How to approach learning long complex piano scores without the instrument? I use musical analysis, pattern recognition, hearing to midi slowed, rewriting difficult passages, playing parts on guitar instead of piano, but still it is not fast to remember the long score precise enough to play like a pro. Mechanistic memory is most reliable and unsubstitutable, however I want to remember scores from a one or two reading attempts. Are there any other ideas which I don`t know? Thank you.

  • 2
    I'm assuming you can read words more easily than music? Could you recite an entire short story after just reading it three or four times? Me neither. Why would music be different? Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 19:50
  • 1
    @11684 The asker specified "long, complex piano scores", which is why I used a short story as an analogy rather than a haiku. They also specified "without the instrument". Imagine not being able to say the words you are reading or even imagine how they sound in your head. Seems like a very difficult task. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 19:59
  • Thanks, but I see no new ideas, as far as I know, top players can learn 30-page sonates from reading it in a chair with a bottle of whiskey and a cigar, then playing it on public perfectly amazing without dumb billion-time repetitions like giftless hard-working semi-deaf children (I am so too?). Never too late to learn to do things properly.
    – VassiaAlk
    Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 20:10
  • Don't forget the pros who can memorise large scores, put in many years of work since childhood to reach that level... we would need at least a similar effort.
    – Andy
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 8:49
  • there are many-many employed pros with 40 years of playing and academic education who learn score in 6 month instead of 3 hours, people are different in abilities, and surely in stamina to work hard, no talent appears without work, of course
    – VassiaAlk
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 12:34

2 Answers 2


The great pianist Walter Gieseking advocated using visualization techniques.

One form of visualization (advocated by the pianist Walter Gieseking) is to study the score of the peice until you know it so well that you could sit down with a blank sheet of manuscript paper and write it out from memory. No simple undertaking! Gieseking even advised doing this before you ever try the piece out on your instrument, but that might be going a little too far. However, if you try doing this experiment with a simple piece like Lagrima, I think you will notice that you are seeing in your head what your fingers are doing, translating that into notes, and then writing it down. This is s sign that you are relying on muscle memory when you play a piece, and this kind of memorization is notoriously unreliable. [From Visualization, Solfege, and other "Aides Memoire"]

The problem with relying on muscle memory is that if you suddenly have a lapse of concentration you can literally lose your place. If you are visualizing the score you are "seeing" it in your mind, and can go on as if you were sight-reading. From what you said, it sounds like this is a method you haven't tried.

  • Funny, I have the exact opposite experience with muscle memory. My.. "normal"? memory is unreliable - my fingers know what they heck they are doing, though. They should, they've done it at least 100 times before I ever hit the stage! I'm a little confused about having a lapse in concentration while using muscle memory. When my fingers do the playing, I'm not concentrating at all. Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 22:23
  • @Todd: It's precisely because my mind is free to wander that I sometimes lose my place if I'm relying on muscle memory alone. I remember getting totally "wandered" in the middle movement of Bach's Italian Concerto, with all its meanderings that seem to go on forever.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 3:05
  • Also, I'm talking about memory for the architecture. Sure, your muscles (more properly, your ganglia) remember the fingerings in a tough passage. But they don't remember if you're supposed to repeat da capo or move on to the bridge and so forth. That is how you get lost.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 13:09

I can't offer a particular method, but you may find it interesting that Glenn Gould apparently could practice "mentally." I recall him saying this in an interview. Also, this Wikipedia page has some references about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Gould#Gould_the_pianist See the part near "It seems that Gould was able to practice mentally without access to an instrument..."

I don't know if any resources tell how Gould did this. Maybe he visualized the score, the keyboard, colors? Who knows.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.