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Home » How I Memorize Piano Music: Jocelyn Swigger at TEDxGettysburgCollege (Transcript)

How I Memorize Piano Music: Jocelyn Swigger at TEDxGettysburgCollege (Transcript)

Jocelyn Swigger

Jocelyn Swigger – Musical artist

Let’s talk about how you translate something like that into something like this. (Music: Chopin “Étude Op 25, No 2, in F minor”)

The two questions that I get asked most often after I play a concert are “How do you make your fingers move so fast?” and “How do you remember all those notes?” There’s a short answer: lots and lots and lots and lots of practice. And after a hard day practicing hard piano music, I actually really like to unwind by listening to science. This is partly because I’m really fascinated by the actual scientific discoveries, and I love podcasts, TEDx Talks, chatting with friends.

But I think it’s also because I really relate to the process of finding those scientific discoveries out. So, as I understand it, that process – that process includes slogging through lots of short-term details for the sake of a long-term goal that might not even be possible; experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t work; analyzing complicated and often nonverbal architectures of ideas; handling simultaneous conflicting concepts at the same time; and then on a really, really good day, you get to discover creative, fun, intuitive epiphanies. This sounds to me just like practicing the piano.

So just like science, practicing the piano has its fun, creative, and intuitive moments, but most of what I’m doing is analytical problem-solving and repetition. I have to figure out how to do something, and then I have to repeat it enough that I can trust that I’ll play it the way I wanted to.

So the first step is parsing a nonverbal code, and I want to take just a minute to go through how to read music very, very quickly. Every note on the keyboard has its own spot on the staff, (Plays musical scale) and its own letter name: (Plays musical scale) A, B, C, D, E, F, G The notes go up, (Plays) they go down, (Plays) and they stay the same (Plays) We mark timed silence with squiggles and squares. We read from left to right just like reading English.

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