Playing from memory . . . its easy!

I was just reading another thread on getting Bass players to watch the MD (good luck!) when it occured to me that something we almost never do in the brass band world is to play form memory. Aside from the occasional soloist we just don't do it.

Whilst at music college my teacher made me learn everything from memory - at first this is difficult but with time it becomes easy like any other kind of practice.

I would suggest that to promote a greater concentration on making music (as opposed to playing notes) that bands play from memory more often.

"Written sheet music is only a starting point to guide the player and once learnt only serves as a barrier to music making"

Come on MD's take away that safety net!



Staff member
Stavanger in Norway do this all the time.
And they have funky choreography and dance routines too..

Mad stuff.


Just to add...............

You played a fine Bass Trom solo at Crawley Entertainments Contest Mike.

:idea: from memory of course.

I am lucky if I can remember what day it is!!!!


Staff member
I think there are advantages and disadvantages in playing from memory. As well as playing in the band, I also sing in our songster brigade (choir) and it is definitely the case that we sing better when we are not dependent on the copies (although personally I would rather have it there as a safety net, even though I may well not look at it). It is also easier for those singing the melody rather than those on the other parts, particularly so for me as I am sometimes singing 1st tenor, sometimes 2nd and sometimes 1st bass.

Also I think that, because I am a good reader, I tend not to learn the music, but rather to read it each time. When using a relatively small repertoire, all of which is going to be played fairly frequently, it may make sense to learn it by heart - I know that when I was in the forces I did not need copies for the majority of the more popular street marches we were called upon to play. I am also, aware, however, how easy it is to become lazy when playing from memory, and lose track of dynamics and phrasing, which the copy reminds you of.

I think that, for most bands, the amount of varied repertoire used during a season would prevent learning it all by heart, although I'm sure it could be done for specific pieces, such as when YBS first presented Windows of the World, where the extensive movement around the stage meant that large chunks had to be committed to memory.

Whilst I admire those who are able to learn complex solos by heart, and play them without a care in the world, for myself you can give me the copy any day. I suppose you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

Naomi McFadyen

New Member
I like to play from memory, especially if there's any tricky tuned parts...
I like to memorise pieces anyway; I've experienced outdoor concerts where my music has flown off the stand by accident... of course, if I stopped playing kit to pick up the music it would notice!!... but I think us percussionists have the easiest job of memorising things anyway ;-P


Active Member
I quite often just memorise it as I go along, I very rarely forget a piece, but it also means that if I play the same piece with a different conductor or band, I sometimes get told off. :(


I've memorised most of my solo trumpet stuff, but in band all I've memorised are some of the more popular hymns, at the moment I'm playing solo cornet, rep cornet and 2nd cornet in band, so I can't memorise all those parts!


playing from memory... its easy!

I think it's easy to play kit from memory coz if your stuck you can just busk it.
Or if in doubt miss it out!
Or just put in a roll

Naomi McFadyen

New Member
yea... i just busk anyway- all kit music is only there as a guide; apart from when I'm writing my own music :p...
(my latest piece needs 5 percussiosts... all good fun :))


I play my solos from memory and conduct from memory when on stage. (but im sad an put shed loads of prep into my scores and memorise them - then i only have to worry about the band - or thats the idea)

I agree its nice to have a safety net with the part, but someone told me once that to play a piece:

1. Learn the Notes
2. Learn how the Tutti Fits
3. Memorise the Phrase

Then (apparently) all you have to worry about is how you are going to play it on that particular occasion - if its a band part, you can concentrate 100% on the MD (link to other topic) and if its a solo, you can play without the music (or without having your head in the copy anyway...


Staff member
As a bass player who sometimes plays BBb and sometimes EEb, there is another pitfall in playing from memory, and one which has caught me out on a few occasions when carolling: you can be quite happily playing away, thinking you're playing in one key, whereas things suddenly go astray and you realise that you were a fourth or fifth away from where you thought you were - for a while it fits, and then you find things fall apart.


Active Member
I'm one of these sickeningly lucky people who can play from memory quite easily. I tend to find that once I've played a piece three or four times I can play it from memory, and I certainly do if I play a concerto.

Haven't tried it with the band yet, but I fuly intend to!

Rach x


Active Member
I've done solos from memory - that's fairly straightforward and it does bring another dimension to your playing, if only to encourage you to focus upon the sound you're producing.

I memorise a lot of the scores I conduct but wouldn't dream of going on stage without the score - a memory lapse from the conductor would be disastrous! But you see so many conductors with their heads in the copy when eye contact can be so encouraging.



Active Member
Playing solos from memory for me is easier than playin them with music, ive been taught this way, and have been told that i play with alot more emotion and the over all sound is better, it depends on the player i think, i mean its no good it you suffer from nerves badly and you know you are going to forget, causing mistakes best to avoid it.

Another thing is at entertainments contests the comment from the adju sometimes state that it look better without music and that the solo is easy to play without the music, personally thats none of there business!!! the player can choose!!!


Active Member
Another useful things about playing from memory....

If you shut your eyes when you play you can concentrate more on tone and intonation because that sense becomes sharper.

Not a good idea if it's a band part tho....!

Rach x


I tend to learn the music as well and can go through a whole piece without conciously looking at what is in front of me.
It can be a bit of a downfall when I play a Concert Band transcription which is in a different key (like Bohemian Rhapsody) :?! Why they need to make allowances for instruments in funny keys, I dunno!


Sounds a bit too scary for me! :shock:

We play the odd bit here and there from memory but whole pieces would scare the life out of some of our players!

I think it would put unfair pressure on the less able players. :?

I can memorise tons of vocal stuff :D
but for :oops::dunno
I have read posts here with interest.

A couple of points:
1. Why do you suppose people find it more difficult to memorise band parts than solo items? Often these parts have less notes??
2. Some seem to have a defeatest attitude towards playing from memory, as I said in the original post it needs practice like anything else.
3. I do of course appreciate that playing a whole summer date in the park is not practical!

I do still feel however that ALL bands should make more efforts in this direction.

Cheers for now.


Well-Known Member
1. Why do you suppose people find it more difficult to memorise band parts than solo items? Often these parts have less notes??

A couple of reasons:

- People are placing a higher priority on doing more things at once when playing in the ensemble; as a soloist, it's not your problem if a band chord isnt balanced, for example.

- Someone wouldn't practise (or think about - I find that I get much more benefit from this than from practising) a band part as much!


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