Author Archives: Caroline Wright

About Caroline Wright

artist, scientist, musician

Analysis of Scarlatti Sonata in C

What better remedy for a memory lapse than learning a little Scarlatti sonata? Scarlatti wrote an astonishing 555 keyboard sonatas over the course of his life (1685-1757). Although hugely diverse in character, they have an energy and rhythmic vitality that … Continue reading

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Visualisation in memorisation

After my less than auspicious performance a few weeks’ ago, I started thinking about how I could have diagnosed the problem  and prevented the memory lapse before it occurred. Coincidentally, while I was pondering this, the fabulous Cross-Eyed Pianist penned … Continue reading

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Letting things slip…

It’s been a while since I blogged about music. And a while since I thought actively about memorising. So perhaps it’s no surprise that I suffered an epic memory collapse over the weekend! Time to start blogging again… and what … Continue reading

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By Heart (book review)

Earlier this year, I received a copy of “By Heart: the Art of Memorising Music” by harpsichordist and blogger Paul Cienniwa. Published in 2014, this little gem is exactly the kind of book I had been searching for when I started … Continue reading

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Respecting the music

An interesting article over on the Cross-Eyed Pianist blog (sparked by a heated debate amongst some fellow pianists on Facebook!) has got me thinking about whether certain repertoire should be off-limits to amateurs? Are there pieces that are simply too … Continue reading

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No one can take it away

The “Lady in Number 6” is a short but truly inspirational film about 109-year old Alice Hertz-Sommer, a concert pianist and the oldest holocaust survivor until her death earlier this year. After a remarkable and long life, this irrepressible lady … Continue reading

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Fabulous Folk

I have just spent a merry few days at the fabulous Cambridge Folk Festival. Although I don’t personally play any folk music, or traditional folk instruments, I love the melodies, wonderful rhythms and a good dance! There was some amazing … Continue reading

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How to memorise music, in theory and practice

The question of whether anyone can memorise music was a hot topic of conversation at the magical Lot piano course for advanced amateur pianists, which I had the privilege to attend last week. Our insightful teacher Susan Tomes gave two … Continue reading

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Memorising Beyond the Notes

Most of the time when we think about memorising music, we think about learning the notes. This is perfectly natural of course – without the notes, of which there can be a great many, there would be no music, no … Continue reading

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Interview with… Jeremy Ng (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). My musical journey started with the piano when I was about 7 or 8. At that time, I did not like piano and was forced by my parents to … Continue reading

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Analysis of Schubert’s last Piano Sonata

I’ve recently started learning Schubert’s humungous last piano sonata, D960 in Bb major. Written in 1828 just months before his premature death at the tender age of 31, the sonata is a poignant farewell to life with a mixture of … Continue reading

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Spontaneity in Music

Over on the Cross-Eyed Pianist’s blog, the wonderful pianist Stephen Hough said something in his interview that has really resonated with me: “study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising”. I’ve written previously about improvisation, or spontaneous composition … Continue reading

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To look or not to look…

Here’s a silly question – if you’re not going to look at the score when you play, where should you look? Vocalists typically look out at the audience, as do many instrumental soloists. Pianists (and a few others – cellists, … Continue reading

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Memorising music for beginners

A number of people have mentioned that they would like to try playing from memory, but don’t know where to begin. Why bother, some might ask, when you can just use the score? For me, playing from memory is not … Continue reading

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Playing from the score

Since starting this blog a year ago, I’ve come to realise that I am a memorising snob! To me, memorising music is the same as learning it. Although there is far, far more to learning and successfully performing a piece … Continue reading

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Interview with… Roland Robert (violinist, pianist, composer)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a principally a violinist and have performed in various capacities as soloist, chamber and orchestral musician. I studied violin and piano as joint first study at the … Continue reading

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Chetham’s, school of flying fingers

I have just returned from an amazing week at Chetham’s International Piano Summer School in Manchester, UK. This year was my third visit and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint. The summer school is full of hundreds of piano-maniacs, ranging from … Continue reading

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Interview with… Jane Ginsborg (singer and researcher)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I began as a singer and sang throughout my teenage years. I then went to the University of York to do a music degree, and subsequently took an advanced … Continue reading

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Strategies for Memorising Music

“Musical Excellence” edited by Aaron Williamon offers a wealth of sage advice for enhancing performance, including Jane Ginsborg’s wonderful chapter on memorising music. The chapter outlines some of the basics about short and long term memory but particularly focuses on strategies … Continue reading

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Interview with… Gordon Ogilvie (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). As a scientist at the University of Cambridge, I am involved in both research in theoretical astrophysics and teaching in mathematics. Music is also a very important part of … Continue reading

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Earworms – commonplace musical memories

We’ve all had the initially enjoyable then endlessly irritating experience of a tune being stuck in the head. Typically, a fragment of a half-remembered melody gets repeatedly hummed and whistled over and over again throughout the day. Sometimes this earworm … Continue reading

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Interview with… Charlotte Tomlinson (pianist)

I have worked as a chamber musician and duo partner for my entire career to date and therefore I have not needed to play from memory in a concert. Music has been given to me anything from months before the … Continue reading

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Interview with… Jenni Parkinson (percussionist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a creative music leader, performer and teacher, specialising in marimba and percussion. My work centres on music as a means of communication, self-expression and escapism. I am … Continue reading

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Mental practice and a holiday from playing

Many musicians worry about how to keep repertoire fresh and accurate when practising simply isn’t possible. I haven ‘t touched the piano for a week, and although my recent holiday in the mountains was undoubtedly restorative for the mind and … Continue reading

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Interview with… GéNIA (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a pianist, composer, educator and founder of the Piano-Yoga® method. Do you actively memorise music and perform without a score? If not, why not? If so, why? When … Continue reading

