5 Differences in memorisation of male and female piano students

Many pianists are required to perform from memory in exams and performances. It is a skill that is expected of musicians, but overlooked in piano lessons as something that needs to be actively taught. How do you teach memorisation? 

It is assumed that music is memorised simply by practising more, but this is not the best description. Sore memorisation relies on a number of techniques comprising of motor, analytical, visual, and auditory mechanisms. The more a music student understands these processes the more likely they will succeed in memorisation of repertoire.

In a seminal study of expertise in pianists, Chaffin et al (2003) found that constant and progressive score analysis and repetition was a preferred technique of memorisation of expert pianists. That is, the pianist had a strategy for memorisation which was well-organised and had specific strategies for learning and memorisation.

Combinations of motor, visual and auditory processes for memorisation are used to ensure an in-depth structural understanding of the repertoire. The techniques above leads to a sequence of study adopted until a work is memorised and performed securely from memory.

Each type of memory develops in different ways during instrumental practice. Visual memory is related to spatial abilities in relation to movement at the instrument. Auditory memory relates to the emotions, sonority and expressiveness of the piece (Better et al, 2010).

Gender differences may also play a part in the approaches to memorisation and the processing of musical information (Gaab et al, 2003). Women show more affective reactions to auditory stimuli (Boer et al, 2012), which may uncover differences in men and women in the process of musical memorisation.

New Research

Herrera and Cremades (2020) investigated the differences in musical memorisation of university-level pianists. 545 students, with an age range of 17-32 years, participated in the study. The participants were enrolled in Bachelor of Music courses as piano majors. Data was collected via a survey.

Visual Memory

“I can mentally visualise the score of the musical piece when I have memorised” had the highest (M=3.78) closely followed by “ I can stop at one part of the piece and imagine which part of the score I am playing” (M=3.58) were the two highest item responses. 

A T-test found that female piano students were statistically more significant for the item “I write visual aids n the score that help me remember the notes in the musical phrase that follows”. In fact, female students reported higher use of visual memory aids and techniques than did male piano students. This indicated females used more visual memory than males in this study.

Auditory Memory

“I test my memory by singing and humming internally or aloud the piece I have to memorise” (M=3.64). The results between male and female piano students found that female students used more auditory techniques such as humming and singing aloud or internally. Interestingly, females rated higher than males for “When I memorise a musical piece, it worries me that I may forget it because the acoustic conditions of the hall where I will perform are different from my usual place of practice”. Auditory memory relates to internal as well as sonorous aspects of the repertoire.

Kinaesthetic memory

In almost most cases, students use strategies to aid in memorisation such as fingering for passages to assist with the movement of the fingers (M=4.15). In terms of male and female piano students, differences in gender emerged. “I test my memory by fingering the piece on a flat surface without using the piano” was statistically significant for females, indicating that female piano students used more kinaesthetic techniques than male piano students.

Analytical Memory

In thesis processes, female piano students utilised more analytical strategies than male piano students. “I analysis the piece ‘integrally’ in order to understand it and facilitate memorisation” was statistically significant for female piano students.

Personal Memorisation Techniques

Personal strategies of memorisation techniques were also investigated. These are techniques like daily practice, the practising of pick-up points in case of memory lapse, and planning a schedule of when to sections memorised. Female piano students were found to use more personal memorisation techniques than male piano students.

Overall Research Findings

Overall, the results tended to show a higher preference for analytical memory approaches, followed by personal strategies, then visual, kinaesthetic, and finally auditory. Female piano students obtained higher score than male piano students for visual, auditor, and kinaesthetic memory, suggesting that these perceptions are difference between males and females (Wehrwein et al, 2007). A possible reason for this are that female piano students demonstrate higher concern in improving memorisation of repertoire.

Finally, it is important to note that these types of memorisation skills are developed over many years of practice and deliberate attempts to incorporate playing from memory. The style of memorisation and techniques used will vary according to needs and abilities, however, this research serves as a good starting point to understand gender differences memorisation of repertoire by university-level piano students.

Herrera, M., & Cremades, R. (2020). The Study of Memorisation in Piano Students in Higher Education in Mexico. Musicae Scientiae.

© iteachpiano 2020

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