Integrating memory and music reading

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    Hi there – I am a new teacher and would like some advice about students who memorize very quickly. I am having a very hard time getting my student to actually use her music. She will “learn” a piece the first week I assign it, but when our lesson starts, she will often launch right into the piece without even taking her music out of her bag. This obviously clues me in to the fact that she doesn’t use her music at home, either. She ends up learning the piece incorrectly, then does not know where she is in the music when she needs to consult it to correct a mistake or when she’s unsure what comes next. Any suggestions on getting her to actually look at her music? I have tried having her point to each measure before she plays it so that she is anchored visually to her music, but that hasn’t brought much success. Thanks!


    What level is this student playing at? It’s easy for beginners to memorize their music. They’re actually playing it by ear, not memorizing. The tunes are easy and short and there’s not much going on technically. But when the music gets harder and longer, then the same student has trouble, because he/she never really learned to read.


    Does she have to sight-read something new at each lesson? Can she look at the music and name the notes (away from the harp, both hands)? Is she doing theory worksheets?

    Simona Millham

    Hi Liesl – I’ve been learning harp for 2 years and what you describe is exactly how I am as a student.


    As important as it is to develop a natural ability to memorize, it can’t be a substitute for reading. As you found, it leads to errors, and the intellectual aspects of the music aren’t learned. Miss Lawrence ran into this frequently, and her approach to handling it was what she wrote in her ABC of Harp Playing. Have the student point to the note and say it as they play it. You have to work at their reading skills, and sight reading too. It sounds like you have tried a similar approach. Perhaps giving her a piece and not letting her take it home, only showing it in the lesson might work. You can also try covering up all but the part about to be played with another piece of paper. I think you will conquer this in time. Having mistakes pointed out tends to cure, as no one wants to be embarassed.

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