Before I get started, I would just like to say that I will be leaving for Spain in two weeks to study with some unbelievable players. This trip is what has inspired this blog as I hope to get some time to write about some of the lessons I pick up while there. Having said that, this will be my last blog before the program starts up. If there are any subjects you would like covered feel free to write to me or leave comments. And thanks for reading!

Unlike many other classical instruments, it is common practice for guitarists to memorize their repertoire. When I was first learning classical guitar, I wasn’t very good at sight-reading, and so I tried to memorize music as quickly as possible. As my sight-reading skills have improved, I still like memorizing music because I feel I don’t have to concentrate on reading the notes and can focus most of my attention on making music.

Lots and lots of repetition is obviously key in memorizing music. But here are some other tips that might help.

  1. Lots of slow practice. As stated in an earlier blog post, slow practice is great for getting the notes, movements, shifts, etc, into both the left and right hands. Eventually muscle memory kicks in and the hands just know what to do.
  2. Memorization is often easier once you are able to read through a piece completely and at tempo. Once you can run the piece from beginning to end and play through it a few times, you will notice when you start work on memorizing it you will find it comes a bit easier. Much of the reason for this is because of Tip 1 above.
  3. Look for repetitions, repeated patterns, transpositions, and chord progressions. Phrases and “licks” that are repeated or are the same movements just moved a few frets make memorizing things much easier. A complete chordal analysis might be unnecessary, but knowing what key you are in and what chord you are currently playing (or arpeggiating or inferring) could give you a good idea of where you are going.
  4. Related to tip 3, follow melodic lines when applicable. Obviously this will not work with all music, but it can also help you remember where you are going musically if you can follow melodic lines, patterns, etc.
  5. Often, I have found that some of these tips are helpful but don’t solve problems when learning baroque music, specifically Bach. He often doesn’t repeat anything. Following chord progressions do help, but in the case of Bach, I work slowly memorizing a phrase and then constantly review from the beginning what I have worked through. For example say the phrases are four measures each. I will memorized measure 1-4 and make sure I have it down. Then I will memorize measure 5-8. Once I feel somewhat confident in those measures, I will start from measure 1 and try make it to measure 8 without looking at the music. Constantly going back will make sure you haven’t forgotten previous measures and will give you lots of repetition as well. It can be quite a painful process, but it is very effective and helpful.

I hope these tips help. If you have any other helpful hints feel free to live them in the comment box!