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01/07/2017

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To play, or not to play..... FROM MEMORY.

You’ve been preparing your exam pieces for a few months now, played the same piece over and over hundreds of times and probably able to play it from memory. Should you play it from memory in the exam?

You’ve been preparing your exam pieces for a few months now, played the same piece over and over hundreds of times and probably able to play it from memory. Should you play it from memory in the exam? I will tell you what I did personally, when taking exams at the end, but for now let me highlight some Pros and Cons.

Having the music book there in front of you, even if you don’t use it can give you confidence. An exam is a stressful situation and different people react differently to nerves. Under stress it can happen that the mind goes completely blank. Playing without the music might look impressive, but you will not get any more marks for doing so in an exam. You may know all the notes, but little reminders, pencil markings on interpretation, might just help you on the day to focus on the finer details. That said, if you go to any professional concert, a soloist will usually play without the music. Is that just to show off? I think not. Once you know a piece well technically, you can fully immerse yourself in it musically, better without the dots in front of you. This will mean learning not only the notes from memory, but also every little nuance. Added to this, especially at the higher grades, page turns can sometimes be problematic. 

In an exam situation - I’m sure an examiner will be a little sympathetic if a page turn causes a minor hesitation, but more importantly, it adds to YOUR stress and if a clumsy page turn does cause you a minor mishap, this will have a psychological effect on the rest of your performance. 

So what do the ABRSM regulations state on this subject. Here is their official line:

"Performing pieces from memory is optional, but candidates are encouraged to do so if they consider it will enhance their performance. Candidates performing from memory must ensure that a copy of the music is available for the examiner to refer to if necessary. 

Notice here, there is a hint that playing from memory might make a performance better - but note that you need to have a copy of the music for the examiner. 


A NOTE OF CAUTION

To be honest, after many months of practicing the same piece, you probably know the pieces from memory anyway, whether or not you have the confidence to do this in the exam. The problem with this is, many students do very little actual reading of music at this stage and become terrible sight readers. ALWAYS incorporate some sight reading into your daily practice. You might be interested in checking out my other article 

What makes "The Perfect Practice Session"?



At the beginning I said I would tell you what my preference was personally when taking exams. I think you can possibly guess from the tone of some of my observations that I did my exams many years ago - ..... from memory, but I would be very interested to hear from you in the comments below - what is your preference and why.

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