Friday 25 February 2022

Learning to memorise pieces on the piano

A few months ago I reviewed a book on my blog - Notes on the Piano. I took a lot from the book, and one thing was the importance of learning to play pieces from memory. I had always needed sheet music to play and I assumed that playing a piece by heart was a skill that that some people were born with and I wasn't. 

Hands playing the piano
Photo credit Elijah M. Henderson via Unsplash

But the book inspired me, and so one of my habits for the new year was to practice the piano every day with a view to memorising some pieces. Partly to help with improving my playing, and partly so that I could show off if I ever found myself in front of a piano before a potential audience!

I chose to start with The Snow Prelude No. 3 by Ludivico Einaudi. I chose this piece because I could already play it quite well from the music. I thought I had a simplified version but actually it's almost the same as the one in the video below. It's quite repetitive, the chords in the left hand are repeated almost all the way through and the melody in the right hand is easy to remember, and I think it sounds really good when it's all put together. 

To my surprise it only took me just over a week, practicing 20 minutes a day or so, to learn it by heart. When I first had it memorised I was still making mistakes but now I can play it through flawlessly. 

Buoyed by my success I moved on to a slightly more difficult piece, River Flows in You by Yiruma. This is a beautiful piece and I longed to be able to play it well. The music that I have for this one is definitely a simplified version! But I think it still sounds good, even though my hands are quite small so I sometimes struggle to span the octave.

This piece took me a lot longer to learn. It is repetitive but also subtly different in places. The final page took me over a week on its own - for some reason I just couldn't get it. But after about three weeks I finally got it to a standard that I can get through it with only a very rare mistake. I'm continuing playing it daily to iron out those last hiccups.

I'm now working on Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement) by Beethoven. When I was at school I remember other girls playing this on the piano and I was desperate to play it. I bought myself a copy of the sheet music, but the version I own was just too difficult. I now have a book with a much simpler version in and I can play it through following the notes. It sounds repetitive but it's not, there are lots of variations in the notes. Even though my version is quite easy I'm still struggling to get on with it, but I'm determined to crack it!

I've really impressed myself with my progress. I've loved the whole process of learning the piece, from being able to play it following the music to learning small parts at a time, and gradually building up a sort of mental picture of the piece in my head. 

I'm sure that there are some people that don't have to put in quite as much effort as I do. But it has really brought it home to me that when most people that are displaying some kind of talent it really is down to them having put in a great deal of work and effort, it doesn't just happen.

Maybe at some point I'll have the confidence to share some videos of myself playing these pieces!


  1. Well done! Next time I see you it will have to be near a piano so you can show off :)

  2. Oh also a while ago I started deliberately saying ‘skilled’ instead of ‘talented’ and it really changed my perspective on things! Also saying ‘I don’t know how to’ instead of ‘I can’t’.


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