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Migrating Book

In an earlier post, I indicated that memorizing a piece is not always necessary. Sometimes, however, it is required by a particular adjudication, contest, or competition; sometimes you choose to memorize in order to appear polished and professional (this is the point of view that I personally want to move away from); and sometimes, memorizing becomes necessary in order to really play the piece well. It was this last situation that I encountered a few days ago. I am currently learning Frederic Chopin’s Ballade No. 2, Op. 38. This piece is fiendishly difficult in places, and I decided that if I was ever going to have any hope of playing it, I would have to free myself from the music.

For this purpose, I used a simple technique called “Migrating Book,” first described by Philip Johnston at The rules of the game are simple: you may consult the book whenever you must, you just make it increasingly difficult to do so. First, I set the book in front of me and reviewed 2-4 measures (the difficulty of this piece dictated really short sections). Then I tried to play it without looking. When I could do that, I put the book on top of the piano and played it again. Then I put it on a chair nearby, then the couch, then half-way down the hall. Every time I moved the book, I repeated it again. Obviously, repeating it so many times is the basic point, but I found it also is a great stress reliever as I got up to move the book. It also allowed my tired wrists to rest while I went to my back bedroom to retrieve the book off the ironing board.

My wife had been downstairs. She finally came up and asked, “Are you all right?” She had heard me play a short section then go walk around, play the same section then walk around. She thought I must be really frustrated. “No,” I said, explaining the routine. Just practicing–and quite effectively, too.