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How to Memorize

WOW – has it been 1 year!!!! since we started??? My how time flies. In reviewing my lesson topics – I have not addressed Memorization!!! AND I am putting this in the lesson section – NOT THE ARTICLE section – so you WILL SEE IT and hopefully follow the suggestions!!!

I just returned from the ATG (Accordion Teachers Guild) Convention in Chicago and was so impressed with the number of ADULT accordionists that were attending and were competing. So many were using their music when competing – and this cost them points and in some cases – cost them the opportunity to WIN.

AND – those that were playing by memory – were – in some cases – stumbling or for a lack of a better term – doing “RUN ATS” – they would start a section or phrase and run at it a couple of times – which made them lose CONFIDENCE and lose the musical flow of the selection.

When you hit a wrong note – it is INSTINCT to back up and fix it!!! Well – while practicing – YES – but not while PERFORMING! SOOO what happens – is that RUN AT – gets programmed into the PERFORMANCE – and it is NOW SET IN STONE!!!!

SOOO HOW do you get rid of the RUN ATS and LEARN the piece good enough to not need the music??



  1. LISTEN to the song FIRST. AND listen to other songs that are written in the same style or genre. (French, Tango, Latin, etc) Most songs can be found on YouTube. HUM along with what you hear. Record it or save the link. If no audio available – HUM what you see in the music. (DO NOT PLAY YET!!!!) Listen for tempo, dynamics, phrasing, repeated sections, differences in QUALITY (tells you which reeds to use), and if available – listen to more than one recording!
  2. Make sure you play the right notes and rhythms. Read the song like you are a FIRST GRADER reading out loud in the class! SLOW – ONE MEASURE at a time until correct. Play that measure until you don’t get it wrong – 4 or 5 times in a row! Write in your fingering if needed. Remember to consider “where” the notes end in the prior phrase and “where” your hand needs to be for the next phrase!
  3. Dynamics and Style Setting – LEARN your Dynamics and Rubato sections right along with the notes. Believe it or not – THESE ARE MORE IMPORTANT than the notes!
  4. MEMORIZE as you LEARN – Chord Structure FIRST. Know the Key, Know where the Key changes. Know the basic chords within each key and look for the additional chords that are outside the key. THEN learn the order they are used within the song. You should be able to SPEAK the name of the Bass at the beginning of EACH MEASURE!
  5. GROUP the measures into phrases – 2 bars, 4 bars – NEVER more than 8 bars. AND practice the phrase (and mark in your bellow directions – so you learn your bellows at the same time as the notes!)
  6. Repetition of #2-3-4-5 exercises – will CREATE FINGER MEMORY!!! You will count on this when the song is memorized. NEVER MEMORIZE NOTES – ONLY MEMORIZE the finger movement within a phrase! (This is also – with SPEAKING the name of the basses for each measure!)
  7. DROP THE NEEDLE – for those of you that remember a record player – you should be able to start from ANY POINT within the song. As you learn the song – VISUALIZE the measure (notes and all) and the actual measure number!!!! Do NOT rely solely on the FINGER MEMORY from the Phrase exercise!
  8. WORK SMART not HARD! Do not OVER practice! Start your practice session with warm up drills for technique then “tackle” only one section – maybe 16 bars – per 1 hour of practice! Go work on something else – then return to the solo to be memorized. Repeat this the next 1 hour session with an adjoining section of 16 bars – then put the two together.
  9. Progressively BUILD LIKE A HOUSE. Foundation is laid first – the technique drills to insure performance clarity. 2nd – Frame – Know your Chord Structure. 3rd – Room Layout – know your MOOD, PHRASING, STYLE, and DYNAMICS (even set your bellows here!), 4th – Walls – NOW your notes – in short phrases UNDER TEMPO, 5th – ROOF – Performance Ready.
  10. Performance Ready. How will you know when you are ready to perform the song by memory? Give yourself – a TEST OF 3!!!
    1. #1 – Can you play it flawless, with correct bellows, and dynamics – UNDER TEMPO? No RUN ATS, No Clinkers, No goofed bellows or forgotten shift changes (with a metronome if needed).
    2. #2 – Have you recorded (audio and/r video) yourself at least 3 or more times and analyzed your performance to see weak areas?. Check recording against a metronome to see if you slowed down or sped up!
    3. #3 – Can you start the song at any phrase within the song? (4 to 16 measure section?)

One final Hint – if the song is more than 2 pages long – I suggest learning it BACKWARDS. Learn the last phrase first, then the last 2 phrases, then the last 3 phrases – this will give your ending MUCH MORE PRACTICE than the beginning – and make your CONFIDENCE GROW during a performance – rather than WILT!!!

and an assignment!

Let’s LEARN and MEMORIZE a NEW SONG – Great for your Repertoire!

Level 1 Que Sera, Sera

Level 2 – Hey Mann Polka

Level 3 – La Partida – Tango Vals

Level 4 – Trumpet Echo Level 3 (Trumpet Echo)

Pick One – and follow the 10 steps above. These should be memorized within 4 weeks – with 1 hour practice of 8 to 16 measure sections per day.


Here is a quick review of the past months’ lessons – so you can do a quick review – if you have not been following the MONTHLY LESSON LINK!

  • Lesson #1 – Sept 2014 – Introduction to Play Chords ONLY!
  • Lesson #2 – Oct. 2014 – Chords – Modulating, & Progressions
  • Lesson #3 – Nov. 2014 – Intro to Ear Training – Chord Progressions Intro
  • Lesson #4 – Dec. 2014 – Dexterity & Finger Articulation (someone else)
  • Lesson #5 – Jan. 2015 – Dexterity & Finger Articulation (mine)
  • Lesson #6 – Feb. 2015 – Counting – 6/8 (Compound Meter)
  • Lesson #7 – March 2015 – Setting Benchmarks and Goals
  • Lesson #8 – April 2015 – Writing Assignment – Basic Music Theory
  • Lesson #9 – May 2015 – “It’s All About that Bass”
  • Lesson #10 – June 2015 – Pull Dem’ Bellows
  • Lesson #11 – July 2015 – Adding Harmony