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Pianists on Playing (book review)

Compiled by Linda Noyle, “Pianists on Playing” is a collection of interviews from the 1980’s with twelve international concert pianists. The pianists, who are all giants of the classical piano world, include household names like Vladimir Ashkenazy and Jorge Bolet. Each pianist … Continue reading

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Music and Memory (book review)

Initially envisaged as a text to accompany an undergraduate musical composition classes, Bob Snyder‘s “Music and Memory” gives a fascinating overview of the basics of both cognitive psychology and musical structure. Perhaps most interesting of all is his unifying perspective … Continue reading

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Interview with… Claudio Barile (flutist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am principal flute and soloist of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and have held positions in many other orchestras during my career. I am also an active chamber musician … Continue reading

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Keeping repertoire alive

If playing music is a big part of your life, it’s likely that at some point you’ll be asked to play in front of people – friends, family, colleagues. While some people relish the opportunity, and ultimately make a career … Continue reading

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Interview with… Hayley Hind (music therapist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a music therapist working with adults with learning disabilities, a piano teacher, pianist, accompanist and, as of recently, part-time PhD student. I study the piano with Heli … Continue reading

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Guide to Memorizing Music (book review)

When I came across a little “Guide to Memorizing Music” – written by Alfred John Goodrich in 1906 – I assumed it would contain more-or-less the same advice as similarly short book from the same era “How to Memorise Music” … Continue reading

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Interview with… Graham Fitch (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a pianist and teacher, also an adjudicator and writer. I teach privately in London, my studio comprising gifted youngsters, tertiary level piano students and adult amateurs. I … Continue reading

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Thinking Fast and Slow (book review)

‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ is an intellectual tour de force describing a life-time’s work in psychology that ultimately won its author Daniel Kahneman the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Although its immediate relevance to musical memory isn’t obvious, I … Continue reading

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Interview with… Kazu Suwa (guitarist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). My name is Kazu Suwa, I am a Japanese classical guitarist and teacher based in London, UK. I studied classical guitar in both Japan and Spain. I have performed … Continue reading

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Memorising a piece away from the instrument

I did something amazing this weekend – I memorised a new piece. And I did it mostly at my kitchen table. The new piece in question is a short three-movement work by contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Originally written in … Continue reading

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Why do nerves make us forget?

We all know the symptoms of nerves – cold sweaty palms, shallow fast breathing, uncontrollably shaky limbs, the frequent and urgent need to go to the toilet, and a heart that’s beating double time while attempting to escape through the … Continue reading

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Interview with… Paul Roberts (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I am a concert pianist, writer and teacher, and I have made a speciality of the lecture-recital. This means I have had to learn to switch to different parts … Continue reading

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Mindfulness and music

The idea that we could all benefit from meditation in our busy, stressful lives is relatively commonplace. It’s claimed that meditation can improve concentration, promote relaxation, invigorate and energise us, and increase our overall well-being. Which all sounds great. But … Continue reading

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Interview with… Parker Tichko (jazz bassist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I currently manage the Auditory Cognition and Development Lab at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (led by Dr Erin Hannon), a psychology lab that studies how infant, children, … Continue reading

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This is Your Brain on Music (book review)

When I first came across Daniel Levitin’s book “This is Your Brain on Music” I assumed it would tell me everything I needed to know about musical memory from a neuroscience perspective. But – fortunately for the future of this … Continue reading

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Interview with… Genevieve Lang (harpist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). Freelance harpist, mostly in the orchestral world, but increasingly less so with the desire to pursue more autonomous means of performing. Do you actively memorise music and perform without … Continue reading

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Different pieces, different challenges

I’ve been learning two new piano pieces so far this year – Chopin’s epic first ballade in G minor Op23 (which I’ve already written about) and Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Prelude in D major Op23 No4. Although both pieces are on the … Continue reading

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Can you write out a score from memory?

I’ve recently read several contradictory statements about whether a musician can or should be able to write out the score of a piece they are playing from memory. On the one hand, neuroscientist Ray Dolan asserts in Alan Rusbridger’s book ‘Play it Again’ … Continue reading

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Interview with… Madelaine Jones (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). My name is Madelaine Jones, and I am a pianist and writer based in London. I am currently studying piano and improvisation at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and … Continue reading

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Chunking for improved memory

Grouping bits of information into memorable chunks is a well known technique for improving memory recall. Numerous classic studies such as George Miller’s “magical number seven, plus or minus two”[1] (which according to Google scholar has been cited over 16,000 … Continue reading

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Anxiety and Musical Performance (book review)

There’s a big difference between playing from memory and performing from memory. I’ve previously compared playing from memory with a high-wire act, but just how high is the tight-rope? The Cross-Eyed Pianist has an excellent blog post on this topic. When playing … Continue reading

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Interview with… Joy Lisney (cellist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). My name is Joy Lisney, I am 20 years old and studying Music at Clare College, Cambridge. At the same time, I am sustaining an international career as a … Continue reading

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Performing your own work is nerve-racking

This weekend I performed in a small concert for adult amateur pianists. Despite the shared terror of performing in front of our peers, more than half the group played from memory and there were some fabulous performances. Being in the musical … Continue reading

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Music and long term memory

Why can I remember a long Bach fugue, but forget where I put my keys?* Although we regularly curse our memories, our amazing capacity for memorising music indicates that we can actually retain and reproduce an enormous amount of information … Continue reading

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Interview with… Melanie Spanswick (pianist)

Please tell me a little about yourself (profession, musical activities, etc). I have been a concert pianist for many years giving recitals and chamber music concerts everywhere and anywhere. I have taught extensively, examined for the ABRSM and I also … Continue reading

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