The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music

Memorization Question


In August of this year, I gave a lecture on my memorization technique.  A few weeks later I received this question from one of the attendees, Janel Caine, a private flute teacher, freelance performer, and founding member of Category 5 (Woodwind Quintet) in Tallahassee, FL.

What does one do when the number of notes is too many to say at a given tempo?  (Such as a run of 32nds?  Or even sextuplets that are easy enough to play, just difficult to speak out with a metronome?)

I thought the answer might be of general interest, so here it is:

Keep in mind that you do not have to say the note names aloud, you just have to think them, and thinking is usually much faster than speaking!  Then, if you are working on a really long string of lots of lots of fast notes (like say, the opening of Daphnis, though why you would memorize that I don’t know!), you can start thinking in a kind of short-hand once you get up to a prohibitive tempo for thinking all the note names.  For example, “then up a B-flat major scale to an F,” or “D Maj 7 chord” or some such.  For me, it feels kind of like the difference between reading whole words and reading by sounding out each letter.  The better and better you know your music, the more like words it will seem, and the less necessary to think of each individual note.  

I will say, though, that the more I work this way, the more note names I can hold in my head.  You may find that ability growing as you go!

Good luck!


If you were at my lecture at the Convention, and did not get a copy of the handout, you can download one here.

PS.  Don’t you think Category 5 is a great game for a woodwind quintet based in Florida?

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