Memorization is a powerful thing, and its been an integral part of human traditions and arts since the beginning. Memorization plays a key role in music performance at a high level, that said, it is often misused, and thus detracts from a full intellectual grasp, and actual performance of our music.

Many players who excel at music are also great at memorization, at its most superficial level, meaning they have great muscle memory. Memorization can be broken down into two facets: muscle, and intellectual. Human beings are all adept at muscle memory, just think of all the things you do (including bodily functions) every day without consciously thinking about it. When you walk down a sidewalk, do you have to think of the individual muscles that control your walking? Do you have to plan each step? The answer hopefully is no, you have a general idea of what you want to accomplish (walking) and execute that task.

Playing an instrument with muscle memory isn’t quite this simple, but the analogy works. When learning new music players have a tendency to memorize immediately, and unfortunately this is a big mistake made too often.

Imperfect memorization creates stage fright, and memory loss. When any slight thing in your environment, or playing is off you risk having that brain dead moment of not knowing where you are at, and having no idea where to go.

Ironically the solution to imperfect memorization is many times a contributing factor the musicians reliance on memorization itself.


As I have discussed previously on this blog, its an epidemic in our country, and probably the world among guitar players: the inability to read, we won’t discuss theories, or hypothetical situations that could lead to this situation, only as it relates to performance. If you can’t read music semi proficiently you are completely dependent on memorization. Meaning to learn a piece one is basically memorizing movements, and patterns on a fretboard.

These patterns and movements are a good thing, and necessary to perform at a high level, but they are only half of the equation, and fall into the category of muscle memory. Everything is laboriously memorized at a snails pace, and once a piece is finished, and ready to be performed, all context, and many subtleties of the piece are lost in this process, there is no continuity.

To read the music offers another way to intellectually understand the material, you can visualize the music, and understand what makes it move. To read before memorization enables the player to truly wrap their mind around the piece

There are many great guitarists who have been successful without learning to read music, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix, to name two, but to study an instrument and neglect learning to read is a bit lazy. Learning music as a whole is not only the better path, but one could easily argue that it is in the long run the easier path, as it gives you a way to conceptualize music and the theory of music in a different way that can illustrate something seemingly complex in a simple straight forward way.

All of this said, if you are completely dead set against learning to read, for whatever reason, there is still plenty to learn and enjoy, and if you have read to this point we should definitely make some music!

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