[1.III.6.10.3] Keyboard Memory -- Mental Play

In keyboard memory, you remember the sequence of keys and hand motions, with the music, as you play. It is as if you have a piano in your mind, and can play it. Start the keyboard memory by memorizing HS, then HT. Then when you are away from the piano, play the piece in your mind, again HS first. Playing in your mind (mental play – MP), without the piano, is our ultimate memory goal, using keyboard memory as a stepping stone. Playing HT in your mind is not necessary at first, especially if you find it to be too difficult, although you will eventually be playing HT with ease. During MP, take note of which sections you forgot, then go to the music/piano and refresh your memory. You might try photographic memory on parts that you tend to forget using keyboard memory because you need to look at the score anyway in order to re-memorize. MP is difficult not only because you have to have it memorized, but also because you don't have hand memory or the piano sound to help; however, this is precisely why it is so powerful.

Keyboard memory has most of the advantages of photographic memory but has the added advantage that the memorized notes are piano keys instead of tadpoles on a sheet of paper; therefore, you do not have to translate from tadpoles to the keys. This allows you to play with less effort compared to photographic memory, since there is no need to go through the extra process of interpreting the music score. The expression markings are not markings on paper, but mental concepts of the music (music memory). Every time you practice, keyboard memory (as well as hand memory and music memory) automatically maintains itself, whereas photographic memory does not. You can practice MP without a piano, thus more than doubling the time available for practice, and you can play ahead, just as with photographic memory.

When using keyboard memory, you tend to make the same mistakes, and get stuck at the same places, as when playing at the piano. This makes sense because all mistakes originate in the brain. This suggests that we may be able to practice and improve certain aspects of piano playing by using only MP -- that would be a truly unique advantage! Most of the suggestions for memorizing given in this book apply best to keyboard memory, which is another one of its advantages. MP is the best test of true memory – when you conduct MP, you will realize how much you still depend on hand memory even after you thought that you had acquired keyboard memory. Only after acquiring sufficient MP can you be essentially free of hand memory. However, hand memory is always a good backup – even when you have lost mental memory, you can usually restore it without looking at the score by just playing it out on the piano using hand memory.

For those who wish to learn sight singing and acquire absolute (or perfect) pitch, MP automatically develops those skills. The keyboard memory visualizes the keyboard, which helps in finding the right key for absolute pitch, a skill you will need when composing, or improvising at the piano. Therefore, those practicing MP should also practice sight singing and absolute pitch, since they have already partly learned those skills. See section 11 and section 12 below for more details. In fact, MP does not work well without perfect pitch. Doubtless, MP is one of the ways by which the musical geniuses got to be what they were. Thus many of these "genius feats" are achievable by practically all of us if we know how to practice them. Conclusion: memory leads to keyboard/mental play, which leads to relative/absolute pitch! In other words, these are essential components of technique -- when you achieve them all, your ability to memorize and to perform will make a quantum jump. Moreover, MP is the key that opens the doors to the world of concert pianists and composers.

As with any memory procedure, MP must be practiced from the very first year of piano lessons. If you are over 20 years old, and never practiced MP, it may take a year of diligent practice for you to become comfortable with it, and to use it properly; learning MP is only slightly easier than perfect pitch. Therefore, as soon as you memorize a segment, play it in your mind, and maintain it just as any other type of memory. You should eventually be able to play the entire composition in your mind. You will think back in amazement and say to yourself, "Wow! That was easier than I thought!", because this book provides the pre-requisites needed for MP.

MP will give you the ability to start anywhere within a segment -- something that is difficult to learn in any other way. You can also gain a much clearer concept of the structure of the composition and the sequence of melodies, because you can now analyze all those constructs in your head. You can even "practice" at speeds that your fingers cannot manage. The fingers can never achieve speeds that the brain cannot; you can certainly try it with partial success, but it will be uncontrollable. Thus MP at fast speeds will help the fingers play faster. When you become good at it, playing in your mind does not have to take much time because you can play it very fast, or in abbreviated fashion, skipping easy sections and concentrating only on places where you normally encounter difficulties. Perhaps the single greatest benefit of MP is that your memory will improve so much, that you will gain the confidence to perform flawlessly. Such confidence is the best known way for eliminating nervousness. If you experienced any enlightenment as you learned the other methods of this book, wait till you master MP -- you will wonder how you ever had the courage to perform anything in public without being able to play it in your mind -- you have entered a new world, having acquired abilities that are highly admired by any audience.

There is another advantage of MP -- the more pieces you memorize in your mind, the easier it becomes to memorize more! This happens because you are increasing the number of associations. Hand memory is the opposite -- it becomes harder to memorize as your repertoire increases because the possibility for confusion increases. Also, your MP skill will increase rapidly as you practice it and discover its numerous powers. Because MP is useful in so many ways, you will automatically practice it more and more, and become even better at it. All concert pianists conduct MP out of necessity, whether they were formally taught MP or not. A few lucky students were taught MP; for the rest, there is a mad scramble to learn this "new" skill that they are expected to have when they reach a certain skill level. Fortunately, it is not a difficult skill to master for the serious student because the rewards are so immediate and far-reaching that there is no problem with motivation.