Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance

Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance

Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance

Practicing Perfection: Memory and Piano Performance

Synopsis

This project makes a unique contribution to research on human memory and music cognition. It will be of interest to psychologists interested in memory and music cognition, musicians, researchers, educators, and professional pianists.

Excerpt

We have all experienced the fascination and awe of witnessing a world class performance, whether a musician in a virtuoso rendition, an ice skater making triple axel leaps, or a kayaker hurtling down a class six rapid. Most of us have also marveled at the skill that makes such feats possible. For example, the performance of even a moderately complex piano piece places incredible demands on memory and physical dexterity, requiring the execution of between 10 and 20 notes a second for minutes on end. How does a performer remember it all, hitting every note, and at the same time give an aesthetically satisfying performance? Practice, of course, is part of the answer—to make the performance automatic. Still, how can a performance that is totally automatic be aesthetically satisfying? What does the performer think about as the fingers fly across the keyboard? What happens if something goes wrong?

To answer these questions, we convened an unlikely trio: a concert pianist and two psychologists. The pianist, Gabriela Imreh, videotaped her practice as she learned the third movement, Presto, of the Italian Concerto for a CD of works by J. S. Bach (Imreh, 1996). The CD that accompanies this book contains the performance that marked the end point of the learning process. (The CD includes the entire concerto, although our study was confined to the learning of the third . . .

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