I can virtually play from memory 2 or 3 pieces I learned as a teenager and yet nothing I have learned since. My piano-playing friends say the same.
At my last lesson I was challenged to learn the development section octaves from the first movement of the Schubert sonata (D664) plus 2 pages from the last movement especially those bars where the hands jump around.
I played the scale passage leading up to the jump and fumbled the jump – I had a premonition of what my teacher was going to say. It’s an E major scale, you don’t need to look at the score, look where your left hand needs to land. Sounds easy, I had a few goes. It only worked once, but it sounded and felt fantastic.
Since beginning teaching I’ve read and been to talks about memorising. All warn about the flightiness of muscle memory – it is the first to go under stress. It’s only part of the package, you need an intellectual memory for harmony and structure too. This muscle memory is how I still play those pieces from my teenage years. Before this challenge I thought to memorise something would take 3 times as long as to learn it and I used to say it’s alright for those who’ve been memorising all their life. Away with such attitudes! I shall think of memorising as a muscle that I’ve got but haven’t been using and so is underdeveloped.
So I have named those scales and chords in that 1st movement development section and I play them much more securely. It wasn’t so difficult after all.
And I almost have those 2 pages of the last movement – though when I played to Rachel it fell apart – so only nearly there. I also found myself thinking of what was coming next in a new way without that compromising my ability to be in the moment of what I was playing at the time, something I had been afraid of.
It has also forced me to look and listen careful to the spacing of chords and which notes are left out. In my next post I shall comment on Schubert’s development of a 2-bar bar idea into 25 bars.
Interesting, enjoyable, satisfying – what more could one ask for?