Today, on my blog, learn 8 tips from Jasmine Choi to memorise your music! But before discovering these magic hints, let me introduce Jasmine to you.
Jasmine Choi, also known as “the flute goddess”, is a superstar flutist. She grew up in South Korea and started learning the flute after 9 years practising the violin. In 2000, she moved to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School with renowned teachers such as Julius Baker and Jeffrey Khaner.
She recorded several solo CDs, participated in lots of music festivals and performed as a soloist with many world-renowned orchestras and music ensembles all over the planet.
If you want to know more about her career, visit her website and social media accounts below.
Genesis of This Blog Post
As a flutist and a fan of Jasmine, I recently watched her YouTube video called “The Magic of Memorizing”. And I thought right away that her content was so interesting that passionate readers should have access to it in their favourite medium: written content. So, I directly asked Jasmine if I could transcribe her very useful tips into a blog article, and she accepted!
So, here are 8 tips to memorise your music better by Jasmine Choi:
8 tips To Memorise Your Music Better by Jasmine Choi
#1 – Learn Your Notes First
“You don’t want to learn and memorise wrong notes to begin with. Music always comes first. Learn every note and every dynamic.
You need to know the piece and all the fingerings very well, so that when you start memorising, you already get the piece.”
#2 – Know the Structure
“When I try to memorise, I always think of the music as a map. Not an old folded paper map, but a 3D Google map. For instance, on Google Earth, when you type a city name it zooms in, and then you can zoom in and zoom out as you want. You have to know the piece as a whole and be able to zoom in very precisely. Even more than what Google Earth and Google Maps can do. Much like if you zoom in and see a little ant going by. That kind of detail.
You need to know the piece vertically and horizontally. If it’s a flute and piano sonata, you have to know the piano part vertically, and if it’s chamber music, you also have to know all the scores horizontally and vertically. This is probably easier for flutists because the flute is a melody instrument. We only have one line and are very used to memorise melodies. If you have this roadmap in your head, it’s so much easier and so much helpful when you play by heart, and you’re more confident.
It especially helped me a lot when I played jazz pieces, because jazz structure is quite different from classical music.
Jazz structure consists of a theme and a certain number of measures which repeat themselves: the solo, the other instruments solos, certain measures, some parts twice. For example, when the theme has 16 measures, these 16 measures repeat themselves or it doubles to 32 measures and so on.
With classical music it’s a little bit different. You need to know the exposition and development. And when it comes back with a slight twist, that’s where you should take more attention to.”
#3 – Sing Along in Your Head
“I think this would come rather easier to flutists as we only have to play one note at a time (well most of the time, unless if we play multiphonics). When you love a song, you keep singing it in your head, and at one point, you have it. For flute pieces or classical music, if you can sing in your head, you can also sing in the flute. Just enjoy the piece. Sing along. And when you have a stumble block, that you cannot sing the next phrase anymore, you can go back to the piece, look at the score, and then check. And if it happens again, go back to the score again. This way, you know exactly where you’re stuck in your brain.
I remember when I was at College, I was overwhelmed that I had to play four études in a week, plus a piece. It was a lot. I think I was whining and complaining to him. ‘What should I do? And I have no time.’ I’m sure I did. Anyway, I was complaining and my professor, Jeffrey Khaner, told me: ‘You always have to spend your time practising the études, but the real pieces, you practise in your head.‘
So I think that’s when I first tried singing along in my head.“
#4 – Use Your Photographic Memory
“I think everyone has a photographic memory up to a certain degree. It’s as simple as remembering people’s faces, different faces.
But, of course, some people have a real photographic memory, like Lorin Maazel, former music director of the New York Philharmonic. He could just look at the score once and everything was in his head. I am not talking about this kind of speciality. I don’t even have that either.
If you have different kinds of protections, like learning the notes first, knowing the structure and singing along in your head, you also need to have an emergency plan. If plan 1, 2 or 3 doesn’t work and slips away during the concert, photographic memory offers you another backup plan. Indeed, you can think of where you are in the score. Sometimes it helps me. As I play, I can go through the pages where I am in the score. I’m not telling you that resolves everything, but I’m just telling you that, out of my own experience, it’s worth trying out and then you can decide.”
