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Chara (right) teaching a young student to play the piano

Music memorisation and practising strategies have long been debated by instrumental music teachers. As part of World Piano Day, Chara Steliou, a PhD student in our Music department, is looking to explore how piano teachers teach music memorisation in one-to-one piano lessons and how piano students perform when learning a piece from memory.

Why did you want to research this particular area?

To memorise or not to memorise? This was a question that kept coming to my mind throughout my years as a piano student but even later as a professional pianist and piano teacher. To a large extent, pianists are expected to perform from memory in concerts and competitions; however, are piano students taught how to memorise during their piano lessons? Despite more than a century of research on music memorisation and practising strategies, there is a lack of comprehensive evidence on how instrumental music teachers teach memorisation to children and adolescents in one-to-one lessons and how piano students perform when learning from memory.

What have you found?

My first PhD study has examined piano teachers’ perceptions of music memorisation in one-to-one piano lessons. In this online questionnaire, we surveyed 37 piano teachers who teach children and adolescents and found that music memorisation is perceived by most teachers as a skill that develops through practice rather than a natural talent. Teaching memorisation fell into four categories: aural, visual, kinaesthetic, and analytical. This study shows that kinaesthetic and analytical methods are qualitatively dominant which suggests that aural and visual memorisation methods might be less explored by piano teachers of children and adolescents and future research could be conducted in this area.

What do you hope the findings will help to achieve?

My PhD is now focusing on the way piano students memorise music and it aims to create a new method in which students are taught step-by-step how to memorise by using practical exercises during their lesson time. Throughout my teaching career I have developed a set of piano memorisation techniques which I will be using to teach two groups of piano students. In this intervention study, we will be testing the two groups who will be learning a piece of music with memorisation techniques I have developed and with muscle memory/repetition. We will then compare the groups and assess whether their performance improved in terms of note correctness, musicality, technique, stress and stage performance.

Find out more:

Ranked 6th in the Complete University Guide by Subject 2024, the Music Department has been central to the Durham University’s three-year project to become the largest All-Steinway school in the UK. 

Research-led teaching supports our students to achieve their full potential as thinking, creative musicians, and scholars. What’s more Durham enjoys a rich musical life beyond the Department with numerous choirs, orchestras, opera, jazz, and early-music ensembles, in addition to our own annual concert series attracting soloists from around the World. 

Feeling inspired? Visit our Music webpages for more information on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. 

Durham University is a top 100 world university. In the QS World University Rankings 2024, we were ranked 78th globally.