Learning Strategies from a World-Famous Pianist

September 13, 2019

World-famous pianist Simone Dinnerstein admits to struggling with memorization, but she hasn’t let it stand in the way of her career. She came up with a unique strategy to learn her music “literally backwards and forwards.” Listen to her describe the “nightmare of a concert” that helped her change the way she learns (or read the transcript below).

Simone Dinnerstein Speaking with Fred Child for Performance Today

Fred: You know, there’s something that a lot of musicians struggle with but almost nobody talks about. It’s hard to publicly admit that sometimes music is hard to memorize. And soloists are often expected to know their music by heart. I was sitting with pianist Simone Dinnerstein at her piano in her apartment in Brooklyn. She took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye, and she shared this:

Simone: I had a nightmare concert. A nightmare performance. Like, the worst concert I’ve ever had in my life. Because I do have memory slips.

Fred: It was a big piece that she played with an orchestra, and she lost her way. She forgot one part of the music. Actually had to stop playing and then the orchestra stopped playing. It was embarrassing. As she said, “A nightmare of a concert.” So what did she do: Get depressed? Hide under a rock? Tell her publicist to make sure the story never got out? No, she took a clear-eyed look at how she learns pieces of music and came up with something that helps her do better.

Simone: I always thought about music in sequence. I always think about the first phrase, followed by the second phrase, followed by the third. And then I needed to think about it in a backward sequence. So from the end of the piece to the beginning. So it’s given me a lot more security. It’s been a tremendous change to how I feel. Because I literally know the piece backwards and forwards. And when I go out, I feel comfortable.

Fred: And for her it works. Now she never forgets all those little transitions along the way.

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