Critical review of Chaffin, Imreh, and Crawford, Practicing Perfection: memory and piano performance.

Empirical Musicology Review 3 (3):163-172 (2008)
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Abstract

How do concert pianists commit to memory the structure of a piece of music like Bach’s Italian Concerto, learning it well enough to remember it in the highly charged setting of a crowded performance venue, yet remaining open to the freshness of expression of the moment? Playing to this audience, in this state, now, requires openness to specificity, to interpretation, a working dynamicism that mere rote learning will not provide. Chaffin, Imreh and Crawford’s innovative and detailed research suggests that the key to this skill is a declarative mental roadmap aiding musical performance. This hypothesis is neatly and unintentionally summarized by professional pianist Imreh, who states when learning a new piece of music “My fingers were playing the notes just fine. The practice I needed was in my head. I had to learn to keep track of where I was. It was a matter of learning exactly what I needed to be thinking of as I played, and at exactly what point.

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