serum retinopathy, although I have peripheral vision on that eye.  As long as I have both eyes open my brain corrects the image formed by the RE, which is really amazing.  In addition I have lost hearing and use hearing aids to correct high frequencies loss.  Due to my age memorizing is becoming more difficult.  Other than that, I am OK.

       

      I cannot read a score at first sight.  So, I use the score followed by tablature.  Mark a lot os stuff on the tablature, including fingering, phrases, barres, etc.

       

      I am playing a Torres FE17 Jellinghaus replica, and find that in the modern more vertical position, sometimes have issues seen the strings clearly.  But once I repeat a phrase enough, a combination of eyesight and memory takes over.  When a Melody comes out well, it is worth all the work.

      Like 3
  • You will memorize what strikes your spirit. You will because it flows through your soul and deepens throughout your life.

    Read, read something every day,

    from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

    Challenge yourself to grow and discover.

    Have patience. Do what works best for you. 

    Like 1
      • Jose
      • Jose.1
      • 4 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Michael Carlson 

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      • Jose
      • Jose.1
      • 4 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      Jose 

      Palabras con luz!!

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    • don
    • don.2
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I really think I should improve on our ability to sight -read. It always amazes me that my teacher who is a great sight reader, can just take any music I give him and play it after looking at it for a couple of seconds. 

     

    Even if you don鈥檛 want to play from score in future it is still a good skill to pick up for variety of reasons. But that said,  I  put my music stand on my right because I have my other work stuffs on my left and my laptop in front of me so after a while I realized it feels really weird to look at music from my left and finger board at same time.  Need to change that. 

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    • Ronnull
    • Ron.3
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    I guess for many years I was lead to believe memorising was "the right thing to do", but I think because I used to memorise quite quickly, my (sight) reading suffered. As I've got older, it takes me longer to memorise, but the upside is that my reading has improved a little. I still have a preference for playing from memory as I can concentrate more on what my fingers are doing and listening to what I produce, but I often have the score in front of me anyway. I notice Andrew York not only plays from memory but often plays with his eyes closed!

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  • I think it really does come down to what enables a performer to play with confidence and expression.  For me personally, I prefer to memorize my pieces precisely because this allows me to have more focused concentration on the music itself with a heightened awareness of melody, tone, dynamic, and the sheer wonder of sharing music with an audience. 

    I have tried using an iPad and page turner for a solo performance once before, but found myself distracted and less aware of the audience. However, this still intrigues me as a valuable approach, one that involves becoming more facile in the process of performing with it.  At my age, it could certainly provide protection for the dreaded memory lapses that occur now and then.  

    So I guess my bottom line is do whatever helps you to perform with freedom and gladness!

    Like 1
    • River
    • River
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi Rick,
    Great to see you here!

    I have struggled with memorizing, but I certainly aspire to it. La Paloma is one of the first pieces that I鈥檝e memorized and that was just lately. I think it鈥檚 terrific to know a piece by heart. And I like what you said about focusing on the musicality.

     

    Cheers

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    • Peter
    • Peter.11
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    For me, memorization is essential, and is necessary for the multi step process I use when learning a new piece. That is a large topic in itself, so I won鈥檛 go too much into it, other than to say part of the process involves score study and identification of the hardest parts, then starting there, which could be a single measure or figure. Memorizing these allows full (visual) attention to be given to problem solving around every movement of both hands, fingers, and arms. The process continues and I chain together these figures as I am able to play them.  As a result, memorization of the entire piece just happens as a consequence.  That being said, I always use the score for performance.  I see no issue with that.  Some folks have expressed concern about memorization possibly detracting from sight reading skill development, but I would respectfully suggest that dedicated time be spent every day practicing sight reading, which does require having access to a ton of sheet music because you should not repeat sight reading on the same set of notes more than once.

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  • The first time I saw Andres Segovia, he was in his early 70's and he suffered numerous memory lapses, even in the middle of Duarte's  'English Suite', which had been a wedding present for him! Now that I am in my 70's, I too am experiencing some memory lapses. Another issue is that when I was young, there were no iPads, and without someone to turn pages, memorizing was essential. Now that I have every score on my iPad, and 'turn pages' with my foot, I don't need to memorize. Also, my eyesight is not as good, so looking at my fingers is not as much of an aid. Playing from the score has a lot going for it now.

    Like 2
    • Jes煤s Mostajo
    • Computer Engineer and enthusiastic guitarist
    • Jesus_Mostajo
    • 4 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    My experience on live performance are very short. Memorization for me comes when I have played a piece several times.

     

    David Russell many times uses sheets in his performances. I saw him on YouTube video explain why he do it. Dynamic marks, important passages, emphasis, etc..

    Like 1
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