#5 – Do a Run-through
“We talked about singing along in your head. Now you can probably do a run-through, and you will know exactly until when you can memorise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You can try out a few times or many times because it only works when it works.
At this point, you should know already all your notes. Don’t try to learn every note at this point. Learn your notes ahead of time. Learn the notes first. When you are only learning the notes, don’t do the run-through. Once in a very long time it’s okay to get the whole picture, but if you are only learning the piece and running through it again and again, from my experience, it doesn’t get you anywhere.
The same procedure when you are singing in your head. If you don’t remember the next phrase, you can come back to the score and study again. At this point, you can combine tips 1, 2, 3 and 4.”
#6 – Fall in Love with the Piece
“When you play a piece, you have to love it, whatever it is.
Sometimes you play a piece that is already close to your heart. That is very ‘so you’. And in this way, it’s very easy to go through it, learn it and express it.
But for some other pieces, you’re like ‘What? Why? Why is it so hard? Wait, I don’t get this kind of atmosphere. I cannot do this.’ Sometimes you feel the piece is such miles away, a world away from who you are.
However, playing a piece is not about you. You have to be transparent. The piece has to go through you. If you’re not into the piece, if you’re not 100% in love with it, if you’re not convinced with the piece, it will not go through. It doesn’t matter if you play by heart or with the music, it just wouldn’t go through. It’s one of the basics as a performer.”
#7 – Don’t If You’re Not Ready
“In college, I was playing in the lab orchestra (a student orchestra that only plays for the conducting classes). Otto-Werner Mueller was the conducting professor and he was very strict. Here is one of the many things I learned from him:
One day, one of his students was conducting a Beethoven symphony by heart. First, he was not so confident, and he probably did make a mistake. Mr. Mueller said to him: ‘Why are you trying to conduct by heart when you don’t know the piece?’ And he said: ‘I thought I knew it. It has worked before.” And Mr. Mueller said: “Well, if you cannot know every beat or every dynamic of everybody’s part, if you don’t know the entrance of the second bassoon, if you don’t know what piccolo is playing, then don’t ever play by heart.‘
It really struck me, and it makes a lot of sense. If you don’t know perfectly every punctuation, every dynamic and everybody’s parts, you cannot be confident. And if you’re not confident as a conductor, the orchestra is not confident because they expect you to make a mistake.
This also applies to flute playing and everyone else’s instrumental playing.
Here is another lesson from my other teacher: Jeffrey Khaner, the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
‘When we play anything on the flute or any instrument, the audience should know exactly what you are playing on the page. For example, when such little things, like when the crescendo was starting from which note. What kind of dynamic in a certain note. Where the slur is. What kind of staccato is used. The audience should be able to notate exactly what you’re playing.‘
It’s similar to what Mr. Mueller was saying about precision.
So don’t play by heart if you’re not ready, because you will not only get nervous, but the audience too. You don’t want them to think: “I don’t know when he’s going to make mistakes. I think he’s so worried.” And so on. You don’t want that.
It’s only when you know the piece so well when you can wake up in the middle of the night and play and still everything’s there. That kind of confidence. And at that point, your music can come out more freely.“
#8 – Let Go and Enjoy
“This is when you are really comfortable and confident with the piece.
I get a lot of comments like: ‘You look like you’re playing so easily on stage.’ Maybe I am, but to play so easily on stage it was not easy up to that point.
In other words, in order to play very easily, enjoy fully and let go and let the music fly.
In order to do that you have to prepare a lot. By heart or not, when you’re on stage, you have to be really confident and be the messenger of the composer. It’s really not about you. Play through. The audience is not judging you. They’re here, trying to enjoy the piece.
Work as much as you can. Love the piece as much as you can. And on stage, go easy and let it go!“
In a Nutshell
Here are, summarised, Jasmine’s 8 tips to memorise your music better:
To listen to Jasmine directly, I also encourage you to watch her YouTube video. (Also, you can turn on the English or French subtitles if you want!)