Tips for Memorising.

MemoryWay too many drummers (and bagpipers) complain about having to perform a tune without the sheet music – they moan about how difficult it is to commit the tune to memory.  But honestly, it’s not difficult at all – it’s all about discipline and repetition.

Whether it’s your first 4/4 march or perhaps your newest medley selection, the method remains the same. It’s not rocket science (like my previous post about what us pipers and drummers can learn from an Astronaut) – it’s just a matter of hard work and perseverance.

In a nutshell here’s what you gotta do :

1) Learn one phrase (that’s two bars of music) and then play it by memory – just turn the page over and test yourself. Join all the phrases together until you have one part – that’s actually only 4 bite-sized chunks and shouldn’t take you very long at all. Turn the page over and play the whole first part – flip the page and check that you got it. Do this 10 times.

2) Put your sticks (or chanter) away and go do something else for 10 minutes – make a coffee, grab a snack, watch Keeping up with the Kardashians (or maybe not!) then return to your instrument and see if you can still remember the part. If you can, great. If not, then repeat step one.

3)Come back first thing the next day and make sure you can still play it by memory. If you can, joy! If you can’t, repeat steps one and two. Do this every morning for 5 days and you will have the tune going no problem at all.

You can top-up your memorising speed by playing through the score in your head (visualisation) – or tapping the tune out with your fingers. I think young students often do this in Mathematics class!

Bottom line is, there’s no shortcut. But it’s worth it in the end. Once you have committed the tune to memory, you can really start having fun with it and moulding it with musicality and feel.

If you have any memorising tips, please share them!

6 thoughts on “Tips for Memorising.

  1. Nice article, James.

    I think that many players spend too much time reading the sheet music because they are afraid to make an error. I would much prefer that people play without the music, make the odd blooter, learn from it, and move on. The progress of the player and band is often heavily restricted until people can close that music book, thereby allowing them to focus on how they are playing instead what is coming next on the page.

    It is my experience that bands don’t see much improvement until the music books are closed. Take the risk.


  2. Great advice, I am guilty of keeping the score visible so I don’t make a mistake, and spending far too much time going over the same thing. I will give your method a go. Do you have any tips on how to memorize chips or unisons.

    • Hi David, thanks for the message.

      I use exactly the same method for memorizing the chips. Although when I was playing in SFU pipe band, I used to record the lead drummer parts for myself to play along to when I was learning the chips.

  3. I know some drummers memorize their music as a drum part alone without hearing how it fits the pipe tune. That I find difficult. I always find that learning new parts goes more quickly when I can hear in my mind the pipe tune. The two just become one. Most tunes we play to are quite common and we should be able to sing through them even before learning the drum score. If you don’t know the tune then learn it before tackling the drum score. Knowing the tune will help trigger the memory when learning drum parts.

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