“We are all sick of hearing ‘Jingle Bells’!”

Actually this is an important moment! Let me explain:


Now that we are aware of the pitfalls of depending on memorisation in the process of learning to read music, I want to state categorically that I really do value the incredible role of memorisation in music. Without it, we are likely to be somewhat limited in our musical ability. It is a crucial skill in becoming an all-rounded musician.  By the same token, I totally value the role of reading music in a learner playing accurately what the composer intended.

Once a piece has been learned accurately and memorised to the point that the family is sick of it, you could say in some ways that they have only just started to learn the piece. The notes on the page are no longer relevant.  They have played it till they know it by heart. Now they can focus on the actual sound of it.

Here are the things they are learning or can learn with that piece:

Fluency. They will inevitably be able to play it at various speeds and this is a great way for them to develop finger dexterity and fluency in playing. The main thing to watch for is that the rhythms remain accurate as the speed increases.

Expression. With general confidence comes the ability to vary the expression with a variety of dynamics.

Musical theory. I have a pupil who recently referred to a favourite memorised piece when we were learning a particular aspect of theory. He remembered playing the pattern we were using in that piece and transferred that understanding easily to the new setting.

Repetition. This is such an important part of learning how to practice accurately. Without a willingness to repeat new music accurately the learning process becomes slow, difficult and will probably die a slow death. When they repeat their favourite piece they can hear the improvements being made and they don’t need to be told that practice is important – they can observe its value for themselves.

Transposition. I find that young children can understand patterns and learn transposing with relative ease. Knowing a piece well means the performer can transfer the patterns to another key.

Performance. If someone is able to play confidently without the music they can play it anywhere, anytime and are much less likely to be nervous.

Enjoyment. This really is the point of it all. We clearly enjoy being able to play something well and hear it unfold before us.

Motivation. Enjoying your own playing is in itself is a big motivator to move on to learning another piece to repeat the whole process.

Memory development. Unsurprisingly, the more you memorise music the more it develops your ability to memorise. This becomes a skill that goes beyond musical education to all aspects of learning. I know from my own experience that I have used the skills and patterns developed at the piano to help me with other learning. An example of this would be how basic algebra uses a similar process to how we transfer chord numbers in different keys. C chord is chord 1 in C major but in the key of G it is chord 4 because it is then based on the 4th degree of the G major scale.


Make the most of your young performer playing favourite pieces. If you are tired of hearing them, get a keyboard with headphones! If you want them to develop favourites that you like too, praise all attempts on the ones you like to hear.

I admit it…I am not a great fan of ‘Jingle Bells’! However, I have learned that it (any thrashed piece) can be an asset used the right way for the young person who is just discovering that they can learn it and then play it from memory. And that will lead to the next steps in musical progress. I can do something with that.

4 thoughts on “Music Memoriser/ Music Reader – Part 3: the balance

  1. Memorising music seems to come naturally to most young pupils, however I find that many older beginners are very resistant to it. And it’s not just that their memory is worse, they are actively resistant. It’s as if they think when they are not reading the notes, they music is lesser in some way. It’s hard to motivate them to practise a piece until it’s anything like fluent, even for an exam! I point out that concert pianists rarely read music on stage but still they’re eager to move onto new pieces every week if I’d let them. A learned and musical rendition of Jingle Bells suddenly seems very appealing lol.

  2. Such an important part of developing general musicianship! Once it’s in the ear, overall expression improves so much! It seems that those who find memorizing easy often struggle with sight reading and vice versa. Great post!

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